Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Work in Progress.

Given the givens, it is almost with relief that we greet the final seven days to the General Election. It has been a harrowing and exhausting three years. Since Mwai Kibaki's government essentially took a leave-from-absence so that members of the Cabinet could campaign, we have been treated to the circus of the damned. Allegations and counter-allegations, accusations and counter-accusations, facts and outright lies have flown ever since the Prime Minister, his two Deputy Prime Ministers, the Vice-President, the former Minister for Justice and several more wannabes decided that they wanted to succeed Mwai Kibaki.

The lack of an ideological debate on the direction the nation should follow has been our biggest loss. While Martha Karua speaks passionately about social democracy, all our remaining presidential candidates are simply preaching from the same sermon. All promise to "fully implement" the Constitution; all promise to "fully implement" Vision 2030; all promise to "wipe out corruption" and uphold the rule of law; all promise to "work with" constitutional commissions and independent offices to ameliorate the suffering of Kenyans; all promise to untangle the Gordian Knot around the Land Question; all promise to keep Kenyans safe; all promise to "grow the economy by double digits; and all promise to be "servant leaders" whatever that means to them.

What they have done, away from the debate podiums, is sling mud at each other with wild abandon. What they have done is to build castles in the air about the changes they will wring out of the Kenyan body politic. Even when faced with the opportunity to spell out their plans in full, they have shied away from doing so. When faced with the opportunity to erase the suspicions in Kenyans' minds about their pasts and their intentions, they have failed to convincingly do so. They have, instead, treated Kenyans to a regurgitation of tactics as old as the Republic without batting an eyelid. Even insurgent campaigns such as Martha Karua's have the whiff of old-school populist tactics that Kenyans should, rightly, be suspicious of.

The second debate was an opportunity for the candidates to spell out their economic plans and to lay the ghosts of "historical land injustices" to rest. They have singularly failed in this endeavour. What is clear that the economy of Kenya is multifaceted and complex to an almost unbelievable scale. Joe Ageyo and Uduak Amimo failed to address the elephant in the room: how Kenya's economy would survive the dire warnings of sanctions and whatnot should the Jubilee ticket be elected. They also failed to to persuade the candidates to share their plans regarding the continuing spectre of millions of Kenyans without jobs or the prospects of any. Perhaps it was too much to hope for; Kenyans, after all, have been "programmed" to see political contests only in the context of one tribe against 41 others. This is the be all and end all of presidential politics in Kenya. It has been so for the past two decades. Kenyans do not seem to be tiring from it. But from the questions fielded during the debate - however unsatisfactorily - Kenyans seem to be stirring slightly and asking hard questions that demand hard answers.

What the debates reveal is that it is 2017 that will truly redefine the way elections are conducted. The mistakes we witnessed in 2012 and 2013 regarding the preparations for the general election must be addressed at the next general election. Party primaries must be organised around credible timetables. The electoral law must be enforced without fear or favour: candidates must not be allowed to hop willy-nilly from one party to the next looking for the best chance to be on the ballot. Party manifestos must be clearer about the foundations of all the promises being bandied about. The debate moderators must force the candidates to spell out clearly their plans and clear up doubts about their pasts. And Kenyans must finally break away from seeing themselves during elections as members of this tribe or that. This election proves that the progress of civilising and maturing our politics is far from done. When it is done, perhaps, we will give The West, the Asian Tigers and the BRICS a run for their dollars. Or Euros. Or yuans.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Time to choose.

Despite the results of half-a-dozen opinion polls, and largely because of the Tyranny of Numbers hypothesis, Kenyans are in the grip of a political crisis. Whatever else we may discuss or decide in the future, it is time that we admitted that we are yet to mature as a democratic polity; our immaturity is starkly demonstrated by the absence of strong institutions, nuanced political debate, and an atavistic selfishness that refuses to acknowledge nationhood or nationalism of any sort.

We have blamed colonialism for many of our present challenges; without the divide-and-conquer strategy of the colonial administration, Kenya would not have had to identify its peoples by tribe. But it is time to admit that the colonial bugbear has not been responsible for the past 40 years of discord and animosity. It is us, and our blind veneration of our political leaders, who are to blame for the deep schisms experienced amongst Kenya's forty-two peoples. That is not all. The battle between Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga for the soul of the nation, whether it would take care of the least of its peoples or whether it would make the fatcats fatter, defined the period between 1969 and 1978 as nothing else ever will.

We might be the beneficiaries of the legacies left behind by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kung'u Karumba, Bildad Kaggia, Kenneth Matiba, George Anyona or even Masinde Muliro, but in our hearts of hearts, we espouse the poisonous legacy of the Kenyatta Era. We place loyalty to an individual - flaws notwithstanding - and to the tribal collective - whether we benefit personally or not - above all else. The chatteratti in Nairobi are free to declaim to the waiting ears of western development partners about our nationhood and to use the Safari 7s team as proof of our nationalism, but we all know the awful truth: in the hierarchy of loyalties, we pay fealty to self, family, clan, tribe and tribal chief before we even consider nation. Even those of us who have the benefit of a cosmopolitan heritage fond it very difficult to buch traditions that have defined the nation for the past half-century. We are all victims of a poison that was spread by a man whose been dead this past thirty-five years.

In the here and now, we all fear that despite the efforts of the past six months at promoting peace and reconciliation, despite the apparent bonhomie between The Hague Alliance, the post-election scenario will be determined by which ethnic combination is determined to "measure its strength" against the dominant one. We have a sorry record of post-poll calm; even the much-celebrated 2002 election was not without acts of violence and prolonged post-poll tension. It is only Mwai Kibaki's magnanimous decision to let Moi be that allowed the nation to move on to...Anglo-Leasing, Triton, KKV and FPE scams.

Indeed, if Kenyans are looking for an ideology to rally behind, corruption makes the most sense. As a nation, as tribes, as clans, as families and as individuals, not one can claim not to be divorced from the reality of the relationship between the State and the people and amongst the peoples of Kenya. Corruption is the glue that holds this nation together. It is the raison d'être of the State and our government. It is the reason why we are willing to murder and maim at political contests: if we know that a particular group has spent too long a time at the trough of public truffles, and they seem prepared to perpetuate their stay, we will demonstrate our displeasure in creatively violent ways.

So perhaps it is time we debunked the argument that we are hobbled by tribalism; we are not. It is corruption that hobbles our forward movement as a nation and the sooner we find a way of ensuring that every body gets an opportunity at the trough, violence is all but guaranteed before, during and after the polls. Of course, ordinary Kenyans may have already decided that they have paid too high a price for corruption. In that case, the polls offer them the best chance to demonstrate their new found resolve. If they can elect men and women who live for the peoples of Kenya - all forty-two tribes - perhaps we can steal a march on the Asian Tigers and the up-and-coming BRICS.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Without trust...

I am reliably informed that nappy rash is one of the principal causes of night-long infant discomfort characterised by screaming-and-sobbing by both the infant and its at-wits-end parents. Kenya is definitely going through a nappy rush moment. I am again reliably informed that the causes of nappy rash are frequently irritants that got into the folds of skin hidden underneath nappies (for those modern-day parents used to disposable diapers, you need to speak to an older generation of parents to know where I am coming from). In Kenya's case, the causes of its irritation are frequently presumed to be politicians and the riff-raff that holds up their skirts as they shit on the rest of us. Perhaps it is time Kenyans confronted the awful truth that politicians have very little to do with our nappy rash moment; if we took time to stare in the mirror, we would be confronted by the reason why Kenya is marking time while some Asian nations are turning into tigers and conquering the world.

It is amazing how fast and far the fetishisation of our constitution has gone. It is now being held up as an idol to be worshipped by one and all; and it is incomprehensible that one or two recalcitrant Kenyans do not worship at the Baal-like altar of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. It is quoted at every opportunity; it is held up as the one true thing to bind us all into an ever closer polity and nation. Even the Soldiers of Christ have not been left out of the veneration of the Constitution or its high priests, including the Chief Justice and his biggest boosters such as the Commissioners of the CIC, the KNHCR, the CAJ or the IEBC. But the rank-and-file of Kenya's new faith lack one basic quality that would make their religion a force to reckon with: trust.

The message has gone out loud and clear that our faith is now constitutionalism and its bible is our barely three-years' old constitution and that the high priests of the faith are the likes of the Chief Justice, the leaders of the Second Liberation and key Commissions and independent offices that espouse the "spirit" of the Constitution and who are unafraid to declare their faith before one and all. What we refuse to acknowledge, even to our  co-religionists, is that despite the 85,000+ words of hope, the Constitution has failed to engender trust in anyone or anything or any institution. It is fashionable to lay this sorry state of affairs at the feet at that odious tribe called politicians, but the harsh truth is that we all have a hand in this. We have tried to use our ethnic diversity as a multiplier of the ills of politics, and loaded poverty into the mix to explain not just the lack of trust but the violence it seems to generate every time there is a close political contest.

Since Section 2A of the former Constitution was repealed in 1991, Kenya has suffered political violence at every general election. Even the triumphal destruction of Moi's succession plans in 2002 were not unaccompanied by violence; we just pretended that the ends justified the  means, especially after Uhuru Kenyatta, allegedly President Moi's "Project," conceded defeat to Mwai Kibaki and his NARC cohort. With the repeal of Section 2A, Kenyans were no longer required to be members of the "ruling" party; they retreated, rather swiftly, into personality-driven "special purpose vehicles" we like to think of as political parties. The Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, may not have jumped into and out of many political parties, but his journey to within sniffing distance of the presidency has been via FORD, FORD-K, NDP KANU, LDP, NARC and, now, ODM. He is hardly alone; since 1992, many Kenyan politicians have persuaded themselves that electoral victory is only possible if one is in the "right" bus (as Kiraitu Murungi would have it) and the spate of formation and dissolution of parties has been staggering; not even the Constitution has stemmed the feeling that the right "bus" is the the only requisite for a successful political career.

Now, we the people, sovereign we may be, but we do not give two hoots about the needs of the people from across the ridge; indeed we don't really care for the people on our side of the ridge. It is for this reason that just as political buses seem to rise and fall with the certainty of night-and-day, so too do faith-based organisations, primarily Christian church denominations with bewildering names (Helicopter Ministry of Christ being one of the more benign), seem to erupt, especially when there is a political rally round the corner. It also seems the time when more and more young men and women engage in violent crime, more and more tycoons seem to steal ever greater sums from their clients, customers, shareholders or the State...the list is endless. As a result, we trust very few among us and those we do have to prove it each and every time. We can fetishise the Constitution and constitutional institutions all we want, but without trust among Kenyans, disappointment awaits us down the road to full implementation.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Save counties from tribalist assassins.


It speaks to our foibles that some candidates for the office of county governor are unhappy with the interim officials appointed by the Transitional Authority. They demand that the process be reviewed and their "input" be taken into consideration. They claim that there is likely to be discord in the county government because they do not know under what terms or conditions these officers have been hired, or what their mandates will be once the county governments come to life on March Fifth.

These candidates must surely take their cue from the Grand Coalition Government, in which President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga "shared" power and each "appointed" half the Cabinet and half the Permanent Secretaries to "represent the interests of their parties", PNU and ODM. It may have been the logical choice to share power by sharing out positions in the Cabinet; it was illogical and downright stupid to share out what amount to civil service jobs among the President's and Prime Minister's cronies and confidants. The Cabinet, despite being a constitutional institution, is really a political one and the choice of Ministers is a political choice. But the office of Permanent Secretary should not be a political one; its principle role is to turn policy into programmes for the well-being of the nation, not the interests of a political party. This cancer, it seems, is being exported to the counties and it will have deleterious effects on the governance of Kenya's brand-new counties.

The intervention by gubernatorial candidates in the appointment of public officers is unconstitutional. The Constitution esteems diversity over localism, and counts on merit as the bedrock of an effective delivery of public services and goods to the long-suffering peoples of Kenya. These principles should not be undermined by the harebrained ideas birthed by the odious Coalition Government formed in 2008. Indeed, the record of the coalition in delivering effective and efficient services to the peoples of Kenya is marked by disappointment, discord and acrimony the likes of which were last witnessed during the crisis of 2007 and 2008. Kenyans simply cannot allow governors to tread the same waters the President and Prime Minister have over the past 5 years.

No county in Kenya is entirely made up of one ethnic group; most are cosmopolitan to various degrees. Nairobi is the most cosmopolitan in Kenya and this explains why Dr Evans Kidero, Jimnah Mbaru and Ferdinand Waititu have not weighed in on the public officers appointed by the Transitional Authority. Even the ethnic strongholds of Central Kenya or the North Rift are not solely composed of Kikuyus or Kalenjins; members of other communities live and play a role in the development of these counties. For example, members of the Kenyan Asian community are to be found practically in every county in Kenya. Are they to be locked out of the management of the affairs of these counties simply because as a percentage of the total national population they amount to no more than 4 to 5%? Or take Kenyan Somalis. They are an up-and-coming community that has been traditionally confined to the undeveloped swathes of Kenya's erstwhile Northern Frontier Province. They have managed to thrive despite the odds stacked against them and are to be found in many counties in Kenya running trucking companies and other vibrant business ventures. Many Kenyans of different ethnicities have had opportunity to grace the various "Garissa Lodges" operated by the members of the Kenyan Somali community. It would be grossly unfair if they too were to be locked out from the county public services in counties where they are not politically dominant simply because of their relatively small population relative to their hosts.

Devolution is meant to be a panacea for the official neglect by the national government, especially of areas that have been allowed to atrophy simply because the powers-that-be in Nairobi consider them to be of no great significance. But the management of neglected counties cannot succeed unless all the communities in those counties feel that they have a say in how their affairs are managed. The seeds of insurgency are usually planted when a group feels marginalised and persecuted. The gubernatorial candidates who cannot grasp this basic fact are best advised to look for jobs in the GEMAs and KAMATUSAs of the future, not as governors of counties.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Judge not...

Why the hectoring tone when evangelicals wish to persuade some to walk the narrow path? The Message is always couched in dire warnings of doom and disaster, not juts for the deaf individual, but to their entire families. Everyday we are threatened with career-ending disaster because we do not believe. We are reminded that our plans will count for nought because we have not publicly invoked the name of the Almighty. We are warned that on the Day of Judgment, our judgment will indeed be harsh and we will suffer damnation for all eternity. We are castigated for being "bad" Christians and that it is all our fault for not turning every day into a day of worship and fellowship. In short, unless we heed The Call, we are not fit for heaven; we are the instruments of the devil and shall suffer a fate worse than death.

Social media, instead of making the conversation more civil, has only made things worse. Now, those active on facebook or Twitter are incessantly bombarded with requests to "like" a page or to "like" a post or else hellfire and brimstone awaits us. It used to be that if one wished to demonstrate their Christian values, they went to church and worshiped with fellow-Christians. Today, one must not only do that, one must constantly reaffirm his faith lest he be judged here on Earth before The Day of Judgment comes around. Some of my Christian brethren have become Judge, Jury and Executioner in their zeal to win souls for Christ.

Do they not realise that it is counter-productive to promise hell if one does what one does everyday? Many are confident in their faith in the Almighty and see no reasons why they should proclaim it every time someone demands proof. They do their Christian duty and they live as they believe The Christ would have wanted them to live. They do not wear their Christianity in their sleeves but it is pretty apparent in the manner they carry themselves and how they do what they do. They too, it seems, are for hell because they are insufficiently demonstrative of the their faith. Is Christianity being used as a weapon even against Christians?

There is a cohort of self-confessed monitors in the Christian faith. It seems that their principal role in life is to keep tabs on who is not sufficiently Christian to go by that name. They monitor our words, our decisions, our relationships and even our food and drink. They comment on what we watch or read or listen to with a judgmental mien. They take time out of their busy schedules to harangue and hector to get us back on the "right" path. They refuse to accept that the stricture "judge not, lest you be judged" applies to them too. They are busy yanking out the speck in our eyes that they ignore the plank in theirs'. Theirs is a harsh Christianity, fundamentalist in the interpretation of scripture and absolute in its ruthlessness against the weaknesses of the flesh.

Many of them would scream bloody murder if the State attempted to regulate how, where and when they could worship, but they see nothing contradictory in using the machinery of the State, including the Constitution or the courts, to impose their religious interpretations of secular matters on the rest of the nation. Perhaps it is time that Christians took back their faith from those that would wish to use it as a weapon. It is time we went back to the fundamentals of our faith: brotherhood, family and social wellbeing. If we are to worship together for the good of not only the individual but of the State, then we should do so without purporting to stand in judgment of our weaker co-religionists. Instead, we should go out of our way to offer words of encouragement and help to those who have fallen short of the glory of God.

Kenyatta and Ruto do not represent our virtuous future.

We must resist the temptation to conflate the fates of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto at the ICC with the right of the peoples of Kenya to elect them on The Fourth. Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto are not barred from standing for elections. Neither the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission nor the High Court has found any basis, Constitutional or otherwise, to prevent them from offering themselves to the electorate on The Fourth. But the inherent dangers in conflating their indictments at the ICC with their candidacies at the next general election are exacerbated every time the impression is reinforced that their victory will be a declaration of their innocence by way of the "sovereign will of the people."

Those in the civil society who disingenuously claim that their indictments mean that they cannot beet the Chapter Six threshold must now hold their fire, unless they intend to plead their case at the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court of Kenya. Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto are merely accused persons, and after the recantation of the testimony of a key witness in Mr Kenyatta's case, he may yet be acquitted after trial at The Hague-based court. Both have continued to plea their innocence at every political rally, and, barring any instructions from the court, they are free to do so. With the ruling of the five-judge Bench, they are also free to prosecute their political campaign without fear of interference.

This is in no way an endorsement of their joint candidacy. Regardless of the outcome of the ICC trials, both are quite possibly unfit to lea. In a presidential race n which all candidates are flawed, their flaws are far too serious to be casually ignored simply because "their" people have made a choice. Despite their intelligence and obvious youthful vigour, they are yet to demonstrate that their plans for the nation are nothing more than an attempt to wind back the clock. Their campaign rhetoric betrays the fact that they too do not appreciate the difference between their travails at the ICC and their constitutional rights. Their daily attempts to link the Prime Minister and his acolytes to their legal troubles as part of a grand scheme to deny them power is a pointer to how they will govern and how they will apply themselves to the implementation of Kenya's barely three-years old Constitution. In short, they see the country as being in need of an all powerful presidency, sans checks and balances from Parliament or the reformist Judiciary.

Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto cut their political teeth at the feet of the Professor of Politics, Daniel Toroitich arap Moi. Kenyans are still coming to terms with the sclerosis that pervaded the government he bequeathed Mwai Kibaki in 2003. The lessons that the two took away from their classes with President Moi are lessons Kenyans should not have to survive a second time around. President Kibaki's was always going to be a transitioning presidency, marking time for when Kenyans would make a clean break with the perfidious and odious KANU past. The two represent that past and are ill-suited to the business of bringing Kenya finally out of the sins of its past and into the virtues of its future.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

We still don't know what they will do.

What shape will the next government take? It is impossible to predict because of the fluid nature of political institutions. If there were strong political parties that voters had confidence in, then the line-ups of the various alliances and coalitions, not to mention of the go-it-alone outfits would have been revealed at least by November. But we don't, so we have to make do with what we can discern from the political tea leaves.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Deputy Prime Ministers Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi, former Minister for Justice Martha Karua, former Assistant Minister Peter Kenneth and former Permanent Secretary James ole Kiyiapi have served in government under Mwai Kibaki, and in the case of the first four, in the government of Daniel Toroitich arap Moi. They have an inkling of how to organise an administration, though they may not appreciate that the dynamics have undergone a sea-change since the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010. They may not appreciate too that Parliament is not going to the pliant House they have been witness to in the past. The role of the Speaker, the Leaders and the party Whips will be crucial to getting the agenda of the Executive implemented, if not in full, substantially.

It is the role of Parliament in shaping the next government that we are blindest. There is no indication which party will have a majority or whether the ruling party will have a majority in Parliament. Many are persuaded that there will be a divided government in 2013; a party in charge of Parliament, and another in charge of the Executive. But if the ruling party has a majority in Parliament, its agenda may yet be implemented. The risks are in the history of Parliament, especially over the past decade. Ever since President Moi decided to share power with Parliament, in his own fashion, it has gotten bolder in the way it conducted business. For the most part, the Ninth and Tenth Parliaments were a disappointment; Parliamentary committees became weapons to be employed against the members of the Cabinet who refused to play ball with their chairs or members. The bitter war between the Defense and Foreign Relations Committee and the Minister for Foreign Affairs over the Japanese embassy scandal is a pointer to how difficult the relationship between the Executive and Parliament may get.

A new President will have to get his Cabinet Secretaries and Principal Secretaries approved by Parliament before he can govern. Once they have been approved and their appointments made, legislating the president's agenda may prove difficult in the first few months. No procedures have been agreed upon on how legislative proposals will be considered and how they will be shepherded in Parliament. The area of greatest contention is likely to revolve around the budget: if the two do not get along, the budget may be delayed, which may have knock-on impacts on the operations of the Executive, as on that of the devolved government.

From their performance in the Presidential Debate, the candidates dis not seem to appreciate that the Executive must partner with Parliament in order to succeed as an administration. Paul Muite, perhaps more than Mohammed Abduba Dida, failed to grasp this fact when he declared that he would go to war over Migingo Island and the Elemi Triangle. He forgot that a declaration of war could only proceed with the approval of Parliament. All of them had lofty ideas about education, security and healthcare; none of them considered that all appropriations would have to be made with the approval of Parliament. Even if they did not consider seriously the revenue-collection angle of the challenges they laid for themselves, surely it would have been helpful to address the manner in which they'd get their budgets approved by Parliament.

All in all, our presidential candidates seem to be living in a time warp, believing that the power of the presidency is sufficient to guarantee that the will succeed where they think Jomo Kenyatta, Moi or Kibaki has not. The reality, as always, is far more complex and complicated. Their refusal to share their detailed plans of how they will organise their administrations and how they will govern are cause for pause. It is really too bad we do not have smarter alternatives in the race.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The hounds are let loose.

It is a bit late in the day for Raila Odinga to start linking himself to the successes of the Kibaki Decade. Mr Odinga may have ensured President Kibaki's victory in 2002 and he may have partnered with the President in the aftermath of the 2007 general election, but all along he has portrayed himself as more sinned against than sinning by the Kibaki retinue. In all, he has had very little to celebrate of the Kibaki Decade until it became evident that he has a paltry record to ride on to State House.

Indeed, it seems that the only one who can make a credible stab at sharing in Mwai Kibaki's limelight is Uhuru Kenyatta, who had lost to Kibaki in 2002 and who sat out the 2007 general election. He was Mwai Kibaki's Finance Minister when much of the infrastructure laid by Mwai Kibaki was being laid. He made bold proposals to get the youth of Kenya into employment. He has been a loyal acolyte of the President, only going off-script when his hide was on the line.

But it is the bitter Martha Karua who can least claim any share in the limelight. She is responsible for the ring-fenced constitutional review process; but her icy departure from Mwai Kibaki's court was characterised by her incessant harping on the sins of corruption, sins she must share in as she was Mwai Kibaki's most vociferous defender. Peter Kenneth, for all his good work for the peoples of Gatanga, has no public record outside of Murang'a. His stint as CEO of Kenya Re is shrouded in mystery. The accounts books of the Kenya Football Federation when he was the man in charge are yet to be audited. His challenge to voters to "weigh all candidates" may yet be taken up and he would have to answer very hard questions.

James ole Kiyiapi has had a long stint in the public service; twenty years by his count. But other than his stint as a university don and his sinecures as Permanent Secretary, all he can demonstrate is that he has had a phenomenal personal growth. But what are his signature achievements as a don or a PS? How many environmental programmes bear his imprimatur from his days in the Environment Ministry? Or how many hospitals from his stint as Health PS? Education? He could not even solve the mystery of the missing FPE cash!

Musalia Mudavadi's, perhaps, is the worst position to find himself in. Twice he has been linked to losing presidential bids. IN one instance he also lost his Sabatia seat to a Johnnie-come-lately. 2012 was surely his annus horribilis. Not only did he have to weather the graveyard scam, he lost his place in the ODM line of succession, was robbed of primus inter pares status in the Jubilee Alliance, but he has to contend with the feeling that his sole role in 2013 is to consolidate the Western Kenya vote as a bargaining chip with the leading lights of the CORD and Jubilee teams. For all intents and purposes, no one thinks his is a serious presidential bid.

Paul Muite and Mohammed Abduba Dida have set the political stage on fire, especially with their performance at the first Presidential Debate. Whether, in the three remaining weeks, they can carve out sizable chunks of the locked-in votes of the other teams remains to be seen. But given that they have nothing to lose and all to gain, it is almost certain that they will not care to play by the rules informally agreed to by the other, especially by CORD or Jubilee. Musalia Mudavadi had all along been seen as the dark horse in the CORD/Jubilee two-horse race, but it seems that the Muite and Dida bids may yet upstage him once more. No one will mourn his political passing.

Maybe we are better off with the class clown.

On the day that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the Throne of St Peter, Kenya was introduced to its latest political star looking for his fifteen minutes of Warholian fame. Mohamed Abduba Dida of the Alliance for Real Change (ARK) Party of Kenya grabbed the popular imaginations of the forty-odd million Kenyans who managed to watch the Presidential Debate televised from the elite Brookeside International School.

The debate exposed like nothing else will that when it comes to the crucial question of how campaign promises will be met, all presidential candidates react ad nauseam with, "Our manifesto..." as if manifestos are the founts of all public administration and governance knowledge. Even self-confessed policy wonks like Peter Kenneth or Martha Karua, besides spouting statistics to fill a supercomputer's memory, failed to demonstrate that their presidencies would pay for all their lofty goals of social justice for all.

This is the knotty problem faced by a poor nation living beyond its means. Our revenue base is woefully small; it might be gargantuan in comparison to Uganda's, Tanzania's, South Sudan's or Somalia's, but it is only a matter of time before the oil begins to flow in Uganda and South Sudan (again), and the peace is restored in Somalia, and they can challenge Kenya's traditional economic hegemony. None of the candidates, not even the earthy Mr Dida, has a plan to not only expand the revenue base, but increase revenues collected for their much self-praised social justice programmes. Mr Odinga, especially, came out as a clueless old foggy who cannot remember which minister he appointed, what their mandates were or whether he turned a profit from all his foreign junkets or not. Even on something he should know better, he was upstaged by Paul Muite, who came out as more hawkish in the defense of the state than Mr Odinga could hope to be.

The calls for rationalisation in public expenditure must be taken seriously. But the only way that any of the candidates can pay for their lofty goals is to pull as much of its population into the formal economy, whether in paid employment or vibrant self-employment. It is the only way that numbers of those that pay business and personal taxes will rise, raising the amount of revenue collected by the government, and therefore paying for the programmes the candidates seem to believe we all want.

Therefore, it is puzzling that they have kept details of their teams of advisers, if any, a secret. It is twice so that they have kept the detailed manifestos a secret too. This is the traditional way in which the Government of Kenya has operated. The official Secrets Act is its guiding bible. It is a lesson that the candidates have learnt, and learnt well. Daniel Toroitich arap Moi understood that whoever controlled the information, controlled the people and so for a significant part of his presidency it was all KBC/VoK all the time.

In the Twenty-first Century, Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta, Peter Kenneth, Martha Karua and James ole Kiyiapi are at risk of being mocked by the children of the Millennium. Kenya may not be the developed market economy that is the United States or the United Kingdom, but it has an open information market. If the candidates think that by controlling the details of their future administrations or their plans for us they will be able to control us, Mohammed Abduba Dida and Paul Muite must have been the first jolt that things are different. The internet, multiple TV broadcasters, FM stations and cheap mobile phone subscriptions will make a mockery of their attempts to control information. Instead of controlling the narrative, they will suddenly discover that one of our other Josephian peculiarity is ti intrigue and speculate, and that this will be amplified by social media and cheap mobile telephony. This is not the time for them to apply the lessons of official secrecy, but to jettison them.

If these men and woman cannot explain their revenue policies, their tax policies, their public investment policy, their plans to reduce the size of government and boost private investment, or job creation, there is absolutely no reason to believe that they have a plan. credible or otherwise. Maybe we settle for the class clown; he was way more honest about his abilities, or lack thereof.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Why I am rooting for disaster.

A frisson of expectation runs up and down my spine when I imagine the epic disaster that is to be Kenya's most expensive televised debate. At sh.100 million, Kenya's media houses have risked it all to give Kenyans a glimpse at how shambolic and unprepared we can be, even in our vaunted private sector. As of the morning of The Debate, some of the more confident candidates were yet to visit the set or run through their lines, and the "moderators" were building up their own confidence by predicting a "debate on the issues".

As with the Nairobi governors' debate at the Strathmore University, the choice of Brookehouse School smacks of elitism and exclusion. The Brookehouse School is an institution of learning that rivals the best private schools of the world. It is clear it was chosen because it already has much of the infrastructure required for international broadcast. But it is still a terrible mistake to use it as the background for the debate at which one woman and six men will be seeking to lead a nation in which 60% of the population has no hope of ever setting foot on the hallowed grounds of the school, except as labourers or paid servants.

The trappings of power are what the Kenyan media would like to portray to the world. Their aim is not to showcase that our politicians have come of age; it is to prove that Kenya can play at the same level as world powers and up-coming world powers. Our private schools and private universities rival the best in the West and rising Asia. Our presidential motorcades rival those of the POTUS (as the US Secret Service acronymises the title of the US President) or of the Premier of the People's Republic of China.

Rather than be honest with ourselves, and the rest of the world, we choose to pretend that we are the rising power we are not. Rather than beam to waiting eyeballs the reality f the Kenyan Republic in its year of jubilee, we choose to broadcast images that lie far better than words could. We have created the impression that Kenya is the one in which young people attend the Brookehouse School and the Strathmore University; rather than a Kenya where quite frequently school-going children do so in hunger (and sometimes, starvation), tattered clothes and low expectations because quite often, again, there is no school, or teachers or books. Those that manage to survive these childhood challenges, among a host of others, usually do not qualify to join the increasing numbers of our state-funded universities that are over-crowded, underfunded and managed like the personal tribal fiefdoms of their quite shockingly often mercurial vice-chancellors. Those that do make it to university against all odds, like Prof James ole Kiyiapi, often have to contend with a system that is decrepit and in need of reinvestment and re-invigoration.

Julie Gichuru and Linus Kaikai expect to moderate a debate of ideas; it is more likely they will have to contend with massive egos unused to having uppity Fourth Estate types hold them to account. Or they will fold, as they have in the past, and lob soft-ball questions at all the candidates and perpetuate the myth of media neutrality in the coming general election's outcome. Disaster, at least, will be entertaining.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

All is not lost after a Jubilee victory.

There is something grotesque about the United States and the European Union warning Kenyan voters that there will be "consequences" if the March Fourth general election goes one way and not the other. On the one hand, they extol the virtues of a free, unfettered vote; on the other, they warn us of consequences if, presumably, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta are elected. Of course, elections have consequences; it is up to the people of Kenya to decide whether they can live with those consequences.

Today, not one Kenyan has been convicted at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Four Kenyans stand accused of orchestrating the worst crisis in Kenya's history. They have professed their innocence to all and sundry until they are blue in the face. Three of them are standing for election: Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto share a ticket for the presidency while Joshua arap Sang is standing for a lesser position in his native North Rift. But it is the Uhuru/Ruto campaign that has attracted global attention. They are accused of being masterminds in the tit-for-tat violence that flared up after Mwai Kibaki was sworn in as president in 2007. Mr Ruto stands accused of, among other things, orchestrating the violence to protest Mwai Kibaki's re-election while Uhuru Kenyatta is accused of orchestrating revenge attacks in response.

Kenya's history of dealing with the post-election violence is abysmal. The Executive attempted time and again to fashion a "local mechanism" to address the violence, and the crimes that were committed without success. It was thwarted at every turn by the National Assembly whose rallying cry was "Don't be vague; go to The Hague!" When the matter was finally seized by the Prosecutor of the ICC and he launched his investigation into the "Kenya situation", many were not convinced that justice would be done in their lifetimes. Indeed, William Ruto predicted, wrongly as it turns out, that the matter would take 99 years to resolve. The ICC moved swiftly and the two cases are set down for trial one month after Kenyans go to the polls to elect a new government and Mwai Kibaki's successor.

While the US and the EU are exercised by the possibility of a Kenyatta presidency, the rest of the world does not seem to have an opinion one way or the other. Perhaps they are hoping to follow the US/EU lead and will do as they do. China has demonstrated an insatiable appetite for African natural resources. It is the natural counterbalance to the US/EU hegemony in Africa. How China reacts in the wake of the general election may determine how the rest of the world reacts. The so-called BRICs may not necessarily follow in the footsteps of the Africa's traditional "partners;" they may instead choose to pursue a more independent course given that their interests in Africa, and in Kenya particularly, may be in diametric opposition to the US/EU one.

International relations are founded on trade. Diplomacy, for the most part, revolves around smoothing the path to better trade relations. For this reason, one may caution that while the US/EU line may be founded on notions of human rights and good governance, what will determine their actions may be their trade relationship with the Government of Kenya. This relationship has evolved rather swiftly since the Chinese decided to broaden their horizons at the turn of the last century. China's thirst for raw material has led it into relationships that might not be countenanced openly in Washington D.C. or Brussels. Its dalliance with Omar Hassan el Bashir of Sudan is a case in point. He is the first sitting head of an African state to be indicted by the ICC, yet he still has profitable relations with China, the rising power in Asia. For this reason, even if the United States and the EU were to impose sanctions on Sudan, the effect may be ameliorated by the relationship with China. With hindsight, perhaps, Kenya's opening up to China, and to Asia generally, was a strategic move that may pay off if the US/EU alliance imposes sanctions on the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as Kenya's fourth president. Will the Anglos allow Kenya to be firmly pulled into the Chinese sphere of influence when their interests in the region are at a delicate stage?

This is not to say that it is right and proper for Kenyans to elect Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. But we cannot permit the West to take advantage of their circumstances to dictate terms to us. Unless the US wishes to make Kenya its fifty-first state, it best left to determine whether its interests will be served whether Uhuru Kenyatta is president or not. It is for the people of Kenya to decide whether the ICC indictments are sufficient reason to elect or not elect them. We have come a long way since the dark days of 2007 and 2008 and we have demonstrated that we no longer care that thousands were murdered, tens of thousands were maimed, and billions of shillings was lost, stolen or destroyed. We may claim to speak for the victims of the violence, but our actions speak louder: they are no longer the emotive issue they were even three years ago. We have moved on. Sad, but true.

Friday, February 08, 2013

It's not going to be neat.

Unless you are a professional statistician, the opinion polls are of interest only if they persuade you that your favourite politician is on his way to State House. To the millions of Kenyans who don't have the capacity to "unpack" the finer details of the polls, the debate surrounding the veracity of the polls is neither here nor there. Mutahi Ngunyi, a respected political analyst, begs Raila Odinga to ignore the polls that place him ahead of Uhuru Kenyatta because the raw numbers from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission reinforce another of Mutahi Ngunyi's suppositions: that the presidential election is about who can cobble together the greater tribal alliance. The one with the most number of tribes behind him wins, so goes Mr Ngunyi's reading of the 2013 tea leaves.

There are several dynamics at play in this election. The memory of the violence of 2007 and 2008 is still fresh in millions of Kenyans' minds. The Land Question has reared its ugly head once more. There is the changing demography of the nation that now has a larger cohort of youth than at any time in the past. The generational change question is also at play. As is the ICC issue. All these and many more will affect the outcome of the 2013 general election. It will not be the neat numbers game that Mr Ngunyi predicts.

Given the dynamics of a political contest, it is not easy to predict with precision how Kenyans will vote on the fourth of March. Opinion polls offer an idea; but they do not guarantee that the numbers will play out as everyone thins they will. It is for this reason that many supporters of James ole Kiyiapi and Peter Kenneth still see a glimmer of hope in their campaigns and continuously dismiss the opinion poll findings.

There is also great disillusionment with the performance of politicians over the past five years. The Tenth Parliament has really sullied the politicians' image in the eyes of many Kenyans. While millions will turn out for the vote , it is uncertain if the same faces will be seen in the new Parliament. Some of their antics left a very bitter aftertaste. Their unreasonable financial demands on the taxpayer especially pained hardworking Kenyans. It is unreasonable for an MP to earn tens of millions per year when a vast majority can barely eke out a living. If nothing else, this issue will determine the fate of many incumbents seeking re-election. Many may attend the rallies of their tribal flag-bearers, but they do so because they have nothing else to do: they have no jobs and no prospects and a day listening to "their man" is better than wasting the day away in a chang'aa den or some such place.

The demographic changes also offer a clue. The youth bulge that has been a boom to many rising economies may prove the undoing of many opinion polls. Many young people are not shackled to the tribal creed being peddled by all the analysts on TV today. Many are urbanised and have access to information in greater variety than even five years ago. Many of their sensibilities are shaped by what they watch on entertainment channels than what they hear at political rallies. Many identify with the challenges of their fellow youth than with the ambitions of tribal chieftains. They may upset the apple-cart in more ways than can be predicted by targetted opinion polls.

Where are the women?


The plight of the woman in Kenyan politics continues. Save for the few big-name brands - Martha Karua and Charity Ngilu quickly spring to mind - women in 2013 are getting the shaft. Women do not seem to play a commanding role in the politics of the day. Nor it seems are they playing a commanding role in shaping the debates of the day. It was news, for a minute, when Jimmi Kibaki attempted to foist a man on the hapless voters of Othaya, but got trounced by the pre-eminent woman political operator, Mary Wambui. It was news, for a minute, when Manzi wa Nai, Rachel Shebesh, decamped to The National Alliance after a spectacular Come-to-Jesus moment when it became apparent that she was not the only hair-do in the Orange Democratic Party. It was news, for a minute, when Raila Odinga's sister attempted to leverage her brother's popularity in Luo Nyanza to swing the Kisumu County governor's ticket her way. It was news, for a minuet, when James ole Kiyiapi picked a woman to be his running mate in the 2013 presidential hundred-metre dash. And so on and so forth.

Women lost the race when the Two-thirds Rule was improperly drafted. They were screwed the moment the Supreme Court refused to come to their aid. The woman movement is suffering setback after setback in a Twenty-first Century where women, globally, are taking strides to command the leading heights of politics, thought and ideas. Latina America has an enviable record of electing female presidents. Some have been disasters, but on the whole they have demonstrated that when it comes to political leadership, they can give as good as they get and that they are not short of ideas. Or that they are the Weaker Sex. The same is the case for certain parts of Asia, notably India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. One of the most admired Sri Lankan presidents must be Chandrika Kumaratunga who led that benighted island during one of the most trying times in its history - the darkest days of the Tamil Tigers' insurgency. She even managed to survive an assassination attempt that cost her an eye!

In Kenyatta's day, women had no place in the political arena. In Moi's day, they were like flower-girls. In Kibaki's reign, they started to come out of their shells but were quickly forced back in. Julia Ojiambo has been reduced to a cruel joke of her former self. Martha Karua stands out alone as the single most determined woman politician in Kenya. Charity Ngilu has lost the lustre that covered her from her insurgent 1992 campaign to her insurgent presidential bid in 1997 to her chairmanship of NARC in 2002. Anyone who can name ole Kiyiapi's running mate without searching their memory still has hope for the future of women politicians in Kenya. Kingwa Kamencu did herself in with the "no underwear" lunacy she attempted to foist on us with her nascent presidential ambitions. But is the likes of Rachel Shebesh who continue to cause deep embarassment to the woman movement in Kenya, especially in politics.

In the 2013 campaign, women are notable by their absence despite the fact, acknowledged by one and all, that women form more than half the registered voters in Kenya. Despite the fact that more women than men are obtaining university degrees, their impact in defining the topics of the day is negligible. Despite more women heading more public institutions than ever before, there does not seem to be a mood that women are the Second Coming any more. In the corporate jungle, there seems to be less and less lionesses than lions. Is 2013 their political and professional Waterloo? Where are the women?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

We must talk about land.

Land is forever going to be a campaign issue as long as Kenyans, both young and old, rich or poor, keep getting the short end of the stick when it comes to access. In 1920, when Harry Thuku launched Kenya's agitation against white settlers and, eventually, against the Colonial administration in Kenya, the emotive subject then, as today, was land. The Mau Mau were not known as the Land and Freedom Army for nothing: it is land that defined the Mau Mau uprising. When the Kenyatta government betrayed the spirit of the Mau Mau uprising, it set the stage for the agitation around land that would flare up so violently in 1992, 1997 and, to a large extent, 2007. The 2002 elections were largely peaceful because we all knew that the old KANU way of doing things was over and done with; Daniel Toroitich arap Moi's twenty-four years were coming to an end, and in Mwai Kibaki, and Raila Odinga, Kenyans had hope that some of the most thorniest questions of the ay would finally be resolved. Among them was the Land Question.

The tit-for-tat accusations between Raila Odinga/CORD and Uhuru Kenyatta/Jubilee over who is the greater land-grabber paper over the Land Question in egregious ways. Not one of them has addressed the reasons why, even after the NARC administration was elected, that the Land Question remains unresolved today. They refuse to debate the reasons why Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga have failed to agree on the appointment of the National Land Commission, months after the names of Commissioners were approved by the National Assembly. They both claim that land is the quintessential subject of modern Kenyan politics but all they do is to poison the air with their constant accusations and counter-accusations over who owns what and how it was acquired.

There isn't a prominent political family in Kenya that has not engaged in a questionable land deal. Mr Kenyatta may not have personally set out to acquire tracts o land, but he cannot run away from the fact that while his father, Kenya's first Prime Minister and first President was in power, he somehow ended up a land-owner to rival the Delameres of colonial Kenya. Nor can Mr Odinga paper over the fact that the way his family acquired and disposed of the Molasses Plant, and its surrounding land, left a bitter taste in the mouth. The debate, however, cannot revolve around the two families' exploitation of the infirmities in the Kenyan land administration infrastructure; it must revolve around ways of improving it and ensuring that the law is enforced fairly with an eye to making land productive.

It is the principal factor in production and production is the principal factor in poverty-alleviation. For Kenya to lift itself out of poverty and for its peoples to lead lives of dignity, the Land Question must be settled. And quickly. The apparent gag order issued by the Inspector General of Police is wrong-headed and quite possibly unconstitutional. If Mr Kimaiyo and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission wish to see a peaceful general election, they must start grappling with the fact that Kenyans, and their political leaders, must address even thorny subjects as the Land Question. What they must do is guard against Kenyans fomenting ethnic hatred because of the same. But if Kenyans are going to disagree over the matter, all they can do is to ensure that the disagreement doesn't turn to violence. We are never going to agree on which is the best course to follow in resolving the Land Question; too much blood has been split for that to happen. What we can agree is that if an honest broker is to be found, it will be in the National Land Commission. This is the political compromise we struck after the violence of 2007 and 2008 and it is in this brand new institution that we must place our hopes in resolving the Land Question. If we no longer have faith in any institution in Kenya, political or otherwise, then we might as well prepare for the worst in March, whether Mr Kimaiyo or the NCIC want it or not.