Sunday, March 31, 2013

Amka, Governor Kidero!

As a resident of the County of Nairobi City I have an obligation to keep my governor on his toes or bring him to his knees. That is a responsibility I take seriously. In the previous local government regime, my interest in local issues was reduced to keeping an eye out for ex-classmates who'd fallen on hard times and had a penchant for the local moonshine in the hopes that our encounters would be brief. Now, I am not so blasé. I will still do my utmost to avoid former schoolmates with their hands out but now I am taking an interest in issues that affect, at a deep personal level, my quality of life. So Governor Kidero, please take note. I have my eye on you, and you had better deliver on your promises.

I am a resident of Harambee Ward, Makadara Constituency. Over the past decade my quality of life has deteriorated. Sewers are frequently blocked and I do not remember the last time it rained an drains did not fill up and spill over. The roads in my particular neighbourhood have been colonised by hordes - yes, hords - of jua kali artisans, mama mbogas and sundry maize roasters, samosa fryers and the iniquitously ubiquitous matatus, some belonging to our new senator, Mike Sonko. My personal security is never assured when I wonder home in the wee hours of the night because all our streetlights seem to have acquired a mythical ability to stay dark. My health, and that of my loved ones, continues to be endangered because your predecessors at City Hall failed to do anything about the absence of sanitation bins or sanitation companies that failed to collect garbage without spilling most of it on their way to the Dandora dump.

On the day you were sworn in, the life of any vehicle I decide to acquire was endangered - the one place we were sure I could find a mechanic at a price I could afford was at the famous NCCK garages along Rabai Road. Someone in City Hall - perhaps you should have a chat with the outgoing Town Clerk and find out who - decided to flatten the place and set police on Martin, my favourite mechanic, and his colleagues, chasing them all over Buru Buru for some unknown and, perhaps, unknowable, reason. If City Hall has decided, or had decided, to sell the plot to some fly-by-night "real estate developer" at the expense of the motoring denizens of Eastlands, please let us know so that we can make alternative arrangements in future.

Dr Kidero, there are two SOS Villages in Harambee Ward and they are sanctuaries for hundreds of children who have fallen on bad times. But the one in Buru Buru Phase 2, as the girls' secondary school next door, face harrowing environmental conditions. What are you going to do about the extremely loud "bars" that blare their music into the dead of night while these children and students sleep? What are you going to do about the hordes - yes, that word again, hordes - of drug-peddlers who have made it their mission in life to corrupt the morals of the youth of Buru Buru?

This is what I am demanding of you, my dear governor. Kick some ass at City Hall and restore the City's sanitation department to what it was before City councilors got their grubby little hands on it. Restore the security of their night by reviving the once brilliant streetlights. Save the future of our children from the clutches of the men and women who'd corrupt ti with drugs, alcohol and loud, incessant noise. Remind the Buru Buru Matatu Welfare Association that passengers may only be collected and deposited at designated bus stops: the junction on Mumias South Road where the Uchumi Supermarket is located and the new one locally known as Mutindwa are not designated bus stops. Slap sanctions on the Nairobi Water and Sewrage Company if it continues to vacillate over the rehabilitation of the constantly blocked sewer lines in Jericho, Jerusalem and Harambee estates. Do this and I will campaign for your re-election - anonymously of course; I don't want to lose my comfy civil service job.

Let the women prevail.

All politics is local. It is local issues that should now shape political discourse. That no woman was elected governor is an indictment of a culture that favours premogeniture over all else. Was there no woman in a position to be accorded the privilege of showing that women, too, are a political force to be reckoned with. Even at the national level, Martha Karua's presidential candidature came a cropper. The tens of millions she must have spent, perhaps even a billion or two, seems such a waste. Why did women perform so dismally at the hustings on The Fourth?

Culture, it seems, is not keeping pace with the Second Liberation reforms. Women must perform twice as well to be taken seriously by Kenyan voters. In the week leading to the Supreme Court's decision on the election of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, the name on everyone's lips was that of Kethi Kilonzo. It is not just her parents who are proud of her; Kenyans were unanimous that her performance before the Mutunga Court is the stuff that legend is built on. She may have her fifteen minutes, but we all hope and pray that she is the face of the future. Women must and shall stand at the head of many institutions. It is just a matter of time that their place in the national psyche will no longer be at the forbearance of old men in smoke-filled backrooms, but a matter of course that elicits little, if any, comment.

The Second Liberation gains and and the women rights movement are now intertwined; we cannot have the one without the other. But these two reforms are being threatened by bad habits from the past. Now while we may appreciate the place of the likes of Zipporah Kittony in the Second Liberation and women movement discourse, their recycling at the top of naitonal politics is an indictment of the thinking of the men in charge of our collective national destiny. While many able-bodied, intelligent and charismatic leaders are forging ahead - like Gladys Boss Shollei at the Supreme Court, Catherine Mumma at the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution, Kethi Kilonzo in the legal profession, Julie Gichuru in the media, Nasim Devji in banking, and Carol Radull in sports broadcasting - it beggars belief that Kenya is still held in thrall to tired women who have done precious little for the advancement of the idea of women in power. They became caricatures and they held back the women movement by simply refusing to accept that they were part of something greater than their ambitions.

If all politics is local then it is at the local level that women must begin making their mark. So they were not elected to positions of power. But they still have the opportunity to show how far we have come when many of them will make their debuts in power politics when they are appointed to County Executive Committees and the management boards of cities and urban areas under Kenya's brand-new devolved structure. They have a chance to build a reputation for hard-core politicking at the grassroots. Perhaps when they do, Kenyans may not have to do with the traditional tokenism associated with the likes of Esther Passaris or Rachel Shebesh that has done so much to set back the cause of women over the decade of Mwai Kibaki's reign. Ms Kilonzo and many in her mould are the generation of women leaders and opinion-makers who will lead this country out of the shackles of their cultures and gender stereotypes. Let us hope they prevail.

Moving on.

The Supreme Court of Kenya has lowered the boom on Raila Odinga's chances at the presidency. Whether he retires from politics or not, Mr Odinga has done much to advance the course of civilised political discourse like no other man has done in Kenya over the past fifty years. Many will credit Mr Odinga with the gains made from the Second Liberation and we will forever be in his debt. Uhuru Kenyatta is set to be sworn in on the 9th of May. For only the second time in our history, power is being transferred peaceably. Credit, surely, must go to the armies of peace-makers in our midst who did so much to prime the nation for peaceful elections.

There have been counter-arguments from those who were determined to keep Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto, his running mate and deputy president elect, from the ballot and, after their victory, from the national Executive. They have attempted to paint a picture that does not resonate with the feelings of millions. They claim that in our pursuit of "peace at any cost", valuable "democratic space" is being sacrificed. They argue that the media has been muzzled, refusing or prevented from publishing stories that would put the lie that Kenya is not peaceful. They have argued that the Executive, through the ministries of information and internal security have done all in their power to control how people think and how they associate with each other. They refuse to learn from the lessons of 2007; it is only when people were allowed unfettered enjoyment of one right, free expression or free association, for example, that things went to hell in a minute.

Most Kenyans are of the view that the nation won on Saturday. When the Mutunga Court declared the election of Uhuru Kenyatta free and fair, and Raila Odinga swiftly endorsed the judgment of the Court, Kenya won. There were few incidences of violence and Kenyans were killed. But for the most part, the nation was unanimous that there was no need to set fire to others' homes or properties; there was no need to go after your neighbour with a panga or a simi simply because your candidate had conceded. (The editors at CNN must be weeping into their beers after Kenyans studiously refused to set fire to the nation on the 4th of March or the 30th.)

We are in uncharted waters, though. The president-elect and deputy president-elect are still indicted at the International Criminal Court. How they thread the needle of running a nation while undergoing trial in a foreign land is a question that we are yet to answer satisfactorily. Flippant references to e-mail and Skype will not suffice. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission spent billions of shillings on electronic systems that failed at the first instance. Will there be an audit to determine whether we got value for money? If not, whose heads will roll? Devolution is taking shape in the face of an assault on county governments by the national Executive. Will the law prevail or the interests of a few mandarins in the Office of the President?

Our fifty-year experiment with democracy is evolving faster than it did in the West or Asia or, indeed, in the rest of Africa. While the pace of reforms in the national government are slower than we expected, the place of the county governments will determine whether they are carried to their logical end or not. It is at county level that the needs of Kenyans must be met. Better schools for our children, better hospitals for us all and the faster growth of the economy and employment for the armies of youth out of university, technical colleges or secondary school. We must get it right or 2017 will be e difficult election year.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The choice is theirs to make.

It needs to be said: if you lost an election recently, whether you are a Big Fish or not, please do not look for a backdoor into the game. Your constituents rejected you. Now, we know that you lot have enormous egos that are not easily bruised; but if the people you had tirelessly represented in Parliament or in those dens of iniquity we called local authorities refused to re-elect you, or thought that you had hitched your wagon to the wrong train, it is time you took time off from the rigours of political life and did something more constructive with your time. Set up a foundation to teach orphans to yodel or something. Just stay out of our hair for the next five years. Perhaps absence will make hearts grow fonder and we may give you another chance to peddle your wares in the corridors of power once again.

A fiction is being perpetuated that when Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto form their next administration, it is necessary for them to blend their Cabinet with both experienced hands and non-political types to ensure "stability." I say, "Horse-shit!" A casual examination of the failed politicians hovering in their ante-chambers reveals men and women who not only failed to do much for their hapless constituents, some are yet to fully unsully their reputations for graft and other forms of official skullduggery.

When Kenyans ratified their constitution in 2010, one of their key objectives was to clean up the Executive branch, to weed out the serial abusers of public office. The foundation of Chapter Six of the Constitution was the desire to keep out sundry thieves, liars and murderers out of the national Executive, and to ensure that the men and women we look to for leadership and guidance did not do their duty with one eye out for the tax-man or the anti-corruption investigators because they had their hands in the national cookie jar. It will be an insult of the highest order for the President-elect and the Deputy President-elect to even countenance the nomination of men and women whom the electorate do not deem fit to hold public office to positions in their Cabinet. If they must recycle anyone, it must be done for the noblest of reasons, that is, the man or women whom they wish to nominate must have some particular skill-set that cannot be found anywhere else in the Republic. Some of those hoping for a comeback tour are yet to explain themselves regarding accusations egregious abuse of office, grand corruption or incompetence.

We have a chance to re-shape the national Executive in order to achieve the lofty ideals contained in Vision 2030 or the Jubilee manifesto. To succeed in these objectives, we must look to men and women who have proven themselves in their respective fields, whether in the public or private sector. When nominated and appointed, they must not only know their stuff, they must also command the loyalty of the armies of public officers they will have charge over. If Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto, in their zeal to "balance" their Cabinet and their desire for stability choose old hacks long rejected by the people who know them best, then we have much to fear as we move forward into the new constitutional dispensation. They have a chance to be great. It is for them to choose how history will look at their record.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Put them out of business.

Much has been said about the violence on social media over the CORD petition and the Jubilee's response. Many cite the use of tribal stereotypes to attack in the most gruesome language those who have a different opinion. Leading members of Kenya's civil society, such as the Archbishop of Nairobi, John Cardinal Njue, and the moderator of the NCCK, Canon Peter Karanja, have asked the authorities, especially the NCIC, to take stern action against those spewing messages of hate on social media sites, such as this author's facebook page.

It does not escape our minds that in 2007 and 2008 the decision of the Electoral Commission of Kenya was but the spark need to light the conflagration that had been primed for months. When Raila Odinga and his ODM cohort called for "mass action", they may not have meant rioting, looting and general mayhem, but that is what occurred. But the call for mass action, on its own, would not have had the effect that it did if the people loyal to the ODM banner had not been primed with unconfirmed rumours that Mwai Kibaki was determined to use all means, legitimate and underhanded, to steal the election from Raila Odinga or those that claimed that if Raila Odinga was elected, he would set about arresting every single prominent Kikuyu politician on trumped-up charges in retaliation for some unspecified slight from the Kikuyu community against his family's honour.

In 2007 we did not have armies of civil society types preaching peace; indeed, many of them seem to have closed shop in anticipation of a smooth transition as had happened in 2002. In 2013, we were determined to learn the proper lessons of the past. It seems we did not; how else can one explain the existence of such virulent messengers of hate on the internet as are being tracked by the NCIC and the National Police Service?

One reason why the last crisis was so devastating is because a large cohort of the youth were out of work and without viable prospects. Things have improved somewhat, but not by much. Added to the fact that many unemployed youth have access to even cheaper internet bandwidth and the problem of what to do with their idle hands remains as crucial as possible. Of course, not all the purveyors of hate online are unemployed; it is now evident that many are employed, some in very senior positions, and they all have an axe to grind in the anonymous world of the blogger or social netizen.

Whoever succeeds Mwai Kibaki has a nettle he must grapple with if he is to have a successful five years. What to do with the idle hands of an educated but unemployed, and perhaps unemployable, youth population should occupy his every waking moment. Many have scoffed at the Jubilee promise of a billion shillings in loans and grants for every county for the youth and other special interest groups. But given the modest success of youth-oriented funds and programmes in the past, this is an idea worth pursuing. It is evident that the expansion of employment and income-generating activities for the youth will not be achieved only through private sector initiatives or public sector one; it is a combined effort by all major players in Kenya that will ensure that the idle hands of our educated youth do not become the devil's workshop of this nation's enemies, whether internal or external.

To defeat the committed hatemongers online, what we require is not more prosecutions or arrests, but better ideas and stronger arguments. Clearly, the NCIC and its fellow-travellers are incapable of engaging with our nation's enemies at this level so it falls down to the likes of you and me, whether we agree with each other or not, to take on the poison keyboards with better arguments of our own. We all agree that Kenya comes first. So while you peddle your side's argument, and I peddle mine, we should at least put out of business those incapable of putting our nation first. Show them to be the liars and charlatans they are. Perhaps they will cut and run. I am a Kenyan thus I am an optimist!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tough shit, Magwanga et al!

There is a group of former MPs, now re-elected, who seem to think that the sun shines out of their asses. They have gotten it into their heads that the behaviour of the Ninth and Tenth Parliaments, and even that of the Eighth, that was tolerated by the long-suffering peoples of Kenya, will be tolerated with the swearing in of the First Parliament of the Second Republic, that is, the Eleventh Parliament. They threaten to mobilise their colleagues in Kenya's only second bicameral Parliament to "renegotiate" their pay and allowances with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission. They argue that the new regime proposed, and published in the Kenya Gazette, by the Commission places elected representatives in the national government in a "compromising position and [makes] them miserable personalities."

How any Kenyan, let alone one who claims to speak for his people, could sneer at half-a-million shillings in pay-and-perks as demeaning beggars belief. Their argument that they have responsibilities in their constituencies that demand higher salaries no longer washes with the great unwashed. The huddled masses may not be the most sophisticated political theorists in the world, but we now know that there is a link between the competence of our elected representatives and the level of development where we live in squalid splendor. Messrs Magwanga, Baiya, Chanzu and Ng'eno are proof positive that it is only the will of the people that will keep our elected representatives from ripping us off every chance they get.

Not even this author believe that representing the people is something one should do for free. Even in the so-called developed world, an elected representative wishes a life of relative prestige and luxury. The scandals rocking the Palace of Westminster regarding its MPs expenses reminds us that the colour of ones skin is not a guarantee of honesty or integrity. However, to allow Magwanga et al to keep taking us for all we've got and then some is tolerance too far. We drew the line in the sand when we overwhelmingly ratified the Constitution of Kenya in August 2010. We reaffirmed our position when we supported the creation of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission. Indeed, when they sought our opinions on whether their proposals were fair just before the general election, we were adamant that the cuts had not gone far enough; we wanted more. Mr Magwanga and his colleagues need to be reminded that we have weighed and measure them, and the departed-and-unlamented Tenth Parliament and we have found them wanting in every respect. This is not the time for any survivors of the carnage that was the general election to attempt to flex their muscles at our expense. If Mr Magwanga and his colleagues cannot live within a half-a-million shillings means, tough shit!

The four represent a dying concept of representative government, one that had been encouraged over 40 years of KANU hegemonic rule. That the elected representatives were responsible for hand-outs rather than leadership had become an entrenched custom that has proven surprisingly resilient. But even in the deepest recesses of our greed, we know that it is an ineffective way of governing or leading. The SRC's pay-cut for State officers is just the first step. The next is for all of them to learn how to lobby and connive and maneuvre to get their constituents what they need from the three arms of government and all its agencies. In 2017, when we next send these representatives through the fiery fires of a general election, those who will survive will be those who know that it is not a fat cheque that turns them into respected personalities; it is the quality of leadership they offer and how far they lead us out of the quagmires of our suffering.

Dr Kidero, you are living your test...


It rained yesterday. Some parts of Nairobi carried on as before. Some parts of Nairobi came to a halt. If you are one of the few lucky ones who lives in Nairobi's well-planned, relatively speaking, and well-serviced, again, relatively speaking, leafy suburbs, you drove to work with nary a thought to the vast majority that had to contend with jacked-up PSV fares, over-flowing drains, over-flowing sewers and extremely muddy pavements and roads. This is my message to Evans Kidero, governor-elect of Nairobi: make life livable for those who don't have the luxury of a regular pay-cheque, private transport or functional municipal services, and you'll do more to turn Nairobi into an economic powerhouse than all your bond issues ever will.

An interesting article appeared in the Daily Nation some years ago. The author's argument was that the middle classes in Nairobi, and other urban centers in Kenya, are heavily subsidised by the men and women we casually mistreat on a day-to-day basis. The men who stand post outside our homes, the women who cook for us, clean our homes and look after our children live in some of the most squalid conditions simply because we refuse to pay them a fair wage. If we were to pay them the true market wage that they deserve, one of two possibilities arise: the middle classes would stop paying for other luxuries, driving down the amount of spare cash in circulation, reducing imports and manufacturing, etc; or they'd sacrifice these services, leading to increased unemployment and its attendant social consequences.

It is a fiction that a Kenyan government is on the way to rescue our servants; this is only something that can be achieved by a well-run government in Nairobi. The City Council was once the pride of the nation; today it is a by-word for corruption, insensitivity, cruelty, callousness and outright thievery. Before you settle into your new office at City Hall, pray take a walk through the City Hall Annex at the corner of Muindi Mbingu Street and Kaunda Street. This will tell you all you need to know about what musty be done to revive the City of Nairobi to its bygone days of glory.

Many of the men and women who work for us, whether at home or in our places of work, have to do with the very worst in municipal services. Their families suffer with them, especially their children. The shambles in service delivery to their residential areas is a principle reason why their share of disposable income in the grand economic scheme of things remains small. To reduce the share of their income they spend on healthcare, transport or security is not rocket science; it is only the will to invest in their well-being that successive city councils have lacked. You have the opportunity to invest in improved transport management, sewers, drains and open (green) spaces in these areas to see not only the quality of their lives improve, but their level of productivity rise too. You only need to seize the opportunity. You have promised to work for the people of Nairobi. Let us test the sincerity of your pledges.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

It's the economy, stupid.


Very few analysts expect Raila Odinga's challenge of the electoral results of the presidential election to succeed. All are focused on whether Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, president-elect and deputy president-elect, are able to unite the nation in the aftermath of a heavily contested general election. Especially because of the tribal tyranny of numbers, Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto may find it difficult to unite Kenyans as they embark on what is surely one of the most fraught presidencies in Kenya's history. While they fight to clear their names in the wake of their indictments at the International Criminal Court, they will have to contend with a political environment that may remain perilous for months, perhaps years, to come. Their administration will stand or fall depending on how they not only manage the onerous task of fighting their indictments at the ICC but also how accommodating and inclusive their policies, both political and otherwise, are.

How they unite the nation has been the subject of multiple commentaries in the Sunday papers. I propose that they use their economic policies as the lever to unite the fractious peoples of Kenya. Today, Kenya is in an unenviable position. Despite the fact that there are multiple institutes of higher learning, white-collar employment has not kept pace with the numbers of youth graduating from these institutes. Mwai Kibaki's administration, admittedly starting from a low point, struggled to create the environment conducive enough to the creation of such jobs. Uhuru Kenyatta, while he was Finance minister, could only come up with short-term blue-collar jobs in his stimulus package. This is nothing to sniff at; at a time when the population of unemployed youth, both skilled and unskilled, was rising inexorably, his Kazi Kwa Vijana programme and other youth-oriented programmes, ensured that for some portion of the year, Kenya's youth would have a source of income.

The challenge the two face today is surely how to ensure that the gains bequeathed by Mwai Kibaki's departing administration are safeguarded and used as a platform for greater job creation. Even without a commodities-driven economy, Kenya is still the most open economic environment in the greater Eastern Africa; the numbers out of Ethiopia and the Sudan mask a state-oriented economic policy that is surely to come unstuck when the political establishments in those countries suffer setbacks in their holds over their peoples in the face of a liberalising global economy. The same is true, to a large extent, of the economies of Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda.

Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto must a pursue a policy that will empower employers, especially in the manufacturing sector, to expand production and, thereby, expand employment, both skilled blue-collar and white-collar. The emphasis, though, must be to encourage greater local consumption of manufactured goods, and greater export of value-added commodities and other goods. Kenya should not remain hostage to a raw-commodities-driven export economy coupled with greater import of manufactured goods. This will entail a mix of public stimuluses of the manufacturing sector, including tax incentives, as well as a gradual draw-down of the scale of public intervention in the sector. The overall goal should be to shrink the size of the State, whether at national or county level, and the expansion of the private sector. It is the private sector that must be the driver of economic growth, not the public sector.

To achieve this, their economic policies must include a complete overhaul of the regulation of labour and better enforcement of the law. Their administration must not pick winners in the market-place; instead, it must ensure that the playing field is level and that all employers play by the same rules. To achieve this, the two must resist the urge to manipulate the Judiciary or the market-place by relying on poorly thought out tax policies. Robinson Njeru Githae, Mr Kenyatta's successor at the Treasury, made many mistakes in his tax policies. He frequently capitulated to vested interests out to make a fast shilling at the expense of the overall economy. One of his proposals to tax bankers is being challenged in the High Court; analysts expect the Government to lose this fight.

If Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto wish to unite the peoples of Kenya, then their policies must ensure that more and more Kenyans enter gainful employment than not. Their economic policies must ensure that more and more employers hire more and more youth than has been the case of late. They must also pursue policies that will turn Kenya into a values-laden export economy, though that comes with is own set of risks. It is the economy that is their best chance of fashioning a lasting legacy, much as Mwai Kibaki's infrastructure development-driven economy will be his.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Sovereignty?

Eric Ng'eno rightly celebrates the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as Kenya's fourth President (Donors will have to respect sovereign boundaries or risk being sidelined. Daily Nation, Saturday, March 9, 2013.) But Mr Ng'eno focuses on the wrong lesson to be drawn from Mr Kenyatta's and Mr Ruto's election. While it is obvious that the West would have preferred a Raila Odinga victory, and that they did all in their considerable power to shift the ballot in Mr Odinga's favour, the lesson we must draw from the Kenyatta victory is not that Kenyans have re-asserted their sovereignty; it is that Kenyans have abandoned all pretense at fealty to the rule of law.

We must all agree that the indictments of the two at the International Criminal Court was not a bar to them offering themselves for election. The loud campaign against their candidacy was rightly stymied by the Judiciary. But it is instructive that a large proportion of those that cast their ballot for Jubilee did it with the express purpose of "protecting" Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto from the clutches of the ICC prosecutor. That is how they understood the situation and that was their motivation for choosing Jubilee over CORD.

What seems to have slipped the minds of many, including Mr Ng'eno, is that millions of Kenyans are yet to receive justice for the crimes perpetrated against them. Thousands of Kenyans were murdered; we seem to have forgotten this. Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans were driven from their homes in the dead of night and their properties either destroyed or unlawfully expropriated; we seem to have forgotten this. Hundreds of thousands of women and children suffered unutterable violations; we seem to have forgotten this. And in the bright new dawn of a Jubilee jubilation, we seem to remind them that regardless of the outcome of the general election, and the presidential contest, their pursuit of justice must play second fiddle to the test of wills between Kenyan "sovereignists" and foreign powers.

Mr Ng'eno argues that the past fifty years has seen Kenya play second fiddle to world powers, giving up its sovereignty bit by bit until it has been retaken by the Jubilee victory. Mr Ng'eno glosses over the fact that Kenyan sovereignty is on paper only; it is only our constitution that declares it. But the reality is that we cannot escape the fact that Kenya is a minor player in a globalised world; when the World Bank and the IMF and other "development partners" attach conditions on their "grants" and "aid", how sovereign are we?

I put it to you that the point of international relations is trade and the nation with the most to sell and the least to buy enjoys greater power than a nation that finds itself in the opposite camp. Jubilee's flip response to threats of consequences by the West was to hint at a deeper relationship with the East, especially China in the style of the Republic of the Sudan. Even a casual examination of the relationship between Kenya and the People's Republic of China shows that it is deeply unequal; we need them more than they need us. For proof, one need only look at the moves China is making in Kenya with regards to newly discovered deposits of oil and gas in parts of the country; China has studiously avoided making any play for them, leaving the field open to companies from the West. China's decision to fund major infrastructure developments are done with an eye to southern Ethiopia and the fledgling state of South Sudan. Kenya is merely a means to a Chinese end. Even China's covert participation in AMISOM's pacification of Somalia is done with an eye to ensuring that its major investments in South Sudan and Ethiopia are free from perennial political risk in the Horn of Africa.

If Kenya had the capacity to demonstrate its sovereignty in it truest form, it would not have allowed the rich and powerful to rely on their wealth and power to escape the clutches of justice. Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto are yet to be convicted of anything to do with the 2007/08 conflagration; but the fact that they were indicted by a foreigner speaks volumes to our claim of sovereignty. It would have been less stinging if the Establishment had properly investigated the crimes, and prosecuted those not indicted by the ICC. As it is, in the fifth year of seeking justice, victims of post-election violence have nothing to show except chest-thumping by two men accused of committing such horrific crimes. This is the sovereignty that the likes of Eric Ng'eno treasure?

Friday, March 08, 2013

Manage the pain.

Listen, when you get home tonight you're going to be confronted by the instinct to drink alone. Trust that instinct. Manage the pain. Don't try to be a hero.
The West Wing, Season 4, Episode 10
 Save for Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, the numbers have been a harsh verdict from the peoples of Kenya. Months, sometimes even years, have been spent by candidates trying to woo Kenyans to their causes. Peter Kenneth, the insurgent from Murang'a, came with a pledge to apply the managerial skills he displayed in the management of the Gatanga CDF to the national stage. Kenyans thought not; his margin of loss should be a cautionary tale for the so-called technocrat-politician. We may deserve an efficient and effective government, but we are easily seduced by the silver tongues of the true politicians.

Martha Karua promised to be the broom that would sweep the Augean stables that are Kenya's politics of all the muck that has accumulated in fifty years. Kenyans only remembered her hard-eyed defense of Mwai Kibaki's re-election five years ago. Many from the Mt Kenya region will never forgive her for insisting that Uhuru Kenyatta could not stand in these elections because of his indictment at the International Criminal Court. James ole Kiyiapi attempted to bring a professorial mien to the political arena. He is now punch-line. Kenyans do not want teachers to abandon their classrooms for the starry lights of high office. Paul Muite, despite his years in the trenches fighting the Second liberation wars that Kenyans are benefiting from should simply have tried to recapture his Kikuyu seat. Mohammed Abduba Dida is the only one who comes out looking good. No one thought he would prevail against the front-runners; he has acquitted himself well against established names and known political figures.

The numbers are brutal. They are even more so for Raila Odinga. All his sacrifices for the people of Kenya and all the cunning and conniving to get to where he is today, only to be upstaged by a person he considers unfit for office must surely sting. If the trend continues to the inevitable denouement, Mr Odinga could very well hang his saddle and retire back to Siaya. Since the attempted coup of 1982, Mr Odinga has built a political career that led only to one destination: the presidency. If he loses this his third attempt at the brass ring, he has no fall-back, no Plan B. He is done. He could attempt to be Uhuru Kenyatta's bete noir like Kizza Besigye is to Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, but that would be beneath him or the legacy he surely has from his years in Kenyan politics. If he loses, he should withdraw gracefully from the arena and leave the muck to Younger Turks with the stamina and cunning he has surely taught them.

Uhuru Kenyatta and, by extension, his running-mate William Ruto, must surely feel like the cats that swallowed the canaries. Should Mr Kenyatta be sworn in, their strategy will have paid off. They argued that their plight at the ICC was a conspiracy to keep them from the presidency. At least half of the voters who cast their ballots for them seem to agree. They argued that it was time for a generational change in Kenyan politics. Half the voters seem to agree. They promised change and it seems they will be given the opportunity to strut their stuff. There is nothing as heady as the adulation of millions of people. The two must take care not to let their victory go to their heads, for therein lies destruction.

Should Mr Kenyatta be elected Kenya's fourth President, our experiment with the ICC will be in for significant challenges. It is the only political crisis that could hamstring the nascent Kenyatta administration. How the two manage their indictments whole at the same time fighting such serious charges will either make or break this nation. They have the choice of fully co-operating with the Court or taking the path that Sudan's Omar el Bashir is determined to follow to its conclusion. One way or the other, Kenya is in for very interesting times. Of course, their legal maneuvres may yet scuttle the ICC trials. If this happens, then Kenyans will expect them to keep their campaign promises in some fashion.

But for the losers, their future is stark, especially if they did not have credible plans for the losses they are suffering this week. Their first order of business should be to salve their political wounds the best they can. I would advise them to have a large bottle of vodka on ice for they really, really need to manage the pain of their humiliating defeat.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

It's all about choice.


Going by the posts on social media sites, God finds Himself in an enviable position. He is called upon to assure victory for one presidential candidate over the other. Many are claiming that the next president is God's choice and that Kenyans should go along to get along. He is also called upon to guarantee peace, and future success to the next president. I think He has better things to do...like drawing up a list of the naughty and nice, to use a past phrase, so that on the Day of Judgment...well, you get the drift.

Instead of calling on the Almighty to intervene in a minor political contest, perhaps we should ask for His guidance as we form our next government. This nation faces challenges that have persisted for decades. Child mortality is still frighteningly high. As are deaths during childbirth and poverty levels. Kenyans routinely slaughter each other over land, grazing rights and political offices. Education is not worth the word in Kenya; we can barely stack up against the Asian Tigers let alone the best of the best in the West. Debilitating diseases still stalk the land.

We have demonstrated a staggering lack of civic-mindedness over the past fifty years and in the year of our Jubilee, perhaps, it is time to call time on the apathy and neglects of the past. We must seize the bull by the horns and tackle the issues that hold us back. Debating with the leading lights of the middle classes, one is persuaded that the corruption, cheating, lies and murders that have coloured our governance in the past are things that can be overcome. Perhaps, with a new president and a new constitution to implement, this is the time when we take these issues, one by one, and sort them out not just for our sake, but for that of our children and theirs in the decades to come.

A visitor from Mars would be mistaken for thinking that the most important choice we have to make is between two very similar presidential candidates. The truth of the matter is that we have more difficult choices to make. In rewarding the men and women who toil in the public service, we must choose between paying them and paying for their tools. In the security of the peoples of Kenya, we must choose between a draconian application of the Penal Code and negotiating with men and women who would seek to do us harm. In educating our children, we would choose between making education free or making it of the highest quality possible. The choices are many and complex. How we choose will determine whether we have a short term or long term view of the viability of our nation.

Even today as uncertainty plagues the outcome of the presidential contest, we must not lose sight of the things that make us one. It cannot be reduced to a National Anthem or a National Flag; we must all, somehow , rise up to the occasion and see ourselves as one nation and one people. For this to happen, we must not jealously guard the allocations that will be made from the national Treasury; we must acknowledge that some are more deserving of State largesse than others and ensure that when that largesse is dispensed, it is done fairly and honestly. If we do not, then it matters not who the man at the top is. We will, sooner or later, revert to self-destructive behaviors and ruin the present and the future we so desperately deserve. If we must call on the Almighty, if at all, let us call on Him to help us do this.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The count is all that matters now.

As I write, the presidential ballots are being counted and Uhuru Kenyatta, scion of Kenya's first Prime Minister, first President and the father of the nation, Jomo Kenyatta, is leading Raila Odinga by around ten points. Raila Odinga, Kenya's second Prime Minister and scion of Jomo Kenyatta's first Vice-President and perennial bete noir, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, is surely hoping to overhaul Mr Kenyatta's lead in the hours ahead as more and more ballots are counted and more and more counties transmit their figures. To say that we are anxiously awaiting the final results is like saying the sky is blue or kittens are cute: stating the obvious!

But the decision is already made; all that remains is for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to confirm the figures and announce who will succeed Mwai Kibaki. We all hope that the election will not be forced into a run-off. It is the way Kenyans voted that is instructive. Month after month of exhortations to peace,Kenyans voted peacefully, save for violent acts intended to disrupt the polls in Mombasa, Kilifi and Garissa where policemen and a polling clerk were murdered in cold blood. The Fourth witnessed long queues, some going back four kilometres, at polling stations. In these queues, Kenyans were stoic and patient, intent on proving to the naysayers at CNN and the BBC wrong about the peaceful elections we were holding. Even despite scaremongering reports by these international media outlets leading up to the polls, Kenyans largely demonstrated that we had learnt the lessons of 2008 and would not need to re-learn them any time soon.

Despite the shambles in the IEBC organisation of the polls - the long queues an busted Electronic Voter Identification Devices - these elections are a success. The IEBC was quick to admit the challenges it was facing; it was even quicker to prescribe solutions that many accepted and applied. It was forthcoming with information when requested; officials did not hide from unpleasant truths or hard questions. The phrase "beefed up" took a new meaning in the context of security preparedness; despite the murders of policemen in Mombasa and Kilifi, the National Police Service and the security establishment have acquitted themselves admirably. There was no repeat of the 2007 claims that Administration Police officers were deployed as agents for one camp or the other. It seems Raila Odinga may have scuttled whatever nascent plans existed to "rig" these elections. Kenyans demonstrated that they had inhered the peace messages of the past three years; hate speech was eerily absent from social media sites and no fear-inducing text messages were sent out to rile up the voters. Even the talking heads on TV have tried their hardest not to appear as overtly, spitefully partisan though the obvious joy of some and bitter despondency of other at the presidential tallying shows that we still have some way to go before we can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

All that remains is for Kenyans to receive the results without going out of their minds. Last time round we didn't trust the late Samuel Kivuitu's numbers. This time we must place our faith that Ahmed Issack Hassan and his Commission have done all that they must to secure the integrity of the tallying and transmission process. Those who would challenge Mr Hassan's numbers must approach Dr Mutunga's Judiciary; it has demonstrated that it is no one's poodle and that it'll jealously defend its independence. It's up to the counting now.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

This is it.

The story that we keep reminding ourselves - and keep being reminded of - is that five years ago Kenyans went to the polls and then tried to destroy the country because the polls were neither free nor fair. None seems to think that the narrative, five years down the line, has changed much. The received wisdom is that Kenya is in a 'fragile' state and if the general election results, especially those of the presidential contest, are doubted by any of the leading candidates, the crisis may be beyond the efforts of Kenya's development partners, the African Union or the sainted Kofi Annan. Much has been predicted about these elections. Much may be wrong about those predictions.

The elephant in the room is that these elections, at least from the politicians' calculations, has been fought on the basis of the strength in numbers one tribe has against another. The coalitions and alliances that were crafted as winning strategies by the leading lights of presidential politics have been with an eye to shoring up what is perceived as limited tribal arithmetic. Fevered reporting by legions of Kenyan pressmen has revolved around a pernicious theory: that of the Tyranny of Numbers that posits that the election was won when the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission closed the voters' register. According to Mutahi Ngunyi, a respected political commentator, the Jubilee Alliance that brings together Uhuru Kenyatta's The National Alliance and William Ruto's United Democratic Front on the presidential ballot will defeat the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) because the union between Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement and Kalonzo Musyoka's Wiper Democratic Movement does not command the same tribal numbers that the Jubilee Alliance does. Much newsprint ink has been spilled trying to argue one way or the other that the Tyranny of Numbers theory is flawed or accurate, depending on your political predilections. Those who pooh-pooh the theory do so based on opinion polls, published regularly over the past year.

Opinion polling in Kenya is slowly coming of age. Many 'sophisticated' Kenyans treat them like the Oracles of Delphi, bestowing upon the statistics a mythical power to define the political landscape of the nation. Opinion pollsters have argued that they rely on statistical models that have been proven time and again in proving one thing or the other, or as they like to declaim, to show how the trends are trending. Still, there is much to doubt in the numbers, not least because no one seems to know who has commissioned the polls or what methodologies have been relied on to arrive at the statistical conclusions being published in the press. Because of these and other doubts surrounding the numbers, Kenyans are divided down the middle on whether to place their trust in the numbers or to trust the Tyranny of Numbers theory. Alternative predictions from the statistics are based on whether one has faith in the institutions that will oversee the elections or not.

The IEBC has been lauded, despite much misgiving in some quarters as to its integrity, for the manner in which it has prepared for the elections and the processes and systems it has established to pull off a successful elections. Ahmed Isaack Hassan and his fellow commissioners have worked very hard to portray and image of a united front in their preparations for the elections. But one should not be blinded by the apparent bonhomie by the commissioners; the teething problems the commission endured during the procurement of the Biometric Voter Register paint a frightening picture of an agency that continues to emulate some of the worst habits of the mainstream public service that had brought it low in the peoples' estimations. The public service too has come in for some flak. Accusations that senior members of the public service have been co-opted into the campaigns of this or that coalition have refused to die down despite the emphatic protestations of the Head of the Public Service. Many still remember the damning findings of the Kriegler Commission of the role that the public service played in the conflagration of 2007 and 2008.

The Judiciary, however, under the rather unsettling leadership of Dr Willy Mutunga, the Chief Justice, has somehow managed to redeem itself in the eyes of many Kenyans. Despite some of the missteps of the Chief Justice, the Judiciary has managed to stay above the political fray for the most part. Many Kenyans, and foreigners, are convinced that the Judiciary will play a mediating role if and when electoral disputes arise. In a series of judgments and rulings, the Judiciary has refused to pick favourites in the general election; it has argued, persuasively, that it is up to the peoples of Kenya to make the ultimate choice on The Fourth.

When the Judiciary refused to bar Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto from the ballot, it must have known that the decision would not sit well with some of the more vocal members of the 'human rights' section of civil society. Their demands, regardless of their passion on the subject, were without legal merit. One suspects that they know this but are simply unwilling to admit in in public lest their benefactors think they have gone soft. But the matter of the International Criminal Court indictments of the Jubilee Alliance's ticket is not a conviction. They are accused of heinous crimes. They are yet to stand trial and from the looks f things, Uhuru Kenyatta may yet be tried if the numbers of witnesses recanting rises or the proof relied upon by the Office of the Prosecutor keeps getting successfully challenged by his very able, and expensive, defense team. But make no mistake: in the minds of many Kenyans, the results of the presidential contest are also a referendum on the ICC Question. If the Jubilee ticket wins the contest, it will be seen by many as a vindication of their claims to innocence. If they lose, their political careers may be sunk, never to rise again.

What is notable about these elections has been the almost total absence of politically-motivated violence. Even in the run up to the 2007 general election, Kenyans were engaged in low-level violence that found an outlet in the disputed results. So far, none has argued that continuing clashes in the Tana Delta or the sporadic cattle-rustling incidents that have caused so much death and destruction in parts of the Rift Valley and northern Kenya have had anything to do with the elections. It seems that it is only the wanton destruction of Kenya's wildlife is linked to the general election; it is alleged that the continuing poaching of elephants, lions and rhinos in Kenya's national parks and game reserves is linked to the financing of what is bound t be the most expensive election in Kenya's fifty year history.

Those in the civil society not obsessed with the ICC Question have done a stellar job in "peace-building." Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Many Kenyans, as indeed their candidates, have pledged to respect the verdict of the people on The Fourth. After all is said and done, Kenyans have the opportunity to prove to the world and to the Western media that continues to scaremonger with wild abandon, the we are a peaceable and peaceful peoples. We have claimed that 2007/08 will never again be our postcard to the world. It is time to put our money where our mouths are.

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 ...