Sunday, June 30, 2013

Barack Obama's visit says more of Africa than himself.

Ahmednasir Abdullahi is right: Africa has never been a priority for the United States (Sunday Nation, 30/06/13). But he is wrong that Barack Obama's presidency has been an abject failure. In 2008, Barack Obama inherited a nation that was fighting two declared wars, an economy that was in the shitter, a foreign reputation that was largely hostile and a domestic political situation that had become more divided under eight years of Republican dominance. Mr Obama is to be judged based not on the promises he made on the campaign trail but on whether, generally, the United States is better off today than it was five years ago. On that score, he has largely succeeded.

While politics is still bitterly divided, and the US government is still divided with the Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and the Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, Mr Obama managed to ram through major changes to US healthcare, to wind down the war in Iraq and generally, to improve the image of the United States overseas.

Mr Obama cannot be measured using the same matrices that we use to measure the leadership in Africa's democracies or authoritarian regimes. In the United States it is not simply that the President lifts a finger and people hop to it. It is institutions and the rule of law that determines what gets done and what does not. In Africa, whether it is a democracy or an non-democracy, it is the will of the President that determines whether things will get done or not. Take for example, Uhuru Kenyatta's declaration of a "war" against drugs or corruption, and you will see what this author means.

This author has argued previously that presidential directives mean shit. When he declared a war on corruption, this author argued that within a hundred days the President would be forced to eat his words when the first major corruption scandal erupts in his government. The same will be the case with his declaration of a war on drugs. It is just a matter of time before the gutter press start publishing stories of high government officials engaged in the drugs business. If you think this is far-fetched, remember the senior General Service Unit who was mysteriously  "murdered" because he refused to play ball with how the billions of shillings worth of cocaine that had been seized in Kenya or the Saitoti report on the drugs business in Kenya that is yet to be published and which many believe is directly linked to the mysterious crash of a police helicopter that killed both him and Orwa Ojode, his assistant minister?

We should all remember that the US President will do everything in his power to secure the interests of the United States, and only after will he take into account the interests of the rest of the world. It is why the United States is yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the Rome Statute or the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Ironically, the United States was at the forefront of the development of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is in fact based on an existing US federal law. But it will not get ratified by the Senate if the US senators feel that it will somehow compromise the interests of the United States.

Candidate Obama successfully campaigned using rhetoric to promise US citizens, and the world, the moon. President Obama must govern pragmatically. It is why he has stepped up the military engagements overseas, spied on his nation's enemies and friends alike, and advanced the business interests of his nation at the expense of everyone else. That is his sworn duty: to protect the interests of the United States. It is a lesson that African leaders must learn and learn well.

Kenya has traditionally gone with its begging bowl to development partners for assistance in one programme or the other. We are among the biggest beneficiaries of the George Bush-era Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and the Presidential Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief. Regarding the latter, President Kibaki famously pardoned the head of the AIDS programme in Kenya who had stolen millions from the programme. Rather that sympathise with the hundreds of thousands of Kenyans who would have benefitted from free or subsidised anti-retroviral drugs, President Kibaki sided with a person who had endangered the lives of millions of Kenyans.

Barack Obama is not an African President; he is an American one. Whether he is judged successful, that is a judgment to be left in the hands of American historians. We must start examining whether our presidents, prime ministers and coup leaders are good for us or not. On balance, our leadership, whether political, business, intellectual or social have been abject failures. The proof is in the continued poverty and violence that stalks the content of Africa. We are, for all intents and purposes, the Dark Continent.

On hypocrisy, again.

If you intend to argue that it is immoral for the 47 governors of Kenya, or the National Executive, to spend like drunken sailors, please remember that the moral argument holds no water in Kenya. We are living through straitened economic times, but you would not know it. Looking at the huddled masses attempting to lift themselves up, not by their bootstraps, but by hook and crook, what Aden Duale claimed seems apposite: if the Members of the Eleventh Parliament are thieves, so too are the millions of men and women that elected them to office.

There is no argument that is designed to appeal less to Kenyans than the moral one. Kenyans have long since given up any hope of applying moral values to their day to day lives. While we bristle in faux indignation at the rapacity of the ruling classes, we have little sympathy for the workers at the Kenyatta National Hospital who are demanding a little more from their employer; we claim solidarity with the teachers of the public school system in Kenya, but in reality we will not join in a general strike to ensure that they get the deal they were promised. A few weeks ago, the Deputy President spent tens of millions of shillings in shuttling around Africa in a private jet; now we will spend tens of millions more in refurbishing the half-billion shilling palace that we build for the Deputy President last year and which is yet to be lived in by anyone.

Kenyans are yet to link the cost of their government to the hefty taxes they pay mostly because the "middle-class" that pays the taxes that sustain the government is pitifully small. Mwai Kibaki left office with ringing praise in his ears about the "booming" economy. But this image is a false one; if Kenya's economy was booming, the millions of Kenyans that live below the official poverty line, inflation, the cost of basic goods and services, the largely decrepit public infrastructure, the lethargy and animosity of the public service...all these would show improvement of one sort or the other. The truth is that we are not seeing the benefits of a booming economy; it seems to be benefiting the elite, especially the very wealthy political elite that wants to get richer but not die trying.

Strong institutions and the rule of law are the bedrocks of a strong, functioning democratic society. Kenya has neither. The rule of law is based on morality. In an immoral society, the rule of law is more like a figment of our collective imagination. When we as a society revel in the petty offences we commit on a daily basis, we show contempt for the law and contempt for the rule of law. We do not consider petty offences as symptoms of our casual acceptance of petty unfairnesses. The petty offences we commit are rooted in our innate selfishness that remains untrammeled by any institutional or statutory framework. And so while we pretend to be outraged that the government is going out of its way to make ever more money for its high officials at our expense, we secretly wish that we were in their shoes. In our secret heart we wish we were in a position to get something for nothing. This explains why Kenyans are getting snookered daily by convicts residing in our maximum security prisons in get rich schemes of dubious provenance. Like Gitau Warigi cheekily states in today's Sunday Nation, "Stop being killjoys and allow the party to go on; Wanjiku is a rich lady!"

Friday, June 28, 2013

Stop talking, start doing.

Governor Evans Kidero cannot just win. He inherited one of the most dysfunctional institutions on God's Green Earth. And he also seems to be stuck in the mud that makes the daily commute from Eastleigh's 1st Avenue such a nightmare most days and twice as bad during the rainy seasons. While many of his initiatives seem to have their hearts in the right places, he is simply attempting to reinvent the wheel that was invented by the very inventive councillors of the City Council of Nairobi. Beyond the annoying tweets about who he is swearing in or who he is meeting, Mr Kidero seems to be stuck in the traditional government management style that has laid Nairobi so low that it is being compared unfavourably with the backwater that is Kigali.

Mr Kidero has attempted to craft an image for the city administrators that is more caring; he will fail in this endeavour if he does not tackle the issues that cause so much grief to so many resident of the Capital City. take the perennial problems with drainage and sewerage in the City's forgotten and neglected zones. It is not enough for the Governor to declare that he will reclaim all "grabbed" land from the land-grabbers, but when these properties, entire neighbourhoods, consist of tin-shacks and some more ambitious brick-and-mortar hovels where three-quarters of the residents of Nairobi call home, he will have a far difficult time reclaiming this land. But while he focuses on the laws that declare the residents of these areas as illegal squatters, he fails to focus on the facilities that would make the lives of these people, who happen to be a vital source of manual labour for the industrial sector, more bearable, healthier and safer. It takes the intervention of ill-informed do-gooding development partners to take steps to provide running water, toilets, bathrooms and safety lights for these people to feel that they belong to the City.

Even when it comes to the Governor's pet projects such as roads and traffic, he is clearly out of his depth. So long as he does not understand what the current City by-laws permit him to do, and what they prevent the National Government from doing, Mr Kidero will be a deer in the headlights of the overwhelming transport problems in Nairobi. It is just the dream of a mass transit system that incorporates trains/trams, buses and private vehicles that sort out the transport problems of the City. It will take a recognition that the larger proportion of the residents of Nairobi cannot afford public transport; therefore, the City must provide dedicated pavements for them to walk and dedicated bicycle lanes for the more ambitious among us. The distance from the Kibera slum to the Industrial Area is barely ten kilometres; but in the City's desire to cater for the thousands of wack-jobs with cars of their own, the people who keep the City ticking over have to walk along ill-lit, ill-paved pedestrian paths that are barely able to contain their multitudes, especially when nifty matatus and carelessly reckless boda bodas force them to scamper for safety. it is a pattern that is even witnessed in the leafy suburbs: four wheels are clearly the preference for the City; if you are powering along on your own two legs your are on your own. Is this a cruel upending of the Animal Farm allegory (two legs good; four wheels better)?

Nairobi may be run by the rich but it is not a city of the rich. If the Governor fails to realise this, something that was apparent when he campaigned for the position, then he will never transform it into a world class city. If he wishes to raise the economic productivity of this City, Governor Kidero must ensure that the men and women who perform the menial tasks that the investors never get see live in and with dignity. Instead of spending ever-increasing amounts to keep the car-driving classes happy, the Governor and his Executive Committee must shift their attention to the lives of the walking working poor. The City Council - now, the County Government - owned hundreds of primary and secondary schools in Nairobi. They were allowed to become decrepit. If the Governor is to improve the quality of labour in the City, even at basic level, he must invest ever greater sums in improving the facilities that the youth of Nairobi require to improve their lives. This is not just limited to brick-and-mortar, but also to supply of vital facilities such as piped water and reliable electricity. If the Governor wants the walking working poor to spend ever more sums in the economy, then he must ensure that the share of their income that goes to healthcare, rent and transport is cut down substantially which means that he must invest more in preventing ill-health in the walking working poor, curbing the rapacity of the landlords and providing for dedicated walking and bicycle-riding zones for the working masses.

Finally, if the Governor wants the intellectuals who reside in his County to help him improve the quality of life, he needs to start publishing is idea and plans. How is it that a man who ran what was arguably a series of complex conglomerates in different parts of Africa is yet to establish a working website for his government on which can be found downloadable documents of his master and other plans, his proposed budgets or a reliable list of every elected representative of the county government or every manager in his government? It creates the impression that either he is not confident that his plans and personnel are creditable or that he has something sinister up his sleeve. secrecy generally characterises governance in Kenya; it also poisons relations between governors and the governed and make sit all but impossible to change things for the better. The Governor's honeymoon is over. It is time he started doing things rather than talk about doing things.

We should've flipped Nigeria The Bird!

If you did not find the spectacle of Kenyans being held hostage by an apparently friendly nation at the behest of a deported alleged drugs trafficker and the Government of Kenya "negotiating" the release of the Kenyans disturbing, then it is quite possible that nothing the Government of Kenya will ever do will ever surprise you. When the President ordered the expulsion of all suspected drugs traffickers from Kenya, many were perturbed that these suspects were not being arraigned before magistrates, convicted, and sentenced to lengthy stays in Kamiti GK prison before their inevitable expulsion from Kenya. But we will never know the rationale that informed the President's decision to expel them; what is surprising is that the directive seemed to have been implemented with alacrity.

The Chinedu Affair, however, has some curious twists and turns. Mr Chinedu seems to have been a long time resident of Kenya, having established himself as a businessman of no mean repute. His attempt to found a family with a Kenyan did not succeed; he and his estranged wife are engaged in a bitter divorce at the heart of which is the property that Mr Chinedu claims his estranged wife is trying to steal from him (with the assistance of the State, as he so ludicrously claims.)

Mr Chinedu is no stranger to the inner workings of the Kenyan criminal administration system. In his on-going feud with his estranged wife, he has been in and out of jail so many times that he has become a familiar face to the court officials and policemen that have to deal with his matters. He must have felt confident that the State's latest attempt to remove him from Kenya would come-a-cropper like all that preceded it. This time he was wrong. And this is where the second strange thing happened.

Traditionally, a government does not lay down millions of shillings, or its equivalent, in deporting an undesirable person; all it does is to ensure he is placed in the first home-bound vessel and that the vessel leaves its territory. Why did the Government of Kenya decide to hire a business jet in its haste to deport Mr Chinedu? What were Kenyan officials, including policemen and immigration officers, doing accompanying the controversial Nigerian back to his home country? Then it gets curiouser and curiouser. Why did Nigeria refuse to accept Mr Chinedu's deportation? Why did they hijack the plane that brought him home and take hostage the Kenyans who accompanied him? Why did the Government of Kenya not inform the Nigerian High Commissioner in Nairobi that Mr Chinedu was being expelled as an undesirable alien? Why did the Government of Kenya choose to negotiate the "release" of the Kenyans rather than demand it as of right? Why didn't the government issue a formal démarche protesting the Nigerian two-step?

Then things went completely off the rails. The Cabinet Secretary for the Interior and Co-ordination of Government, being the one who deported the Nigerian, was unable to state with confidence that the Government of Kenya had acted within the law when expelling Mr Chinedu; he was unsure how long it would take to recover the Kenyans taken hostage in Nigeria; and he wasn't even sure how much it cost to deport the troublesome Nigerian. His counterpart, the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, tried to "shush" Kenyans, repeating annoyingly that the Government of Kenya was negotiating with the Federal Government of Nigeria for the safe return of the Kenyans, and their plane, still being detained in Nigeria. Parliament, on its part, did not cover itself in glory. The Leaders of the Majority and Minority Parties outdid themselves in making statements on the floor of the National Assembly that simply betrayed that they have no clue what their proper role in the Government of Kenya is. The Majority Leader surely outdid himself in his robust defense of the Government of Kenya; the Minority Leader could not decide whether his target was the Interior Cabinet Secretary or the Foreign Affairs one. In the end he simply abandoned the whole affair and turned his attention to scuttling Uhuru Kenyatta's one-laptop-per-standard-one-child project. He lost that fight too.

In this entire affair, like in a few others over the infancy of the Jubilee government, State officials have behaved with a certain level of timidity that is breathtaking. If the Interior Cabinet Secretary was within his power to eject Mr Chinedu, he should not be shy about declaring it to all who will listen. If he has proof that Mr Chinedu is indeed a drugs peddler, he should place this information in the public domain so that we can all judge its veracity. Why the Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary chose not to aggressively pursue the release of the Kenyans remains a mystery. Her assurances that the Government was doing all it could to secure their safe release were not very reassuring. we may not be as populous as Nigeria or as bomb-happy as the United States, but, as the leading lights of the Jubilee government spared no opportunity to remind us, we are a sovereign state and if a Kenyan is taken hostage in any part of the world, we will do what needs to be done to aggressively secure their release. We should never kow-tow to bandit governments no matter how righteous their indignation might sound. When it comes to Kenyans, its our people first and fuck the rest of the world!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rationalise and harmonise before it is too late.

The teachers' strike is setting the cat among the pigeons. Teachers have received the short end of the stick for a decade or so, since they were led up the garden path over their allowances. They care for our young, they keep them safe when we are busy being busy. The Cabinet Secretary for Education is adamant that the deal that the teachers reached with the government has been honoured in full. The teachers' unions are equally adamant that their members are not going back to school until they are paid what they are owed.

Jaindi Kisero, writing in the Daily Nation, argues that the public wage bill has become unsustainable and that the teachers' strike is an opportunity to set things right (Diverting money meant for laptops to pay teachers won't save economy, Daily Nation, 26/06/13.) He is right, too, that the debate on how much we pay our public officers has been hijacked by an elite few; the wider public remains uninformed and unengaged.

The public service was always going to expand in size and scope. Now that we are busily entrenching devolution, it is set to get ever larger. So too will be the amount of public funds devoted to paying for the public service. The solution, such as it is, is a choice between freezing public pay until the revenues collected by the government can be sustainably employed in employing the public service or rationalising and harmonising the pay of all public officers. The former is the relatively easier choice; the latter, as we saw when the judiciary almost went on strike, is fraught with great political risk.

It is the latter, though, that must be done. It is unfair that the men and women we trust with our children, our safety or our health have to play second fiddle to nabobs in Nairobi. The two-tier public service that was bequeathed on Kenya by the Dream Team has become a sore point with the rank-and-file of the public service. It is being perpetuated at a time when the Constitution declares the equality and equal treatment of all Kenyans, including public servants.

While it might have been the sensible compromise to make, the Committee of Experts was wrong to entrench the separation of public and State officers. All State officers, now, strut around as some sort of special people. The British system of honours that we claimed to have rejected, is reflected in this idea that if a public servant is an elected representative, or a judge, or a member of a constitutional commission, or a holder of an independent office. While, because of our fractured history, it is necessary to provide for special rules for the discipline of State officers, it is wrong to give them an elevated economic position for it too. In a nation that takes pride in how many development partners that support its programmes, a nation who's economy is incapable of paying for the programmes being supported by development partners, it is insane to tell one set of public servants that despite their sacrifices, they are a little...less.

Many play down the effect of human emotions, like jealousy, in economic decision-making. There is a small cohort of public officers that see a small elite snuffling in the truffles of public funds while they have to make do with scraps. The fight against corruption in the public service will be lost if there is an elite group that not only enjoys the best that public funds can provide, but a social status that  many think is undeserved. If the rationalisation or harmonisation of public pay is not done, when the teachers are done with their strike, it will be policemen, doctors, nurses, garbage collectors, prisons officers or ordinary civil servants who'll embark on their own.

Monday, June 24, 2013

I'm very, very soft-in-the-head.

Josephine, my friend and colleague, thinks I am too negative. She is right. (See, I can agree with someone every now and then.) So, in order to prove that the exception makes the rule, here is an attempt at a more light-hearted, positive disquisition. And it all has to do with the cold weather, which I am finding rather enjoyable for reasons that are Not Safe for Work.

I recently made the rather soft-headed decision to shift houses. Soft-headed because by previous abode was tiled and never had water problems. It was blessedly near everything of social value: bus-stop, bank/ATM, supermarket, church, the barber, the chemist/pharmacist and a rather cozy bar (that had reserved section for very non-social, unsociable smokers like yours truly.) But after almost a decade in the same house, it was time to move on to a new one where new relationships would be forged and, quite crucially, old habits would (hopefully) be discarded, and new ones adopted (the jury is still out on the success of the latter and the failure of the former.) Soft-headed also, because all I did was to add an additional 100 metres, as the crow flies, to my treks to the aforementioned bus-stop, ATM, supermarket, church, barber, chemist and bar (in reality, more like 200 metres, taking to account the frenzied, fevered erection of walls and barriers in my general area of residence.)

Enough of the soft-headedness of this author, though. What was heartening, as soon as I had settled in to take notice of my new surroundings, is that my estate (that's what we call them this side of the Queen's English) is rather demographically young. Many (I'd say a majority) of my neighbours are young couples, married or living in sin, with young children, some of school-going age. There seems to be a permanent cohort of older married couples with children either in mid-primary school or in secondary school. But that is not the heartening part. What is heartening is that the balance of children in the estate seems to favour those of the feminine gender, or girls, to be less politically correct (besides, I do not think any of them is interested in whether or not they can "choose" their genders at this stage.)

It is fascinating. When I was a boy (some ladies who are dear to me would argue I still am) the meagre supply of bicycles-as-toys was reserved almost exclusively for the boys in our estate; girls had to beg, and wait their turn, for a ride on those contraptions we were so proud of. I always felt faintly guilty that my thrilling rides always came at the delayed thrills of some of my friends (but as a child, I refused to let the guilt prevent me from enjoying myself to the maximum.) I don't know why, but I am thrilled (there's that word again) that the wheels have come full circle and now it is girls who determine whether or not boys get to have fun, and how much fun they get to have. And these are not girlie-girls either. They all seem to have adopted a jeans-and-t-shirt fashion that is tom-boyishly homogenous, and if it was not for the explosion of pinks and light blues and reds, one would almost think that they were boys. Thank God none of them has acquired a taste for those plastic ballet shoes that I see on the feet of otherwise sensible looking adult females; their shoe-sense seems determined to keep the makers of Bata Bullets in business for the next decade or so.

And the self-confidence in their eyes is sometimes a little scary and intimidating. They are not shy at staring you in the eye, even if you are an adult whose air supply is being constricted by a too tightly tied neck-tie. They will not simply move out of the way because you wish to pass. They will not pipe down simply because that Friday's overindulgence has come back to bite you in the ass.  They will not place their feelings on hold so that they can accommodate the rather fragile ones of the few boys that dare to play at their level. If these girls grew up to be politicians, they'll accomplish a great deal more than the like of The Hairdo and her retinue of fellow-failures-cum-flower-girls. That is why I think we will be alright in the end.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The ball is in Anne Waiguru's court.

In the devolution utopia, governors, county assemblies and the National Government will work hand in hand to ensure that the peoples of Kenya, at the grassroots, will receive the services they need, when they need them at a price that does not raise their taxes. Uhuru Kenyatta, bending to the will of the governors of Kenya, has directed the National Government to devolve all functions of the devolved government to the counties. Whether this will be smoothly implemented depends entirely on how we define "smooth."

Our recent experience in governance, such as it is, has been a lesson in the perseverance of the peoples of Kenya. Immediately elected representatives took office, bar one or two, there was an ungodly clamour for better terms and conditions. When Mwai Kibaki faced the same demand from the judiciary in 2011, he bent over backwards to accommodate them. Uhuru Kenyatta attempted to strong-arm the members of the Eleventh Parliament and failed. In the end, the Deputy President was forced to negotiate a compromise between the elected representatives, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission and the Parliamentary Service Commission.

This places the devolution of all functions to the county governments in context. Arguments that have been advanced about the readiness of the counties to perform these functions have glossed over the fact that county governments are nowhere near ready to perform all their functions. Many of the counties are yet to fully set up their executive committees or their county public services. They are yet to agree on a legislative agenda, a development agenda or a priority list of projects that must be completed in the first year. Much of the infrastructure of a government is not yet in place. It beggars belief that a government that does not have a functioning information and communications technology infrastructure is in a position to implement any programme, bar the consumption of money.

Much of the blame for the state of affairs can be laid at the feet of the Transitional Authority which could not even stand up to the National Government regarding the niggling matter of official office space for county governments. When it was established, the TA, rather than determine what structures would be required for the smooth handover of functions from the National Government to the devolved government, it spent much of its time attempting to stamp its authority in the process. It was so busy trying to show up the erstwhile Ministry of Local Government that it failed to anticipate that governors and county assemblies were woefully unprepared for the rigours of governing in environments that had become inured to incompetence and corruption.

Devolution is supposed to be a panacea for the ills engendered by the sloth and corruption of local authorities. In 2009, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission published a list of the most corrupt local authorities. It attempted, and failed, to assist local authorities to recover lost properties and monies. These problems have been inherited by the county governments. For example, the county governments of Mombasa and Nairobi inherited debts from the local authorities that run into tens of billions of shillings. The TA was supposed to assist the county governments to identify these debts, who the local authorities owed and how much, and what the law on the payment of these debts was. Instead, it went on a harebrained programme of identifying assets that belonged to the counties and what belonged to the National Government and whether one set would be transferred to one government or the other. As it is, county governments inherited books of account that would require a billion Chinese to untangle.

The Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning faces an undaunted and unenviable task between now and July 1st. She must do the job of the TA at the same time as spearhead the National Government's efforts to make devolution a success. She must map out the steps required to ensure that the devolution of functions from the National Government to the devolved government hits all its benchmarks and ensures that the devolved government not only has the capacity to perform all its functions but also to take over functions that are unanticipated. If she fails, or if she is thwarted in her efforts, devolution will be dead in all but name. The TA is a lost cause; it is now up to the Cabinet Secretary.

It's all a matter of when, not if.

When the law declares something to be wrong, it does so by making it a crime to do that thing. What happens when the law declares that something cannot, in law, exist? Does it declare the person, or the thing, to be illegal? The Associated Press, in recent weeks, has made changes to its stylebook, saying that the phrase "illegal immigrant" should be replaced with the phrase "illegal immigration." "Illegal" should be used in connection with an act and not a class of persons.

In Kenya, the story of Andrew Mbugua, who would like to be known as Audrey Mbugua, has agitated the nascent religious right. Audrey states unequivocally that she is not gay; all she wants is for the law to accept her for who she is. This is not to say that there are no legal issues to be ironed out. For example, would Audrey be allowed to get married to a man once she undergoes gender reassignment surgery. In a nation that glorifies sons over daughters when it comes to succession matters, would Audrey be allowed to inherit from her father as a son or a daughter? What of the documents of identity issued by the government such as her national identity card or passport: would they be issued to her as a woman or a man?

As with every knotty problem in Kenya, we must begin with what the Constitution of Kenya permits or does not permit. The Bill of Rights in the Constitution of Kenya prioritises individual liberty, especially in an individual's relationship with the State. To a great extent, this is anathema to African cultures that place primacy on the collective over the individual. For the most part, one is superior to the other. The community comes first; the individual must bend to the will of the majority.

Despite the cultural histories of the peoples of Kenya, the Constitution seems to place the individual first. How this happened during the years of the Bomas conference remains a mystery. But this is where we are today; individual rights more often than not supersede majority rights. The right to vote, to found a family, to legal representation, to own property, or to stand for public office is an individual right, not a collective right. Therefore, the right to an identity of ones choice is an individual right. While the Constitution declares that family is the foundation of society, it makes it an individual right for a person to freely marry a person of the opposite sex. But, crucially, it does not expressly prevent a person of on sex freely marrying a person of the same sex. It seems, if one takes the power of the government to limit individuals' rights under Article 24 as a reasonable rule, that the government could make it a crime for a person to marry another of the same sex, regardless of choice or consent.

Over the past fifty years, our concept of family and individual freedom has evolved mightily. Many of the institutions that placed primacy in the majority over the individual have crumbled. It is rare indeed to witness cohesive extended families today; we are more likely to witness nuclear families which are also increasingly single-parent families to boot. The church has become greatly discredited and its insights on family are increasingly being rejected by many individuals. Therefore, when Audrey challenges the rigid interpretation of church regarding identity and family, she is the sharp end of the spear that is piercing the nascent right's iron-grip on a definition of family that no longer exists.

Whether Audrey, and those in the Kenyan LGBTI coalition, prevail will speak more to the supremacy of individual rights over collective rights or vice versa and whether Kenyans are prepared to defy their deeply held prejudices and adopt new ones and new definitions. If the nascent right was truly determined to preserve the traditional definition of family, their focus would not be the campaign to prevent Audrey from adopting the identity of her choice or abortion; it would also pursue a campaign against single-parent families, incest, polygamy (though that is a traditional, cultural shibboleth in Kenya), universal adult suffrage, women empowerment, women employment, and so on and so forth. In short, it would have all its fingers and toes in the million of leaks in the crumbling levee of tradition. Good luck to them, eh!

What price our love-in with China?

Makau Mutua makes a powerful statement in this Sunday's Letter from New York. Commenting on the Jubilee leadership's argument that Kenya need not cozy up to the United States or the European Union any longer because it has China and the East as the new suitors, Mr Mutua argues that "you can't swap one master for another and call that progress" (Why Obama has skipped Kenya in his Africa tour, Sunday Nation, 23/06/13.) Mr Mutua points out that the Jubilee stance is a little hypocritical when many of Kenya's elite still prefer sojourns and high-end shopping in the capitals of Western Europe and North America.

It is inarguable that Mwai Kibaki's Look East policy has paid off. The Thika superhighway is just one of a series of flagship projects that have benefitted immensely from China's investment in infrastructure in Kenya without necessarily making corresponding political demands on the Government of Kenya. The continuing construction of the Northern Corridor through Isiolo, Marsabit to Moyale and the border with southern Ethiopia is a vital trade route that will be pf great benefit to Kenya. So too will be the grand LAPSSET project. When complete, it will offer a new route to Kenya's coastline from both southern Ethiopia and Africa's youngest state, South Sudan.

However, the Look East policy takes place in the midst of one of the longest transitional phases in Kenya's politics. With the end of the twenty-four year rule of Daniel Toroitich arap Moi that was marked by great corruption and human rights abuses, the Kibaki Decade was supposed to right many of the wrongs that the peoples of Kenya had suffered under KANU. The transitional period, instead, has been marked with even greater corruption, human rights abuses and civil strife in a scale not seen since the protracted Shifta Wars under the Kenyatta regime in the late 1960s through the 1970s. The nadir of the Kibaki Decade was the violence after the disputed presidential election in 2007 that led to the creation of the fractious Grand Coalition Government between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga. With the election f Uhuru Kenyatta to succeed Mwai Kibaki in 2013, it seems that the transitional phase will continue for at least the next five to ten years.

But it is the relationship between Kenya and the West that continues to suffer because of the protracted transition. Despite the apparent desire of the Government of Kenya to seek closer economic and political ties with China and the East, one gets the impression that the approval of the West is still vital to its economic and political survival. While the official view is that it is not a big deal that Barack Obama will overfly Kenya on his way from Senegal to Tanzania, unofficially, Kenyan policy makers are worried about the implications of this move. While Barack Obama has publicly stated that he supports Kenya's right to choose its political leadership, his decision to skip Kenya during his Africa tour is proof that elections have consequences. Rather than lead his captains of industry to Kenya to scout for investment opportunities in East Africa's most robust economy, he will lead them to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. To add salt to injury, rather than meet with Kenyan officials during the trip, he plans to meet with Uhuru Kenyatta's rival, Raila Odinga, in South Africa. That Mr Odinga refused a roving ambassador's role must bite in the bargain.

Kenyans still refuse to accept that their "sovereignty" argument in the election of Uhuru Kenyatta is meaningless if the legitimacy of the election remains largely a Kenyan construct. China, for all the billions it will lend Kenya in infrastructure development, remains one of the least democratic nations in the world. Its pledge not to interfere in Kenya's internal affairs serves its interests. This author has stated before that China's interest in Kenya is a means to an end; China will continue to invest in infrastructure, especially the Northern Corridor, because it is eying the more promising reserves of oil, gas and minerals in the largely unexplored South Sudan and southern Ethiopia. China, not Kenya, will come out ahead in this relationship. When the relationship founders, as it must, Kenyans will attempt to re-establish closer political and economic ties with the West. The price will be high.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The GoK-ICC Relationship has changed.

The time to review our impression of the International Criminal Court has come. When the Court, in a two-to-one majority, to allow the Deputy President to attend only part of his trial, there was no longer doubt that the Court can be manipulated by political events. It is apparent that the trials of the President and Deputy President are different from those of Charles Taylor (who was tried by a special tribunal looking into the Senegal imbroglio) and Thomas Lubanga (the only person convicted so far at the ICC.) Mr Lubanga was not a state official either before or during his trial and neither was Mr Taylor. Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto were not state officials when they were charged, but they are today, before their trials commence.

George Kegoro, writing in the Saturday Nation, seems either angry or surprised that the Court has been influenced by politics (Ruto trial waiver proves to African leaders that political pressure pays, Saturday Nation, 22/06/13.) Despite the atrocious record of the Court so far, Mr Kegoro should be willing to accept that the Court must adapt to the changing political environment. When African governments signed up to the Rome Statute, and ratified it, they were under immense pressure to persuade the West that wars of aggression, civil wars and military coups were in the past and that they were prepared to live the international rules largely established and enforced by Western governments.

There is a strange statistic that points to the unusual relationship of the Court with African governments. Many of the wars fought in Africa were proxy wars between two members of the United Nations Security Council, the USSR and the USA. Many of the arms supplied in these wars are manufactured by the permanent members of the Security Council. The ICC was an initiative promoted by the Western members of the Security Council, though the USA refused to ratify the Rome Statute because it did not get waivers from the other member states. These waivers would have exempted US citizens from the purview of some of the provisions of the Rome Statute and, by extension, from the ICC. So even before the ICC was created, it was already being influenced by politics. It is therefore, understandable that the African Union wold seek to influence the ICC. If the governments that have funded the wars in Africa are not to be held to account for their part in the humanitarian crises they engendered, why shouldn't the African Union attempt to influence the relationship between African governments and the Court?

It is a fallacy that courts are never influenced by non-court matters. When the influence is ostensibly for the greater common good, that influence is always accepted as good. Therefore, the AU's attempt to offer cover to President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto should come as no surprise. If the two are rail-roaded by the Court, members of the AU fear that some of them may suffer a similar fate.

The Court ceased to matter seriously when the two Kenyan accused were elected to high office. Their chances of co-operation with the Court relied entirely on their goodwill and not the power or prestige of the Court. The judges of the Court realise this and to preserve whatever shred of authority they retain over the Kenyan cases, they have no choice but to be seen to accommodate the wishes of the Court's highest profile suspects to date. The Kenyan cases are no longer about the victims; they are about the survival of the ICC. The fate of the victims, as before, lies in the hands of the Government of Kenya.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

First use the Constitution you have before amending it.

Okiya Omtatah joins the growing list of clamourers for the amendment of the Constitution to "strengthen" the Constitution (Amend the Constitution to strengthen the Senate, Daily Nation, 20/06/13.) He argues, rather persuasively, that the Senate to play a powerful role in checking the Executive. He adds that the Senate should enjoy these new powers because, as each senator represents a region bigger than a constituency and as it is more collegial because of its smaller size, it will not be riven with party differences as is the norm in the National assembly. He calls for the recognition of the Senate in law-making; after all, laws in Kenya are known as Acts of Parliament, not Acts of the National Assembly or Acts of the Senate.

While persuasive, Mr Omtatah is wrong. The Senate, as created under the Constitution ( a Constitution that a majority of voters ratified in 2010), is not an "upper chamber" in line with "international best practices." If that is what we had wanted in 2010, the Harmonised Draft and the parliamentary amendments proposed in the run up to the referendum would have reflected this desire. As it is, it is becoming clearer and clearer that Kenya cannot afford a bicameral Parliament that is more interested in the ever-fatter wallets of its members rather than the bread-and-butter issues that affect ordinary Kenyans.

Even the international best practices that Mr Omtatah alludes to are not as clear as he would have you believe. India, the world's largest democracy, has a two-chamber Parliament, but it is the Lok Sabha, and not the Rajya Sabha, that wiled true legislative power. The Rajya Sabha, just as Kenya's senate, does not enjoy extensive powers nor does it play a grand role in checking the Executive branch. The same is true about the House of Lords in the United Kingdom. But our closest example in terms of government-style is the United States Senate. But its recent behaviour has proven that a strong Senate is not necessarily a panacea for governance ills. It has somehow managed to become one of the most loathed public institutions in the United States because of the partisan animus that animates its two main parties. Recent debate on gun-control, healthcare and immigration demonstrate that even when a government programme receives the overwhelming support of the majority of the voting public, it will still go down in flames if the Senate refuses to play along.

It is early days yet to demand an amendment to the Constitution simply because the National Assembly, the Senate and the National Executive have not yet learnt to rub along in conviviality. These are the teething problems that we could never have anticipated when the Constitution was ratified-by-referendum in 2010. The sheer haste with which we rushed through the programme means that we will have to work out the kinks in the Constitution over the long term. To this author's mind, the key risks to governance in Kenya seem to revolve around the missteps of the National Assembly. The majority Party is playing less an oversight role in checking the excesses of the National Executive and more of a flower-girl role, championing every decision of the National Executive even where they are plainly not in the national interest.

The problems we are experiencing today have very little to do with the effeteness of the Senate but more of the misguided pursuits of the National Assembly. It does not help that many members of the National Assembly are not the sharpest tools in the tool-shed, demonstrating a curious lack of intellectual curiosity in the ins-and-outs of governance, preferring instead to carry on campaigning as if campaigning is all there is to governing. If we are to adopt the United States model, then the National Assembly must reflect the best (and worst) of the United States House of Representatives. Regardless of what the US Senate wants, the House of Representatives reflects the will of the American people like nothing else. It is rambunctious, rebellious and difficult to handle. It is in no way a flower-girl for the Executive branch. When it speaks, even when it does so in a starkly partisan manner, it reminds the Executive that it will not always get what it wants.

Take the looming education-sector strikes as an example. It is not for the National Executive to exclusively determine national priorities anymore. That was how things were done in the first Kenyatta administration, and the Moi and Kibaki ones.The Committee of Experts rightly saw this as a risk to the equal treatment of all Kenyans. Why the National Assembly has been unable, say, to take out 41 billion shillings out of the defense budget or the roads budget to pay deserving teachers beggars belief. If the national executive will not bend to the will of the more powerful National Assembly where do we get the impression that it will do so when it comes to a more powerful Senate?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mr Duale, you are NOT the government spokesman.

Is it not time that someone informed the Leader of the Majority Party in the National Assembly that he is not the official spokesman of the National Executive. That job is reserved for the spectacularly verbosely voluble Muthui Kariuki. The National Assembly, indeed Parliament, generally, is supposed to keep a watchful eye on the goings on in the National Executive to ensure that the peoples of Kenya are not getting ripped of or having their rights whittled down by an Executive that is used to getting its own way. Mr Duale, the Majority Leader, must, necessarily, start doing his job instead of playing the role of attack dog for the Executive. Indeed, it is a sentiment that must be shared with Prof Kithure Kindiki of the Senate, who recently declared in the presence of the Deputy President that the Jubilee coalition Members of Parliament were the "[Executive's] foot soldiers." How such a wrong-headed statement from a lawyer of no mean repute was made beggars belief.

March 2013 is well and truly behind us and the Executive is all but in place, bar the confirmation of Principal Secretaries. Therefore, there is no need for the Jubilee MPs to run interference for the Executive on purely technical issues; their job is to protect the political interests of the coalition and where necessary, this may involve fudging the line between purely technical and purely political, but not always. Mr Duale seems to think that every query made about the Executive is a political attack on the Executive and reacts accordingly. Quite often he is quite wrong.

Take for instance the question of whether the Deputy President fired the public officers in the Prime Minister's office when he took over the premises. It is not the business of the majority Leader to respond to the Parliamentary Question; it is for an official in the office of the deputy President to present a report to the relevant committee of the National Assembly. It is the National Assembly's job to decide whether the answer by the Deputy President is sufficient or not. That is what "oversight" means. While the Jubilee government may enjoy a majority in Parliament, its Members of Parliament are not officers in the National Executive. This message needs to be driven home to the likes of Mr Duale and Mr Kindiki.

Tyranny comes in many forms. For years, Moi's brand was described as benevolent, though every now and then certain harsh tactics were employed to silence criticism or defend the Executive from the onslaughts of pressure groups. Mwai Kibaki's was more subtle; he kept a studious silence as his foot-soldiers did the dirty work. Dr Chris Murungaru and John Michuki took the war to the Mungiki with a ferociousness that brought the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to Kenya to investigate. he published a scathing report which resonated with a majority of Kenyans and painted Mwai Kibaki's administration in the worst possible light.

Mr Duale risks becoming part of an even more subtle tyranny. His robust, mostly unwarranted, defense of the National Executive may be used a means for ensuring that the Executive remains unaccountable to the people that elected it or the people it is supposed to serve. If Mr Duale carries on as he is, then it may be pointless to ask why certain budgetary allocations are made at the expense of others; why the Executive spends tens of millions on private air travel instead of commercial flight; why certain legislative proposals are prioritised over others; why devolution is at risk; and so on and so forth. Parliament is supposed to be the first line of defense against the excesses of the Executive, whether by the national or county governments. It is time that the Majority Leader started leading his parliamentary troops in protecting the people from the excesses of their government.

As transparent as mud, as accountable as a mafia hitman.

Some of them are "on Twitter", Cabinet Secretaries that is. Indeed, the Foreign Affairs one likes to sign off at night with a "Good night tweeps." How Interior and Co-ordination of National Government counterpart is not, though. he, it seems, represents the traditional position of the Executive: you say as little as possible in as few media as you can get away with. We mention the Tweeting because it is symptomatic of the faux reforms of the Uhuru Kenyatta administration.

L'Affaire Chinedu is getting news media attention, yet the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the one for the Interior have nothing to say beyond "something is being done." Some weeks ago the President ordered the expulsion of all drug barons in Kenya. Some media houses are reporting that Mr Chinedu is one of those targeted for expulsion and that many more are on their way out. What begs the question is if the State, and by 'State' we mean the Executive, knew who these foreign drug barons were, and they had sufficient proof to justify their expulsion from Kenya, why are they not being prosecuted, convicted, sentenced, and after serving their sentences, expelled? Has this in any way something to do with the report the late Prof George Saitoti was preparing on drug dealers before his mysterious death in a helicopter crash? If so, what were the details in his report? Who has the report today and what are they doing with it?

L'Affaire Chinedu demonstrates that the talk of making the Executive more transparent is just that: talk. Without transparency, there will be no accountability. And without accountability we might as well go back to the pre-referendum days when the President was the center of the Kenyan political universe and the voters were bit-players in the stories of their lives.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto made many promises while on the campaign trail. Many of the promises were taken with a pinch of salt; after all, if we believed everything that politicians promised, we would be in a more fragile emotional state than we are today as a nation. But that they put their promises down on paper in the form of the Jubilee manifesto was foolhardy; we now have a document to compare against their achievements for the next five years or so. While Kenyans are necessarily excited about the one-laptop per standard one pupil promise, it is the promises of transparency and accountability that deserve greater attention.

Kenyans have traditionally given the Executive a wide berth when it came to promises it has made or programmes it is pursuing. And rightly so. Daniel Toroitich arap Moi was famous for "road-side" announcements. Mwai Kibaki was famous for maintaining a Sphinx-like silence over all his decisions. Uhuru Kenyatta promised openness and accountability. The behaviour of his Cabinet Secretaries would seem to suggest that a hybrid of the Moi and Kibaki styles is in play (the President announces at a rally that drug barons will be deported; one is deported; he takes Kenya government officials hostage; the two Cabinet Secretaries concerned keep a studious silence bar mumbles of "something being done.")

And it is not just on the drug barons that the Executive is behaving oddly. the National Treasury Cabinet Secretary, in his supplementary appropriations request to Parliament, wishes to spend sh 700 million on an office for the immediate former President. While an Act of Parliament orders that the former President, in addition to the millions he will trouser, be given an office with a staff, it is silent on whether this will require the construction of an entire office block. Seven hundred million shillings would buy three acres of prime real estate in Nairobi, according to the Budget Committee of the National Assembly. How the Cabinet Secretary and his staff arrived at this figure, and why, remains a mystery. He, following the form established by his appointing authority, isn't saying anything over the matter.

And it goes on and on throughout the national and county executives, this secrecy. It is as if we never decimated the KANU hegemony or got rid of the KANU constitution (for it was a KANU constitution in all but name.) In Machakos, for example, the governor intends to give "investors" free land if they invest in Machakos county. Where this land will be found remains a mystery seeing that thousands of Machakos county residents have been fighting for land rights for over three decades. This is neither transparency nor accountability. Nor is the publishing of the budget estimates without a corresponding document on the rationales behind them. It seems that what we have today, new constitutional dispensation or not, is a familiar system with a new face. It is as if nothing has changed, though the colours are different.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Public servants have every right to demand more. Much more.

Ng'ang'a Mbugua, an Associate Editor with the Daily Nation, believes that Kenya will move forward by keeping one eye firmly on a nostalgic past that never was (Public servants have adopted a culture of unrealistic expectations over salaries, Daily Nation 17/06/13). Mr Mbugua asserts with a certain incredible measure of certainty that there was a time when those who joined the government were driven by the urge to serve “pure and simple,” conveniently ignoring the discomfitting truth about Jomo Kenyatta's and Daniel Toroitich arap Moi's civil services which were not "public service" but the amassing and retention of wealth and political power at the expense of the long-suffering peoples of Kenya. The law was not changed to allow civil servants to engage n business in order to supplement their incomes; it was changed as a fig leaf to hide the massive flight of capital from the coffers of The Treasury and into those of well-connected associates of the man at the top.

Mr Mbugua would have you believe that public service, almost like spiritual leadership, is a calling. One becomes a public servant because of their desire to serve their fellowman. He refuses to acknowledge that public service is just like any other kind of employment and that young men and women join the public service because the private sector is not generating enough jobs to fulfill all our needs. It is a little known secret that the private sector in Kenya is among the most exploitative worldwide where the successful elite forms a very small minority; the vast majority of men and women in the private sector make do with a pittance in wages, uncertainty over their career prospects, and out-of-control costs of living, whether it is security, healthcare or housing. The only people who see public service as a calling, or who would even think of calling it that, are the ones who, for one reason or another, managed to finagle fat wads of cash out of the National Treasury for their own private benefit at very little financial cost.

That is not to say that there aren't any dedicated public servants in Kenya; it just does not mean much in the broader context.Whether it is the private or public sector, there will always be men and women who go above and beyond their call of duty to perform with grace and dedication in the face of overwhelming odds. This makes them unique in any setting, but it does not make them especially so in the public service. An examination of the working conditions of the rank-and-file public servants will quickly disabuse the likes of Mr Mbugua of the concept of public service as a calling.

Because of the many changes the public service has undergone since the colonial government ceased to exist, especially the changes made by Mr Moi in the mid- to late-1990s, there exists two broad tiers in the public service: the rank-and-file and the upper echelons comprising of favoured Permanent (now, Principal) Secretaries and Cabinet Secretaries (formerly, Ministers and Assistant Ministers.) For the moment, we will ignore the parasites we have come to know as waheshimiwa. Previously, in order to attract applicants for to the rank and file of the public service, many incentives were offered to make their lives bearable and, crucially, respectable. Housing, medical care, transport and security we de rigueur. In the early years of post-colonial self-government, the rank-and-file and the elite upper echelons of the public service were treated more or less in the same manner. But everything changed when it became apparent that the State could not pay for the public service it had and began to make cut backs.

The cut backs affected the rank and file but left the elite untouched. The elite saw the writing on the wall and took pre-emptive steps to forestall their inevitable inclusion in the cost-sharing that was soon to come. Some had seen the possibilities in this area in the late 1960s and took steps to set themselves up for future private sector success.It is how many senior public servants in Kenyatta's and Moi's regimes ended up with acres of prime real estate in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu; cushy directorships in blue-chip soon-to-be-privatised public companies; and billions upon billions of shillings in low-interest, long-term loans from State-sponsored financial institutions such as the Agricultural Financial Corporation and the National Bank of Kenya. Meanwhile the rank and file continued to be the red-headed step-children of the public service. In the new constitutional dispensation, where the elite continues to enjoy ever fatter wallets, why shouldn't the rank-and-file demand better terms and conditions?

If Mr Mbugua only opened his eyes and looked at the men and women who continue to serve him and his fellow citizens, he would realise that far from being unrealistic, they are well within their rights to make the demands they have. The teachers called upon to offer education and safety to your children cannot afford three square meals in a day; many must supplement their incomes with "private coaching" denying them even more time with their loved ones. It is humiliating for a doctor who spent the better part of his adulthood in training to rub shoulders with the patients he is going to treat simply because the State will provide him with a car (no driver required.) And what about the policeman who lives in squalor, considered vermin by the majority of Kenyans, and asked to lay his life down for the selfsame citizens who would spit on him? Mr Mbugua, if you wish for the public servant to offer you better services, you had best dig deeper in your pockets and pay them what they demand.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tradition, at what cost?

After spending a week with Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels from the Department of Defence, I have an inkling of what the war between the Inspector-General of Police and the Chairperson the National Police Service Commission is all about. Many may not recall, but up to the end of the 1960s or thereabouts Kenya did have a Police Service Commission. The changes wrought by the Jomo Kenyatta administration to concentrate power in the hands of the President ensured that of all the commissions that survived more or less intact his "re-organisation" of the civil service was the Teachers Service Commission, and only because regardless of their numbers, teachers were of little consequence in the grand scheme of political things. The original Police Service Commission performed many of the functions assigned to the current National Police Service Commission, with one or two crucial differences. First, the Commissioner of Police enjoyed unfettered power to deploy his officers as he saw fit. Secondly, his role in the promotion or discipline of policemen.

The "reforms' being pursued in policing in Kenya are revealing the great difficulties the key stakeholders face. part of the reason the likes of Eric Kiraithe insisted on a serving policeman to be appointed as Inspector-General was the fear of the changes that outsiders would bring to the force, as it was styled then. So while the appointment of David Kimaiyo was greeted with relief by the senior ranks of the National Police Service, the same may not be the case with the appointment of the National Police Service Commission, even though Mr Kavuludi was once a policeman. He is now an outsider with an insider's knowledge of the Kenya police, and that makes him a dangerous man indeed.

What is certain about Kenya's disciplined forces, whether they be the national police or the defence forces, is the intense pride in their traditions that the upper echelons of the forces revel in, even when such pride, sometimes, may be unwarranted. Arguments and counterarguments against the reforms in their traditions inform to a great extent the pace of the reforms being undertaken today. The Inspector-General may be a well-read, well-travelled man, but he is through and through a very conservative policeman and he has very little incentive to adopt new ways of doing things when the old ways work just fine (for him, at least.)

Under the new constitutional order, transparency and accountability are the watchwords and the Inspector-General's white-knuckle grip on all the issues that apparently affect the command of his police service is counterproductive and risks placing the National Police Service on the wrong side of history. It is his insistence on being "in command" that continues to stymie efforts by the police to come to grips with the out-of-control violent crime incidents in Kenya. While some of it was linked to the March 4 general election, much of it is as a realisation that the police command structure is fighting internally to exert control over the Kavuludi Commission.

While violent offenders are not traditionally the sharpest knives in the drawer, they do wake up when a vacuum occurs, and there is a vacuum in crime-fighting because of the stalemate between the Inspector-General and the Commission. It does not help matters when the Governors want to play a "commanding roe" in policing in their counties, even when they do not have the training or capacity. For the moment, because of the uncertainty regarding the overall command of the police, violent criminals intend to make hay while the sun shines brightly.

We are the monsters under the bed.

Legislation to protect the rights of children needs to be enforced and the law followed to the letter. The national and county governments need to put in place social services necessary for decent working conditions and protection of child domestic workers such as medical insurance and pension contribution schemes. (Protection of child domestic workers vital, Daily Nation, 17/06/13)

Clement Njoroge is right; the law on children must be upheld, especially when it comes to the unresolved question of child workers. Child labour in Kenya is pervasive and prevalent. Its pernicious effects can be seen in the faces of children whose future prospects amount to domestic drudgery at the hands of their families, strangers and the State. The law on children in Kenya has evolved since the 1970s; the attitude of Kenyans towards the rights of children have not.

The last public figure of any level of notoriety to address the plight of children was the former First lady, Lucy Kibaki. Her infrequent interventions regarding the sexual exploitation of children were welcome in the face of the continued silence of others with even bigger political bullhorns such as the self-styled MP for Children, Millie Odhiambo (who once was the CRADLE boss.) Whenever the news media reported incidents of child sex exploitation, whether at the hands of Kenyans or foreigners, the First lady spoke out forcefully and passionately hoping that the State would take action to secure the safety, rights and welfare of children. Both the ministers for Internal Security and for Gender, Children and Social Welfare sat on their hands while Kenyans and foreigners go away, literally, with murder.

The Constitution speaks of the rights of the child and the responsibility of the State and parents to secure these rights. Three years after the ratification of the Constitution, Kenyans continue to blithely ignore the plight of hundreds of thousands of children, simply because they are not their children but someone elses. It no longer takes a village to raise a child; it has become the preserve of the parents. Even the traditional temporary care given by grandparents and other members of the extended family is, nowadays, by accident and not deliberate. Especially in single-parent households, the responsibility of looking after the welfare of children is increasingly being left in the hands of a single adult who may or may not have the time or resources to dedicate to the child while at the same time pursuing a career.

In the past week, fifteen girls in a primary school near Kitale disappeared from their school because they had been impregnated. While being interviewed on TV, the deputy principal, who is a woman, went out of her way to blame poverty and ignorance for the situation the girls found themselves in. The parents and police, education officials and child welfare officers were at pains to explain how, because of meager resources, they were unable to trace the girls who had run away because of the shame of the pregnancies. What is notable about the situation is that a large number of girls were impregnated at the roughly the same time, ran away from home, and all the State could do was wring its hands in despair. Why isn't the Director of Public Prosecutions filing charges against the deputy principle and the parents for neglect and child endangerment? The boys, or men, who impregnated these girls continue to walk free. This is the attitude that we bring to the protection of the child in Kenya.

While child sexual exploitation continues to occupy acres of media space, child labour gets nary a mention. Children form the bulk of the informal sector, but because of their "invisibility" their exploitation and mistreatment continues unchallenged. It is not uncommon to find children barely into their adolescence caring for the children of well-to-do relatives while their peers read up on the latest Harry Potter or engage in FPS games on their XBoxes or PS3s. It is not uncommon to find children being exploited as beggars by adults on the streets of Nairobi, tagged with the pejorative "Street Families." You will find children on construction sites and semi-legitimate "food stalls." All along their parents, teachers, faith-based organisations' leaders and the State will pretend that the problem does not exist. While we harden our hearts to the plight of Kenya's children, it is inevitable we harden them to the suffering of others and contribute, inexorably, to the spiral of violence we are witnessing today.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A chamber of retirees.

It is surprising that I agree with Ahmednasir Abdullahi today; the Senate is not the upper legislative chamber that the Senators would wish it to be in the style of the United States Senate or the House of Lords in the United Kingdom (Real power in all its forms lies with the National Assembly, Sunday Nation 16/06/13.) The roles of the Senate include:
  1. the protection of the interests of counties and their governments;
  2. debating and approving Bills concerning counties;
  3. determining the allocation of national revenues among counties; and
  4. the impeachment of the President or Deputy President.
It is not correct or proper to assert that the Senate is a single-issue chamber; from the outline of the role of the Senate in the Constitution, its most important role is the protection of devolution by protecting the interests of counties and their governments. Its second most important role is the consideration of any Bill regarding the counties which may include Bills on the powers and functions of county governments, on the election of members of county assemblies and those affecting the finances of county governments.

When the President assented to the Division of Revenue Bill that had been approved by the National Assembly, despite the recommendations of the Senate to increase the allocation of national revenue by sh 48 billion, he was acting within the letter of the Constitution. Whether he did so in the spirit of the Constitution remains highly contested. It is only the National Assembly that determines the allocation of national revenue between the two levels of government, not the Senate. The Senate determines allocations among the counties. 

Mr Abdullahi is right; many of the changes made to the Harmonised Draft Constitution before it was presented to Kenyans at the 2010 referendum were made by members of the Tenth Parliament, some of whom are the most vocal about the diminished place of the Senate in the government. When it seemed that it was Raila Odinga who was on his way to State House, members of the Orange Democratic Movement Party did everything in their power to ensure that the structure of government that Mr Odinga would have inherited in 2013 was one that he could control. Therefore, they had no problem in emasculating the Senate. Now that they find themselves in the uncomfortable position of playing second fiddle to the Jubilee Coalition, they are attempting to re-write history by claiming, among other outlandish claims, that the Senate is the "superior" of the two chambers of Parliament. Their missteps are coming back to haunt them.

The financial legislation process that the Constitution provides in Kenya is markedly different from the United States one. In the US, both the House of Representatives and the Senate have a vital role to play at the start of the process when it comes to money Bills. In Kenya, the Senate only steps in when it comes to allocation of national revenue among counties not when the share of the national revenue to be allocated to counties is being considered.

The application for an advisory opinion of the Supreme Court by the members of the Senate will not give them the answer they are seeking. Surprisingly, there is little ambiguity in the provisions regarding the roles of the National Assembly and the Senate when it comes to money Bills and the division of revenue between the two levels of government and among the counties. It is dawning on the members of the Senate that for the most part they have nothing to do and Mr Abdullahi's suggestion that the Senate only meet for a fortnight in a year during the making of the national budget is not without its merits. If they must meet on an emergency basis, they can do so, but even then it will be to consider any Bill that affects the powers or functions of counties or affects the finances of counties. Beyond that, or the impeachment of the President or Deputy President, the Senate is, as one cheeky member of the National Assembly put it, a chamber for retirees.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Harsh Truth

So the United States is spying on my e-mails, facebook posts, tweets, and tracking all my web-movement to ensure that on the day I decide to engage in anti-US nefariousness the US government will be able to send in a Predator (or is it Reaper) drone armed with hell-fire missiles and exterminate me by remote control. The spying on non-US citizens by the US' National Security Agency, and other intelligence organisations, has outraged many US citizens because they, too, have been the targets of this spying, though unwittingly. Even Kenya, it seems, is the top target in Africa for online snooping by US spooks. Pundits, in and out the US, are complaining, loudly, of the "invasion of privacy" and the "implications" of this invasion in limiting other rights.

Edward Snowden, the civilian contractor for the NSA who revealed the online spying operations of the NSA, sounds like one of those annoying US citizens who's very sure about "his rights;" though how the 29-year old nerd manages to speak of privacy of the US citizen as inalienable while glossing over the alienability of non-US citizens' privacy does not square with his desire to "respect the Constitution."

While it is a bit creepy that Barack Obama and his government would want to know what I think, how I think it and what I intend to do about what I think, I am unable to blame them, save as a tactic to promote the interests of all Kenyans. The United States, for a time, was the single most powerful nation in the world, capable of dictating to, and bullying, every other nation to toe its line over a raft of issues. But today, it is part of a very complex world where its great military power, economic might and technological lead are irrelevant in the face of faceless organisations that seek to destroy it. Its power was useless when al Qaeda's operatives hijacked aircraft within the US and used them as weapons over eleven years ago. So today, in order to ensure that al Qaeda and its successors and emulators do not accomplish what they did in 2001, the US government through its national security apparatus, spies on friends and foes alike, violating the civil rights of citizens of friendly and belligerent nations without fear pr favour. The US' attitude seems to be, "Get on board...or tough shit!"

But in a multi-polar, complex and complicated world, how we react to the US spying depends on whether we believe that the United States is washed up. The proof seems to suggest that it is not. Despite the Global Economic Crisis (which it caused), multiple wars and armed engagements worldwide, or the perceived decadence of its entertainment industry, the mass of immigration seems to be pointing inexorably to the United States. It remains the land of opportunity. However, if you truly believe that the United States is not for you, and that you are fine without all the fine things it produces, then you are well within your rights to wage an e-Jihad against it and attack its spying infrastructure (good luck with that.)

We are all standing idly by as Syria is turned into rubble. We know what must be done. We know who has the capacity to do it. We want them to do it. But we will rant and rave about the US' unilateralism as if it means anything when we can do nothing about it. If Barack Obama orders his Marines to take Damascus, remove Bashar Assad from power, install a friendly puppet in his place, and reward US corporations for the their support, while we do nothing and watch from the sidelines, what moral authority will we have to demand a piece of the pie or kid gloves from the US?

The debates and arguments about the invasions of privacy by the United States are an intellectual navel-gazing exercise designed to insulate us from the harsh reality that we can do little to stop it save wage war (which we would likely lose.) This harsh reality is demonstrated when the President of the United States travels abroad: we may hate him, his country and all they stand for, but we still want to bask in the (reluctant) glory of having him come calling, implicitly endorsing your presidency, prime ministership, whatever, and, crucially, introducing you to the men and women who truly matter in the United States: CEOs of transnational corporations that make or build things.

Listen to what Gen Z is saying. Hear them.

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