Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Thank God!

It has been an incredible year and on Christmas Day I will bend my knee, bow my head and thank God that big things happened, some good, some very, very good. The biggest of course, is The Wedding. The Bridal Party restores my faith in the institution of marriage. The other was when The Doc became the Prof. (Especially considering he has attempted to avoid the honour for a decade or so, it is gratifying that he is now a full professor.) Then there is the issue of a new set of wheels; The Car is the bees' knees! Thank God! for the year 2013. I wonder what 2014 has in store for your truly.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Publish the contract on the rail tender.

The construction of the Standard Gauge Railway from Mombasa to Malaba to Kampala is an undertaking that must be completed if Kenya is to retain its competitive edge as the leading economy in East and Central Africa. Allegations by the Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills, URP) and the Nairobi Law Monthly (Storm Over Rail Tender, December 2013), raise doubts that the construction of the new line will be in the interests of the nation and not just in the interests of the contractor and the carpetbaggers in its trail. The Transport Cabinet Secretary has attempted to elide the doubts raised by justifying the total cost of the proposed project in light of the multiple objectives and anticipated outcomes. He has hinted that the comparison between the Kenyan tender and the Ethiopia-Djibouti one are unfair given the number of moving parts in the Kenyan project.

This blogger would like to take the Cabinet Secretary's word for it. But the refusal by the contractor, the Transport Ministry or the Kenya Railways Corporation to publish the contract between the China Road and Bridge Corporation, the People's Republic of China and the Government of Kenya guarantees that the likes of Alfred Keter and the Nairobi Law Monthly will continue to score points while the Jubilee government of Uhuru Kenyatta continues to lose credibility and, crucially, legitimacy. The fervent exhortations by the President and Deputy President that their government will fight corruption until it is vanquished rings hollow if they cannot effectively rebut allegations that their government is knee-deep in the muck.

Mr Keter and the Nairobi Law Monthly do not accuse the President or the Deputy President of being personally involved in the allegations surrounding the rail tender, but given that ours is a presidential system, it is hard to see how the two could not be the ultimate target of the like of Mr Keter or the Nairobi Law Monthly.

It is an awkward position for the President and Deputy President to be in. The rail tender is a key plank for the Jubilee government's plans for the national economy. If the project founders because of the allegations of corruption, it will set back the economy of the nation. Indeed, it will give the nation's partners in the East African Community the much needed opportunity to take business away from Kenya.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto have a constitutional solution that they have consistently ignored because of other considerations. Article 35(1)(a) states that "Everyone has the right to access information held by the State." For an government that is composed of holdovers from the Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki governments, it is near impossible to persuade these conservative mandarins that the voluntary disclosure of information is beneficial to the state of the nation than the reflexive classification any anmd all information that the government generates. This political storm is because elements in the National Executive did not do their jobs or, alternatively, wanted to make a little money on the side at teh expense of their jobs.

Mr Keter and the Nairobi Law Monthly are not wrong to question whether the tender is lawful or not; it is the duty of a vigilant people to keep their government honest. Instead of Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto being offended by the tough questions being raised or their swinging wildly at unnamed "brokers" and "fixers", they could do worse than to reveal the details of the contract and allow the people to see whether the contract is in the public interest or not. It is only in the bright light of the day that the people will discover whether the Jubilee government is walking the walk on the fight against corruption or it has perfected the art of sophistry.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Is Kenya having its midlife crisis?

  1. The search of an undefined dream or goal
  2. A deep sense of remorse for goals not accomplished
  3. A fear of humiliation among more successful colleagues
  4. A desire to achieve a feeling of youthfulness
  5. A need to spend more time alone or with certain peers
These are the classic characteristics of  a midlife crisis. These are characteristics that Kenya is displaying in its fiftieth year of existence as an independent nation, one short of its existence as a constitutional republic. Our undefined dream is the Kenya Vision 2013; our remorse is over the fact that Asian Tigers such as South Korea and Taiwan have left us in the dust even when we were peers in the post-colonial 1970s; and because of their successes, we wish to avoid humiliations when ranked alongside ne'er-do-wells like Tanzania, Rwanda or Uganda; our desire to achieve a feeling of youthfulness can be summed up in a political slogan: "Team Digital"; and we seem to simultaneously seek isolation and peer acceptance amongst the likes of The Sudan, The Gambia, Iran and China.

The brass ring of nationhood was supposed to be political unity and predictability, economic growth and success, and world acclaim and prestige. These are some of the elements that set apart the United States, France or Germany. Kenyan nationhood was forged in the crucible of Great Power rivalry in the late 19th Century and hardened in the 20th Century colonial era. By the time the Mau Mau had declared their intention to evict the British land thieves off their land, Kenya was home to more than three-and-a-half dozen "tribes" speaking a similar or greater number of languages and dialects. Back then in 1963, none dared speak of Ukabila; it did not exist in the malevolent form it does today. Indeed, one of the proofs of a non-ukabila state was the mutual respect and admiration many treated those from other ethnic communities and how this was reflected in both KANU and KADU, though KADU was more a post-colonial hedge fund against indigenous political failure.

Fifty years later, the bright lights of the Independence Day gala have a harsh un-nostalgic glare. They mock us for our spectacular shortcomings. Their memory is a painful reminder of the opportunities we squandered like drunken sailors one hour out on shore leave. The Year of Jubilee finds us with a political alliance named in its honour that is the beneficiary of harsh and violent expropriation of all that was good about Kenya now converted into the most iniquitous venality, avarice and cant.

In 1947 when the ramblings about the state of the peoples of Kenya were getting heated, none believed that Kenya's colonial master would ship out. Indeed, none believed that Kenya would get the chance for its peoples to govern themselves and address their two greatest challenges: land and freedom. The violent interlude between 1952 and 1961 when the Mau Mau rose to fame and descended into infamy did not lessen the peoples' hopes about the future. 2013, if it were to be visited by a time-traveller from 1963, is a harsh indictment of the dreams of idealists. Land and freedom seem as far away from achievement for the poor and the weak; it is the elite that came up to replace the colonial elite that owns the choicest arable land in Kenya and can claim to be truly free.

To prove to our fellow post-colonial independent states, our peers, we have acquired new ambitions and new goals. In addition to Vision 2013, we also wish to implement the most complex constitution ever made by a nation in peacetime. The first three-and-half years of implementation have revealed a level of institutional sabotage that has elicited comment even in the most pro-government circles around. It is staggering how much lip-service is paid to the implementation of the constitution while ranks after ranks of saboteurs rampage and maraud with wild abandon in the vast constitutional landscape that we created in August 2010.

It is not that Kenya has not made great strides in its fifty year life. It has. And some we must surely be proud to trumpet from the rooftops. bar tow or three "incidents", Kenya has been at peace with itself and its neighbours for the better part of the fifty years. School enrollment has kept pace with the explosion in its population. It universities are training competitive go-getters that are the envy of its neighbours. It public service might display signs that raise eyebrows, but in terms of service delivery, it is second to none in its near-abroad. Let not the long list of achievements obscure the despondence-inducing reality that we are well and truly on our way to debilitating heartbreak.

Our leaders have betrayed everything they once stood for. The people have stood idly by and permitted their republic to be rent asunder by corruption, violence and ukabila. The leaders of tomorrow, whether we'll admit it to ourselves or not, are well and truly on their way to perfecting the most ill aspects of their forebears. It is why anyone who is surprised at the explosion of children, and youth, falling pregnant or battling the harsh aftermath of an STI pandemic, must surely be a visitor from Outer Mongolia.

Style up, Doc!

Every mother, in her secret heart of hearts, wants her daughter, imaginary and real, to marry a doctor, an engineer, an architect and, where desperate times require desperate measures, a lawyer. (Only mothers from a certain mountainous region dream of hitching their daughters' wagons to trains pulled by anyone in the political field.) But always at the top of that list if potential suitable suitors for her daughter is the doctor. It is therefore, moot to take doctors for the elite among the elite, and their place in society is secure for as long as they do not appear as hapless ne'er-do-wells without a penny to their names.

The desperate strike by members of the medical profession against what they see as a haphazard devolution of the health sector is not doing doctors any favours. The few who have made the horrific mistake of being seen on TV exercising their right to peaceably assemble and petition their government have often displayed traits last seen when a much vilified profession went on strike: city council "workers." If indeed it were doctors we witnessed making asses of themselves, the medical professional is about to suffer a steep discount in the eligible bachelor sweepstakes.

This blogger wishes not to make light of the plight of doctors in the public service. frequently they are treated by the mandarins in the Ministry of Health like bullocks to be worked to the bone. They receive not what they are owed, whether it is in the form of respect or more pecuniary rewards. They are ignored and treated with suspicion if not outright hostility by the millions of patients they see every year. And when they find an hour or two of free time, they discover that everyone who accosts them has their hand out demanding a handout. Woe unto the doctor who will not put his hand in his pocket or loosen the strings around his wallet.

Therefore, it feels a bit unfair to pile on the doctors when they are down, but needs must. It is one thing to down tools (hand up the stethoscope?) and keep away from places of employment over one dispute or the other. It is quite another to dress like the riffraff in the former local authorities, wield ill-written posters and generally behave like Kogalo or Ingwe fans out to prove a point. It augurs poorly that the men and women millions entrust their lives to are incapable of stringing together a cogent English statement to make a point about the indispensability of their services in the firmament that is the Kenya Vision 2030 blue print. It raises significant doubts that these people have successfully charted the roiled waters of the 6 years of medicine required to equip them with the absolutely necessary skills for life-saving. If they insist on carrying on like council workers or councillors, for that matter, it is a matter of time before mothers think twice before letting their delicate flowers anywhere near the putrefaction emanating from that particular cast of characters.

It is not enough to be right about your rights. If you want to ensure that the powers-that-be listen and heed your demands, you must not descend to the depths enjoyed by those who would be your social inferiors. Doctors, whether they like or not, are the elite of the elite, respected because it takes time and dedication to become the professionals we all believe them to be. It is reckless and irresponsible for the Kenyan version of the medical profession to behave as if they do not have an obligation to behave professionally even in the middle of their extended dispute with their government. It is time Mothers' Unions told the doctors of Kenya out on strike to Style Up!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Riots are making a comeback.

The Daily Nation has an interesting editorial in the 17.12.13 edition of the paper. (University conflicts can be solved amicably.) In the editorial, the paper calls for a change in the approach to conflict resolution by both the university administration(s) and the student representatives. This is a worthy call; it does not go far enough, though.

One of the aftershocks of the NARC victory in 2002 was to suddenly reopen the space for public discourse in public universities that had been overrun by zealous enforcers of a one-party mindset. The Moi regime is yet to undergo a rigorous assessment for what it did to stifle and snuff out public debate. Mwai Kibaki's on the other hand, must be credited with setting the stage for the reopening of this space, though without facing stiff opposition from those who were instrumental in directing the course and the pace of public debate during the period after 1977. University administrations, even after the 2003 Kibaki government took power, continued to, in the words of President Moi, fuata nyayo; They were loath to give students and faculty a free hand in public debate, fearing unknown adverse consequences from unmentioned quarters. (It is presumed that they feared dismissal or a reduction in financial allocations by the powers-that-were in the Office of the President or the Ministry of Education.)

That attitude has not abated; indeed, it could be argued that university administrations continue to pursue discourse-stifling tactics even today despite the overall constitutional objective of encouraging public discourse of matters of national and local importance. It is for this reason any a calls for a change in approach in conflict resolution by university administrations and students alike must consider that part of the reason why students violently and riotously take to the streets to express their opinions on matters that affects is that they have been denied the space and facilities to engage the university administration and the wider public in debate and argumentation. The venerable University of Nairobi's Taifa Hall is no longer the respected centre for intellectual debate that it was in the days of the first Kenyatta government. It has been relegated to the sidelines; debate nowadays is perpetuated in online forums that attract a very small slice of the intellectual pie. Needless to say, very little of online intellectual discourse by students or faculty is useful or credible.

Drastic changes have taken place in place of high learning. It is only the willfully blind who will deny that while enrollment numbers are up to an all time high, the quality of high learning has deteriorated. Even university faculties admit the same. Graduates of Kenya's universities, whether public or private, are facing increasingly stiff competition from graduates who studied overseas where the quality of high learning is continually improved. Universities have also come under increased financial pressure to cut costs and increase surpluses. Very little investment goes towards the expansion of public university facilities or the better remuneration of both academic and non-academic staff. Perish the thought that university administrators are even considering spending extra sums to ensure that students can express themselves fully and robustly.

The effect has been the compartmentalisation of the units that make up a successful university. The relationship between faculty and administrators is strained; the relationship between administrators and students is strained; the relationship between faculty and students is no more. Thus students see little irony in vandalising the meagre facilities they enjoy whenever they have a dispute with their university administrations, or treating their faculties with discourtesy or even hostility. It is all well and good to cal for a change of tact when resolving conflicts between the two; these changes will not accounts for more than a bucket of spit if the underlying systemic fissures are not sealed. Until students, administrators and faculties see themselves as partners, riots are set to make a violent comeback.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Jubilee Reflections.

It is difficult to reflect on the past fifty years when one is not fifty years, and ones experience of independent Kenya is seen through the prism of corruption, incessant crime and endemic unemployment. But it is important to make the attempt, if only to contribute to the discourse on the place Kenya finds its itself fifty years after attaining internal self-rule and declaring independence from colonial Great Britain.

One of the constants of the past fifty years was as a result of a Mzee Jomo Kenyatta homily along the lines that one must eat where one works. It was directed at Bildad Kaggia who continued to fight the liberation war long after Jomo Kenyatta and the rest of the Kenyan establishment had declared it won. It is a sentiment that seems to have captured the minds of every single senior mandarin of the Government of Kenya. Corruption was the outcome and it has captured the imaginations of Kenyans ever since it became apparent that shortcuts were the preferred path to great wealth or power. As a result, problems that bedeviled Kenya at Independence seem intractable today. Basic healthcare remains a privilege few can afford. Universal free education is defined by its low cost and poor quality. Poverty stalks over half the population without any sign of improvement. Meanwhile, because of corruption, there is an elite in Kenya that can afford to send its members overseas for medical care or education and for whom poverty is what they read about in economics' treatises and political party manifestos.

The other constant has been crime and violence, both by the State and non-state actors. The sixties, seventies and early eighties were characterised by violent clashes between the government and the peoples of Somali ethnicity in Kenya's North East, with atrocious crimes committed against these people. The late eighties and early nineties were characterised by what were euphemistically described as land clashes and cattle rustling. The late nineties and the first decade of the Twenty-first Century were characterised by violent crimes against the people by organised criminal gangs. It is the adamant refusal of the State to take action or the opportunistic and predatory behaviour of politicians out to foment greater chaos that defines the utter hopelessness of the situation.

Finally, even the least informed must admit that Kenya's unemployment skyrocketed because of the Structural Adjustment Programmes of the International Monetary Fund and has remained stubbornly high despite rising numbers of graduates. It is a challenge that has defeated two regimes, that of Daniel Toroitich arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, and seems set to defeat the Jubilee government of Uhuru Kenyatta unless radical changes are made.

The Rainbow Coalition had bright ideas that foundered on the intractable politics of Kikuyu versus Luo.If the economic blueprint hammered out over the course of the first Kibaki government had been faithfully implemented, and if the political understanding between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga had survived the sabotage of late 2003, Uhuru Kenyatta would have inherited a country on a sound economic footing with a chugging economy that absorbed more of the university graduates being churned out by Kenya's high education industry than is the case today. President Kenyatta still has a chance to turn things around, but it is clear that the challenges he faces, both political and economic, have only multiplied since Mwai Kibaki retired to Othaya.

Mr Kenyatta's hope lies in streamlining bread-and-butter policies: public safety (and security); employment generation among the educated and skilled youth; faithful devolution of redundant functions; greater investment in development by the private sector; greater integration into the global economy, especially as an exporter of finished manufactured foods and skilled services; and the final destruction of the politics of negative ethnicity, marginalisation and victimhood. For this Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto must demonstrate that their government does not simply exist to reward Jubilee voters or Jubilee-dominant regions. If this is not reflected in the manner that policies and decisions are made, or in the face of the Cabinet and the public service, all the lofty speeches in the world will not salvage the Year of Jubilee from the disaster many believe it is.

It is not unpatriotic to shine a bright light on what ails us as a nation. Nay, it is vital if we are to take on the next half-century with determination. We know deep in our hearts that we should be more affluent than we are today. We know deep in our hearts that we should not be slaughtering one another over land or political differences. We know deep in our hears that we should be the leading economy in Africa. And we know why we are not any of those things. Therefore, it is simplicity itself to address the elephant in the room if we are to achieve what we have always been destined to achieve. We must learn the proper lessons of history or we are simply doomed.

Parliament should be reined in.

We, the people of Kenya...EXERCISING our sovereign and inalienable right to determine the form of governance of our country...Preamble, Constitution of Kenya.

Even the People of Kenya are above the Constitution, as the Preamble to the Constitution demonstrates. It is the People of Kenya who gave themselves the Constitution in August 2010. The Constitution was not a gift from the Tenth Parliament or a concession from the Government of Kenya. We, the people, took a conscious decision at a referendum at which a majority of voters determined that what was drafted by the Committee of Experts satisfied our needs, properly delineated our rights and defined the obligations of the Government of Kenya.

Therefore, the declarations by Parliament that it is supreme, superior to the people who elected its members, is flat out wrong. It is why the constant battles of supremacy between the National Assembly and the Executive or the judiciary are deeply worrisome. It is not enough that the National assembly has failed to do its duty by performing the functions that are enumerated in the Constitution, but that it has now determined without reverting to the people who elected its members, that it must take a lead on all matters related to the governance of the country without so much as a by-your-leave from the voters.

The Nairobi Law Monthly in Issue No. 11 of December 2013 is quite right that a referendum is unwarranted at this time (A rogue Parliament, pp 30 - 33). Since 2005, Kenya has had two elections and two referenda which have taken a steep toll on the public finances. Especially the 2007 general election and its aftermath, the cost of elections has been particularly steep on the economy, slowing it down significantly between 2008 and 2011, calling for very expensive desperate measures to restore it to an even keel. Any calls by the National assembly to amend the Constitution by referendum in order to cement its supremacy in the pantheon of State organs is unwarranted and reckless.

Justin Muturi and Ekwee Ethuro, respectively the Speakers of the National Assembly and the Senate, and Aden Duale and Kithure Kindiki, respectively the Majority Leaders of the National Assembly and the Senate, have done the Jubilee government and, by extension, the people a great disservice by failing to honour their pledges in the Jubilee campaign manifesto to bring the people together and to forge a government free of rancour and disagreement. The past ten months of the Jubilee government have seen a litany of disagreements that have almost crippled the implementation of the Jubilee legislative agenda.

The ball was decisively set rolling by the quarrels over the Division of Revenue Act, 2013. If the National Assembly had not conspired with forces out to derail devolution over the proper amount to be allocated to the counties under the Division of Revenue Bill, devolution may have began its proper implementation without governors behaving like pigs at troughs. It is because of the lead taken by the National Assembly over the Division of Revenue Bill that a majority of ill-prepared, ill-equipped governors made financial proposals that belied their experience or expertise at governing. Their reading of the behaviour of Members of the National Assembly emboldened many governors to make provisions that went to self-aggrandizement rather than development of their counties.

The pattern of missteps and poor judgment has been replicated over the past ten months with the National Assembly refusing to accept that the assertiveness that had been a hallmark of parliamentary business during the life of the Tenth Parliament can no longer be exercised in light of the changed circumstances in which the Eleventh parliament finds itself. For instance, the members of the Cabinet are no longer members of Parliament; their presence before parliamentary committees is no longer a matter of course. When parliamentary committees exercise their prerogative of summoning persons to be examined before them , this prerogative cannot be exercised without taking into consideration that the business of the national Executive will not come to an end simply because a parliamentary committee is seized a matter it considers of national importance. Consideration must be given for the time wasted by key decision makers when they are away from their desks attending parliamentary committee sessions. The same is obviously true of constitutional commissions and independent offices.

Parliament, especially the National Assembly, must devote its mind to its core business, that of making laws. At the same time, as the principle tool of the people for ensuring transparency and accountability of the government for the people, it must only act in the people's interest when it is warranted. It must act as the investigator of the last resort. It must, for example, only poke into procurement decisions of State organs when institutions such as the National Police Service, the Ethics and Anticorruption Commission or the Public Procurement and Oversight Authority have failed to do their duty or it is suspected that they have performed their duty in an improper or unconstitutional manner. If the Judiciary is seized of the matter, Parliament must give the Judiciary the time and space to complete its adjudication of the matter before it inserts itself in the matter. Parliament must restrain itself from intervening like a nosy neighbour every time there is a dispute in a neighbour's home, without offering concrete solutions but instead muddying the waters further.

The people chose the Members of Parliament. But the people did not endorse every crackpot scheme the Members of Parliament come up with to finagle more perks out of the National Treasury or conspiracy the same members engage in to assume more power than the people intended. If Parliament, particularly the National Assembly, continues to assert powers it does not possess, the Jubilee government may never get to fulfill the promises it made to the people while its candidates were out on the stump. Because of Parliament, the Jubilee government may go down in history as the worst government. Ever.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Our Deepest Fear, Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. 
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. 
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. 
We ask ourselves, 
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? 
Actually, who are you not to be? 
You are a child of God. 
Your playing small does not serve the world. 
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking 
so that other people won't feel insecure around you. 
We are all meant to shine, as children do. 
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. 
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. 
And as we let our own light shine, 
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. 
As we are liberated from our own fear, 
our presence automatically liberates others.

Uhuru Kenyatta is not the Pope.

Uhuru Kenyatta, this blogger believes, is being unfairly accused of being a dictator-in-the-making. This blogger is not saying that the attempts to "muzzle the media" or to hamstring the civil society industry are not harebrained or potty, but this blogger strains to find the fingerprints of the Head of State in the machinations against the media or the civil society industry. If memory serves, the President, before he ascended to the throne that is the Kenyan presidency, believed in the freedom of the media, his family being an investor in the industry. His disputations with members of the press were taken to an industry body. Even when he had grave reservations about their behaviour, at no point did Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta demand a leash or a muzzle to corral the members of the Fourth Estate.

His parliamentary party, on the other hand, marshalled by the inept Aden Duale and Justin Muturi has proven to be the bugbear of the Fourth Estate, taking incremental steps to lock out media houses, and their reporters, from revealing the truth about Parliament. When the Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Bill was wending its way through the bowels of the Government of Kenya, the most vocal proponents of change were media owners whose interest in the changes was more in how much more they could gouge out of their consumers with the minimum of official fuss from the Executive or the Judiciary. They did not anticipate that what their media houses did, and how their reporters reported the news, would come back to bite them in the ass.

This is not an intelligent rationale for the National Assembly carrying torches and pitchforks against the Fourth Estate, but no one accused the Eleventh Parliament of being the most intelligent. What Parliament did, whether the media want to admit or not, has the implicit, if not explicit, imprimatur of the people. If Parliament is the expression of the people's will, then what Parliament does is what the people want it to do. And who would Uhuru Kenyatta be to reject what the people, through their elected representatives, demand.

Of course that is a simplistic assessment of the facts on the ground. Parliament rarely does what the people want it to do. The Executive rarely does what is not in its best interests, usually just plain survival. The media are not the blameless souls they have portrayed themselves to be. In this murky world we now have a dodgy Judiciary with its own integrity issues which the Chief Justice has valiantly attempted to address. So far he seems to be shooting blanks.

But Uhuru Kenyatta is not a dictator-in-the-making. Ten months into his reign, he has discovered a few uncomfortable facts. The public service is the most change-averse institution in all of creation. The media who loved the drama of the campaign treats him with barely-concealed contempt and will do everything in its power to reveal his dirty laundry for all to see. Parliament has proven to be the headache he thought he could avoid with a little discipline instilled in the ranks. Aden Duale and Justin Muturi have demonstrated that winning is not the same as leading.

If Mr Kenyatta were intent to rule rather than lead, the first thing he would have done would have been to destroy the most vocal and apparently loyal member of his court as a warning to both his friends and enemies that there is only one centre of power. Then he would have crammed his cronies, regardless of the results, in key institutions controlling finance, security, foreign policy and public works. Then he would simply have arrested all those who challenged his authority, whether they were accused of an offence or not.

When the President faithfully executes the duties of his office, just as he promised to do, he is accused of dictatorial tendencies. The Constitution tells him what he can and cannot do. He has obeyed the Constitution at every step of his presidency. He has made mistakes; he is not the infallible Pope of Rome after all. But he has admitted his errors and moved on. If the people want him gone, and not the media, they will elect someone else in four years' time. That is the bargain we made with ourselves three years ago. it is vile for the media to attempt to state that it is not what we know it to be.

Lay off the Rank-and-File, Mr Ruto.

The Deputy President is whingeing that the demands being made for elected representatives to scale down their financial avarice are unfair; the Deputy President wants the rank and file of the public service to follow suit. He, therefore, proposes that the rank and file share in the pain that is sure to follow when the Jubilee government embarks on the arduous task of cutting down the public wage bill. What has the Deputy President been smoking? (And can I get some?)

The lowest paid employee of the public service, one who is on a temporary contract, takes home about sh 8,000. Obviously, for the sake of humanity, this employee's wages are not on the chopping block. For the sake of argument, let us presume that all those who exist in job groups  J and below will not face the financial guillotine. It is the "professional" cadres whose pay packets that the Deputy President and his hatchet men are coming after.

Let us assume, too for the sake of argument, that the Deputy President has no say on how the Judiciary, the Parliamentary Service, the assortment of commissions and independent offices, or the myriads of state corporations manage their wage bill; if he did, this conversation would be about harmonisation and rationalisation. Therefore, the Deputy President will go after a bunch of public officers who have done nothing short of letting go of their unbridled ambitions to work for the good of the nation. (At least that is what they will claim when they face economic hardship.)

The public wage bill has not ballooned because rank and file public officers are gouging the public purse for all it is worth; it has ballooned because the national and county governments' sizes are unsustainable. (And we do not mean the public officers who work in them, either.) The creation of the devolved units was a step in the right direction. The creation of county assemblies was inspired. The size of the county governments, for the most part set in stone by the Constitution, in the long run, will make for an efficient redistribution of national assets. However, there is absolutely no justifiable financial reason for the national government to have the number of commissions, independent offices or state corporations that it has. The Jubilee government has set the right tone by the rationalisation, harmonisation and guillotining of the state corporation sector. If the exercise is accomplished and its objects are met, the size of the wage bill that is giving the Deputy President nightmares will start to wind down.

Quite obviously it is our dark past that informs the establishment of so many commissions and independent offices. Their existence is a fit and proper. Their organisation, however, carries on the mistakes of the past. There is absolutely no sound financial reason why commissions should not have one commissioner overseeing a professional cadre of officers and staff to achieve the mandate of the commission. An excellent example is the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution or the Kenya Law Reform Commission. The presence of permanent-and-pensionable commissioners, all existing in a financial realm of fancy where their every need seems to be catered for, is a grave error.

Right-sizing the commissions should be the Deputy Presidents main focus. There are too many commissioners doing very little that is worth mentioning. Indeed, this blogger would go so far as to argue that commissioners are glory hounds with very little to show for their presence on countless bodies. Their cost to the nation is too great to be sustained over the long term.

The other lot, of course, are the ones who give public service a bad name: Members of Parliament. Both senators and members of the National Assembly have betrayed the trust of the people, snuffling down billions from the Consolidated Fund every year and showing nothing for their greed other than an ever greater divided nation. It is time we cut our clothe to suit our needs. Chopping down the parliamentary wage bill and that of the commissions would be excellent first steps. The Deputy President should lay off the men and women who keep his government ticking over.

Monday, December 09, 2013

I will not mourn the man.

I wish I could say that I will miss Nelson Mandela. But having never met the icon, that would be a blatant lie. I wish I could say that I am sad that he is dead. But seeing the suffering the "persistent lung infection" caused him, that would be unconscionable. What I hope I will do is learn the proper lessons from his ninety-five years on Earth, his political evolution and his character as the leading face of integrity in modern history.

One did not need to meet him or to know him in person to admire him. Nelson Mandela, in many respects, was an outlier in a continent that has had cookie-cutter presidents, prime ministers and coup plotters for decades. In the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Mr Mandela was not alone or the only significant voice. He is in a pantheon that includes firebrands like Steve Biko and Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and moral leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sisulu and Oliver Tambo. Mr Mandela did not stand alone; but in many ways he became the voice of the struggle for equality in apartheid South Africa.

In the coming weeks, months and, perhaps, years, many millions of inches of newsprint will be dedicated to deconstructing the Mandela Story. This is not the aim of this post. But in attempting to draw proper lessons from the death of Africa's greatest son, it is necessary to look in the mirror and see ourselves for who we truly are. Mr Mandela knew that he could never see himself as perfect; it is his flaws and what he did to overcome them that made him the leader he became. Kenya, sadly, has not had a self-aware president since its Independence. The President, almost like the Roman Catholic Pope, is infallible; his word is law. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, his acolyte, were much better at at than Mwai Kibaki or Uhuru Kenyatta wee or ever can be.

Take the punch-drunk shuffle of the Jubilee government. It is one thing to have a lock on the parliamentary majority; it is quite another to squander the opportunity the majority give you with hapless attempts at muzzling the press or the NGO industry. it is one thing for the President and Deputy President to be intelligent and supported by a generally intelligent Cabinet and senior public service staff, but another to have their party enjoy a majority in both chambers of Parliament, but have those majorities negated by uninspired and feckless leadership. But that is the situation that prevails today. The Jubilee government lurches from one crisis to the next because it has a parliamentary army incapable of discipline of effective execution of the Jubilee programmes. If this government were to fall, the blame should be squarely placed on the shoulders of the Majority Leaders and their Chief Whips.

But looking at what Nelson Mandela was faced with, and what he had endured to get to the presidency, it is extraordinary how a man who honed his leadership skills in an underground revolutionary movement and perfected it in a prison colony where news was scarce, managed to keep his parliamentary troops in line and forge a government and a nation where persons of all races could live ion relative peace and relative harmony. It is not a miracle or a coincidence that Nelson Mandela succeeded. If he had not had the experiences he did, and if he had not taken on diverse leadership roles at the points in his life that he did, and if he had not faced twenty-seven years of solitude without losing his humanity, he would have failed.

Many African leaders, including Kenyan ones, have not had the privilege or the misfortune, depending on where your silver spoon comes from, of having their leadership forged in the unique way that Nelson Mandela's was. Especially in modern Africa, many leaders are the beneficiaries of dynastic politics or money-equals-might politics or a combination of the two. A few are presidents-for-life nearing the end of their lives. A few still came to power by the force of arms. But the ones that claim democracy-building credentials who can claim to be heirs of Nelson Mandela's legacy are pitifully few. And when one expands their sight to include business leaders, educationists, men and women of the clothe and other "leaders" in the community, the ones who could be considered Mandela's doppelgangers are fewer still.

So I will not cry for the man I never met. I will not mourn for the icon I never saw. But I will do my part to learn his lessons and to apply them to my life and that of others. I will do my part to remember that humility is a vital tool of leadership, but a steely will sometimes gets things done. I will remember to treat my friends and foes with respect and courtesy, even when a swift kick in the pants is warranted. I will keep my grubby little fingers and toes out of the public trough. I will remember that my nation rises and falls with the number of young men and women who are learned and who have jobs. I will never place an elected representative above the Mama Mboga round the corner. I will speak truth to power, I hope, even if it kills me.

Friday, December 06, 2013

You never knew who was listening.

Do you think that investors would be interested in a country whose leaders do not value democracy? ~ Mutuma Mathiu, Daily Nation, Friday 06/12/13.
The answer, sadly, is "Yes." Look at the hordes that made their way to unified Vietnam in the 1980s and early 1990s. Loot at the ones salivating at the possibility of selling iPhones, iPads and sundry shiny bits-n-bobs to the billion-plus Chinese? Myanmar? Even in the midst of their harsh imprisonment-at-home of Aung San Suu Kyi they were welcoming the worlds "Biggest Democracy" among others to compete for investment opportunities in their rich natural resources, especially hydrocarbons and timber.

The proper question should have been whether in light of the tremendous progress made since the forty-year KANU interregnum came to an end investors would look kindly to a political system that is determined to roll back the gains made, especially as they had led to an explosion of talent, innovation and ideas among the unshackled.

The answer, obviously, is "No."  Whether the apparatchiks around the powers-that-be wish to admit or not, it is the opening up of the democratic space to alternative political parties, voices and ideas that spurred the explosion in innovation. Under the KANU hegemony, ideas were used as weapons against their formulators. It was political heresy to challenge the official line; it could lead to painful, or fatal, results. In Mwai Kibaki we found a flawed champion for democratic growth. His frequently poisonous political partnership with Raila Odinga was the catalyst Kenyans needed for the demands they made of their government and their nation's politics.

We may disagree, sometimes very vehemently, with the content of some of the morning call-in shows that are obsessed with salacious gossip and topics that skate pretty close to pornography. We may disagree with the objectivity of some of the "investigative" journalists who bring to light the dark deeds of some of the men and women entrusted with the fate of a nation. We may disagree with the content of some of the rags we have designated the gutter press. But we cannot disagree with the benefits that we enjoy today because of their existence. Kenyans know more about their nation and their fellowman than at any time since the dawn of Independence. If there has been one success that Kenya has enjoyed since 2003, it has been the banishment of political ignorance.

A political system, especially a democracy (and representative government) succeeds upon the ability of the people to hold their government to account. For this, the people need a free press able to use the media at their disposal to inform and educate the people about what their government has done, is doing and intends to do. When the light of information and education has been shone on the inner workings of the government, only the foolhardy will still insist that white is black and black is white.

The Eleventh Parliament and its immediate predecessor, have demonstrated that representative government is yet to permeate the thickened skulls of the peoples' representatives. They live with the idea that they are here to rule over us. They obsess over the indignities visited on their persons when they are denied eighty-thousand-shilling sitting allowances like their avaricious colleagues in the Judiciary. They do everything other than what they are supposed to do: represent the peoples' interests at the highest levels of government. And they would wish to hide their hideous warts from their electors. Thus they conspire in secret and in public to reverse the gains of democracy that were taken by blood and force from a government that was determined to hold out for a hundred years.

Mr Mathiu may have had good reasons for pointing out the leeriness of future investors if the media is muzzled. But it is time we reminded Kenyans of how life was in the mid-1980s when disappearances were common, the public commons were playthings of the powerful and well-connected, and public dissent meant not just the dissenters' liberty, but the economic destruction of their families, friends, and acquaintances. Kenyans must be reminded of the days when the President's name was invoked in secret and in code because "you never knew who was listening."


Invictus, William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Harebrained schemes of folly.

If the Judicial Service Commission had not over-extended itself in the first place over the dismissal of the Chief Registrar of the Judiciary, and if the National Assembly hadn't bitten off more than it could chew, intellectually and Constitutionally, and if the President was not under siege from all corners, perhaps then there wouldn't have been a petition alleging malfeasance among members of the Commission, the National Assembly wouldn't have been the dog to the President's tail being vigorously wagged, and we wouldn't have Dunga, J., making one ruling, the President pretending it did not exist, and the Law Society twisting itself into a pretzel attempting to find a role to play in the whole sordid affair.

The dismissal of the CRJ revealed more than the Judiciary or the Commission wished. It is not clear that regardless of the lofty words of the Chief Justice, both as the head of the Judiciary and the Chairman of the Commission, all is not well in the Judiciary. Allusions to "corruption fighting back" by the CJ belie the smoothness with which the members of the Judiciary, collectively, and the members of the Commission, collectively, have lined their pockets as if Kenya had a bottomless pit of financial lucre. Indeed, it is not unfair to compare the obsessive attraction to financial avarice of the the Judiciary and the Commission with that of the much-reviled members of the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh Parliaments, the cake, of course, being taken by the eleventh.

The President has not covered himself in glory either. The choice of Aaron Ringera as the chairman of a tribunal to investigate the accused members of the Commission was bad enough, given Kenyans' history with the man when he oversaw the fiasco that was the 2003 "radical surgery" of the Judiciary and his tenure as the Director of the Kenya Anti-corruption Commission that failed to find skeletons in the Triton and Anglo-leasing closets. But to appoint his lawyer, the same one who defended his right to stand for the election despite being accused of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, was testing the patience of Kenyans too far. None has a kind thing to say about the President's choice of members of the tribunal. None will.

But it is the National Assembly that deserves special animus. For a large body with a large number of professionals and intellectuals, one would expect that the theory of large numbers would apply. One would expect that for the past nine months of gaffes and missteps, the National Assembly was owed at least one well-though, well-executed incident. sadly, even with that especially low bar, the National Assembly has revealed its utter nakedness to the people. It has proven that it is incapable of serious interrogation of current events that affect our lives or the business of government. Other than a single-minded pursuit of harebrained self-aggrandizing schemes, it has only perfected the art of doing two things: sticking its feet in the ICC Affair, and picking a fight with either the Judiciary or the Senate. The National assembly has become more of menace to governance than even the largely irrelevant Senate. The two years that we must wait after a general election so that we can recall a parliamentarian meet the definition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Under the leadership of the Speaker and the Leader of Majority, the National Assembly has done everything in its power to muddy the waters in L'Affaire Shollei and its aftermath. Now, rather than admit that they do not know how to read the Constitution, and that many of them do not understand the concept of "separation of powers", they have decided to drag the President into a fight he did not want at a time he was not ready with an enemy he cannot defeat. The pigheadedness of the National assembly in debating a report after they have been ordered by the courts not to do so will engender a constitutional crisis that cannot be resolved in the courts of law, but in the alleyways of politics. If this is how the National Assembly intends to participate in the governance of Kenya, then it is time for us to re-evaluate the importance of that particular chamber.

'Til the next go around...

The Governor of Machakos is showing up his other colleagues from Ukambani. he has managed, while the remaining two are embroilled in intrigues with their elected representatives at county and national level, to build a profile of a go-getting governor in touch with the needs of his people. Dr Alfred Mutua was universally reviled when he was the Government Spokesman. This seemed not slow him down one bit when he made his bid fr the Machakos Governor's seat. meanwhile, Dr Julius malombe of Kitui and Prof Kivutha Kibwana of Makueni seem stuck in the mud; they are yet to publicise a single county government victory. Instead, the media seems to portray their governments as besieged by the politics of the grassroots, unable to take a decision on thing or the other. Despite their relatively positve political profiles going into the 2013 general election, these two governors are starting to feel like the wrong fit for county government.

Nairobi is the centre of the political and financial universe. And Nairobi, like Makueni or Kitui, is riven with intrigue. Because it is the seat of the national government, the relationship between the Governor of Nairobi City and the President is a delicate one, made more so because today both come from opposite and opposing camps. Dr Evans Kidero is riding a political tiger and it is a matter of time whether he tames the tiger or he is thrown off its back and devoured. The governor has decided to pursue a two-pronged strategy, simultaneously keeping a low profile regarding his links with the President and the dysfunction in the CORD, and a higher one regarding the programmes being implemented in the Capital with or without the support of the national government.

Kiambu is a benighted county. It is whispered in some dark corners that it has the highest incident of murder in the country, coming only after Nairobi and Mombasa. It is also whispered that the murders are the preferred means for dissolving marital unions (it has one of the highest rates of widowhood in Kenya.) In the recent past the governor has failed to pass a county budget because of the unbridled greed of his assembly, and one of the political colossi of Kiambu died in mysterious circumstances. The governor has had to fight allegations of criminality for years. While he was elected with a wide margin, this seems not to have translated to a high opinion of his government or his programmes.

Devolution was always going to be tough to get off the ground in the period the Committee of Experts contemplated in the Constitution. It was bound to be opposed by many different players in the political and administrative arenas. Doing it in the middle of the transformation of the national government made it even tougher. For it to succeed right out the gate, it required that the first county governments were professionally organised. That was not to be. The Transitional Authority has proven to be inept at doing its job. And of the forty-seven governors, few can claim to be competently running the affairs of their governments. Some have managed to persuade their assemblies that they are placed in government to "eat" as explained by the budgets they have approved. Some have managed to wage war against their assemblies, their senators and other elected officials because of a fear that they may be challenged at the hustings at the next general election. Some have been overwhelmed by the challenges of governing remote, poorly developed and under-resourced counties.

Devolution is promoting a sort of Darwinism in county politics; good and bad governors are being identified and ruthlessly judged. Perhaps in 2017 there won't be enough money to buy a governor's mansion. The likes of Dr Mutua and Dr Kidero, despite intrigues of their own, demonstrate what can be done if one has the right strategy, the right people and the right political skills. The likes of Ken Lusaka, William Kabogo and Moses Akaranga are a harbinger of what will befall counties if they continue to sit idly by while their votes go to those with neither the skills not the interest in making things better. Devolution is not seriously under threat any more; but its successful implementation lies in the choices that voters make next go around.

We need to learn, again, how to think

I don't think the parliamentarians of the National Assembly will heed the call and #RejectFinanceBill2024. They will tinker. They will v...