Friday, December 19, 2014

Civilised, my ass.

Did you hear that ladies' panties were part of the melee in the National Assembly yesterday? I certainly didn't until I came across that piece of salacious intel in one of our more risque tabloids. It did lay bare, pun very much intended, the lowbrow nature of the National Assembly. (lowbrow adjective  not interested in serious art, literature, ideas, etc. : relating to or intended for people who are not interested in serious art, literature, ideas, etc.)

If there is an idea that captures the imagination of both Houses of Parliament, it is their obsession with their perquisites and privileges, at the expense of everyone else. The broken record of our outrage at their ever rapacious designs on the Consolidated Fund have fallen on ever deafer ears. We have made our peace with it, though; now we face the unedifying spectre of honorable members making crass allegations regarding ladies' underwear!

The ostensible reason for the fracas in the National Assembly was the draconian nature of the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014, and the manner in which the Majority Party's use of its Tyranny of Numbers guaranteed its passage. There are also allegations that strangers from the Senate, the other House, had infiltrated the National Assembly with a determination to disrupt its proceedings. (A Senator is on record that as he was being impolitely ejected from the chamber, one of the Serjeant-at-Arms' men proceeded to rip away a chunk of his trousers.)

The more plausible reason is that our parliamentarians are a reflection of our degree of tolerance towards each other. Even among members of the same family today, it is common to find siblings or spouses fighting viciously with each other over relatively minor matters. Few are willing to listen or consider opposing viewpoints, even when they could be best served by them. What is happening in our homes, our places of work, our pubs and the sporting arenas is reflected in the manner that honourable members deal with each other. The same style of violence employed by their electors is the same style of violence they chose to apply against each other over the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014.

The triumphalism of the Majority party is of a piece with the triumphalism of bad winners, careening around like sailors on shore leave after a long voyage at sea. The Majority Party has its Bill. It is time that they considered the implications of what they have done. When the rain falls, it doesn't fall on one man's housetop, so Bob Marley said. Today, the Majority Party is triumphant. One day, when Jubilee has been consigned to the kiddy pool, the strictures enumerated in the Bill will come to visit night terrors on its proponents. In a police state, not even the loyal party apparatchik is safe for long.

The Minority Party has covered itself in as much shit as the Majority Party. Some of the Minority Party's loudest hecklers have lost whatever dignity they had before they became parliamentarians, having forfeited their right to think to their party leader. They are an embarrassment, frequently  shown up by more measured members of their tribe who choose to keep their mouths shut when piping up is of no value. Parliament now has members who find edification in penises and underwear. Civilised, did I hear you say? Civilised, my ass!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Three Barrels

Around those Three Barrels we have solved the problems of this nation. Around those Three Barrels we have found the cure for chronic famine, catastrophic wars, terrorism, public education, ennui, broken hearts. We have rediscovered arcane rules of grammar long consigned to the detritus-riven ash-heap of memory. (Some of my readers may be able to remark on the finer points of tarakilishi la...)

I imagine the posher, million-shillings-a-year clubs would have more comfortable surroundings, but for a full-throated defence of ones position in surroundings of relative mutual trust (let us not get carried away; this is Nairobi after all), none can beat the Three Barrels. I don't know when the KCS building leased out its space to the purveyor of the Three Barrels; I don't know and I don't care. All I care is that the place exists, the last bastion for the civilised drink at the and of a long day full of worry.

I have no idea when I first set foot in the place, but I remember Bogonko Bosire was loudly making his presence felt. He sneered in that style of his when he saw my careworn copy of that week's the Economist. He had no qualms yanking it out of my hands and declaring an opinion on each and every subject the Economist chose to address that week. Then, rather grandiosely, he offered to educate me on the finer points of global magazine publishing. Fortunately, his latest object of carnal desire walked into the place and Bogonko Bosire was gone from my presence, like a genie's puff of smoke.

I remember when I first spoke to Eric. He was a newspaper commentator then, and I spent many a happy Sunday taking his arguments and turning them on their head right on this blog. Of course he had no idea who I was; at that time I only had a couple of pages in The Nairobi Law Monthly (after calling Ahmednasir names, no less) so I was sure he had no idea he and I shared the Nairobi smog. But after one particularly infuriating article I just had to confront Eric and to my great surprise he took it in stride and we hit it off.

I am still vague when I first said "Hi" to Leo or Maureen, or when Ashford stopped looking at me as if I was the crud one kicks off his shoes. But I am glad I did and he did; now I can't imagine an evening round the Three Barrels without the agreeable debate with Leo and Maureen and the Very Loud Interjection by Ashford. I am still not sure Mike does, but at least he knows the difference between 45s and 78s, and Aggrey seems to know everything else.

However, sometimes it's Joseph who seems to know it all. On the cosmos, for example, he is our resident expert. He understands the theory behind black holes, dark matter and the God Paradox. But he can be a bit militant every time I puncture the reasoned debates with my S4s speaker ad burst of Bob Marley. (Papu approves, by the way.)

The Three Barrels are a sanctuary away from the madness and noise and elbows to be found at Tamasha, K1 or Tribeka. Thy are convenient, for me. Beverages  are served at the right temperature. The Three Barrels are yet to see a kleptomaniac patronising them - or a vandal for that matter. They have seen their fair share Annoying Ones, but by and large, the Three Barrels are the publican version of a Barcalounger. The only mystery that the Three Barrels has not been unravel is Where Is Bogonko Bosire?

To friends...and 2015!

I once told you I was soft in the head because I thought it was simply wonderful that girls kick butt these days and that that could only be a good thing. It is now confirmed; I am very, very soft in the head and in the heart too. In the words of some of my closest friends, I am a sap. I am without a convincing counter at this moment.

I was sitting with Leo and Maureen the other evening. Eric and Joseph were there, but we seemed to be missing Mike and Aggrey. It occurred to me then that Leo and Maureen must be the most patient and tolerant Nairobians I know. They indulge my horrendous taste in music - all Bob Marley mind - with a generosity that would be suspicious if they didn't smile with such genuine joy at some of the minutest bits of beauty in our day, even when fatigue seems to be bearing down on their shoulders.

Then there are Jennifer and Liz, who rather rudely flounced off to much greener, busier pastures. Not that I am complaining; they were notorious for ambushing me with tasty cakes in the office. They single-handedly kept my tailor in business for three years while my waistline challenged the Equator in girth. I do miss them, though. They were way smarter than I was and their insights into the intricacies of the language of the law will always be of great value wherever I travel in my journey of life. 

I am not sure what to say of Salim and Joseph or Joseph and Hiram, other than how strange there are crossovers and overlaps without much from me. How Salim and Joseph met will remain one of those stories I would rather not know, because I know Salim and I know Joseph! But Joseph and Hiram are easily explained by our alma mater, and our other members of the circle: John B (his middle initial isn't really "B" but once christened by John, it stuck), William, and my namesake Sam. I wonder if Evelyn (who hated being called Evelyn) did get married; she never got round to inviting me to the wedding though I would most likely have missed it too. I wonder if her cousin Lilian is still at the Coast taking pleas and handing down judgments.

Talking about the Coast, I still can't believe that Sharon fled for the mzungu-infested beaches of Mombasa. And she did it so surreptitiously, if it wasn't for her social media activity I would still live under the illusion she was paying service charges to William Kabogo's government. At least she'll be able to tell me whether Ngina's plan to take over Mombasa or run Mombasa is on track. But it is only Ngina who could tell me whether Bradley is still the heartbreaker we knew at university.

I still can't believe that it is no longer Tom's and Dima's office! But Dima was always going to find his level, and it wasn't here. Now it's Tom's and Lillian's office, and she still cracks me up with the incredible degree of mess her desk always is. How she manages to get her work done on time and to a superior quality is one of those mysteries that exercise generations of anthropologists.

I wish I could celebrate this holiday season with all my friends, but it seems that it will not be so. Maybe I can commit to seeing them, one by one, in 2015, but you and I know that is an unlikely scenario. So I will wish for them God's Graces, continued success and good health. Meanwhile, my plot to take over the Three Barrels continues without a hitch. It is just a matter of time that that corner is my corner, and that barrel is my barrel. On my favourite stool I shall ponder the Big Questions in convivial silence, unmolested even by the Occasional Loud One (no, not Eric). If only She could come, every now and then, without it getting awkward. Well, I guess that's why we have a future: to smooth over the awkward bits we have left behind. Goodby, 2014; hello 2015.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The enemy within

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
 Martin Niemöller (1892 - 1984)
We stare at the conflagration, filming the flames with our iPhones, Galaxies, Notes and iPads. We stare emotionlessly, or so we persuade ourselves. We rationalise. We dissemble. We equivocate. We don't turn away, but we don't intervene either. Instead "we bear witness", though we shall refuse to testify when called to do so. Some of us will even make money from the images stored as ones and zeroes on our phones and computers. Some of us will make money from the flames. Some of us will make money out of the flames. So long as the blazing bonfire is not razing to the ground the detritus of my life, so we tell ourselves, it is really none of my business.

It never occurred to us that the establishment of the elite Anti-Stock Theft Unit of the Kenya Police Force in the mid-1980s was a bleak admission of neglect and failure by Daniel Toroitich arap Moi's government. A cultural practice that had outlived its utility enjoyed currency more than twenty years after Independence. In the bad lands of West Pokot, Turkana and Samburu, the failures of the ruling party, and indeed the central government, were laid bare in the ashes of the aftermaths of cattle rustling raids that left manyattas right across the three districts razed to the ground, and men, women and children butchered in the most savage manner.

We were cowed by the national security apparatus then, and so we stared at the shattered images with horror and resignation, shook our heads, and pretended that they had nothing to do with us. After all, we reminded ourselves half-convincingly, they were uncivilised and there was nothing we could do about it. Because President Moi did little to stem the tide of tit-for-tat raids, the close of 2014 sees ever escalating raids in the same three districts, using sophisticated combat tactics not only against other tribes but also against the very same Anti-Stock Theft Unit.

In August 1998, a few months before Usama bin Laden was politely ejected from the Sudan, and three years after the Blind Sheikh attempted to bring down the Twin Towers, bin Laden financed and oversaw the co-ordinated attacks against the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Scores were killed; several scores more were injured, some for life.  Again, because of our fear of the national security apparatus, we persuaded ourselves that the real target was the United States; we were mere collateral damage. The 2002 attack on the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala should have shaken us from our slumber. It didn't. It was an Israeli-owned hotel, we said, catering to Isarelis only; it had nothing to do with us. All the while we refrained from pointing out the myriad problems with the national security apparatus out of fear.

We have come full circle. 2012 to 2014 has been one of the bloodiest periods in our history, though it doesn't seem like it because we are not in the thick of it. Mwai Kibaki may have salvaged the economy, resuscitating or attempting to resuscitate mothballed state-owned companies, but the ballooning youthful population found fewer and fewer job or investment opportunities. A large cohort simply extended their stay under their parents' roofs until something came along. Still another cohort became part of the criminal underclass trying to make ends meet. There was that minority that blamed the government for their marginalisation, encouraged in their rage by preachers inspired by Usama bin Laden and his acolytes to join the global war against the Great Satan. They heeded this call. And still we turn a blind eye; our national response has changed little in thirty years.

When this "war against terror" has been waged, and its bitter fruits harvested, like the bitter fruits of the wars against corruption or drugs, we will finally realise that the war was waged against us. The comfortable ones in the capital, Ukambani, Central, or Nyanza, will find their fates tied closely to those of the Somalis, Waswahili, the Miji Kenda, the Pokot, the Samburu, the Turkana and all the Others who have waged war against the State, and the State has waged war against. The war on terror will not be won on the battlefield with soldiers, secret police and assassinations. It can only be won with economic empowerment that offers every man, woman and child in the republic an opportunity. Limit that opportunity to a corrupt elite few, and we might as well turn this whole nation into an armed citadel, not to keep our enemies out, but to ensure that the enemy within never escapes so that we can destroy him with extreme prejudice. Keep in mind, though, that enemy is us.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Our total war.

There was a logic to war once. Then Adolf Hitler hypnotized a majority of voters, and millions of Germans turned a blind eye to the slaughter of millions of "undesirables" - the mentally ill, communists, homosexuals and Jews. Since Hitler's suicide, the concept of total war has undergone several evolutions depending on the area and the mental stability of the people involved. Between 1945 and 1989, more money was spent building an arsenal that would rival all others for its destructive power than at any time in human history.

Adults whose faculties we presume were intact postulated theories that would define their paranoia as rational logic. They bandied about big words with a calmness that hid their utter lunacy. How else do you explain how, during the Cold War, men would design "war plans" that would lay to waste hundreds of millions of lives at the push of a button? Now we have tinged this sort of madness with religious fanaticism, forgetting the terrible crimes committed in the name of deities during the Dark Ages.

This poison is now spreading abroad in the land in Kenya. It is being spread by stupidity, ignorance, poverty and unemployment. It is being spread by religious fanatics of doubtful sanity who have spent a lifetime of paranoia fantasising about their path to heavenly glory. Many of them are intelligent, in the way idiot savants are intelligent, but their tunnel-visioned focus on their narrow religio-political goals blind them to the madness of it all.

This is their version of total war, without the war machines of the United States or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea. In Kenya's bandit-riven frontier-lands are to be found these mad men, living in a past that never was, pursuing goals that cannot be attained. Some of them live under the dangerous delusion that the female gender was put on this earth, (a) to be subjugated, (b) to be sexually exploited and (c) to be enslaved. Some others still live under the violent rules of natural selection favoured during times of famine and spend millions of man hours every year plotting with fellow mad men to build up militia of barely-literate young men, dubbed "warriors", to raid the villages of the unprepared, to loot, pillage, plunder and engage in rapine, with great fervour and to see it as the natural order of things.

But the worst of the lot are the men who believe with the passion of a toddler that they have the ear of the Almighty Himself. They have taken to holy scripture, written for a time and place that they can hardly identify with, and they have taken these written words to be absolutely true, infallible even. They have read and re-read the words hundreds of thousands of times, they have compared the events depicted in scripture and they have drawn conclusions that should scare the devil out of all of us. Because of their passion, because of their charisma, because of their convictions, they have put under their sway thousands of impressionable, barely-literate, unemployed and unemployable young men, and persuaded these men to kill in the name of divine glory. 

Blood soaks our beaches, highways and mud-tracks because one man with an insidiously evil interpretation of the words of another man, who lived thousands of years before him according to holy legend, has access to thousands of young men through the tools of modern communication that have made human commerce the most profitable in all of history with the sole goal of killing millions in the name of a god. No matter how many guns you buy, no matter how many Land Cruisers you deploy, no matter how many telephones you tap, no matter how many email, social media or internet chat rooms you hack, no matter how many radical preachers you murder, all it takes is a farmer with a hundred pigs to build a fuel-oil/fertilizer bomb like the one that demolished the United States Embassy in 1998, after being inspired by words on a page about a god no one has seen written in an obscure dialect a thousand years ago by a man who would not have imagined that the bloodshed he glorified would be magnified a million-fold by missiles, tanks, fighter-bombers and mad men.

Symptoms and maladies.

Afghanistan was a ho-hum former Cold War battlefield when the Sudan decided it had had enough of Usama Bin Laden, UBL, and expelled him from Khartoum, together with his army-looking-for-a-war. UBL made it to the comfortable hearth of Mullah Omar, the cyclops leading the former madrassa students of Afghanistan, sweeping away any vestigial remains of communism - or the CIA. That visit set off a chain reaction whose ramifications will reverberate for generations.

One of them could not possibly have been foreseen, except by those willing to learn the proper lessons of history. Iraq's Saddam Hussein was bloodthirsty tyrannical mad man. He killed everyone he suspected had even thought of becoming Iraq's next president. He used guns, bombs, mines, missiles and poison gas - to kill those he ruled with the proverbial iron fist. He was a mad bad man through and through. Yet, ironically, despite all his fulminations against the United States, Israel and all his other enemies, he never did plot their downfall, he never paid for it, and he didn't acquire the weapons to fight his Mother of All Battles.

So when the United States and its Coalition of the Willing, in response to an outrage of epic proportions, toppled UBL's hosts in Afghanistan and established, in effect, the greatest narco-state in history, and followed it up with the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the destruction of his Republican Guard and Ba'ath BParty, little did they know that what would rise up to fill the blood-drenched shoes of the Taleban and Sadam Hussein would be the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Iraq and Afghanistan became the training grounds for modern-day mujahideen. The world will never be the same again.

The United States panicked, made up stories, invaded countries, toppled stable governments and bequeathed to the world the Islamic State. Kenya is at its 9/11 moment. It's reaction has been exactly the same as that of the United States, right down to the rhetoric and the panic-as-legislation style of problem solving. The outcome of United States' hegemony is the Islamic State. What will be the outcome of Kenya's tough-on-terror stance?

al Shabaab and its ilk are not regular armies. They do not have regular chains of command. They do not communicate like regular armies do. They don't even do it the way special forces usually do. They do not fight for a nation in the sense of a geographical territory that belongs to them and them only. They have no interest in controlling political institutions. Their political ambitions have little to do with modern concepts of government, except in Vatican City - and Iran. Their message is simple and devastating.  The answer to their venom, violence and danger is not counter-venom, counter-violence or counter-danger. 

This message seems to have escaped the securocracy, determined to "fight back" with every weapon in its arsenal, even weapons outlawed by the Constitution. What thy will bequeath Kenya is a sizable population of young men and women with designs on a nation of their own based on religious ideals that have been pared down to the essentials: we are good; "everyone else must die." This path we are on leads only to an outcome similar to the Islamic State. al Shabaab is the symptom; Islamic State is the outcome if we misdiagnose our true maladies.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Digital illiteracy.

My father is a professor. He has degrees in subjects that guaranteed I would forever have a special and abiding loathing for the sciences, both physical and biological. My father has taught, including teaching my brothers and I, for the better part of my life, and he has been exceptional. My mother is one of the few linguists I know who isn't terified of forensic linguistics. She knew that we would part linguistic ways when it took me the better part of ten seconds to explain clearly what an adverbial phrase is. In their areas of expertise, my parents are not only undisputed leaders, but original thinkers; those PhDs of theirs were not in vain, I can assure you.

In the use of modern technology, especially information and communications technology, they are not slouches either, but there are limits to their tech-dexterity. But because of their liberal-arts training, they are not shy about inquiry. Frequently they will forget whatever it is I took them through the Sunday before, but that does not stop them from pestering me over the same thing over and over again over the same thing. If I didn't love them as much as I did, I would set their iPads and S5s on fire, bury the ashes in a mine shaft, and replace them with a Nokia 3310, if I could find any in this tech-obsessed market.

Sadly, the Government of Kenya has none of the positive attributes possessed of my parents. It is ultraconservative in that the phrase "over my dead body" seems to be the prevailing mantra over any kind of change in the corridors of power. The promulgation of the Constitution in 2010 almost caused the entire machinery of government to seize up and stop. It was the largest reorganisation of government since the mbeberu packed his horse-and-buggy and slunk back to the cold and dreary British Isles. Pet institutions were set to undergo total change. The "over-my-dead-body" die-hards need not have worried.

You must have read the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014, currently exercising the minds of the honourable members of the Eleventh Parliament's National Assembly. In a world where the threats against the safety of the people can be realised as much as with firearms and explosives as with ones-and-zeroes, don't you get the feeling that, save for the ad nauseum repetition of "digital government", what we have in the here and now is a peculiarly Kenyan version of George Orwell's Animal Farm writ large?

The toolkit is made up of equipment that everyone though the last Governor-General of Kenya had carted off to the fusty corridors of Whitehall. Kenyans do not have a sense of history. They refuse to learn the proper lessons from the past, even the recent past. Our safety and, with it, our security, is not in the hands of brigands or in the hands of secret police; it is in our hands, but not in the spy-on-your-neighbour leitmotif peddled by the likes of Joseph Kaguthi and his ilk with that nyumba kumi shit. 

The day a majority decides that it is no longer preferable to be ill-served by semi-literate, ill-educated, greedy men and women of low morals, and that we it no longer bow down to a political aristocracy, and that everyone will pay their own way and carry their own weight, we will not need a secret police to keep us safe from ourselves and we will be feared by the brigands who would wish do us harm. All the kibeberu legislation in the world, all the holdovers from Baba Moi's bload-soaked twenty-four years, will not keep us safe or our nation secure if the software that makes us tick is still as corrupt as the day we bought a new Constitution for sixty-four billion shillings.

Mkokoteni dignity.

The Constitution mentions "dignity" twelve times. (Yes, I counted. I'm obsessive that way.) It is a word loaded with meaning, if one cares to look.  It is one of the few words in the Constitution that is treated with utter contempt. I had opportunity to observe the casual way in which indignity is visited on the little people today. I believe that the lead taken by our leaders, especially the celebrity ones, has contributed to how we treat our fellowman as we go about our affairs. (By celebrity, I am not limiting our leaders to the members of the music or "local content" industries; I also include celebrity preachers and politicians.)

That I am a commuter comes as no surprise to you, my dear reader. By habit, commuting is an opportunity to scroll through all those unsavory emails from total strangers wishing to either borrow goodly sums from me or to sell me concoctions of dubious provenance guaranteed to enhance certain preferred appendages. But because of the rank failure of the Government of Nairobi City County, I find my eyes staring out of the bus window when we approach that mad house that is the City Stadium bus stage along Jogoo Road, take the roundabout and join Landhies Road which terminates at the Retail Market.

There is a hierarchy to traffic on Nairobi's roads. Bigwigs with sirens, outriders and chase cars are at the top. Then come those with fat enough wallets to purchase what the print journalists refer delicately as top-of-the-range cars, which range from that outrageously gorgeous Ferrari 599M I saw in Westlands last week to the Nissan Pathfinder, provided it is still in good nick. Then come the hordes who have somehow managed to persuade their bank managers that Nairobi ticks because everyone lives beyond their means and have secured credit facilities that permit them to acquire the seemingly hundreds of thousands of Toyotas, Nissans, Subarus, Mazdas and Hondas that seem to crawl from every arterial road in Nairobi.

The bottom of the hierarchy is dominated by Large Capacity Buses, then the twenty-nine-seaters, then the twenty-five-seaters, then the fourteen-seaters and then the nduthis and boda bodas. At the absolute bottom are the mikokoteni. What persuaded me that life of the mkokoteni-puller is one of  continual fear and danger of violent death, and solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, was the utter contempt and hostility with which he was treated, especially by the nduthi rider and the matatu/bus driver. 

There are men who have pulled mikokoteni for decades; it shows in the lines in their faces and the set-in-cement callouses on their hands and feet. Theirs is a piteous existence; yet they have not turned to a life of crime and they have founded families of their own, educated their children and kept a roof over their families' heads. Life has conspired to render them desperate, but they do not live lives of desperation. Like everyone else in this city, that's their hustle and they will make of it what they will.

Despite the sometimes quiet dignity in their faces, from their county government on up or on down, they are viewed with hostility. From the mbeberu, to the minister for Local Government to the Governor to the motorist to the matatu/bus driver to the nduthi rider - but especially the nduthi rider, the hand of their fellowman is unremittingly turned against them. The city wants to banish them to the outer reaches of its precincts - and its psyche. We live in denial that if it was not for the subsidies provided by these hard-suffering men, Nairobi's cost of food would skyrocket overnight. And so we tolerate them with contempt writ large on our faces.

Today I saw a nduthi rider, with casual cruel violence, ram his cut-rate nduthi into a mkokoteni, nearly sending its middle-aged puller spilling in front of an oncoming Citi Hoppa and my rage almost boiled over. I blamed Evans Kidero and I cursed the day he was elected the Governor of Nairobi City and I cursed twice over the day the Supreme Court said he could keep his seat. The manner in which the nduthi rider's cruelty went unremarked is the same way that the casual neglect of the working classes is being done by the Government of Nairobi City County. It is not the rich who need civic services; it is the working poor like the mikokoteni-pullers of Nairobi, for whom the right to earn a living is being treated as a privilege by their own government and fellow road users who are more a menace than a blessing.

We have been conditioned by the rich and the beautiful to sneer with contempt at the poor, the scarred, the malformed and the smelly because they do not meet our standards as we believe them to be from our idealised view of wazungus of all shades. In Tennessee, during the Jim Crow Era, the State issued permits to hunt Black men. In Kenya, in Nairobi, we are slowly building up to the day when it will be open season on mikokoteni-pullers: if they are ever the victims of road traffic fatalities, the Government will turn a blind eye. If you think this is in jest, simply ask of Governor Kidero whether he has any statistics on the deaths and injuries of mikokoteni-pullers in his city, or whether he has any programmes to integrate them in the city's physical infrastructure as seeing that we will never get rid of them. (That is, if you care.)

What a disappointment.

In order to stay well clear of the strictures of the law on slander, libel and defamation, I will choose the adjective "disappointing" to describe the Government of Nairobi City County. We elected the Governor partly on his track record as a record-beating manager at the various firms he headed. His leadership of the Government of Nairobi City has been a great disappointment to the people of this hard suffering city.

His lofty promises have been exposed for the political hot air they have turned out to be. On one area alone, this county government has been an abject failure. I don't know how the company in charge of solid waste management in the Central Business District won the tender to do so, but it has done a piss poor job. The CBD is filthier than it ever was under the perfidiously corrupt City Council of Nairobi. The mounds of garbage in the loss glossy parts of the CBD are an indictment of the priorities of this county government. They expose, starkly, the ineptitude of its political skills and the casual disregard it has for the unpolished and unwashed masses.

The governor made promises about public transport and traffic. He has failed on both counts. The CBD is more chaotic than ever before. The traffic is a mess. One wonders whether the billions the county government spent on traffic lights and traffic light cameras was worth the frustration commuters and motorists alike experience very time they set out for the CBD. All main arteries into the city, including the much-ballyhooed Thika Highway are a mess.

On street lighting, the county governement is merely reinventing the wheel invented by Adop-A-Light and making a hash of it. Pedestrian walkways (pavements) have been dug up, ostensibly to lay down the wiring for these facilities, and yet the lights remain dark. On public sanitation in drains and sewers, the overflowing drains in the CBD and elsewhere in the city are an indictment of the sloth engendered by this county government.

We were willing to wait for the governor and his team to get up to speed on the problems bedevilling Nairobi City. That honeymoon was over long before the governor and Nairobi City's Woman Representative had their ugly altercation in City Hall. Since then the governor has spent a great deal of time travelling overseas and to Nyanza, neglecting the good people of Nairobi and their depredations. It is tie someone whispered in his ear that if he cannot govern Nairobi effectively, we will not be trusting him to govern Kenya any time soon.

The governor can demonstrate his commitment to this city by sorting out all our pavements once and for all. It is time he freed them from the clutches of buses, matatus, boda bodas and the overflow from sewers and drains. He must ensure they are all paved. He must take back the ones grabbed by hawkers, and rather biliously, an overzealous National Police Service, National treasury, Herufi House, Harambee House, Harambee House Annex, Jogoo House "A", Hilton Hotel, Parliament, Kenya Commercial Bank, Central Bank of Kenya, Times Tower and his very own City Hall. All these characters already have robust fences; roping off what belongs to the pedestrians in the name of security is one of the stupidest decisions that he national and county governments have engaged in since they both came to power.

We have given up on the rubbish. We have given up on the street lights. We have given up on traffic, traffic lights and traffic cameras. We have given up, generally, on public safety. All the governor needs to do is give us one thing: pedestrian walkways free from hassle and harassment. If we can't walk from place to place in relative peace, he should not bother wooing the good people of Nyanza; he will disappoint them too. And he definitely should give up higher ambitions. After decades, Kenyans are unwilling to elect another failure to high office.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The fall before the fall.

We must be gullible. It is the only explanation. We must be gullible. 77 Chinese nationals have been living in Kenya for a year, relying on expired tourist visas to get by. They have been operating a "cyber-warfare" operation out of a posh villa in Runda. Two Cabinet Secretaries "visited the scene of crime" with the Director of Criminal Investigations, and one of them pronounced herself "still traumatised" with the discovery of the 77 Chinese and their sophisticated communications equipment. The only explanation is that we must be the dumbest Black people to shit between two legs.

As we are being reminded on a monthly basis now, our "internal security' is a complete shambles. We are reminded time and again that the situation is dire because of decades of corruption and human rights abuses. Reforms have been touted by local malcontents, the Government of Kenya and even the might United Nations. Right from the Ghai Commission to the Kitonga Committee, all drafts of the attempts at constitution-making emphasised the reform of "internal security." It is time to admit to ourselves that our "internal security" problem is a vicious combination of many, many factors including the aforementioned corruption.

The other must surely be leadership. The "internal security" leadership is made up of dyed-in-the-wool conservatives whose idea of "security" has very little to commend it in the twenty-first century. This is not the United States nor the United Kingdom. Policing in this country has always paid lip service to the safety of the people; its principal reason has been the security and preservation of the ruling party and its government at all costs. In Kenya, the cost is measured in blood; frequently, it is the blood of the innocent that reveals the extent to which the "internal security of the State" will be preserved.

The powers that the leadership in charge of internal security have always arrogated to themselves, lawfully and otherwise, have always been abused, with tragic and devastating consequences. Every time internal security has been handled by a combination of police, spies, assassins and the army, tragedy has followed as sure as the sun rises in the East.  In the 1960s to the early 1980s, the internal security of Kenya was threatened by the Shiftas and a sub rosa war was waged that led to massacres. Not one, not two, not three, but dozens of massacres where thousands of Kenyans were murdered in cold blood. In the 1980s, it was dissidents, traitors and coupsters. Again, thousands of Kenyans were rounded up on the suspicions of spies, they were tortured and those who weren't so lucky were murdered and disappeared forever.

In the 1990s, a new element was introduced in Kenya's internal security: militias disguised as political parties' youth wings. Internal security was lost after that fateful decision. It will never be recovered. What used to be petty corruption for survival, in the wake of the rise of billion-shilling criminal enterprises such as the mungiki and forty brothers, became a wealth-creating opportunity for the internal security apparatus with real estate of inestimable value at the end of the day. It is at the heart of the internal security shambles, corruption is, and until the Commander-in-Chief admits to himself that he cannot function with the corruption unchecked, all the draconian powers in his hands will eventually force him into one of two terrible choices: let it go, or become dictator "to restore order."

After overstretching itself in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, the Roman Empire was faced with internal unrest that politics failed to resolve. The Roman Empire was increasingly corrupt and decadent. Even its leading lights could not see that in less than a lifetime, it would crumble. In a last-ditch attempt to salvage their empire, the Roman Senate appointed Gaius Julius Caesar as dictator. In three years those selfsame dictators would assassinate their dictator on the senate floor.

Someone is whispering in the Commander-in-Chief's ear. All he needs, the whisperer says, are "full" powers to deal with al Shabaab, the Land Question and the bandits in the Northern Frontier District. He need not keep these powers for long; after the crises have been dealt with, he can ask Parliament to restore the nation to status quo ante. Dozens of intelligent Kenyans support this view. We have not said it out loud yet, but it will soon become apparent that Kenya, including its Parliament, "business" community and "development" partners, is the Roman Senate before the fall of the Roman Empire.

The only explanation is that we are extremely gullible. Why the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade thought to admit before the whole world that she was "still traumatised" with the discovery of the 77 Chinese, we will never know. What we will remember when "internal security" becomes a byword for escalating murder, armed robbery, banditry, massacres and "terrorism" is that not one senior policeman could come up with an explanation of how 77 foreign nationals managed to live in a posh house in a posh part of Nairobi for thirteen months without holding down any kind of job (they were on tourist visas, remember?) without getting caught while operating, I shit you not, an "unlawful radio station" using "sophisticated communications equipment."

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Ukubwa Syndrome

Sunny Bindra made an interesting observation when he visited a parastatal soon after visiting a famous game lodge in the Tsavo. I am surprised that he is surprised at what he found when he visited the state corporation. The phenomenon he observed - the reservation of one the lift exclusively of the Very Very Important People - pervades the public sector. It is the only way, I assure you, that the minions and underlings who earn substantially less than the Very Very Important Person will remember that they are indeed minions and underlings and will pay the required obeisance to that Very Very Important Person with the right kind of fawning, genuflecting and brown-nosing required of them.

It is not just in the allocation of posh corner offices or the designation of most preferred parking slots that this phenomenon is to be seen; take a walk around any sensitive building today, and you will be reminded of the callous disregard for the people our Very Very Important Persons have for us. My newest pet hate is the area around Parliament building and Continental House. So long as you are one of the almost two million pedestrians in Nairobi, there is a rude reminder that your comfort is not the concern of the chauffeur-driven makers of laws and their minions and underlings; you must play a rather daring game of chicken with on-coming traffic because you are no longer permitted to walk anywhere near Parliament's fences - or those of the Continental House. Nor are you permitted to take any photographs of these building where the peoples' representatives sit and deal with weighty and sensitive matters, going by the Very Large Signs in English saying so.

It is also to be seen in the hostility demonstrated by all public building - yes, building can be hostile - that has embedded spikes in its superstructure so that those that are weary cannot sit down to rest. The unlamented former Inspector-General took his hostility for the public to a rather offensive end when he decreed, or turned a blind eye to, to the effective outlawing of the general public from the benches in the sunken car park next to the Reinsurance Plaza building along Taifa Road by generously covering its benches with used motor oil. It was months before the oil wouldn't stain one's clothes when they sat down.

The private sector has gotten in on the act too. Kencom House has managed to grab for itself a security zone in the pedestrian walkway opposite Uchumi House. Uchumi House now will no longer allow one to walk through its famous tunnel. Neither too, it seems, will one be permitted to simply saunter through the Hilton Arcade without encountering officious private security with the courtesies of mafia hitmen.

The walking masses, the poor and the great unwashed are useful for only a few things: getting fleeced and turning out in large numbers to vote at elections and referenda. The rest of the time, they are to be confined on the rougher bits of town, in their hovels in Mathare Valley, Kibera or that geographical zone known as Eastlands. They should make their visits "uptown" brief and unmemorable. They shouldn't linger longer than necessary.

Our men and women who deal with weighty and sensitive matters should not be disturbed. Not by the men and women who serve under them or the people for whom they are in office to begin with. Their comfortable lives should not be disturbed. Rasna Warah points out that we "we have created an architecture of fear by building apartheid cities that are even more menacing than the ones of colonial times." "Ukubwa" in Kenya, is the prevailing ambition of all, whether they are in the public sector or the the private one. 

I look forward to Mr Bindra's prescription for next Sunday. But I wonder if he is a voice in the desert, speaking to himself. We know that ours is an unequal society, that inequality is built in. Some come through depredations that should shock the conscience and just like in George Orwell's Animal Farm, become what they sought to overcome. Are we deluding ourselves to believe that change can come to this society with the kind of men and women making decisions about our fates without truly appreciating the fear they engender? I fear not.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. (Again?)

In the same week that President Uhuru Kenyatta got the long-sought reprieve from the dastardly machinations of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, a gang of Chinese nationals was discovered "operating an illegal radio station" in Nairobi's posh Runda Estate. Followers of this blog know I have a very dim view of the securocracy, after its mendacious responses to Baragoi, Westgate, Mpeketoni, Tana River, Lamu, Kapedo and Mombasa. Therefore, I am not surprised that the 77 Chinese operating in Runda might have had greater ambitions in Kenya. After all, few Kenyans speak Mandarin or Cantonese and only the feeble-minded believe that their sole purpose in Kenya with their "sophisticated communications equipment" was to broadcast radio signals illegally.

Some have speculated that the Chinese gang were here to "infiltrate" ATMs and M-Pesa accounts. My friends, if that was all they were up to, we can chalk it up to the lucrative nature of our burgeoning financial sector, which seems to attract more and more foreigners as the Jubilee administration gets down to serious development business. I have taken a rather casual glance at the international papers, and none of them seem to consider the Chinese as slothful when it comes to cyber-espionage. The reasons to set up what looked like a sophisticated operation weren't ATMs or M-Pesa middle-man attacks. These were spies. Spying on our government. Spying for their government. And they caught Maj Gen Philip Kamweru and his National Intelligence Service napping. Again.

Commentators have bemoaned the leaden-footedness of our securocracy. Regardless of the musical chairs in the national Executive, the removal of David Kimaiyo and Joseph ole Lenku has failed to address the structural infirmities inherent in an over-secretive system that relies on cronyism and corruption to get things done. The appointed of a former soldier to shake things up at the Department of Immigration has not stemmed the undocumented entry into Kenya of many individuals, some of whom have less than charitable intentions while on our soil. Maj Gen Gordon Kihalangwa is supposed to be our first line of defence against undesirable foreigners and enemies of the nation. Instead, just like his predecessor before him, he has decided to go for cosmetic changes: shutting down passport offices in Kenya's forgotten bits.

I shall repeat my exhortation once more. We must make a paradigm shift in securing the nation. There must be a complete break with the past where the police were the vanguard in the corralling of the population. The primary job of any police force is the safety of the people from criminals. It is only when the people are safe can the police take part in the security of the nation. The job of national security lies with the National Intelligence Service, which spies on all enemies, foreign and domestic, the defence forces which fight wars or deter idiots intending to wage war with Kenya, and the border security force, which keeps infiltrators of the homeland out of the homeland. Maj Gen Kihalangwa is the one to take the lead in keeping out infiltrators like the 77 Chinese caught in Runda.

No one seems to realise this. Not the national Executive and certainly not the securocracy. Their solution lies in draconian laws that don't amount to a warm bucket of piss and shit in Kamiti GK Prison. By insisting that the people are to be corralled by ever harsher laws, they are simply encouraging malcontents to conspire with foreign powers against the State, and the people. (Do you believe the man who rented that Runda pile is really, truly innocent?) The 77 Chinese did not enter Kenya using the smugglers' routes in Mandera, wajir, Marsabit or Turkana. Thoey came through a border crossing point toting tonnes of sophisticated electronic equipment with the active assistance of members of Maj Gen Kihalangwa's department. How much are you willing to bet that when he is confronted with the proof of complicity of his officers, Maj Gen Kihalangwa will ask for stiffer penalties rather than undertake a root-and-branch reorganisation of his department? That is the tragicomedy that is our security. 

Friday, December 05, 2014

You have been warned.

For a "religion of peace", founded on God's love for mankind that led him to allow an act of great cruelty, Christianity is ill-served by hateful men and women. "39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also", so it is written in the Gospel according to Matthew. And yet, even the Archbishop of  Nairobi, the Prelate of the Anglican Church and the Secretary General of the National Council of Churches of Kenya have called on the State to curtail our freedoms in the "fight against terrorism."

OK. They didn't really call for the deletion of Chapter Four of the Constitution, but their ever shriller demands, echoed by pastors, reverends, bishops, apostles and prophets alike, for ever "tougher" laws and "tougher" law-enforcement is jarring. It is astounding that the men of the cloth cheered the war-fighting in Somalia. I don't know why but the idea of a militaristic church in Kenya bods ill for the future.

It was inevitable that David Kimaiyo and Joseph ole Lenku would follow in the footsteps of Michael Gichangi. Their being in the securocracy was increasingly untenable to the President, their colleagues in the securocracy and to the people. It is, however, notable that so long as the President seemed to repose faith in them, so too did the upper echelons of the church in Kenya, never mind what members of their congregations thought. It is now complete, the coup launched by the political class against the church. The church has become a valuable cog in the political affairs of the nation, especially the political affairs of the Jubilee government.

The creeping militarisation of public safety has proceeded without a watchful caution from the church leadership. What seemed like a faint spark across the Atlantic in the United States after 9/11, has spread like the Ebola virus to Kenya. Militaristic American preachers advocating war against "enemies of Christianity" have become the mentors of hateful preachers in Kenya, who have in turn inspired hateful Muslim preachers alleging a "war against Islam." The cycle is vicious.

Kenya is now in the grip of competing hateful speeches every week, from one side or the other, with the State busily enacting an insidious plan to militarise policing and public safety, enhance the militarisation of State security, limit the application of Chapter Four of the Constitution, and borrow money with the reckless abandon of a seventeenth century pirate on shore leave in the Bahamas. John Githongo, Boniface Mwangi and their civil society industry colleagues are distrusted by both their churches and the State; theirs' will be voices in the desert. They will almost likely be ignored by the same people who will face the full brunt of these changes.

Kenya will not become a totalitarian country the same way Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Uganda, Ethiopia or Libya did. It will do so by the insidious hollowing out of the institutions of State that we have attempted to build since 2010. Parliament has proven pliant; the national Executive has seen to it that tune to dance to is its very own. Willy Mutunga has proven that he is no pushover. The plan, therefore, might to wait him out and replace him with a more malleable man. (Make no mistake; the next Chief Justice of Kenya will be a man.) It will be too late when detentions without trial become pronounced, shoot-to-kill policies apply even for petty offences, and show trials are the order of the day. Don't say you weren't warned.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

What Mandera means.

The knock-on effect of the Mandera massacres will be profound. Like a ripple in a pond, the concentric circles will spread far and wide. Public services will crumble. Public goods will cease to be supplied. And that is before we look at the private goods and services that rely overwhelmingly on the supply of public goods and services. For the massacre of 70 Kenyans, al Shabaab has all but crippled Mandera, its government, its economy and its chances at a decent start in the long devolution sweepstakes.

A look at the basic public services affected by the massacres should make us all hang our heads in shame. Education and healthcare alone rely on Kenyan professionals from outside the county. The first massacre took the lives of teachers. In its wake, the national nurses' union demanded security for its members working in Mandera. After last night's massacre, the nurses' union, just like the teachers' unions, is advising its members working in Mandera to leave the county until their safety is assured. Teachers are away on holiday, but going by the sentiments of some, they will not be returning to Mandera any time soon. In two fell swoops, al Shabaab guaranteed that school-going children will forever remain academically handicapped and at risk of preventable diseases.

If the safety of the people remains in doubt for much longer, Mandera may be the first county to fall under emergency rule from the centre. When civil servants defy the Code of Regulations and refuse to report for work because they have no faith that the government they serve is able to assure their safety, it is only a matter of time before the private investors make up their minds that they are best engaged in economic activities some place else. This too will be clear for many of them when the little disposable income available to the civil servants remain unavailable for spending in their hotels, coffee shops, bars, butcheries and brothels. Both the real and undergrounds economies of Mandera will collapse. Then Mandera's problems will get worse.

It will become a county of residents and security agents, both uniformed and covert. Many of the resident will become informants and spies, for both sides. They will pick sides, of that there is no doubt. The central government will react with draconian measures. Curfews will be imposed. free movement will be curtailed. Public areas will be off limits. Everyone will be under scrutiny. Suspicion will be pervasive. Mistrust will grow. Any "incident" will be met with overwhelming overreaction. The vicious cycle will get more vicious. 

Meanwhile, an entire generation will come of age knowing nothing but army raids, police brutality and mysterious murders. Preachers of hate-as-hope will prevail. They will be charismatic. They will offer direction. They will offer guidance. They will offer a future denied to an impressionable, hormonal, angry generation. hundreds, maybe thousands, will heed the call of the preachers. They will denounce their nation. They will denounce their parents. They will denounce their leaders. They will denounce their government. They will take up arms. Then the wheels will truly come off the train.

All along fighters have been infiltrating the county in search of targets. Eventually they won't have to. We will do the job of recruitment for them. We will alienate hundreds of thousands of Kenyans by refusing to admit that Mandera is a war zone. That alienation will create a generation of potential fifth columnists, collaborators and traitors. The county will be a hotbed of intrigue. And ever larger swathes of Kenyan territory will have been conquered by al Shabaab without it fighting a war or seizing ground. If you doubt that al Shabaab has conquered territory in Kenya, witness the curfew in Lamu entering the fifth week, the militarised streets of Mombasa that haven't prevented marauding knife-wielding gangs that kill with impunity, and the successive massacres in Mandera. Don't let Mandera fall. If it does, like Lamu and Mombasa, then we all fall.

At war in the Dark.

Arsène Wenger, has managed Arsenal since 1996. He is the longest serving manager of the club, as well as its most successful, though the statistics from the past decade have not been very flattering for the millions of fans Arsenal has globally. Mr Wenger has, however, guaranteed that Arsenal would never be relegated and that it will always feature in the UEFA Champions' League. Mr Wenger's is a business decision, to my mind. His primary goal seems not to collect championship trophies but fatten the club's bank accounts year in, year out. Arsenal's investors have kept faith with Mr Wenger because he makes them pots of money.

Football may be a proxy for war, but no lives are lost and no blood is shed, bar one or two accidents or deliberate fouls. That is not the case with public safety or national security. President Kenyatta, in a way, is the principal investor in public safety and national security, and he has different managers for different aspects of the two. The national security sector is dominated by the disciplined forces: the Kenya Defence Forces (including its Military Intelligence Unit and its special forces) and the National Police Service ("regular" police, Administration Police, General Service Unit, Anti-Terrorism Police Unit, Anti-Stock Theft Unit and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations)  , with the National Intelligence Service as the quasi-military spy organisation that collects and collects intelligence in Kenya and across the border. Public safety, sadly, seems to be a second thought; very little is said about how it can contribute to national security.

In the space of two weeks, Kenya's border with Somalia in Mandera has been breached twice by al Shabaab and scores of Kenyans have been murdered in cold blood. After the first massacre, the Deputy President declared grandiosely that the Kenya Defence Forces had pursued the attackers across the border, killed a hundred of them, destroyed their camp and fighting equipment. Yesterday's massacre does not seem to have driven the point home to al Shabaab that Kenya will not take these attacks lying down. Instead, al Shabaab seems to have been emboldened. President Kenyatta's security managers have done what they always do: they have issued statements and they have promised action. This is the practical definition of a broken record.

In the analogy with Arsenal and Mr Wenger, if the securocracy was turning the public safety equivalent of a profit, we would have no problem with keeping Cabinet Secretary Lenku, Principal Secretary Juma, Inspector-General Kimaiyo, Chief of Defence Forces Karangi, Director of National Intelligence Kamweru, and Director of Criminal Investigations Muhoro in office. One or all of them have failed us; presidential exhortations for all Kenyans to take part in securing the nation are no longer sufficient. Keeping them in office merely ensures that the conversation around national security and public safety will be dominated by their failures and not the reforms required to guarantee the safety of the people and the security of the State.

We all prize loyalty in our servants. But that loyalty must prove itself by competence and effectiveness. It must also be a reflection of the effectiveness of any organisation to accomplish its mission. Ms Juma and Messrs Lenku, Kimaiyo, Karangi, Kamweru and Muhoro may be loyal servants, but during their service, more than a hundred Kenyans have been massacred without the perpetrators of these heinous crimes being caught, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. President Kenyatta's security managers are destroying Kenyan's faith in the defence forces, the police, and the intelligence agencies. They are undermining the peoples' faith in President Kenyatta's government. They are engendering disappointment and mistrust.

Kenya is at war. It's enemy seems able to attack at will. It's enemy seems to have tentacles in all the major hotspots: Mombasa, Lamu, Mandera, Wajir, West Pokot, Turkana, Marsabit, Samburu. No one is safe, whether they are police, military or civilian. Hundreds have died since September 2013. No changes worth noting have taken place. Official State speeches have gotten more farcical. Hashtag sideshows dominate public discourse. The people are losing faith in their government, its institutions, their leaders, and in each other. We are entering something akin to Alighieri's Inferno. I do not know if we are capable of finding our way out. I do know that if President Kenyatta wants to rebuild our faith in him, he must sweep out the Augean Stables that his security apparatus has become. It is the only rational choice he has left.

Monday, December 01, 2014

I miss him terribly.

The most important person in my life who refused to wait for the right time was my grandfather. I was selfish when it came to him, and I thought he would always be there. Hadn't he fought in a World War in two different theatres and emerged unscathed? Hadn't he survived a botched operation with his health intact? Hadn't survived his sons without sending one of them squealing in terror? He was more than my grandfather; he was the stuff all heroes are made of.

He was witty. There isn't an anecdote he made that has faded from memory. The glint in his eye when he was being mischievous hinted at his incredible sense of humour. He elucidated his words with sanguine nonchalance, the sentences flowing mellifluously in impeccable grammatical syntax. He could predict everything with uncanny ability. It was spooky how he knew when I'd start indulging in cigarettes, or when my teenage hormones would lead me terribly astray. He even predicted who would turn out to be the asshole in the family.

He was tall, when I was a boy. Though now I stand a head taller than he did at his highest height. He always looked tall because he held himself upright, ramrod straight. He wouldn't bend. Even as he grew frailer, he was upright. I think it had something to do with the tweed suits and jackets that he favoured, the waistcoat and, every now and then, his trilby.He was quite the dashing gent, and you could tell how popular he was by the way people stopped by his shop in the afternoon to have a chat with him. Sitting on top of the maize container, hours would be spent taking in a master class in social niceties. (The confectionery he plied me with didn't hurt either.)

I miss him terribly. His advise was never unsolicited and it was never filled with ulterior motivation. He knew when to let me wok through a problem and he knew when to step in and take over. He made me ask the right questions and listen for the correct answers. He gave me a love of learning that I hope to pass on to mine and their own. He never pinched pennies yet he was not a robber baron like some of his colleagues in the colonial army. His estate was substantial, but it was not Valhalla.

I can't imagine he couldn't wait for me to show him my degrees. He loved those things; everyone's graduation picture hangs in his living room wall. Except mine. I wasn't there. I didn't know that he was gone. And afterwards, I couldn't bear the thought that he and I would never ever sit together again and conspire like we used to. Our conspiracies were the stuff of boyhood legend; somehow all of them ended up with he and I sharing a mango or a banana or some kind of fruit.

I started thinking of him because two columnists on two separate days celebrated the lives of women who had affected them deeply. I wanted you to know that my grandfather did so too. He was a lawyer, even though he didn't have a degree. He was a mechanic though he never drove as long as I knew him. He was a doctor because he seemed to know which herbs did what and in what quantities. He was a teacher. He was a friend. He was the man who taught me that sometimes it is OK to be mad and to hit back. I miss him terribly.

Faustian Pacts.

Sometimes Ahmednasir Abdullahi goes too far. But not on Sunday 30 November. He was, by his rather grandiose standards, very restrained. Mr Abdullahi states, "The President was simply making a very passionate and personal confession. Reality has finally downed on him. He finally realised despite his bravado and penchant for military uniforms that his government is vulnerable. Powerless. Weak." That is the most restrained assessment by Mr Ahmednasir yet of any public figure, including President Kenyatta. Devoid of hyperbole, it cuts to the core of the presidency and lays it bare for all to see.

The national security apparatus is a complex machine, with may moving parts and few of them interlocking properly. Every time Kenyans are murdered in their dozens, it is likely that a gear lost a cog or a wheel came off the machine. Mr Kenyatta sits at the head of the national security table. He is to be supported in his role by the Chief of Defence Forces and his service commanders, the Director of National Intelligence, the Inspector-General of Police, the Director of Criminal Intelligence, the Director of Immigration,  the Cabinet Secretaries (and their principals) of the Interior and Defence and, of course, the people. But the people don't have a seat at the table, they don't have access to the reports of the National Intelligence Service, Military Intelligence or the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.

The national security environment has benefitted over the years from links with the London Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard), the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, Israel's Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (Mossad) and South Africa's National Intelligence Service. These links have provided training and intelligence on diverse subjects over the years. But the national security environment has been shaken up by the Constitution; autonomy and independence are emphasised; co-operation and co-ordination are not. Silo-based thinking defines the national security environment, going by the mutterings reported as facts in the national press. Every player in the sector has his turf (they are all men, remember?) and he will stick a stiletto or ten in your back if you even contemplate stepping onto his turf.

It is why, Military Intelligence continues to hold sway in Somalia, while the NIS does what it's original mandate was when it was known as Special Branch, that is, keep tabs on local political malcontents. It is why the National Police Service is like an armed mutiny because the original regular police consider the administration police to be country yokels with little to recommend them. It is why the most mysterious security official in Kenya happens to be the one supposed to solve murders, trace the origins of firearms and explosives, and arrest conspirators to a terrorist-related attack. (If you have seen the Director of Criminal Intelligence do any or all of these, you must the lucky person who has spotted unicorns in the night sky.)

What this situation has brought home to the President, according to Mr Abdullahi, is the vulnerability, powerlessness and weakness of his national security environment. That realisation has led him to the only rational conclusion: Kenyans must be prepared to bear the burden of securing their safety without the training, arms, intelligence or co-ordination required to do. Kenyans should bear the burden of intercepting communications between the perpetrators of attacks such as the one in Mandera and forestalling the fruition of those plans. Kenyans must gather intelligence on their own regarding the proclivities of all their relatives and install home-monitoring systems in order to keep their children safe from predators, human or otherwise.

What Mr Kenyatta may not remember is that Kenyans have been doing this since the country went o shit in the aftermath of the 1988 KANU party elections. Between 1988 and 1993, there was a spike in "mob justice", the civilian version of "extrajudicial killings." "Necklacing" and stoning were the order of the day. Self-help groups - vigilantes, if you must - came up to "protect our people." These became the Mungiki, Chinkororo, Kamjesh, Jeshi la Mzee, Baghdad Boys, Forty Brothers and a host of others. They have gotten out of hand, by the by. The President has verbalised our options, which aren't really options so much as Faustian Pacts. Like I said, Mr Abdullahi was pretty restrained last Sunday.

Friday, November 28, 2014

So much dust.

An officer in the Administration Police is among others charged with offences under the Penal Code and the Sexual Offences Act, 2005. Several women have been viciously attacked in Nairobi, stripped naked, sexually assaulted and traumatised beyond imagination. The Deputy President called for the offenders to be arrested. The President wondered why we were taking cell-phone videos of the vicious attacks instead of intervening in force to rescue the victims. The Cabinet Secretary reiterated whet the Deputy President and President had said.

But isn't it curious that among the men participating actively in these vicious attacks are policemen? The Presidents propagandists have come out swinging regarding the rightness of the President's response to Kapedo, Mandera and the escalating cases of sexual assaults on women. They miss the point by a mile; if we, the people, are partners in crime-fighting with the forces of law and order, the forces of law and order cannot have armed men with a penchant for engaging in the very crimes that we would like to see fought and eradicated. 

How would the Kasarani-based policeman have reacted when other cases of assault against women were reported to him? Would he, in police parlance, have swung in action leaving no stone un-turned to bring the offenders to book or would he have, in typical fashion, refused to officially take down the details of the complaint in the station Occurrence Book?

The National Police Service is broken, perhaps irreparably. It is unconscionable to pretend otherwise. Kapedo, if wild and speculative innuendo is to be believed, wouldn't have been that bad if the regular police had acted swiftly and flown to the rescue of the besieged Administration Police officers. But hours of radio traffic between Nairobi and the badlands of West Pokot/Turkana ended with twenty-three brave Kenyans bleeding in the dirt while their bosses in Nairobi twiddled their thumbs. Do you remember the vicious disgust expressed by the Recce Company's troopers after one of their own was gunned down by members of the Army's special forces during the Westgate siege? It seems that Kenya's security sector is imploding from within.

For sure Kenyans must trust someone some time. We must play our role in keeping our society safe and secure. But there are things that we simply cannot do. For example, many cultural tropes have been exploited to discriminate against Kenyans. Therefore, the tendency has been for Kenyans of one community to generally live in the same neighbourhood where the clash of cultures is abated and the camaraderie that comes with a common language, a common faith or faith tradition, common foods and common stories act as a bulwark in a harsh world. If one moves to a different neighbourhood, occupied by a different community, should the suspicious cultural differences that I have been primed to see as potential criminality be the foundation for my calling in the national police?

If I see a crime being committed, I will report it to the relevant authoorities. It is not my job to intervene. I am not trained to intervene. But if I can intervene safely, I shall do so. That is an obligation I will not shirk. But I am not Jack Bauer or John Rambo. I am not a US TV action figure. I am under no obligation to place my life in danger to stop the commission of an offence. That is the job for which we have forty thousand uniformed and armed policemen. If the President and his propagandists are incapable of appreciating this basic, fundamental fact, then all those hopeful dreams of turning the Kenya Police Force into the National Police Service (that incorporates the Administration Police) will turn to so much dust.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The dignity of the undignified.

Let it not be said that I am a cold-hearted mandarin with a beancounter's mentality when it comes to the public till. After all I did not set my hair alight - can Africans do that? Set their hair alight? - when they decided they wanted car "grants". I didn't think much when they whinged piteously that they really, couldn't, HONESTLY NOT, pay any tax on their allowances. But now they want us to give them a one-thousand-dollar pay-rise. This is the straw that finally breaks the camel's back.

Isaac Mwaura seems like a bright enough spark. Having witnessed his on-camera interactions, he also comes across as an arrogant man. That is par for the course. I have a suspicion that Mr Mwaura an avid supporter of the inanity that is the Order of Precedence Bill. His clever use of "preserve the dignity of former legislators" is a beautiful touch.

There's just one thing with Mr Mwaura's justifications, especially that "dignity" line. It is utter shit. I wish he hadn't described his colleagues and the ones that got shoved out of the political gravy train by their own electors as "dignified." There is little dignity displayed by the Eleventh Parliament. It may conduct its business using the arcane rules developed by the perfidious British, but make no mistake, they are about as dignified as a ham sandwich.

Do you remember the debates during the passage of the Sexual Offences Bill in 2005 or the Marriage Bill this year? Have you listened to some parliamentarians when they refer to their colleagues? Have you read how some of them have justified their misogyny? I hope you have a keen memory, because what these people have done since the day they were elected has been anything but dignified. In the space of eighteen months, some of Mr Mwaura's colleagues have defended child marriage (on religious and cultural grounds), FGM (on cultural grounds), wife-beating (on cultural grounds), VAW/GBM (one religious and cultural grounds)...the undignified list is quite long.

All these people had jobs, somewhere, before they decided they wanted to add the initials "MP" after their names; some of them still run business and firms. It is time we reminded them that they may be professional politicians, but they are neither professionals nor, strictly, employees. It is not the function of the taxpayer to sweat it out in a harsh, harsh economic environment, only so that he can support a parliamentarian after he has ceased to have any usefulness to his constituents. Their pension law is on the books; but if it could be repealed, that would also be a good thing. It would discipline these parasites that simply because they squandered the family fortune to become "waheshimiwa" there is absolutely no reason to enrich them at the expense of teachers, doctors, nurses or policemen.

Mr Mwaura used to be a vocal member of the reformists club. He is now well and truly a former member. He isn't lonely; the new club he joins, the former reformists' club, is chock-full of members. The membership roll, opened on December 28, 2002, is a veritable Who's Who of the reformists club. Some were vocal about "balancing the books" when they sat in the Parliamentary Accounts and Parliamentary Investments committees. Look at some of them today; so obese that it is almost impossible to see their dignity as they trample over it on the way to the Paymaster-General's window. There isn't enough money in all the known worlds to preserve the dignity of the undignified.

It is a conflict.

I am familiar, slightly so, with the concept of "conflict of interest." I have yet to encounter a situation where I would have to declare a conflict; that, I am afraid, is the lot of a late-blooming lawyer. But I have seen the lengths to which men will go to avoid having to admit that they indeed suffer a conflict in their dealings. It is not just in our corruptly perfidious corridors of power that conflicts are elided with alacrity; anyone with eyes should examine the House of Lords of the United Kingdom and stare in wonder at how the rules are bent when a Peer of the Realm is involved. This, though, is not an excoriation of the hypocritical British.

In Kenya, for example, if you examine the tourism sector, the agriculture, the banking sector, the insurance sector, the communications sector or the transport sector, one is shocked by the conflicts of interest that abound in the national Executive. Men and women in a position to influence policies in these sectors have incredibly large stakes in those very sectors. These are men and women in a position to direct how a particular rule will be enforced, how a particular privilege will be granted or how a particular commercial dispute will be decided.

It is now not so difficult to understand why there are sacred cows in the commercial, private sector. The deities that offer them comfort in the harsh business environment sit in places of some influence. We have been fed, and we have never questioned, the fiction that everyone declares their conflicts up front, and steers clear of matters that would affect their holdings. We have been assured that insider dealing is severely punished. That is if it even occurs. We haven't bothered to determine the veracity of these really long tales.

What makes these conflicts really special is that managing them is done with a nod, a wink and a smile. (With Ebola still raging menacingly, handshakes have been suspended for the foreseeable future.) No one actually goes out of their way to ensure that their interests are protected, unless it becomes explicitly clear that some factotum did not get the memo. Especially if one is a "senior" position, it is as if his fiefdom is primed to cater for his every conflict without troubling him with a decision. Rule-changes are made that mandarins know will not offend him; privileges are granted that mandarins know will benefit, and please, him. When queries are raised in some uninformed quarters, or rent-seeking ones, he will feign shock - SHOCK! - that "such a thing could have happened" and he will order an inquiry to find out "just what is going on her."

How do you think no-compete contracts are awarded? Why do you think that the most favourite phrase in all of public procurement is a battle between "single-sourcing" and "security docket"? Conflicts of interest are the bureaucratic equivalent of never letting crises go to waste, for it is in these moments in flux that the very idea of declaring ones conflicts flies out of the window. In moments of crisis, a conflict-riven man will finally get to build that block of flats in Kileleshwa or Lavington without having to trouble the county's planning department, or he will finally get to take his entire family and mistress too for an extended holiday in California or some similarly decadent destination.

Conflicts of interest guarantee that all talk of reform remains talk only. The most ardent reformer is likely the one with the gravest conflict, having decided to sweep out one Augean stable so that he can fill it with his rose-scented, gold-flaked shit. Look at our former reformers and shield your eyes against the brilliance of their intellect at having succeeded in committing bureaucratic murder without getting too much blood on the hands - certainly none on their linen suits. Wastrels who used to scream slogans in Kamukunji now swan about in five-car motorcades and live in multi-acred spreads in Karen or Tigoni.

Those who have eyes will certainly see. Do you think that the battle between those with conflicts in the tourism sector and those who have conflicts in the security sector will be resolved without more Kenyans getting bombed, shot, stabbed, stripped or raped? I hope so. These sorts of conflicts are playing out in the open now. Look for the clues, for they are everywhere. we call it 'reform"; some others say it is "corruption fighting back." What it is is a vicious battle to control the largest purse's strings with little or no oversight. Not even from troublesome consciences.

How safe are we?

I do not know how much of the things I buy are actually safe for me to use. They all have labels with information about their constituent part and essential ingredients. Many of them bear marks of quality. Nearly all of them are sold from my retailers of choice, Uchumi Buru Buru  and Tuskys Eastlands. But I do not know if they are safe to use.

It was never thus. Even in the boring 1980s. It was never thus. I remember coming to Nairobi on a visit when I was a child. Farmer's Choice sausages were a treat my father would arrange every time we came to the Green City in the Sun, bought from a food-tuk tuk. (Yes, there were tuk-tuks in Nairobi even then.) I was an observant child; I do not remember the white lab-coats of the vendors ever being filthy. And I remember all their vehicles had permits and licenses stuck to their walls. Street food was sold by licenced vendors who took pride in looking neat and tidy.

I am unwilling to risk gastroenteritis today. Every food vendor on the street looks like they were in a riot with a hundred pigs in a sty. They are incredibly filthy. There is absolutely no doubt that few of hem see it as honourable employment to sell food on the street. Therefore, they treat their customers with casual disrespect. That many of their customers do not care seems to prove my point.

A few months ago there seemed to be an epidemic of alcohol-poisoning. Adulterated alcoholic beverages were sold to unsuspecting Kenyans. many died. Many were blinded. Many others suffered debilitating injuries and may never recover their former health. John Mututho, the indefatigable head of the National Authority on the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse, NACADA, swung into action and raided the premises of manufacturers and directed other government agencies to investigate the provenance of the toxic beverages. What was notable was the loud silence of the Kenya Bureau of Standards, KEBs, and the National Police Service, the two principal agencies asked with keeping Kenyans safe.

The KEBs standardisation marks are almost useless these days. Not even John Mututho thinks they serve any purpose when adulterated or counterfeit products are awash in the market. There is great to profit to be made in the adulteration and counterfeiting business, and the greatest profits are to be made from the middle classes. It is not improper to wonder what proportion of the products sold in their swanky malls would meet the standards prescribed for them according to law. Whether it is baby formula or fluorescent bulbs, mobile phones or electricity generator sets, the risk of adulteration and counterfeiting can no longer be ignored. If you haven't asked yourself this question yet, you must live the most charmed life or in most abject poverty.

My scepticism is not the result of my customary whingeing. It is a realisation that, to quote Jonny Carson of the United States State Department, choices have consequences. Elected representatives select and appoint the bosses at KEBs and the National Police Service. These bosses have done a crap job so far. They will plead political interference, but that will no longer wash. They played political games to get hired in the first place. If they sucked at political games they would not be bosses in the first place. They should be able to do their jobs without squealing every time Aden Duale or any of his excitable parliamentary colleagues sticks a finger in their eye.

Because of the doubts about my safety, I am unwilling to expend oodles of my hard-earned money on things that I would really like to try. I hesitate every time I reach for my wallet, even if what I am buying is manufactured under the banner of a trusted brand. Because of Kenya's politicians I do not trust that my Blue Band, Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion, Pilsner, Coca-cola, Marie Shortcake, Kimbo or Aquafresh will not kill me in a matter of hours after use.

Utter Failure.

The United States, depending on whether you watch Al Jazeera, is aflame, the match being put to the tinder by the decision of a small town's grand jury not to indict a white policeman who killed an unarmed Black man. When that young man was killed in August, the manner of his killing elicited so much rage that Ferguson, where the killing took place, erupted in popular riots among the Black community. Terrible truths about the state of race in the United States were revealed. The truths were aired without the fear that they would enflame passions further.

Contrast that with two events in Kenya over the past three weeks. Over twenty police were massacred by bandits in Kapedo. A week ago, twenty-eight travellers were massacred in Mandera. About the same time, Senator Otieno Kajwang' of Homa Bay died after a very brief illness. Mr Kajwang's death elicited more State pomp than the deaths of the police or the travellers in Mandera. Though President Kenyatta visited Kapedo to order the securocracy to find the murderers of his police, it is evident that local political passions were being played out in the explanations for the massacre. The same is being played out regarding the Mandera massacre; local politicians accuse national politicians of ignoring warnings of the impending attacks in the county.

What distinguishes the events in the United States and those in Kenya is that even though it was almost certain that violence would erupt among the black community because of the decision of the Ferguson grand jury, there was little, if any, attempt to stop the political or legal processes from proceeding. Of course self-serving politicians got involved, but theirs' was to exploit the circumstances for their own selfishness, not to actually prevent a national conversation regarding the killing of young Black men by white police in the United States. At no point did the Governor of Missouri, the Attorney-General of the United States or the President of the United States suggest that public safety was the principal responsibility of the people; that has been, and shall remain, the preserve of the government, whether at county, state or federal level. The people, on the other hand, have an obligation to obey the law, even if the law is an unfair one.

The President of Kenya, his Cabinet Secretaries for the Interior and Devolution, are living under the misguided delusion that primary responsibility for public safety lies with the people and that the vast security edifice that we have built merely plays a supporting role. It is why they see nothing fundamentally flawed in turning the National Youth Service into a paramilitary force or in the incredible insistence that the Nyumba Kumi initiative will lower crime.

Wallace Kantai wrote that Kenyans would demand the resignations of those who had failed in their duty in vain. In the United States, in the space of a month the Attorney-General and the Secretary of Defence have both announced their resignations, the former because he had become a political liability for the President of the United States, the latter for failing to anticipate the evolution of the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant. In Kenya, the only thing of note that took place in the previous six months was the shuffling of Principal Secretaries, with the ones for Defence and Interior changing places. The fact that under both their watches, whether they were in their former or current bailiwicks, hundreds of Kenyans have lost their lives from violent crimes, terrorist and bandit attacks has not pricked their consciences to resign in shame. They carry on, secure in the knowledge that their political ledgers will never be in the red even when their pages are awash with the blood of innocents.

We may scoff at the banana republicness of the riots in the United States, but let us not forget that popular anger against the federal, state or county government has not led to bizarre demands that would curtail the people's civil liberties. In Kenya, the more ridiculous the demand, the more likely the national Executive will make it and a pliant Parliament will legislate it into life. The US riots are proof of the robustness of its democracy; the uneasy calm prevailing in Kapedo and Mandera are proof that our police state has failed, and failed utterly.

They all fall, eventually

The member of the National Assembly for Mumias East is a spectacularly unpleasant character. But he is not unique. A former member of the Na...