Monday, March 31, 2014

Save your administration or save face.

Uhuru Kenyatta's progressivism, while admirably constitutional, is a millstone that will create embarassing problems for his bid to retain his presidency, whenever the next general election takes place. The Constitution demands that a third of all public appointments be of the opposite gender, which in Kenya means women. Uhuru Kenyatta's Cabinet has Amina Mohammed in charge of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Raychelle Omamo in charge of Defence, Anne Waiguru in charge of Devolution and Planning, Judy Wakhungu in charge of Environment, Water and Natural resources, Charity Ngilu in charge of Land, Housing and Urban Development, and Phyllis Kandie in charge of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism.

These six women define President Kenyatta's strict compliance with the letter of the Constitution; the spirit leaves a bitter taste in many mouths. Mrs Ngilu has proven that it is not the mandarins in her ministry who are at fault; she has managed to rub mandarins in all her former portfolios the wrong way since the hey days of the NARC government. He battles with the chairperson of the National Land Commission are going to make the task of removing the corruptingly dead hand of the ministry from the administration of land in Kenya or the resolution of decades of land injustices. Other than appearing on TV in the company of others more erudite (or prepared), the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Water and  Natural Resources is presiding over the largest extermination of elephants and rhinos for almost a decade. Why she is still warming her ministerial seat remains a mystery.

Her counterpart in the East African Affairs ministry is sitting pretty while  Kenyan legislator on the East African Assembly is joining hands with an unknown cabal to get rid of that Assembly's speaker. Integration seems to have hit a snag as Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda sideline Tanzania, though it is in anti-terror strategy that Kenya needs Tanzania more than it needs Uganda or Rwanda and if Kenya does not get Tanzania on-side over violence at the Coast, Kenya can kiss its grand plans for railways and pipelines goodbye. Why this Cabinet Secretary is still warming her seat on the Cabinet is also a mystery.

But is is the Defence Cabinet Secretary who truly shocks the mind. In an interview on TV this past Sunday, she appeared not to know what the job a the Cabinet Secretary is in relation to defence matters. She seems to have become a captive of the status quo despite being an intelligent and ambitious woman. Perhaps it was her interviewer's fault for being uninformed about defence matters, but Raychelle Omamo is a lawyer, a former chairman of the Law Society and a former ambassador of Kenya to France. She could have taken the initiative and informed and educated Kenyans about the state of the defence sector, what our strategic defence posture is for the next five years or even ten years, who our strategic concerns should be and what we are doing to address these concerns. she should not have gotten away with explaining Kenya's mission in Somalia as "not a holiday." Why she is still basking in the afterglow of the botched Westgate remains, too, a mystery.

Kenya is not short of talented women with the, forgive the pun, balls to run large and complex government departments. The Foreign Affairs and devolution Cabinet Secretaries have surely demonstrated this to be true. Why is the President finding it difficult to admit that in his Cabinet he has millstones that might sink his presidency. It is time he thanked the likes of Joseph Ole Lenku, Judy Wakhungu, Joseph Kaimenyi, and Phyllis Kandie for their services and replaced them with men and women who know their shit. (If he wants to, he can make sure that the replacements are all women on that they should be women with skills on toast.)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Where is our gun industry?

Sic vis pacem, parabellum. (To make peace, prepare for war.)
Only the very naive still cling to the notion that advances in science and technology have peaceful ends.Since man first fashioned a tool to cope with the harsh environment in which he found himself, he swiftly figured out that tools could also be weapons. And the moment that man discovered weapons, he found enemies as well. (And not just the mastodons rampaging in the wild.) The most famous twentieth century weapons are not the atomic bomb or the ballistic missile, grand as they may seem, but the internet and the global positioning system (GPS). Both provide the most crucial resources during armed conflict: the ability to communicate and the ability to determine where one is in relation to ones enemies. These have now become standard fare on consumer goods such as mobile phones and fancy-pants German-engineered fast cars.

It is for this reason that this most pacifist of bloggers believes that Kenya should invest, and invest heavily, in an arms industry. We do not mean the piddly little "bullet" factory somewhere secret in the Rift valley. No! What we mean is that this nation must live as the Jewish State of Israel does: with threats all around and its military strength as the only bulwark against the coming hordes. That strenght comes from a thriving arms industry. General Eisenhower called it the Military/Industrial Complex and he warned against its influence on US policy. But Kenya is not the USA and Kenya needs all the help it can get if it is to surmount its economic and security challenges.

We have tried the two systems; none has worked. Kenya focused its energies on a state-led development model; it bankrupted us. We have tried a private-sector-led model; it corrupted the last remaining bastions of integrity in the system. It is time we re-tried the botched model of state and private sector partnerships that were bastardised during the latter days of Kenyatta the Elder's reign and the full twenty-four years of Baba Moi.

This can be done by building up an "arms" industry from the ground up. To successfully join the global club of gun-manufacturers, there are certain fundamentals that we must get right. Our students, right from the days they are drilled in their ABCs, must be able to count and add with the best the world can throw at them. By the time they are graduating from their universities, technical colleges, secondary schools and primary schools, they must be in possession of skills that will make them more useful to an employer than an automaton with interchangeable software or hardware.

Secondly, the market they generate in their own communities must be capable of employing their skills and  services. It cannot be that every Kamau and his uncle wants to "migrate" to Nairobi, Mombasa or Machakos with dreams of becoming the next Chris Kirubi or Vimal Shah simply because Kerugoya is notorious for drunken murderous APs and and out-of-control chang'aa problem. Thirdly, When disputes arise in the "arms" industry, they must be resolved swiftly and with certainty. In other words, we cannot have our gun-runners questioning whether the courts got it right or were persuaded to get it right with fat wads of untraceable dollars. The integrity of the judicial system must be so high that no doubts will rise about the calibre of the judicial staff nor about the quality of their rulings and judgments.

Uhuru Kenyatta addressed a joint sitting of Parliament yesterday. His vision for this nation is grand; the execution has faced sabotage and incompetence at every turn. Taking "arms" as a McGuffin, Uhuru Kenyatta can re-orient his ambitious vision. he has hinted at his steeliness in the past; it is time he demonstrated that he is beholden to no one or even to a second term. Fire the saboteurs and incompetents. If it means jettisoning sacred cows, so be it.  if Kenyatta the Younger wants to be remembered other that for the PEV, he must build a world class education system, a world class manufacturing-and-export industry, and empower a judiciary that is trusted by even its worst enemies. If he achieves even one of this, President Kenyatta will be a hero to millions upon millions for millennia to come.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Over-policing is not the answer.

In the aftermath of the Westgate attack in September 2013, it was proposed, in a classic knee-jerk reaction, that the anti-terror statutory regime required beefing up to equip the police, the defence forces, and the President with ever greater powers to protect Kenyans from further harm. This blogger sympathised greatly with the victims, but argued against such a course of action. Unless we lived in a hypervigilant society such as the Jewish State of Israel or in a police state like Rwanda is headed for, an even more draconian statutory regime would not prevent further acts of terror. A church in Likoni was attacked by gunmen on the 23rd of March; a child is fighting for its life with a bullet lodged in its head and its mother dead.

Kenya has the legislative and administrative machinery to tackle these acts of terror. However we describe them, these acts involve crimes against Kenyans. The Penal Code is a good place to start when prosecuting the persons responsible for these attacks. What we must guard against is the approach taken by the  western powers which treat every foreigner with great suspicion and go to extraordinary lengths to interfere and intervene in the affairs of other nations.

The United States' invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan has not made the United States any safer; but it has made it ever more policed by the surveillance state: the FBI, CIA, NSA and similar other three-letter-acronym secret police organizations. The Orwellian fear of an all-powerful, all-seeing state is coming true in the United States, eroding basic freedoms of privacy and protection from warrantless searches. Kenya has always been an over-policed state; in the past, the over-policing was for political ends. Presidents Kenyatta the Elder and Moi spent a great deal of time and money building up a secret police whose job was to ensure they became presidents for life. Only Kenyatta the Elder managed that trick; Moi had the good sense to have an exit strategy which he executed with precision.

Mwai Kibaki dismantled the secret police apparatus of the Kenyatta and Moi years, but built up his own to wipe out the crime organisations born in the period between 1992 and 2002. Even the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial killings found that Mwai Kibaki's government was responsible for the murder and disappearing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men and women affiliated with the Mungiki. What many Kenyans are calling for today, whether they will admit it or not, is for Uhuru Kenyatta to build up a secret police of his own and unleash it on the forces of terror and violent crime determined to make Kenya as unsafe as Somalia, southern Ethiopia, South Sudan or northern Uganda. it is why even well-meaning opinion-makers whose lives have been touched by the spectre of violent crime are no longer averse to a secret police that executes "terrorists" and "armed gunmen" without the bother of an investigation or a trial.

This is the slippery slope Kenya must get off. When Moi and Kenyatta fought their wars with the Shifta and the Mwakenya, innocent Kenyans were caught up in the war. The United States calls these collateral damage. Collateral damage has pernicious outcomes. people become ever more suspicious of their neighbours; many will arm themselves and use those arms whenever they fear for their safety. The circle of violence will grow ever larger and the cycle will repeat itself. But the worst possible outcome is based on the presumption that the President will unleash his secret police only on those who commit crimes against Kenyans; none posits that he will one day turn that secret police against legitimate dissenters or members of the Minority Party.

The solution, as always, is much easier proposed than implemented. Kenya is way too secretive, and we care way too much about the reputations of others. It is time we published information that helped Kenyans protect themselves better. Unless there is a legitimate reason for keeping the identities of violent crime or terror suspects secret, it is time we published their biographical details in the papers and online so that Kenyans know what to look out for. Publish the location of all police stations and police camps and the names and ranks of the officers in those stations. Publish the hotlines to the National Intelligence Service, the Criminal Investigations Department, the Anti-Terror Police Unit, the General Service Unit garrison, the Administration Police Headquarters, Vigilance House and the Office of the Inspector-General. If you want to make ordinary Kenyans part of the war on violent crime or terror,s top treating them with suspicion; get rid of the idiotic barriers on pedestrian pavements or the the roads. Do not force Kenyans to walk in the road dodging cars, matatus and boda bodas. Eliminate the corruption in the departments that deal with the registration of persons and speed up the introduction of smart identification documents. Whether Uhuru Kenyatta, Joseph Ole Lenku, Inspector-General Kimaiyo and the rest of them will act, only the next "terror" attack, car-jacking or armed robbery will tell.

Monday, March 24, 2014

I don't want to be a vigilante.

This blogger is not a police man or a member of the intelligence services. This blogger has not served a day in the defence forces nor in the border forces. This blogger wouldn't know what to do with a firearm if it fell into his lap. Nor hand grenades, military-grade explosives, bows or arrows, spears, or chemical or biological agents. This blogger is not acquainted with the martial arts of the Orient or those of the Occident, for that matter. So it is with great trepidation that this blogger considers the incessant calls by the forces of law and order for "heightened" vigilance by the likes of this blogger. Do these people know that Kenyans suck at vigilance, heightened or otherwise?

Most of that paragraph is not true. But it describes a substantial number of Kenyans. Few know what to look out for or who to report what they have seen when they see what they are supposed to see. In the IMF/World-Bank-sponsored hey days of the Structural Adjustment Programmes that led to drastic cuts in education budgets lies the shuttered and shattered programmes that should have made every Kenyan as observant and as hawk-eyed as an Israeli.

This is where we find ourselves. In the period since the education of our children shifted from a wholesome mix of books, argumentation and play to being entirely about books, society has had to contend with the aftermath of such a short-sighted plan. It is near-impossible to make even the members of the middle classes to care about the fate of their fellowman. It is not surprising that in the two decades since we turned academic success into a life or death situation, where a "good" certificate is a chance at success, and a "bad" one a road to penury, more and more "literate" Kenyans have found themselves committing ever greater crimes in an attempt to keep body and soul together. It is reported that class envy is fuelling the crime wave in Nairobi. That and the fact that more form-four leavers can't get jobs; they simply don't have the skills that the market demands.

When we map the crime spots mushrooming all over Kenya, whether it is the restive coast with its al Shabaab-sympathising youth, or Nairobi where every middle class family with a newish Japanese import lives in mortal fear for its safety, or the badlands of Nyakach where "tribal" animosities seem to be escalating, or Marsabit where pastoralist ommunities have been going at each other hammer and tongs for five years, the true face of the demographic bump that Kenya is supposed to enjoy will be seen. Crime, especially violent crime, is a predominantly young man's game. (There are few over-forty-five seniors car-jacking motorists.) And it is increasingly attractive to young men who have no prospects, whether economic or academic.

Asking Kenyans to be extra vigilant is attempting to stop the stampede after one has been trampled to death. Hypervigilance, especially in Kenya, will devolve to vigilantism and the wheel of fate will have come full-circle bring us to a new era of "necklaces" and "mob justice" last encounte4red just before the 1992 general elections. What is needed is a coherent strategy to get Kenyans into as many institutions of learning as possible, to equip them with the proper skills to compete in the job market, and to ensure that the job market treats them with fairness. the rest will be down to our natural competitive nature. Rather than Inspecter-General Kimaiyo and cabinet Secretary Lenku asking for my "co-operation" in the fight against terror, President Kenyatta, Cabinet Secretaries Rotich, Aden, Kaimenyi and Waigure best figure out how to keep more and more youth in institutions of learning or getting them paid a wage that doesn't disillusion them into car-jacking, armed-robbing, murdering sociopaths.

Godhood.

There is a creature abroad in the land. It has characteristics that have evolved over a very, very brief period. While it took Homo erectus several millennia to reach the level of techno-sophistication witnessed at the beginning of history, this creature has managed to evolve in barely fifty years. When it first emerged, this creature performed a specific function and retired to its hole-in-the-ground without quarrel. It's descendants have become like vermin; wherever they land, an itch develops, a rash is transformed into skin cancer, and people die. It seems that with each evolutionary stage, this creature has lost a portion of its IQ and EQ. It will communicate in a language only it can understand. And it will perform acts that prove that it is possible for an intelligent being to deliberately not think.

In recent months, this creature has witnessed challenges in Kenya that should have required its foremost attention. There is a famine in the north of the country and starvation deaths have been reported. Armed bandits seem to kill at will in the borderlands between Kenya and Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan and Kenya and Somalia. The price of essential commodities (essential to the working poor) has escalated such that each is now offered a choice: body or soul, not both. Corruption seems to engulf every signature project of the Jubilee administration. (Tots may never get their free laptops at this rate, and the debate over Standard Gauge over Metre Gauge is set to go on til the cows come home.) Meanwhile, there isn't a town or urban centre that doesn't seem to manufacture its fair share of gangsters and gunmen; death stalks all who seem capable of holding down at least one steady white collar job. Cheating is corroding the pride children should feel at taking and passing national exams. Universities are overcrowded dens of iniquity, inequity and violence.

But this creature cares naught for all our crises. This creature has demonstrated a singular desire and capacity for self-preservation that would make the gods of natural selection smile. This creature has managed to amass power, influence and wealth in a vacuum. It has turned a deaf ear to the cries of the people. It has turned a blind eye to the privations of the people. It has arrogated unto itself the power of life and death. It has evolved into a god.

When the historians go over the events of the twenty-first century in Kenya a hundred years hence, and if these historians have not been infected by the mutating gene that has transformed the creature that is the subject of this post, it will be clear that the idea of a Kenya that was a nation died precisely because KANU lost the 2002 general election. NARC's was a corrosive tribal arrangement that foundered when it became clear that ideals had nothing to do with governance. It is in the period 2003 to 2007 that the creature underwent a rapid transformation, evolutionarily speaking. It is the moment when that creature evolved from a human to a parasite. It's greatest trick was in persuading its victims that the victims needed the parasite. It injected some sort of mind-controlling venom into the blood of the people and the people went along with the needs of the parasite. It is sucking our life blood and persuading us that this is a good thing. It has achieved godhood, I tell you. Godhood!

Why Mr Duale's Thinking is Dangerous.

It is with great reluctance that this blogger wades into the Marriage Bill controversy. Some thing the Majority Leader said on TV on Sunday, 23rd March, compels this blogger to take a stab at laying out the implications of the male-dominated fiasco that is the Marriage Bill.

Kenya currently recognises marriages conducted under various traditions, religions or customs. The Civil Registry, in the Attorney-General's Office, handles marriages concluded under the Marriage Act, the African Christian Marriage and Divorce Act, the Mohammedan Marriage and Divorce Registration Act and the Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act. While all these marriage laws were enacted during the colonial era, they were legitimised under the former Constitution and the the 2010 Constitution. Mr Duale, startlingly, declared that marriages concluded under Islamic law "do not require a Registrar" and proceeded to declare further that, in his case, he recognised three authorities of law: the Holy Koran, the Constitution and then the marriage law, in that order.

Two things emerge about the Majority Leader's statement. First, he is woefully unaware of the law of marriage in Kenya as it prevails today. Second, while his piety is admirable, it has no place in the grand scheme of governance, least of all in the National Assembly. If he is going to place Almighty God ahead of the Constitution of Kenya, it is time the peoples of Garissa and the people of Kenya thanked him for his service to the nation, but asked him to withdraw from politics. He could choose to be an Imam; he has the capacity fr it after all.

While the Preamble to the Constitution mentions "Almighty God", it does so only after mentioning "the People". "Almighty God" in the Constitution s supreme, but that supremacy is "recognised by the People of Kenya." It is not a fait accompli. Therefore, it is the people who are sovereign; not Almighty God. And the sovereignty of the people is demonstrated by their fidelity, first, to the Constitution as the supreme body of law in Kenya, and then their various religious affiliations. Mr Duale is wrong to declare, even if he couches it as "a personal opinion", that it is the Koran that comes first when it comes to the question of marriage, ahead of the Constitution or the marriage law of Kenya.

In the eyes of all governments and states, save for theocracies perhaps, marriage is a civil matter, that is, a secular institution that creates and reinforces certain civil relationships and legitimises certain activities. despite the changes that have occurred in family law in the past half-century, the State and governments have maintained a tight grip on who can marry, when they can marry, how they can marry, and how marriages are recognised. This is not a role the State or governments have delegated to religious institutions; what the State has delegated is the authority to officiate at wedding ceremonies. But the recognition of a marriage remains the exclusive preserve of the State. If Mr Duale is unable to realise this basic fact, then the law-making function of the National Assembly has been seriously undermined. This is a problem we must fix before more legislative fiascoes befall us.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The leadership in Jogoo House should be ashamed of itself.

Same-sex secondary boarding schools in Kenya are, going by recent sensational news reports, dens of homosexual iniquity. Headteachers and principals are in denial. Parents are up in arms. Church leaders are waiting to see where the wind blows before they put in their worthless two-cents. The Cabinet Secretary and his Ministry are busily trying to walk as fast as possible away from the Laptop Tender. Meanwhile, TV pundits are not sure whether to be outraged or concerned for the welfare of our children.

This blogger is all for the most liberal interpretation of the law, especially if it means liberating hard-pressed Kenyans' talents in the pursuit of happiness and a fat wallet. But even he is unlikely to condone sordid tales of children engaging in licentious behaviour right under the noses of teachers and parents. in the past week, Kenyans have been horrified by the story of a child who was sexually assaulted by dormitory-mates and the callous reaction of the principal; instead of admitting that a child was in distress in her school, the principal chose to blame the child or her parents or God knows who else.

There is absolutely no reason why children should be engaging in sex while in school, homosexual or otherwise. The argument that teenagers will find a way to slip their leashes is insufficient to justify the lackadaisical response of the government, parents and school authorities across the land. It must be twice reinforced that if a child does not wish to engage in sexual activity, that child cannot be compelled to do so. Not by her peers or her social and academic betters. (Though how much better they could be is debatable.)

The reaction of the child's mother is admirable; she brought attention to the school and its administration. She took her child out of school and saw to it that the child received professional medical attention. The school administration in the obscenely obese person of the principal behaved shamefully and quite possibly, criminally. Instead of acknowledging that a child was in distress and fearing for its safety, the school administration chose to bury their collective heads in the sand and wish away what is a crisis in that school. (Another parent whose child committed suicide has come forward to remind the school of how the school failed her child.) But it is the dead silence from the precincts of Jogoo House, A and B, that is instructive. The Cabinet Secretary and the Inspector-General occupy the same block of buildings; yet both have maintained a studious silence while children are being sexually tortured at a "prestigious" secondary school.

Even if the parents have not complained officially to the police or to the district/county education officials, the information about the school is in the public domain. It is clear that there is a victim. It is equally clear that the school administration will do all in its power to sabotage the investigation into what actually happened to one of the children under its care. The cabinet secretary and the Inspector-General do not require an invitation bring the full might of their offices to bear upon that school and its administration and if necessary to haul every single negligent adult in that compound before the unsmiling faces f magistrates. But Mr Kaimenyi is busily trying to untie the Gordian Knot of public procurement while the Inspector-General is busily flexing his command authority muscles by cocking a snook at the Chairperson of the National Police Service Commission. Neither is interested in the heartrending tale of a child viciously assaulted in place that should have been safe as houses. Shame on all of them!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Keeping up with the Joneses, Kenyan-style.

The Joneses Kenya is attempting to keep up with are not in the same income or social bracket. They are out of Kenya's league. Way, way out of Kenya's league. It is rumoured that the President of the United States has an annual salary of $400,000. It is also rumoured that his stay at the White House, the president's official residence, is not free; he is handed a bill at the end of each month for meals and entertainment. The President of Kenya has an annual salary of $425,000. He is not handed a bill at the end of the month for living expenses at his official residence, State House.

India has a 1.2 billion-plus population. It is rightfully called a sub-continent, covering a surface area of 3,287,590 square kilometres. It is divided into 28 states and six National Capital Territories and has a bicameral national parliament of 790 members. (About a million and a half people are represented by one elected representative.) Kenya has a population of approximately 42 million and a surface area of slightly under 500,000 square kilometres. It is divided into 47 counties and has a bicameral national parliament of 416. (Which roughly works out to 100,000 people for every elected representative in Nairobi.)

The City of Sydney in the state of New South Wales in Australia has a population of approximately 3 million people. It has some of the most swingeing taxes in Australia and some of the most (to my mind) repressive traffic rules ever visited on the driving public. It can be argued that because of its great wealth, Sydney residents can afford the taxes and will abide by the draconian traffic rules so that they can enjoy the rest of the day. The data seems to back this up. Violent crime is at all time low; road traffic accident fatalities have been dropping for a decade at least. Pedestrians do not have to fear for their shoes or clothes from overflowing drains or burst sewers.

Nairobi City has a population of approximately 3 million. (Statistics' collection has never been its strong suite.) The Government of Nairobi City County has been busy imposing ever harsher taxes on its residents and businesses. The Governments of Kenya and Nairobi City County have joined hands to "enforce the Traffic Act" by going after every single drink-driving driver they can shove a breathalyser into. Violent crime seems to be spiralling out of control. Pedestrians not only have to fear for their shoes and clothes from the uncleaned drains and the permanently gushing sewers, but they have to contend with shit-wielding (yes, SHIT!) street people looking for a handout.

The Joneses in our league, this blogger is attempting to demonstrate, are not to be found in the advanced bits of North America, the Antipodes, Asia or Europe. They are not to be found in South Africa, Egypt or Nigeria. They are, and shall forever be (unless we change), Tanzania, the Sudan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Perhaps even Pakistan and Bangladesh. Save perhaps for Tanzania, what all these Joneses demonstrate is a complete lack of motivation to reform their political or economic environment with the aim of lifting the millions of their peoples living in abject poverty.

Kenya has always had a "plan", a "strategy" for the "alleviation" and "eradication" of poverty. The language has evolved as each attempted plan and strategy has floundered, foundered and been sabotaged. In the fifty years of self-rule, Kenya has made hundreds of promises to itself and kept very few of them. It adopted and perfected a system of entrenched inequity and iniquity from the colonial administration. Its recent internal dialogue on cutting down on public sector salaries is a reflection of the pernicious influence that the colonial administration has had on the leadership of the nation fifty years since it chose to hand over the reins of power.

The elite in Kenya has always adapted fashions promoted by the leisure classes of the West. Their latest fashionable activity is weeping tears for the decimated carcasses of elephants and rhinos. The Kenyan elite cannot see the irony of asking communities that cannot guarantee jobs for their sons, medicines for their children, food for their families, to sacrifice their land and their right to live just so hundreds of millions of dollars the communities will never see are delivered to the coffers of the National Treasury by the leisure classes of the West that the Kenyan elite hopes to emulate. The fact that the Kenyan elite cannot see the irony spells doom for the rest of us. But what should scare the shit out of you is that it is this selfsame elite that is in charge of the Government of Kenya.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Poaching is bad. So is poverty. Or death.

If we went by the reporting in Kenya's print media, then Kenya is on its way to hell in a handbasket. The public wage bill has become "unsustainable" and this too while the National Treasury relies on one set of numbers to paint a rosy picture for foreign investors. The crime wave is unremitting, and this too while Inspector-General Kimaiyo's boys keep on shooting armed criminals dead on a daily basis. Our national highways have become death traps, and this while the Engineer Michale Kamau insists that drink-driving-related deaths have reduced by twenty-five per cent. The state of English language learning is in the toilet and this while Kenyans continue to win accolades overseas for their writing. Meanwhile starvation stalks the largely-ignored Northern Kenya. Now, Dr Paula Kahumbu, the boss of Wildlife Direct, a wildlife conservation outfit, wants the President to pile on more on his plate and tackle the "murder" of elephants and rhinos by poachers in Kenya's parks, reserves and conservancies.

In the last week, at least ten rhinos have been killed, either in the national parks or the privately-owned-and-operated conservancies. In Dr Kahumbu's estimation, and those who are standing by her scaremongering, this constitutes the greatest threat to Kenya's heritage. those in the anti-poaching industry use words like "slaughter" and "murder" and sentimentalise the "majesty" of elephants and rhinos. They logically acknowledge that national parks, game reserves and wildlife conservancies are located among debilitating poverty and human privation but argue for the "equitable" sharing of the benefits accruing from the conservation of wildlife. What is striking though, when one listens to Dr Kahumbu and her colleagues, is that the pain they feel for elephants and rhinos that have been killed is genuine; the empathy they express for the poor Kenyans living around wildlife zones seems manufactured, ersatz.

This is the heart of the debate and it is why they are unlikely to find the President of Kenya becoming the standard-bearer of the animals-first movement that Dr Kahumbu and her colleagues seem to be spearheading. The challenges that the peoples of Kenya face will not be resolved if the Government of Kenya devotes even more money and manpower to the protection and conservation of wild animals or the arrest, prosecution and incarceration of poachers. The animals-first movement scored a big win with the enactment of the new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act earlier this year; one of its penalties is a minimum of twenty million shillings for being in possession of wildlife trophies. But by making animals the focus of the law, and not the people who must live with these dangerous and frequently unpredictable animals, they missed the point by a wide mile.

One of the signature pointless events of the past week too has been the National Dialogue on the Public Wage Bill. The argument is that if the government continues to spend ever larger sums of money on its recurrent expenditure, it will not have the resources to build the infrastructure that will live the twenty-five million Kenyans living below the poverty line. Therefore, before the government allocates additional resources to protect elephants and rhinos, it must be persuaded that the outcome of the additional resources will be a significant contribution to the alleviation of poverty among those twenty-five million Kenyans. Dr Kahumbu and her colleagues have failed to do that. And their cavalier and heartless dismissal of the pain and destruction that elephants and rhinos wreak when they go on the rampage will not win hearts and minds among the starving twenty-five million.

Wild animals are big tourist attraction in Africa, and in Kenya in particular. The tourism industry is sustained by the Big Five and other wildlife. But the tourism industry is also responsible for untold suffering among the poor. The employment standards, even among the five-star "safari camps" in the game parks and national reserves are appalling: poor pay, poor labour relations, long working hours, poor medical coverage and an uncertain tenure are just some of the obvious one. When you add in the European pederasts who go after the children of those working in these camps, the benefits of elephants and rhinos begin to pale in significance. The subtle racism perpetuated by conservancies is the dirty little secret that remains unmentioned.

Calling for the President of Kenya to identify himself with a cabal that has contributed little to resolving the big ticket troubles of his government is asking for too much. In this, this blogger stands four-square with the President. If the anti-poaching industry wants the President's buy in, they must demonstrate how doubling the four billion shillings allocated to the Kenya Wildlife Service or doubling its paramilitary forces to six thousand will reduce the poverty of the Maa peoples living around the Mara, the Akamba and the Taita living around the Tsavo or the Agikuyu living around the Aberdares. If they can't, they are best advised to carry on as before by shaking down "donor" partners for more guilt-laced cash and wringing their hand piteously at anti-poaching workshops and seminars held in global destinations.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Shed the joyriders first.

The self-indulgent calls by the mandarins of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission and the vacuum-sealed presidential ass-kissers that there is a need for the "public wage bill to be trimmed" seems not to have un-hardened the hearts of the rank-and-file of the public service, especially those to be found in the creepy crawl-ways of the national Executive. The mutterings among them is that they are not giving up "even a single allowance" in the name of trimming the wage bill. Among the militant runs the refrain, "Kama Serem anataka kurudisha pesa serikali, arudishe peke yake."

There is a realisation that the Government of Kenya cannot pay all its bills, and the ones it chooses to pay seem to be very very unusual indeed. It is rumoured in the dingy bits of the National Treasury that because the GoK has had a hard time persuading judges in foreign jurisdictions that the Anglo-Leasing contracts were fraudulent, that billions of shillings must be factored into the national budget to settle the ruinous awards made against the GoK. There is a certain sense of futility over the shady toing-and-froing over the laptops-for-tots tender, with potentially ruinous questions being raised about why a dodgy supplier of mulika-mwizi-type phones somehow managed to finagle itself the tender at a price inflated by 1.4 billion shillings. (It must be with relief that parliamentary committees and URP malcontents are now walking in lock-step with the President regarding the Chinese railway.)

But the bills that need paying, such as salaries for doctors, teachers, nurses and university dons, don't seem to have vouchers ready for presentation. After all, these people are simply eating the GoK out of home and hearth with their heartless demands for more despite the looming starvation in Kenya's forgotten frontiers in the North. These people are so ungrateful that they will spite their employer in the name of "solidarity" even when that solidarity has nothing in common with Poland.

The bills of its armies of apparatchiks, mandarins, nawabs and nabobs are paid on time and in full. The chairpersons, vice-chairpersons, members and chief executives of commissions, the holders of independent offices, the "elected" representatives, the Principal, and Cabinet, Secretaries, the chiefs of this, that or the other, the bosses-in-truffles, of state-owned companies...all these characters, their gardeners, cooks and armed police guards are paid on time and in full. Not to mention their cars, drivers, fuel, mileage, hardship, inconvenience...the list of things that we have found to pay for when it comes to these cohorts is staggering by its length and creativeness.

There is, of course, the legacy of the hundreds of thousands of "friends of the President" who have been padding the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Database for years, even decades. It is a pernicious legacy. It is the stinging nettle that Sarah Serem and her cohort of hatchet-people have refused to grapple. She may be philanthropic enough to "give back" 10% of her sitting allowance (not the it-won't-fit-in-my-purse salary, though), but until she and her fellow hatchet-wielders in the national Executive train their sights on the IPPD, we will be talking about trimming the fat till the fat cats come home.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Thoughts on rationalisation

Specialised agencies in any government are vital to addressing specific problems and offer specific and specialised solutions. In Kenya, however, the splintering of the natural resources sector has not been entirely beneficial. We have the National Environment Management Authority, the Kenya Forest Service, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, the Kenya Forest Research Institute, the Biosafety Authority, the Water Resources Management Authority, the National Irrigation Board, and half a dozen others. Efficiency has not been realised; instead, there is duplication of functions and a cacophony of policy prescriptions that cannot all be implemented simultaneously.

Take wildlife protection and conservation. Taken in its broadest sense, wildlife is not just limited to the animals that bring in the tourist dollars. When you include forest resources, fisheries resources and microorganisms, wildlife takes on a more significant sense that must attract a more serious approach. The campaign to stop the slaughter of elephants and rhinos is laudable; but it misses the point by narrowing the national debate to big ticket animals and forgets the other elements of wildlife that have the potential to outstrip traditional tourist attractions in foreign exchange earnings.

It is time that the nation contemplated the consolidation of the national natural resources sector under one umbrella with an integrated policy-formulation and implementation framework to achieve effectiveness, synergy and efficiency. For example, there is no reason why there should be two separate paramilitary forces to "guard" forests and wild animals; the two can be merged with a simplified command structure, training facilities and common rules of engagement.

In Kenya it is difficult to destroy an empire once it has been built. Therefore, there will be great resistance to the idea of placing the management of Kenya's natural resources under one super-agency with specialised directorates. Arguments will no doubt be advanced about the practicality of having every natural-resource-related agency under, for example, the National Land Commission. Yet the benefits can be computed viz. the risks of consolidation. Take consummables for example: the benefits of a common fund for office supplies, cleaning services, transport, etc. and the logic of consolidation starts to  make sense.

But it is in the streamlining of policy that makes sense. If the various specialised agencies are brought together under one management structure, policy-making will be streamlined and synergised. If wildlife policy, forestry policy, water policy, mining policy, fisheries policy, biosafety policy, etc are integrated, then the chances of duplication or conflict are reduced significantly and implementation will take into account the needs of each sub-sector. This is something that should be considered in the ongoing debate about the cost of government that is being undertaken today.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

It's not just about the wage bill.

The pay cut by the President, Deputy President and the Cabinet is laudable; those worthies take home millions every year and, especially for the President and his deputy, there is no logical reason why we should pay them a fat salary when their every need is catered for by the taxpayer. The focus on the public service on the other hand should take into account that a majority of the rank-and-file earn peanuts; it is the allowances that actually make their lives livable.

The narrative, however, seems to indicate that it is the high public wage bill that is the basis for the stalled development on the country. The argument by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission goes something like this. The public wage bill accounts for about 50% of the national revenue. factor in the recurrent costs of running the government, the bill goes up to 97% of the national revenue. This leaves only 3% for "development," a catchall word for infrastructure and the like. The public sector is being accused of turning Kenya into a consuming society.

The assumption is that the national revenue is the only source of financing for development. The private sector receives scant attention from those yelling for the public service to "cut down on costs." While the public sector is the largest single employer, it pales in comparison to the private sector. Unilever is among the largest employer in the private sector. The matatu industry employees hundreds of thousands, directly and indirectly. Therefore, the canard that the public service is the reason why development is not picking up pace must be discounted.

There will be many prescriptions for speeding up the pace of economic development in Kenya, and a look at the public sector wage bill should not be dismissed quickly. But it should not be the only prescription that everyone focuses on to right the ship. One of the prescriptions is creating an enabling investment climate in Kenya. At present it is not one of the best and the cost of doing business in Kenya is abysmal.

Two proposals should be considered. In Nairobi for example, wealth creation is stymied because getting to work alone, moving goods and services in the city and running a business are severely hampered by a dysfunctional transport and communication system and insecurity. It is trite knowledge that millions of man hours are lost trying to get from one part of the city of the city to the other. And it is not just motorised traffic that is hampered in its efforts round the city. If the City Fathers did their part to streamline transport and communications, and to provide for the security of business premises and the people, the development of the city will flourish because much of the infrastructure of doing business would be promoted by the business sector.

The second is the rationalisation of the public service. The persistent inefficiency on the public service is principally because of the poor skills allocation in the sector. Too many public sector employees cannot perform the functions of the offices they occupy; rationalisation should weed them out and put them out to pasture. The reduction in the wage bill should, therefore, start with the reduction of the size of the work force by removing those who are no longer vital to the performance of the functions of government. The short term costs will be high, but over the long run the benefits of a leaner and more efficient workforce should be felt by everyone.

Finally, the judicial reforms being undertaken should reduce the amount of time it takes to resolve disputes, especially those connected to land and contracts. If the Judiciary can be trusted to rule fairly and rule quickly, investor confidence will be boosted and more money will be invested in capital rather than just systems.

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...