Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Post-Easter Blues.

Today is sufficiently removed from the Easter Weekend to reflect, in this blogger's intellectually limited way, on the nature of sacrifice and leadership. It goes without saying that the most prominent leadership cadres in Kenya are entirely made up of politicians (elected and otherwise), business types, preachers and foreigners (wazungus, if there was any doubt). In that order. Bar an aberration or two, "sacrifice" is not the word that will describe these leaders; "leadership" is increasingly becoming a pejorative in relation to these people.

Obviously, the prevailing economic, political and cultural conditions of Palestine at the time of Christ have very little in common with those that prevail in Kenya today. But the place of religion, and religious faith, in the lives of the people are pretty similar. Into Palestine arose the man many claimed to be the Messiah that Children of Israel had been waiting for. He taught his followers many things: humility; forgiveness; compassion; love; justice; and how to die. His teachings formed the foundation of a global religious order with so many sects, cults and denominations, it is impossible to determine who are of the True Faith and who are the charlatans. But it is in how to die that the Christ demonstrated the power of leadership, accountability and responsibility: sacrifice.

Look at the leaders of today. With the advantages of telecommunications technology available to them, and an army of magpies to repeat their words, it is shocking that they are unable to inspire their audience. They have no message. They can teach nothing of note. We are rarely proud to be associated with them, be in their company. We have become caricatures of humanity. In that narrow field of achievement called politics, we have become sheep for the slaughter for the vanity of the perverted and the profane. Today's leaders speak and speak but they do not communicate. And save for the posthumous saints, none will sacrifice. All they do is take and take and take.

Many will argue that the Christ's leadership model had a fatal flaw (He ended up dead, after all); but consider this: it inspires over a billion people in the world today. It is without a doubt the greatest foundation for a religion in the history of man. Look at the philosophies of post-Industrial Age titans and stare in surprise. They may have built financial and commercial empires, and their thoughts on business acumen may be devoured by millions of MBAs, but the legacies of Rockefeller or Carnegie or Rhodes do not inspire billions to give to each other, to sacrifice for one another. They inspire millions to amass and amass and amass, even to the point of committing murder or genocide.

Today's leaders profess a love for God and for the teachings of the Christ. They profess. That's it. But when faced with choices that will require them, or their families, or their friends, to amass a little less, to give up an advantage, to give to others, or to build a fairer world, they baulk, they resist, they say, "NO!" And as the Rockefellers and Rhodeses and Carnegies and their incarnations over the centuries whisper in their ears, today's leaders conspire to lie, cheat, steal and kill in the dark; and they connive to create accomplices of us all.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Nice numbers. Pity we don't care.

With statistics you can say anything. You can tell any story. You can convince yourself that the world is right-side up. The Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning reports that over seven hundred and forty thousand jobs were created in the year 2013 to 2014. It is unclear whether these were long-term salary-paying jobs, or short-term contracts for wages. It is also unclear whether these jobs were created in the private sector or the public sector, or what the spread between the two was and which one came out in the lead. We don't yet know how many of the jobs were in the professions, how many were in the manual labour field, how many in tourism and how many were self-employment opportunities in business or trade.

The National Police Service has also entered the game of leading by statistics, declaring a dramatic fall in violent crime since Operation: Usalama Watch was launched a month ago. It has also thumped its chest because of the dramatic fall in fatalities in road traffic accidents at night since the Ministry of Transport and the National Transport Safety Authority banned night-travel and the police deployed the much-feared Alcoblow to curb incidences of drink-driving.

No matter how many sheets of numbers President Kenyatta's government waves in our faces, Kenyans are experiencing a dark mood at present. Even with the creation of new jobs or the reduction of road traffic fatalities or the growth of the economy, millions of Kenyans, in the numbers bandied about by the World Bank, live in poverty, millions of Kenyans have no access to clean drinking water (or clean water at all); they may have access to free primary education and basic healthcare, but the free primary education and the free basic healthcare they have access to is of the poorest quality that the Government of Kenya can supply.

The National Police may have reduced the number of robberies in the Nairobi Central Business District (kudos), but what they have done is to push it to the suburbs and exurbs. Buru Buru, Langata, Karen, Kiserian, Syokimau, even Runda and Kileleshwa have attracted the attentions of the bandits and carjackers pushed out of the CBD and the areas being patrolled in the name of Operation: Usalama Watch. It is the foolhardy who will be seen out at night if they don't need to be out at night. Businesses that rely on evening and night patrons are suffering, and it is not just bars and night clubs. Those annoying pavement shoe-sellers who rely on the office-bound ladies on tight budgets find that they must bundle up their wares and withdraw lest they fall victim to men who would take away their earnings by the sword or Ceska pistol.

The numbers may make the Government of Kenya look, and its State officers feel good, but the people of Kenya will treat the numbers with suspicion and hostility. The people's reactions will not be logical or rational but they are unlikely to be warm and fuzzy when they experience a persistently high cost of living and the overbearing arm of the law out to prevent them from drowning their sorrows in alcohol or some other fun activity simply because the environment around their homes makes them feel like they are under siege from malevolent forces all the time.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Crime pays. But it costs, too.

Crime pays. And if you doubt this, look at the billions that some Kenyans and their partners have amassed from spectacular heists: Goldenberg, Triton, Anglo-Leasing, Kazi kwa Vijana, cocaine, heroin...the list is spectacularly long.

Crime costs, too. It is painfully apparent when one visits a public hospital's ward and finds patients sleeping two to a bed or even on the floor. It is depressingly apparent when one visits the vast rural bits of this nation and finds children going to school that little more than patches of ground and an office for the headmaster or homes that still use kerosene lamps and no running water. It is shockingly apparent when policemen collect fifty-shilling bribes from traffic offenders.

The peoples of Kenya have been touched by crime in various ways. Many have been victims, even when they did not know it. Take Anglo-Leasing, for example. This catchall name for contracts in the security sector is synonymous with impunity. The contracts were meant to be the magic bullet in turning national security, intelligence and policing into a high-tech fair fight against enemies of Kenya and criminal elements out to make our lives miserable. We would get state-of-the-art communications equipment, a marine "research" vessel, and such like. What we got, instead, is a scandal that keeps morphing every time State officers mention the phrase "Anglo-Leasing."

There may be no direct connection between events, but if it was not for Anglo-Leasing, this blogger challenges anyone o find a better explanation for why terrorists and criminal gangs can murder and maim with impunity without the State stopping them in their tracks. 85 terrorist attacks and hundreds of violent murders and armed robberies have taken place since John Githongo was asked to "go slow" in his "investigation" into the Anglo-Leasing contracts. The men and women who were at the heart of decision-making when it came to the contracts and swindles are waling free among us. Indeed some of their partners are making money simply by setting up companies and suing the Government of Kenya for "breach of contract." (Many non-lawyers are scratching their heads at how a vast criminal enterprise can continue to secure court victories using dubious contracts.)

They say that there is no pleasure without pain. There are those who are swimming in filthy lucre because of the swindles they have pulled over the peoples of Kenya. The other side of the equation are the millions of Kenyans without access to clean drinking water, education facilities (or educationists), at the mercy of bandits and brigands, facing death an disease because vital health services cannot be financed, living a life which was once described as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" by Thomas Hobbes. Crime pays. But it costs, too.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Too much to ask?

Raila Odinga should really cut short his Boston trip and hurry home; members of the National Assembly are losing their damn minds. The Jubilee side of the aisle misses their favourite punching bag and they are now manufacturing reasons to drag his name into parliamentary debate. The CORD, on the other hand, is rudderless; without his firm hand, its members are incapable of stringing a political sentence together without annoying each other.

On the 24th April, the National Assembly, by this blogger's count, spent approximately a hour debating whether Raila Odinga was a "retired head of state" because the programme he was attending at the Boston University in the United States is reserved "mainly for former heads of state." Kirinyaga MP Joseph Gitari (TNA) is confused about the status of Kenya's former Prime Minister; he wants the Majority Leader to clear the air about the status of the former Prime Minister of Kenya.

Mr Gitari epitomises the intellectual rot afflicting the National Assembly today. Kenya is in the midst of s grueling transition; bits of the North West, including Turkana, West Pokot and the Western edges of Marsabit are in the midst of a serious famine; terror attacks have become the order of the day, the latest atrocity being the bombing of a Pangani Police Station in Nairobi; the cost of living is squeezing the savings of everyone, especially the middle and working classes; and corruption seems to stalk every major capital project of the Jubilee administration.

Parliament has completely abdicated its role in overseeing the National Executive. Rather than debate the wheres and wherebys of the problems bedeviling the country, the likes of Mr Gitari and his counterparts in CORD are unable to turn their minds away from Raila Odinga in order to focus on the things that will make the lives of their constituents better. This is the budget-making period and it boggles the mind that rather than taking into consideration the suffering of Kenyans because of the aftershocks of the implementation of the VAT Act, 2013, the National Assembly is hell-bent in refusing to acknowledge that it has bigger fish to fry than whether Raila Odinga is or is not "a former head of state."

Members of the National Assembly are politicians; it is impossible to imagine that they will never politick with Raila Odinga's name. But one would expect that its members would at least highlight the good work they are engaged in to improve the economy, better train and equip the police, ensure that famine and drought are mitigated, and enhance the capacity of the country to face economic and security challenges. But given that nearly all of them were elected on the back of their presidential candidates' campaigns, and that nearly all of them have the intellectual heft of a feather, it is, perhaps, asking too much of them to think before they introduce certain Questions in the Order Paper.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Operation: Rudi Nyumbani, Jakom!

There is a feeling of dread among the youthful members of society. Many have sacrificed, in their own way, to attend institutions of high or technical learning. Many have spent hundreds of thousands of borrowed funds to finance efforts to "persuade" one personage or another to guarantee them spots in the ranks of the police, NYS, the defence forces or any of scores of public agencies. They listen to the Salaries and Remuneration Commission and the leading lights of the Cabinet led by the President saying that the public service is too bloated, that there is a hiring freeze, that salaries are too high, and their hearts sink.

The Inspector-general and the Director of Criminal Investigation have labelled half the yuthful population of our major towns and cities as a public safety threat; the youth are the ones, in the fevered imaginations of the police top brass, who swell the ranks of criminal gangs, outlawed quasi-religious sects, and cross-border-inspired terror organisations. The private sector, such as it is, especially that part that requires skilled manpower, is bitter at the degraded quality of lawyers, engineers and architects flooding the market with degrees and diplomas. It complains, through chairs of the manufacturers' association or that of the employers' federation, that the cost of training, and retraining, these "graduates" is raising the cost of doing business and depressing their profits and, ultimately, preventing them from reinvesting in new equipment or other capital goods.

While the Jubilee regime is busy patting itself in the back for all its achievements over the past twelve months, and the CORD-led Minority Party is planning the same "very soon," young people get the feeling that they are about to be royally shafted in 2014. If the government is not hiring, and if the private sector is only hiring if it can keep salaries and benefits low, where will the young people go for jobs? The National Executive's penchant for "funds" has not been a rip-roaring success; few of the "entrepreneurs" have managed to escape the poverty trap they were in before the borrowed funds from the national government for entrepreneurial activities for which they lacked training or experience in over 60% of the cases. While the National Executive says no jobs, it unleashes the national police and intelligence agencies on the youth to keep them from "becoming enemies of the people" and committing crimes or terror attacks.

This is the calm in the eye of a tornado. We've suffered the turbulence of the past twelve months with relative calm, even when outrages have been perpetrated against us by the State, the Shabaab, the matatu industry, doctors, teachers, university lecturers, nurses, teaches again, and county governments. By his absence Raila Odinga demonstrates that Kenya is always in ferment when he is around. Look at the quality of public political discourse and you know this to be true: without Raila Odinga as a lightning rod, even the Jubilee regime finds itself unsure of what to do. Mr Odinga must wind up his Boston holiday post haste and hurry back to Nairobi. Without his larger-than-life presence, both the Jubilee and CORD ships are floundering in the ocean. It is time he came back home!

Monday, April 21, 2014

We must play our proper roles.

It is a strange thing to witness the floundering national security apparatus going about the business of finding terrorists and their sympathisers in the full glare of the print, broadcast and social media. It is unusual for the people to have the full facts about security operations; they are usually secret. The security apparatus in Kenya is unaccustomed from communicating effectively. The optics, as US politicians would put it, are not good. The images of police on night raids in Somali-dominant neighbourhoods are a slap in the face of the liberal chatteratti in Nairobi. The response from police spokespersons and "unnamed" sources in the Interior Ministry have been blithe and unseemly.

Some of the statistics are frightening. Since 2011, there have been 84 terrorist attacks. Scores of Kenyans, both Muslim and Christian, have been murdered, scores more have been maimed, perhaps for life. The problem, we are told, is because of al Shabaab whose ranks are populated by undocumented men and women who walk among us, disguised as members of the citizenry. They possess genuine and counterfeit documents of identity including national IDs, passports and driver's licences. They operate bank accounts in our institutions of banking and own real estate in posh and not-so-posh locales. Some work in the public service. Some attend our institutions of learning. Some are our matatu drivers; others sell us the counterfeit DVDs we avidly devour because we cannot patronise the IMAXX on Mama Ngina Street.

Operation: Usalama Watch is what we have because the security apparatus we have will take a decade to reform, retrain and re-equip. The President cannot do more. Kenyans demand change. Today. They do not care for  the financial or legal constraints that hamper efforts to keep them safe. They only care that they are unable to walk home in confidence that they will not face a mad terrorist hell-bent in being the centre of the attention of 72 virgins in paradise.

For two generations, Kenyans have refused to take part in the making of key decisions, leaving it all in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. Kenyans have been persuaded for decades by politicians and bureaucrats that corruption and corrupt acts are the magic bullets to advancement in life. President Kenyatta has, not to put too fine a point to it, an insidious plan to change the shape of things. Huduma Centres are brilliant; the removal of a middle man from the process of obtaining simple, but critical, public services is a disruptor to the corruption process that many Kenyans have become resigned to. The decision to go ahead with a biometric national ID system will eliminate strangers among us because no one will hide from the national digital database. As a tool to identify terrorists and their sympathisers it will be, in military terms, a "force multiplier." If you can be identified, then you must toe the legal line.

The risk, as always, is that the National Executive may use the national database to identify "enemies of the people" who are a political threat and not a security threat. The database may be used to corral philosophical nay-sayers and harass the civil society industry for doing their work. These are baby steps Kenya is taking. It will take time for all the things that are supposed to work to work. It is too soon to say with certainty that we are wrong or we are right. It will take vigilance, both of terrorists and the government, for the system we want to take shape. It is time Kenyans got off the bench and did their part.

The Shifting Centre.

The centre has not given. Yet. It is only a matter of time before it sinks in that politics in Kenya is not like politics in any of the Western democracies with a presidential system and a two-chamber parliament. This is not the United States; the Constituencies Development Fund does not have the same impact as the appropriation a single members of the US Congress can finagle through the United States's incredibly byzantine system. Power, that is, the power to spend, is moving away from the National Government to the devolved government.

In the United States and France, it is very easy, and affordable, for a constituent to travel to the nation's capital and bend his or her elected representative's ear. When they write, and when they have the power of the media behind them, constituents can affect how an elected representative acts in parliament. The written rules of the parliament can bestow or take away power from the elected representative. In Kenya, the reverse is starkly true. 

Kithure Kindiki and Aden Duale are slowly coming to realise that it is the erstwhile districts that are directly connected to the people. If a constituent cannot easily make it to Nairobi, the reverse is frequently true; it is why Kenya's Members of Parliament are elected and seem to fade away from the memories of their constituents. They rarely go home; they do not hold "surgeries" in their constituencies. When elections are held, few of them are re-elected because they are virtual strangers to the voters who sent them to Nairobi in the first place.

It is governors who the people get to see and hear. It is the decisions made by governors, in conjunction with their assemblies, that now have the greatest impact on the peoples' lives. Governors can re-build dispensaries, primary schools, county roads, drainage systems, sewers, street lights, and markets. Because they are there, governors can attend weddings (very rare in Kenya) or funerals (where Kenyan politics flourishes) without eating into their schedules. Unlike MPs, governors have offices within a short matatu distance from irate constituents; they can respond quickly. MPs are used to making promises they cannot keep and then hiding out in Nairobi until the matter is quickly swept under the carpet. Governors - the good ones - will respond in a way that the constituents can appreciate.

Kenyan MPs are not smart enough to append their names to Bills that will have an impact on the lives of their constituents. They are busy trying to make the Other Side Look Bad through petty politicking without thinking of the next election. They are too busy lining their pockets as fast as they can to even think about the business of representing the interests of their constituents in Parliament. Meanwhile, even the poor governors, are leasing ambulances, cleaning drainage systems, rebuilding roads and bridges, building "people's" parks, wooing "investors" and doing all those things that MPs used to do. They are the face of politics at the grassroots. They have become the new peoples' champions. If the MPs cannot shape up and come up with a new game plan, they are toast. The Eleventh Parliament may be that last Parliament to matter when it comes to "optics" and visibility. Its members can thank the likes of Alfred Mutua, Ali Hassan Joho, Josephat Nanok and Martin Wambora.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A striking balance.

There is a reason why electing former councillors as Members of County Assemblies will come to bite us in our hindparts. These people, at the best of times, were not the sharpest knives in the drawer.; these are not the best of times. They simply lowered the IQ of a nation by getting up in the morning in the bad old days of the Local Government Act. Way back then, when some uppity local authority made by-laws, the Minister for Local Government had to approve them before they could be enforced. (Uhuru Kenyatta might have been the last Local Government waziri with a sense of style when it came to kanjoras; Musalia was clearly at sea.)

In the age of devolution - the devolution of power and funds from an avaricious, tight-fisted National Executive to the grassroots - it was foolhardy, especially because of the billions that county government would control, to allow councillors to worm their way back into positions of elected responsibility. In contrast to the days when council chairmen and mayors determined budgets, and patronage,  and they could dish out briefcases of cash to their favourite councillors, governors are at the mercy of their county assemblies. Without an understanding between the county executive and the county assembly, nothing will get done, including the pilfering that defined the lives of all former councillors now masquerading as members of county assembles, mini-waheshimiwas.

It takes a special kind of political genius to get anything done in Kenya, and far and away the most innovative governor seems to be Dr Alfred Mutua of Machakos. His county seems to be the epitome of political sanity; do the resident of Machakos County even know who their deputy governor is? By far, the most silent seems to be a toss-up between Dr Julius Malombe of Kitui and Prof Kivutha Kibwana of Makueni; when they two decide to open their mouths, it is always about political fires being put out or some other extra-county authority that is making their counties ungovernable. Creativity is not their strong suite.

Then there are those whom we stare at with pity mixed with a little shame that they are actually governors: Ken Lusaka of Kakamega, Martin Wambora of Embu, Peter Munya of Meru, Jackson Mandago of Uasin Gishu...those ranks have remained steadfastly swollen for the past year. Then there is the lot that simply defies explanation: William Kabogo (Kiambu), Ali Hassan Joho (Mombasa), Kinuthia Mbugua (Nakuru)...the disappointments? Only one comes readily to mind: Dr Evans Kidero (Nairobi City).

What unites all 47 governors in shaking in their boots is the fear that their MCAs may stray far from the reservation: Martin Wambora's goose is cooked unless he can reel back the ring leaders in his county assembly with a few well-deployed briefcases. Kivutha Kibwana might suffer a heart attack from all the trouble the Makueni assembly has caused him; as might Julius Malombe. Dr Mutua seems to have found the combination that keeps his name in the limelight, keeps his deputy's out, and keeps the assembly as pacified as a bunch of ex-councillors with delusions of grandeur can be. Dr Kidero seems to have discovered that Luo Nyanza is his natural habitat; Nairobi City simply has too many things going wrong at the same time that it is never going to be fixed. Ever.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A tale of two cities.

We are oscillating between supporting the National Executive and its security agencies in their crackdown on terrorists and their sympathisers, and agitating for the protection of the rights of the people facing the brunt of the selfsame security agencies. A government, any government, is the proverbial ton of bricks if its might is directed against you. The force being brought to bear against the people living in that district known as Eastleigh must be overwhelming. The fear that must pervade the area must be pervasive. And yet the debate surrounding the operation of the government has subsided; many have retreated to their lives. They are no longer concerned about the siege or the roundups or the concentration camp tactics deployed in the search for terrorists and terrorist sympathisers.

It is alleged that in the past two weeks, at the height of the roundups and door-to-door searches, individual police officers and security agents have collected up to seventy-five million shillings in bribes. Whether this is true is not the issue; what is surprising is that the accusation was made by a Senior Counsel not known for flinching in the light of controversy without it being challenged from any quarter. It might be that the Senior Counsel exaggerates; who would not if it meant seeing your name in lights? But the reputation of the security apparatus of Kenya has hit nadirs so many times that few are surprised when an allegation such as the one about the seventy-million shillings bribe will go unchallenged even from the National Executive, and the leadership of the National Police Service or the National Intelligence Service.

While proof was not adduced as to who murdered Aboud Rogo or Abubakar Sharif, many were willing to believe that it were security agents who shot them dead in cold blood. The recent exercises in vetting of police officers has subjected the security establishment to unfamiliar scrutiny. Multi-millionaires in the ranks are unable to explain the sources of their wealth. Rumours about police officers owning matatus and therefore, being leery about enforcing the Traffic Act, or policemen so poor that they moonlight as guns-for-hire or, worse, hire out their firearms to other gunmen, are believed without hesitation.

It is only a certain section of the middle classes who could, in all honesty, agree with the good intentions of the National Executive regarding the Eastleigh crackdown. These are people who live in relatively secure residential districts. (The recent attacks against elected representatives are anomalies.) Their roads, street lights, drains and sewers are all in good condition. Their personal and home security is very good; many retain the services of private security guards. The police are unlikely to come knocking on their doors in the middle of the night "searching for illegals". Their cars are unlikely to be stopped at police road-blocks and searched for firearms or explosives. Even if you fit the profile of the people the police they are searching for, but you happen to live in Lavington, Muthaiga, Kitisuru, Kileleshwa, Red Hill, Runda, Nyari or Spring Valley, the police are unlikely to trouble you. (I don't know about the Traffic Police; those ones are a law unto themselves.)

Other Kenyans do not enjoy that luxury of the presumption of innocence. It is not seen as a right in Eastleigh, Dandora, Kariobangi North (and South), Ruai, Doonholm, Mwiki, Zimmerman, or Githurai. "Utajibu maswali mbele" is the response even when you have valid documents of identity on your person. (A swift bribe might change your circumstances for the better though.)  The roads, drains, sewers, street lights and pavements in these areas are distinct only when they are patched up. Crime is rife. Corruption is pervasive. The people have been desensitised to an extent that the plight of their fellowman is none of their business. It is why they do not care about the crackdowns and roundups in Eastleigh; it is a fact of life for them.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Beware the Ides of March.

In the time of war, the law falls silent. That was Cicero. He supported the appointment of Julius Caesar by the Roman Senate as dictator. It ended in tears when Brutus, Julius's most trusted confidant, conspired with other senators to assassinate Caesar on the senate floor. Each of the conspirators stabbed him.

Kenya has not appointed a dictator. Neither the Senate nor the National assembly has abrogated its powers under the Constitution. Uhuru Kenyatta is not a dictator. He swore, on the bible by the by, to uphold the laws of Kenya, the Constitution and the laws of nations in the execution of his duties as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces. Therefore, one seeks to know by what authority his government has rounded up thousands of suspects, concentrated them at the Safaricom Stadium at Kasarani, subjected them to vetting by the National Police Service, the Immigration Department, the Anti-terrorism Police Unit and God knows who else in the name of seeking to protect Kenyans from a war being waged by an unknown enemy.

Many Kenyans have come out in support of the President and his government in the tactics they have used in the past week in attempt to take the war to al Shabaab. Very few have thought to question whether, in a nation with a written constitution, a broad set of written laws and a Parliament that represents their interests, it is fit and proper for due process to be abrogated for the sake of temporary safety. Some of those rounded up have been identified as having committed offences. Some have been identified as being prohibited immigrants under Kenya's immigration laws. But few have been identified as having waged war against Kenya.

There are those who would not argue with the description of Kenya's borders with Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia as porous. President Kenyatta is acutely aware of this; in one of his first decisions as President, he directed the Cabinet Secretary for Defence to spend four billion shillings to bolster Kenya's defence. In a recent interview to commemorate one year in office, he declared that the Government of Kenya would do all it takes to keep Kenyans safe. He was broad on rhetoric and short on specifics.

The defence of the realm must be done in the context of the laws of the realm. Presidents cannot make their own laws as they go along except as they are permitted by the Constitution. This dictum has been challenged by the amorphous nature of the enemy Kenya and many nations face in what George W Bush, the forty-third president of the United States called the global war on terror. Kenya has a dark history in the abrogation of the laws of the land; massacres, unlawful detentions, detentions without trial, disappearances and assassinations were the order of the day in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. It all started with the idea that the President could declare a person an enemy of the state and use whatever tools he had at his disposal to dispose of these enemies.

Kenyans pray that the President has a plan and that it has nothing to do with the reincarnation of the imperial president many Kenyans buried with the ratification of the Constitution in 2010. Parliament has proven to be supine; its leadership has done nothing to temper the enthusiastic application of draconian tactics in the war against radicalism in Kenya. The Judiciary is in crisis. Its leadership is in the middle of an internecine war to control the billions allocated to it by the National Assembly. It falls on the people, on whose behalf and for whose interests the President, his coalition and his government govern to temper the inclinations of the President. If the non-elected leaders among us lead the cheer in the violation of the principles enshrined in the Bill of Rights, they will find themselves standing alone when the untrammelled power of the President is directed at them.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

What else can we do?

If the United States, Great Britain, the Russian Federation, the Philippines, India or Spain have been unable to solve their problems with restive minorities with a penchant for grenades, assault rifles and improvised explosive devises, who are we to declare that the recent approach by the Ministry of the Interior and Co-ordination of National Government to identify "the enemies within" is the wrong one? While the "sealing off" of Eastleigh estate and the rounding up of thousands of "suspects" and concentrating all of them at the Safaricom stadium formerly known as the moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, might evoke images of Stalin's gulags or Hitlers concentration camps for those who subscribe to the History Channel, it is time someone asked the more fundamental question: will we treat Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku with kid gloves the next time a violent atrocity is perpetrated against innocent Kenyans? The answer, this blogger believes, is "No!"

Since the Republic of Somalia disintegrated in 1991, Kenya has played host to hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees. Because it took close to twenty years for the fighting to abate long enough for some semblance of normalcy to return to Mogadishu, many citizens of Somalia have become integrated into Kenyan society, especially among their co-religionists and ethnic kinsmen living in Nairobi, Mombasa, Mandera and Wajir and until the United States'-led Global War on Terror crossed the Atlantic, Kenyans and Somalians had lived in peace sans suspicion. When George Bush the Younger declared a global war on terror, he invited every one with an axe to grind against the United States to go to war against the United States. It is how Kenyans, who have never really been on the receiving end of US war planes or tanks or missiles, would not think twice about following the teachings of a preacher and head for Mogadishu or Kismayu to wage war against the Kenya Defence Forces in the ranks of al Shabaab.

For forty years, the only problems Kenya had were political; with the job of establishing a one-party state cut out for President Kenyatta the Elder and Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, the received wisdom from Yosip Broz Tito to Deng Xioping to Nicalae Ceaucescu to Yoweri Museveni was pretty much clear. In the 1980s, it was the foolhardy who would pretend to the throne that was the presidency. It is with the collapse of the one-party firmament that Kenya started flirting with "youth-wingers" and "militias." The murder, rapine and looting that engulfed the nation in 1992 sowed the seeds for the restiveness in Kenya's Coast, North East and Northern Frontier. Uhuru Kenyatta finds himself fighting, in effect, a secession without the tools to do it. Taking a leaf out of the US experience in Iraq, Kenya seeks to expel all "prohibited immigrants" because they contribute to the ranks of the malcontents fomenting war against Kenya. What choice is there? 

Simply because they come from dire circumstances is not sufficient not to act against them. Simply because it is a corrupt system that encouraged their becoming prohibited immigrants is not a sufficient reason not to act against them. Some are dangerous; some have actively fought the Government of Kenya. Kenya does not have the surgical precision of identifying everyone as do the USA, Great Britain or Spain. Therefore, we will use the blunt weapon of "wapi ID?" and mass deportations. If the bleeding hearts outside the Safaricom stadium have another way of separating the sheep from the wolves, please, share them with Joseph ole Lenku.

The people love a show.

We are a nation of laws, a kienyeji version of the American wild west or something in between. Dr Willy Mutunga, Prof Githu Muigai, Keriako Tobiko and David Kimaiyo will argue that Kenya is a nation of laws. The families of the slain Aboud Rogo and, lately, Abubakar Shariff will argue that Kenya is a kienyeji version of the wild west; not even the rudimentary honour code that prevailed in the wild west is to be found in Kenya. Many Kenyans despair that Kenya lies in between these extremes.

Aboud Rogo and Abubakar Shariff stated their positions plainly: they agreed with the violent expressions of religious zeal by al Shabaab. It remains unclear whether they used the mosques, from which they preached, to recruit Kenyans to fight for al Shabaab; the Governments of Kenya, the United States, the United Kingdom and half-a-dozen others claim that both the slain men were recruiters for al Shabaab and that they were responsible for planning terrorists attacks on Kenyan soil against the Government of Kenya and governments friendly to Kenya.

It is whispered in dark alleys that it is indeed government operatives who despatched the pair to meet their maker. No proof have been adduced to prove this. What is notable is that leading members of society argue that if it was the government's operatives who murdered the two men, then it was fit and proper for the government to have ordered the killings. After all, these leading lights argue, these were men who had declared war on Kenya, who sympathised and supported an enemy of Kenya, and who were unapologetic about the blood of Kenyans that had been spilled in their little war with Kenya. Needless to say, these leading lights do not see the benefit of an arrest, arraignment, prosecution, conviction, sentencing and punishment process for the likes of the late Mr Rogo or the late Mr Abubakar. Due process is not for the "enemies of Kenya" they would argue.

The United States has pioneered this pre-emptive approach to national security over the past twelve years. Since al Qaeda exposed the fatal weakness in a national security apparatus that relies on war ships, strategic bombers and nuclear missiles, the United States has developed a national security strategy that has elided the rule of law and has all but re-written the grounds for the application or suspension of due process. It seems that all the President of the United States has to do is to designate you an enemy combatant waging war against the United States and hellfire will rain down on you courtesy of the Reapers and Predators that prowl the night sky. The United States, it seems, has found an ardent disciple in the Government of Kenya, if the rumours about the deaths of Messrs Rogo and Abubakar are true. Death may not come by hellfire missile, but it will be extra-legal; relying only on the president's decree.

If only we were capable of learning from our mistakes and those of others. "Pre-emption" is not new; it has been applied for millennia. Kenya's history with pre-emption is very dark. Some will argue that this blogger is woefully out of line when he argues that the deaths of Tom Mboya, Pio Gama Pinto, Josiah Mwangi Kariuki and Robert Ouko were an application of the doctrine of pre-emption at its basest. But consider this. They were leading lights of restive communities who would one day command sizeable constituencies that would challenge the established orders of their particular days. Messrs Rogo and Abubakar may have been hate-filled, hate-mongering villains; but none can argue convincingly that they did not have a growing following or that their positions were illegitimate among their followers.

What may supporters of their executions declare is that Messrs Rogo and Abubakar had committed grave, treasonous crimes against Kenya. If this were true, evidence to support such accusations must surely have existed. If such evidence existed, its veracity should have been tested in the courts of law. If the evidence was robust, Messrs Rogo and Abubakar would be pursuing appeals after appeals while cooling their heels in inhospitable surroundings such as Kapenguria or Manyani prison camps. Those applauding their executions contend that Kenya's prosecution and judicial systems cannot be trusted to do the right thing. The police would inevitably screw up the investigation; the prosecution wouldn't have a forensic leg to stand on to successfully obtain a conviction; but were the two somehow to get it right, the magistrate hearing the case would be swayed by a Very Large Briefcase of money. Their argument goes like this: we know they are guilty; we cannot prove their guilt; rather than leave them to commit more crimes, we will murder them and the people will love us for it. They forget that the people who celebrated your coronation are the same ones who will cheer at your be-heading; the people love a show.

Friday, April 04, 2014

If they sacrifice for us...

This blogger has a spectacularly dim view of the political classes. It hits its nadir when a politician becomes an "elected representative" of the people. It turns to hostility when the said elected representative attempts to speak with erudition on matters beyond his competence, intellect or jurisdiction. But this blogger accepts the elected representative as a necessary evil, even though they are more and more evil than necessary these days.

The role of an elected representative, after the lofty ones of "representation, legislation and oversight" is to mediate conflicting interests so that they do not turn into violent disagreements that flare up every time someone or some group wants to flex its muscles. It is why many still believe politics to be the last true "calling" where the people come first and the elected representative comes second. Anyone who would stand in public and articulate an idea that is held in common by a community must surely feel the need to do so in addition to the narcissistic tendencies we have come to associate with those of that persuasion. That person must feel that he or she is the only one who could defend the interests of his community and negotiate with his peers for the best deal for his community. Even in Kenya where faith in the elected classes continues to suffer ignominy after ignominy, there is still a hope, diminishing it is true, that the elected classes will stop fattening their wallets and start fattening the people's wallets.

It is why the whole debate about devolution needs to be re-calibrated. Members of County Assemblies are the closest to grassroots politicians that Kenyans will ever have. We have already made the error of electing and nominating largely semi-literate men and women to these assemblies; it is an error we cannot rectify until 2017. We cannot however, allow them to behave like the perfidious local authorities that have gone the way of the A-Trak. It is shocking to read stories in the press about the one billion shillings MCAs spent in 2013/2014 on travel. A billion shillings divvied up between around 1,800 people is an obscene sum, especially when thousands of Kenyans are at risk of starvation, hundreds of Kenyans are at risk of water-borne diseases, and tens of thousands of children are malnourished. It is an obscene sum when public retirees have to go for months without their pensions.

Kenyans are united four-square behind devolution; they are wary, though, that it is about to be hijacked by ex-councillors determined to recreate their glory days of dubious tenders and rampant graft. Kenyans are placing their faith in the Controller of Budget and the Auditor-General and when these two come up short, in the Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury and ultimately, the President. Kenyans do not want devolution to be strangled or watered down; but they do not want the same graft-related problems of the national government to be replicated in the county. The Devolution Conference in Kwale is valuable; it would have sent a powerful signal if only the conference facilities were paid for out of public funds and each governor and his vast entourage paid their way out of their own pockets. That no one thought of this speaks volumes about their intentions with our money.

Greed, a great National Value

This blogger's parents did not have a plan when they had him; they swiftly came up with one, though. That plan cost them dearly: fiscally, emotionally and socially. But they were determined; they taught their son how to act, talk, listen and think. They decreed that he would be brought up along the Christian values of hard work, thrift, and honesty. They enforced these values with a tyrannical hand; thirty odd years later, this blogger is glad his parents were tyrants because if they had not been, this blogger would be dead in a ditch somewhere outside Agra in India.

In this weeks blog, Luis Franceschi asks that Kenyans need to change their values in order to enjoy an orderly and comfortable life as that to be found in Luxembourg or Brussels or Cologne. (70 Kenyan students visit Brussels, Luxembourg and Cologne, Daily Nation, Friday 04/04/14.) This blogger is compelled to agree with Mr Franceschi. In a small number of cases, the job of instilling the right values in our children is taken up by institutions other than the family, especially where a child has been orphaned or taken away from its parents. By and large, however, the values we learn are taught in the home, and when we discard them we are a reflection of the values of the parents and the elders in that family.

It is not as far-fetched as one might think in the age of the twenty-four hour movie or music channel, the internet, or the world of online and offline video games. If a child spends all its time in front of the idiot tube, not being mentally nourished with information or education, instead being bombarded with sleaze, sex, corruption, lying and cheating in the name of entertainment, it is the parent that allowed that to happen who is responsible for the values that the child is picking up from the medium. It is the parent that permits its child to spend hours on hours listening to music that has little to recommend it spiritually, academically or morally. It is the parent who is responsible of the awkward socialisation of its child when it cannot interact comfortably with other because the child has spent a considerable portion of its existence with its fingers glued to a video game console.

When we look at the men and women we elect to high office, the men and women we appoint to positions of trust, and the men and women we trust to keep us safe, doing the wrong thing every time they are faced with a choice, why can't take the analysis of their behaviour to its logical conclusion and ask what did their parents, and elders teach them? In the 9th Parliament, a Member from the Rift Valley was nicknamed Baba Dennis for allegedly fathering a child with a girl young enough to be his daughter and then refusing to take parental responsibility for the child. Why did we not ask whether those were the values that the MP instilled in his own children or whether these were the values his parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts instilled in him?

The desire to be first at all times whether or not we deserve to be first is not in-born; it is learnt. In Kenya, it is reflected every day when motorists will not wait for the lights to turn before making their, usually wrong and dangerous, move. It is reflected in the sharp elbowing into lifts even before they empty of their previous passengers. It is reflected in the cheating that has become endemic in institutions of learning, encouraged by the faculty and parents alike, during examinations. It is reflected with the impatience with learning; we want to know, but we do not want to understand. It is the desire for the fastest buck possible. Today, it is our only national value. Greed!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

It is all about legitimacy.

No! It is not a question of national security, but one of public safety. Despite the legalistic definition of national security, the meaning that people derive from that loaded phrase is the security of the government, and not the safety of the people. The security of the government is the continued existence of a political power in charge of that government. In Kenya this has frequently come to mean the continued reign of the incumbent president. It very rarely means the safety of the people or their property or the institutions that are important to them.

Therefore, when commentators point out that the structural infirmities that permit the prolific killing of elephants and rhinos in our national parks exposes gaps in Kenya's national security, they miss the point by a mile; they seem to be of a piece as those who would call for the extra-legal killing of dissenting Islamist voices amongst us. They are united in considering that the ease with which poachers seem to kill trophy wildlife, transport their spoils through our towns and cities, have them loaded onto ships or planes, and delivered to final customers overseas exposes the weakness in the policing of our national parks and game reserves, policing in our towns and cities, policing at our border crossings and a woeful inadequacy in our intelligence-gathering and analysis systems. But they would be loath to admit that all these areas in which weakness or inadequacy is exposed are not institutions for the safety of the public but for the perpetuation of political power at its most basest.

Our forces of law and order and our intelligence services are designed to corral us into docility; we are not to question what our political superiors know or do. We are to remain silent and allow our taxes and our national treasure to e expended as the powers-that-be determine to be best. If we are to raise our voices in protest, we are to do it in the manner and form that the powers-that-be permit, that is, in such a way as we do not threaten their continued grip on the levers of power or the taps of fabulous wealth.

It is for this reason that a community, such as the diverse and cosmopolitan one at Kenya's coast, will continue to defy the neat pigeon-hole to which the State is determined to consign it. When the county commander of police declares that the people cannot fight the government and win, he is subtly reminding them that in his understanding of national security, he will burn down the town to preserve the authority of the government. he will set his police on them to keep them from hurting themselves with foolish thoughts of challenging the authority of their government. It will never occur to him that because of a complex set of reasons, some recent and some historical, a majority of the peoples at the coast consider the government of the day, whether at national level or county level, to be illegitimate.

The question of legitimacy also stalks the wildlife conservation meme promoted by those who like to see "Kenya's heritage" preserved for future generations. They do not care to consider that land injustices have defined this nation since the day the white settlers set foot in Kenya. Unless the Land Question is resolved to the satisfaction of those who have always been marginalised, poaching will never receive widespread attention from the people. Before the question of our national heritage is settled, the people must be satisfied that the Land Question is no longer a cause for violence, suspicion and corruption. Wildlife conservation, therefore, remains the legitimate concern of those who have the land, the money and the power of the government behind them. To the rest of the people, game reserves and national parks are illegitimate interlopers on land that the people fought a colonial power for.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Secret Police, eh?

Abubakar Shariff who went by the nom de guerre Makaburi was an Islamist preacher who was shot dead ("sprayed by bullets," said The Star) on 1st April. Some thought it was an April Fools' joke. It isn't. This blogger knows pitifully little about the late Makaburi; reading between the lines, there are few who are shedding tears for the departure of the Islamist cleric. He had celebrated the murderous exploits of al Shabaab fighters at the Westgate in September 2013, and had defended their tactics of indiscriminate murder.

The reaction from the men and women atop our opinion-making tree, though, has proven disturbing. This nation has blithely accepted the reality that of all the institutions meant to protect our lives and property, the faith of the people in the forces of law and order remains at a nadir because of the corruption that permeates every nook and cranny of the security firmament. The forces of law and order are taken to be illegitimately exercising their mandates because they frequently pick and choose which bits of the Law of Kenya to enforce and which to ignore, favouring the high and mighty at the expense of the low and weak. When taken together with the low esteem with which the elected political class is held, and the men and women they appoint to do their bidding, "civilised" discussion of the trigger-happiness of strangers and security types alike is unlikely in Kenya today.

Makaburi was felled, it is suspected, by a secret police unit, just as his fellow Islamist, Aboud Rogo, is suspected to have been felled. Because these two were very prominently sympathetic with the demonic aspirations of al Shabaab, only their families will mourn their passing. Kenyans from all walks of life will celebrate the extra-legal killings and pray for more of the same against "enemies" as loosely defined by the elected classes they do not trust.

In a nation that claims to live under the protection of its constitution and body of laws, it is surprising that the authorities' faith in the law is not more assured. Aboud Rogo and Makaburi were notorious for their utterances; they made no effort to hide their sentiments or sympathies. How is it that a government that has a police force standing at approximately 80,000 strong and very large secret police has consistently failed to find information or evidence that can withstand the test of litigation in our courts of law? Perhaps the answer lies in that a secret police system inherited from a colonial power that has resisted reform for nigh on fifty years has found a new way to bolster its usefulness to the powers-that-be by "eliminating" problems without the bother of due process or a trial. Coupled with the apathy of the liberal intelligentsia of Kenya, expect more of the same in the years to come.

Faith-based organisations, especially Christian leaders' associations, have proven unequal to the task. Rather than denounce the individuals for their utterances, the likes of canon Peter Karanja, speaking for the National Council of Churches of Kenya, find it convenient to blame all Muslim leaders and all mosques for the "radicalisation" of youth in Mombasa. The same is true for the more militant evangelical organisations which speak without taking into account the nuances of the problems that Kenya's coast faces.

What many fail to consider is that once the secret police and their bosses finish off the Islamist threat, they will find new enemies to go after. Perhaps it will be trade unionists. perhaps its will be teachers' unions' leaders. Perhaps it will be matatu associations' bosses. How about those who would spend their own resources providing medicines to the downtrodden and forgotten? When a secret police goes out to look for an enemy, it usually finds one. Those tom-tomming the gunning down of Makaburi might want to take a lesson from his murder. One day, someone else may be celebration your death at the hands of the secret police.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

A problem as old as the Republic.

Cross-border crimes are nothing new in Kenya. This nation has had smugglers of all stripes for as long as the Government of Kenya has existed. It is fashionable to speak of "porous borders" these days, though that phrase is frequently a code aimed at the long border between Kenya and Somalia. The most common cross-border crimes are human smuggling, gun-running, drugs smuggling, smuggling of counterfeit medicine and other goods, smuggling of goods for which excise or import duty has not been paid, and the new belle of the ball, smuggling of wildlife trophies. But the king of the criminal hill is the triumvirate of people, guns and drugs, though wildlife trophies are coming on strong because of the demand in the Far East.

The smugglers cannot all be Somalis, as the "porous borders" meme would imply. In the 1990s, the Kenya/Somali border was a the preferred route for contraband sugar from Oman/Yemen and charcoal to the Middle East. When The Sudan decided to play host to Osama Bin Laden and his band of murderers, it was only a matter of time before the people smuggling included a cohort of al Qaeda soldiers on the way to extend their front against the United States in East Africa and the guns they would need to wage their war. The US embassy, as the High Commissions of the UK, Australia and Canada have been so heavily fortified, and the ranks of al Qaeda and al Shabaab so decimated by US Reapers and Predators and the KDF/AMISOM that for a time many though that the guns smuggled across our borders would lie silent.

Sadly, the truth is that these guns and the guerrilla tactics their previous owners employed in their war against the US are now being turned against rhinos and elephants, or so the civil society/wildlife conservation industry would have you believe, and names of "senior civil servants" and "politicians" are being bandied about in the same cavalier manner they were bandied about regarding the drugs smuggling scare in 2008/2009.

That is not to say that there is no grain of truth in what the civil society/wildlife conservation industry is claiming. It is an open secret that bar one or two honest officers, our security and defence sectors are riddled with bad apples. The colonial legacy of paying the upper echelons of the police and military well, and treating the rank-and-file like shit has come back to bite us in the ass. They may be members of the "disciplined forces" but their discipline takes a back seat when their bosses live like kings through corrupt procurement deals while they live like rats. It would take the patience of the Israelites in the desert for the rank-and-file to forebear their lot until "things get better" as they are always exhorted to do. Our porous borders are a reflection of the rot; it is rotten at the top and it is rotten among the rank-and-file. It is why suspected Nigerian drugs smugglers are deported from Kenya and a week later there are rumours that they have been spotted crossing into Kenya at the Namanga border crossing after parting with large wads of US greenbacks.

Let us, then, not pretend that we are facing new problems or new challenges. This is a problem as old as the Republic. The reaction should therefore, be calibrated for maximum effectiveness. "Vetting" and the other publicity stunts we have engaged in don't seem to have prevented lorry-fulls of Ethiopians, Eritreans or Somalis from being smuggled into Kenya on their way to South Africa, or tonnes upon tonnes of narcotics and wildlife trophies from being loaded onto ships in Mombasa, or sophisticated car-bombs being "discovered" in police stations. Cut off the head of the snake, and the body will whither; eliminate the corruption at the top, and the rank-and-file will fall into line. Until we accept this fundamental truth, and apply it ruthlessly across the board in the Government of Kenya, this problem will be faced by our descendants for a millennia.

As by law established

The members of my profession, the ones with a pompous sense of importance, tend to use phrases whose value has diminished greatly since the ...