Thursday, July 31, 2014

A cruel joke on the faithful.

In my neighbourhood are seven churches. They are pretty similar in many respects. They all hold multiple Sunday sermons. They all preach the Gospel with varying emphases. They all celebrate marriages. In key respect are all similar: they are ringed by eight-feet high, razor-wire topped fences and armed guards to control access. In a key respect, all but two are remarkably similar: after five in the afternoon, access is limited to a chosen few. Except for the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints in Phase 5 and the Roman Catholic Church in Phase 4 which allow people to enter their premises to play basketball and football in the evenings, every other church in Buru Buru is like a barricaded fortress, repelling the angry pitch-fork wielding hordes from hell.

This is not a screed about the relative merits or otherwise of the Mormons or Catholics in Buru Buru but an observation of how far we have taken this lunacy with our avarice and selfishness. the church, as an institution, was the only legitimate institution to rival the State. It transcended politics, ethnicity, race and even economic status; everyone was welcome to the church as a sanctuary, as an educator and as a healer. Churches never, ever would have been surrounded with fences, nor their windows barred with grilles or their doors padlocked to keep out thieves. The church, and church doors, were open to anyone and everyone. The church, in the community, was not the target of thieves and brigands and the community was not treated with suspicion by the church. The church was the community. The community was the church.

But in the evolution of the church in Kenya with the evolution of the State, politics, the people and social mores and values, we have lost our souls and with it we have lost communities that had stood by our parents through many travails and celebrated many of their successes. It is possible to see a church leader, whether he or she is a preacher or a lay leader, living in the lap of luxury while many of his or her congregants can barely make ends meet. The church leader will tell you that it is due to God's munificence and that One Day God will bestow favour on the congregants if only they keep their faith. but with the daily litany of scandals that consume leaders of the church, whether it is regarding the offerings of their congregants or their congregants' spouses or children, the image of the church leader as the pillar of probity in a world buffeted by sin has suffered desecrations it might never recover from.

Where are the people to turn when the church has adopted the mannerisms of the State, political institutions, thieves and cheats? Someone will argue that the values and mores of the church are the values and mores of the congregation. That person is an idiot. The church was always the one institution where on which we bestowed our trust to make the right decision over the matters that affected us collectively. When Henry Okullu spoke out against contraception for children in 1990, it had afar greater impact on us because of the authority and legitimacy the church still enjoyed. In 2014 when John Cardinal Njue speaks out against the same thing, we roll our eyes and mutter that he is a Jubilee politician in canonical robes and the equivalent of Aden Duale or Jakoyo Midiwo in legitimacy or authority.

Where the church used to subsidise our lives, it now profits just like any other for-profit organisation. Where it was a moral leader, it has been overtaken by individuals with great moral character, even individuals in the church, like the late Nelson Mandela or Archbishop Desmond Tutu; it is interesting that we cannot find a strong moral leader in Kenya in 2014. If you believe that this is an unfair attack on the church, there was that story last week where a church leader, with the support of his congregation, hired armed thugs to beat off other armed thugs who were "invading" the church's property. If you missed the implication, that church leader and his church went to war using militia. Are you still willing to turn a blind eye as the one moral, spiritual and social institution we can rely on becomes a caricature, a cruel joke on the faithful?

Heading to hell in a handbasket.

There are few institutions for the mediation of conflict that have the potential to do so much yet achieve so little as political institutions. Their remarkable record of failure in Kenya can be attributed to the relentless hollowing out of the State and its institutions by a political and corporate elite that placed power and money far higher in the national list of priorities than true political and cultural integration. To them, stability came from the force of arms that the State could deploy to quell any unrest than from a true integration of the disparate communities, interests and peoples of the nation.

In 2014 the theories that sustained an entire autocratic system for forty years still prevail, whether one is a luminary of the "conservative" or "progressive" school of thought. Power flows to he who wields absolute control of the political environment. Take the Coalition for Reforms and Development, for example. While Raila Odinga has proven to be the national political bellwether, he has consistently failed to articulate a political vision that would unite large swathes of even his own political constituency, other than that One Side has always ruled. As a result, he is not seen, even by his supporters, as a national saviour but merely as the one who would replace the side that is eating with the side that should eat, in Kenyan political parlance.

The Jubilee, on the other hand, are no better. The relentless and sub rosa concentration of coercive power in the hands of a few has raised alarm bells among the intelligentsia though this alarm is yet to spread to the general populace. President Kenyatta need not have the command of the disciplined services directly in his hands; but in retaining the power to limit the men or women who could deploy that power at short notice is almost as good. Tweaks are made to statutes, ostensibly for efficiency and effectiveness, that have ensured that offices like that of the Inspector-General of Police or the Chief of Defence Forces are subject to the least degree of civilian oversight as possible. We have kept the appropriations made to the security sector a secret for all of independent Kenya's history without justifying the grounds for the secrecy. As a result, we still do not have a comprehensive knowledge of how many men and women under arms are deployed in Kenya's various disciplined services.

We have been unable to discuss these matters in public because we are still held hostage by our mindsets that privilege the men in charge and ignore the voice of the man on the street. Decisions are made without proper consideration of the people's needs. It is why there is no sense of shame among the elected class every time it squanders our taxes on boondoggles of little financial or social value. It is why the National Assembly's members can feel confident in insulting the voters with Bills such as the Order of Precedence Bill or the National Flags, Emblems and Monuments (Amendment) Bill which do nothing to put food on our tables, lessen the degree of youth unemployment or guarantee that each boy and girl can attend school up to secondary level without bothering with the payment of "fees".

Kenyans have suffered terribly since September 22, 2013. Many have been murdered since that mall was attacked by men who have never been caught or prosecuted. Those that have carried out attacks on innocent Kenyans since then continue to rampage in the forgotten bits of the nation, forgotten by their own government and forgotten by their fellow Kenyans. But the only important question that occupies the minds of the men and women of the presidency and the opposition's ranks is whether Kenya can afford a referendum. If we ever integrate, if we ever unite, if we are able to act as a nation and not as collection of ethnicities and religions and political avarices, maybe we may yet salvage our future. But the Jubilee and the CORD, being a reflection of our base thoughts, have set us on a path of utter destruction.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The best show.

I love being entertained. It is one of the few pleasures that does not call for a financial outlay so long as you know what is and what is not entertaining. Being a middling student of language and its uses, I find that my entertainment comes from the skillful editing of news reports, especially on television. The more high-brow a TV station appears, the more likely it is to have a tenuous hold on the finer points of good editing and the greater the risk that irate subjects of its news reports will accuse it of "misquoting" or "misreporting".

By far my favourite subjects of the hackery that goes on in Kenya's editorial suites are the men and women who would insist on us referring to them by a panoply of officious colonial-era titles. They have distinguished themselves, especially with the not-so-careful editing of their words by the Free Hack Press, in the manner that they will use, misuse, abuse and twist language to suit their ever-growing needs. In service to their basest instincts members of the political classes have all but guaranteed that the Nine O'clock evening news "broadcast" is entertainment-on-a-budget.

Having squandered a considerable amount of the time I was meant to be obtaining academic qualifications in the pursuit of hedonistic pleasures, I have not developed a fanatical devotion to any of the men and women who pass for politicians in Kenya. Because my alma mater encouraged a high degree of insouciance in relation to politicians, I do not hang on to their every word or deed, like many of my peers who take everything very seriously. There are some with more degrees than you can a shake a stick at who are willing to do harm in the name of some politician's understanding of a Greek philosophical tenet. These are the true believers who would not countenance being bribed to listen to their leader, but would do so willingly and slavishly; they would follow their idol's every move, utterance and deed in the hope that one day, he or she will be elevated to the highest hot seat in the land.

Because of my lack of star-eyed wonder at their magnificence, I find politicians incredibly boring. That is until they are within ten feet of a TV camera and suddenly they are the Burnum & Bailey Three Ring Circus freaks come to town. They will do and say anything and depending on the hackery skills of the editor, they will be spectacular entertainment. When one of them, professionally edited, tries to explain why he opposes condoms or contraception for high school students, you get the feeling that what he knows about sex and sexuality was learnt from Penthouse and Hustler. When one of them tries to justify the wrongful approach to the impeachment of a governor, you do not need a magic 8-ball to know that he hates the governor and it doesn't matter what the governor did only that the governor's ass is going down. Hard! I do not think politicians are fools, but thanks to the editing skills of the Free Hack Press, we know that there are MPs who have never, ever heard of the scientific fact called evapotranspiration.

Politicians, and certain harlot-like specimens called socialites, are really great entertainment. They will say and do anything to be on TV, the more outrageous the better. They will have their words distorted but only those who take themselves too seriously will attempt to do anything about it. And so, that requirement under the Information and Communications Act, 1998, regarding local content on our airwaves can be satisfied simply and very, very cheaply by simply tagging along everywhere, Mheshimiwa is going - especially church - and filming in lurid detail what they say and do and set the hacks free in their editing. Tell me you don't find politicians' pseudo-pious affectations the best tragicomedy since Shakespeare.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Certificates of competition?

Some of us, when we were sprogs, did not face the ignominy of being sent home from school for lack of school fees. Our parents, in one form or the other, guaranteed that our stay in school was smooth and uninterrupted. The number of parents facing mounting financial challenges in 2014 to pay for the continual smooth education of their sprogs is ballooning. Every year many schools "allow" students to sit their final examinations while there are fees arrears to be settled by the students' parents. When the results are declared and certificates posted to the various schools, school administrators take these certificates hostage until the arrears are settled.

Conflicting interests intersect. The Kenya National Examination Council Act declares that examination certificates are the property of the Council until they are transferred into the custody of the relevant candidates. School administrators commit offences when they take these certificates hostage until debts are settled. If the National Executive, with the assistance of Parliament, pays off the debs owed to schools, a sort of moral hazard would develop and more parents would rack up more school fees debt in the certain expectation that the National Government would step in and make things right. If school administrations are permitted to take hostage students' certificates, the risk of those students being left economically behind grow ever larger. Their youth might be mortgaged for a lifetime.

There are no easy answers, but it requires our admitting that the last thirty years were in error. When Peter Oloo Aringo was Education Minister and he introduced the vile concept of cost-sharing in the education sector, he laid the foundation for the certificates' hostage-taking we are witnessing today. Parents have had to dig ever deeper into their pockets to support public schools. Those parents who have the wherewithal and faith to send their children to private schools cannot complain about the swingeing costs. That is not so for parents whose only hope is the public school system.

We made the fateful decision to involve the Government of Kenya in enterprises it could not sustain for long. Our hubris, largely encouraged by "development partners" and sundry friends, has brought us to the brink of bankruptcy at least three times in the last forty years and yet we refuse to learn our lesson. In the twenty-first century, with information about our government's economic performance at our fingertips, we still insist that "only the Government can undertake large-scale infrastructure projects" such as the Standard Gauge Railway, the LAPSSET or the Lake Turkana Windpower Project.  For a nation - and a government - that has hitched its wagons to the "market forces of competition" locomotive, this seems like a strange declaration to make, especially when it denies public schools and public healthcare the public funds that would truly make these essential public goods free for all.

It is only in three areas that the public sector must succeed: education, healthcare and public safety (including national defence) for the nation to succeed. Success in these areas will mean redirecting public funds - national treasure - from white elephant boondoggles meant to line the pockets of a few insiders - and foreign parties. If the Government believes that the LAPSSET is essential to the national economy, it is simplicity itself to auction the right to develop the project to the best bidder and leave the bidder to figure out how to recover his or her investment, and without mortgaging the education of our children for all eternity. That is the power of the market. Competition among the interested parties will either push down the overall price of the LAPSSET or it will guarantee a quality that could not be achieved by traditional tendering of the Build-Operate-Transfer model that our National Executive favours. The same is true of all the multi-billion dollar projects being implemented with a feverish degree of urgency across the nation.

The problem with received wisdom is that every now and then it limits our imagination about what we can achieve should we step outside the limits of that received wisdom. We have been told, over and over, based on ideas of dead while economists, that there are certain projects that can only be financed by the government. If that were true, companies like BP or Apple or Proctor &  Gamble would not be as big as they are or as cash-rich as they are. It is time we re-assessed whether in the desire for the Government of Kenya - rather, key fatcats in the Government of Kenya - and its "development partners" for the maintenance of the status quo is warranted when our children's lives are held hostage to a policy that guarantees hundreds of thousands of them will never be able to prove whether they met certain educational standards or not.

What is KDF doing in Somalia?

Victory in the field of battle is determined by how much steel one side deploys, all other things being equal. But sometimes more important than steel - and the men to bear them - is the will to fight to the end. Kenya deployed soldiers to Somalia in 2011. They demonstrated a command for waging war that had been underestimated. Everyone joined the Kenya Defence Forces bandwagon soon thereafter. Victories in the various theatres came one after the other. And now a decision has to be made: should Kenya continue to deploy its forces in Somalia or should they come home?

Save for astute observers, analysts and ferrets of information, little is known about Kenya's deployments in Somalia, whether alone or as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). What is clear, however, is that despite the deployment of Kenya's forces in Somalia, the problems in Somalia keep spilling over into Kenya. Until the Mpeketoni Attacks, each terrorist attack on Kenyan soil was credited to al Shabaab, the militia Kenya sought to destroy by sending soldiers to Somalia. Their most audacious attack was on the Westgate Mall, a siege that lasted four days; its aftermath is still shrouded in mystery. If, as were had been assured till that September in 2013, al Shabaab had been vanquished, that t was on the run, that its sources of arms and finance had been compromised, how is it that i had the capacity to launch a sophisticated infiltration of our Capital, lay siege on a high value target for four days and have its operatives slip out of the noose of not just the police but of the army and intelligence officers - intelligence officers from Kenya, the USA, Israel and Great Britain? How?

Kenya's forces in Somalia were meant to forestall the crossing over of al Shabaab into Kenya to launch attacks. That plan seems to have come a cropper. Therefore, it is a legitimate line of enquiry to wonder whether KDF's continued deployment in Somalia is warranted. The silence emanating from the presidency is not reassuring. The Commander-in-Chief, the Defence Cabinet Secretary and the Chief of Defence Forces have not spoken to the balance sheet of Kenya's continued engagement in Somalia. How much national treasure has been expended in Somalia? How many servicemen and women have been deployed? How many have been killed or injured? Against what size of the enemy forces? How many of the enemy have been killed, injured or captured? How much territory does the enemy control? How much of the enemy's territory have we seized? How much of the enemy's materiel is under our control? Have we been received with open arms or are we being seen as an occupying force as the Western forces are viewed in Afghanistan, Iraq or Saudi Arabia? Simply refusing to answer these questions will not make them go away.

In the absence of credible official information, we make do with vicious rumours, rumours that sap the morale of our troops in the field and of the people back home. For example, no one has credibly explained away the rumours that KDF personnel have become the primary exporters of al Shabaab charcoal to the Gulf States and importers of contraband sugar into Kenya. One estimate has it that KDF personnel are responsible for the export of a million bags of charcoal to the Gulf in 2013 and that the reason that the National Intelligence Service is unable to "explain why there is contraband sugar in Kenya" is because much of it is smuggled into Kenya using KDF equipment and personnel.

If Kenya's mission in Somalia is going to be compromised because of our determinedly corrupt ways, is it not time that we re-evaluated what our goals in Somalia are? Or, indeed, whether we should continue with our deployment? Much of the good work KDF had done before September 2013 seems to have been rolled back. Immigration officers have become rubber-stamps for all manner of brigands. It is not just al Shabaab fighters that seem to stroll through our border entry points, but also West African drug dealers, Asian ivory smugglers and Ethiopian people-smugglers. The homeland is open to business, it seems, to all manner of security threats because we do not have the will, political or otherwise, to indict every corrupt public official for fear of political retribution. It is for this reason that many have no faith that Kenya's experiences in Somalia will never be interrogated in an open and responsible manner. All we will have will be al Shabaab atrocities on the homeland and rumours of charcoal-selling soldiers in Kismaayo.

Carpe diem, Mr Kenyatta.

If the presidency does not see the effects of its willful blindness to the blindspots in the National Police Service administration, it is only a matter of time before the spiralling problems really get out of hand. Parliament, not known for its sense of public service, has weighed in on the inequities and iniquities of the last round of recruitment exercises. So too have the Commission on the Administration of Justice and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. But the presidency, in the guise of the Interior Cabinet Secretary and the Inspector-General, burying its head in the sand, is willing to ride out the public opprobrium because, after all, Kenyans are not known for their sustained engagement with maters of national import. That is a grave mistake.

We are not blind to the amount of work required to build up the National Police into a credible institution. Five decades of the insidious misuse and abuse of the police has bequeathed us with an institution that is both reviled and feared in equal measure. Its reputation has hit so many nadirs that we are no longer surprised when it somehow manages to sink lower in the eyes of the people. With the allegations regarding the recruitment of officers fresh in our minds, perhaps it is time Kenyans seriously questioned the presidency's commitment to the reform of the National Police from a force into a service.

Luis Franceschi has written about the colonial-era tactics that prevail in the manner that the National Police is managed and his conclusions are spot on. Other commentators have reviewed the risks of having a tainted recruitment process permitted to conclude, including the elevated risk of having officers who were recruited because of the bribes they paid motivated to recover their investments while on the job. But it is the pernicious effect on the presidency that is yet to be examined in detail.

President Kenyatta is in an unenviable position. When he took office it was in the background of a contested election. This time round, however, it was without accusations that the police forces had been deployed to guarantee his victory. He was elected despite his facing charges at the International Criminal Court. And he was elected in the midst of an escalating national security crisis that was dramatically brought home with the Westgate Siege and the Mpeketoni Attacks. President Kenyatta also faced a crisis of integrity in his own office, a crisis that led him, and some of his minions, to declare a war against corruption in the Office of the President. Fifteen months into his presidency and the people's faith in the presidency continues to sink.

The President could begin the arduous task of police reforms by admitting that business-as-usual approach has failed. His hope in the goodness of the hearts of the men and women under his command has been betrayed. It is time he took matters into his own hands, much as Charity Ngilu, the Cabinet Secretary for Lands, Housing and Urban Development, has by taking on the cartels operating out of the mysterious Thirteenth Floor of Ardhi House. Mrs Ngilu had President Kenyatta's support; he will need our support if his agenda is to be realised.

Mr Kenyatta can begin by demanding the resignation of those who failed him. If they will not go willingly, he must drive them out. We cannot build a credible police force if the men and women responsible for recruiting and training officers have committed such daringly blatant acts of corruption. It is not enough for them to claim that the process was infiltrated by outsiders; that they knew this and refused to push back against political and criminal forces is an indictment of their commitment to the rule of law. Their continued engagement in the National Police shall remain an indictment of the President's own commitment to reforms and the rule of law and shall forever be a blot on his presidency. The iron of corruption in the National Police is hot and the President must strike now or forever mortgage his reputation and the future of the public safety to the forces of destruction.

Of course Mr Kenyatta faces political risks regardless of the path he chooses. He still has time to make the hard decisions. He has tarried for too long and allowed the cartels everyone speaks of but no one names to grow new roots and take over new areas. Despite the constant harrying by the Minority Party, Mr Kenyatta still enjoys a measure of credibility among the people. He is our President and that is a fact that we have come to accept, some even to celebrate. He should not fear that we will forget this fact when the time comes for him to ask us to trust our nation to his hands once more. He must crush the forces of corruption; they are the only ones that keep his presidency from gunning for greatness. In this one challenge lies the future of this nation. Baba Moi could not do it. Baba Jimmi refused to do it. If President Kenyatta does not, our doom will be total.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Oh, hell...

Our imaginations, infrequently though, are fevered. The psychological burdens of filial expectations sometimes require the conjuring of fantasies, hence the feveredness of the imagination. For this reason, masculine children learn to avoid certain emotionally-laden topics, unlike their female siblings who are handicapped from the moment their maternal parents swaddle them in pink and decree that the harsh world is to be kept at bay at all cost. Any way, once the expectations of adulthood begin to be expressed by parental figures, it is inevitable that the imagination will run to what sort of, as the King James puts it, helpmeet one deserves or should woo.

Thoracic surgery does not have the capacity to determine whether expressions of romantic attachment are true or not. Neither it seems are the undulating lines on the print out of an electrocardigraphic machine. Poets are the ones who seem to have located the core of human's heart that had nothing to do with biophysics, biomechanics or biochemistry and their vivid descriptions of emotional and spiritual congress between soul mates have enraptured humanity for generations, inspired teenagers to feats of derring-do in their amatuerish expressions of devotedness and generally brought tears to eyes of matrons who should know better.

Suffice to say, man is introduced to his fellow man in a generally hostile expulsion and his departure depends entirely on how he walks his path. It is during his preferably long sojourn on this plane that man must determine whether the poets and the authors of religious exhortations are right, that his path will be the more fulfilling if it is taken, hand in hand, with a helpmeet. 

The choice, in modern times, is varied. It is not made with the assistance of harridans with an axe to grind against that tribe or that clan. It is done largely in the absence of the wisdom of parental and filial relations. It is done in the full glare of a thousand screens, some valedictory, some hostile. It is done without the expectation of success and the fear of abject failure. It has become the modern equivalent of the spirit quest and it has been the cause of more misery and misunderstanding than all the wars of the twentieth century combined. It is the reason grown men seek solace in the bottle of amber-coloured or clear-coloured spirits. It is the reason some boys grow up before their time and some men remain boys till they are shoved this mortal plane. It is the reason that we search for reasons for not doing one thing or the other. It is now an industry.

Change or be replaced.

A man collapsed and died last week. He had managed to raise three hundred thousand shillings as "earnest" money for the recruitment of his son into the National Police Service. He suffered a great shock when his son was rejected during the recruitment exercised. He suffered such a great shock his heart stopped and he died.

You may wonder what this has to do with the exercise commenced with such pomp and circumstance immediately after the promulgation of the Constitution that sought to reform the National Police Service, and transform it from a force into a service. So do I and millions more who watch with horror as new evils are revealed about the manner in which the National Police operate. I can almost imagine that the police too wonder whether they are reforming or simply making the right noises at the right time to persuade themselves that reforms are taking place.

Policing in Kenya is anything but efficient, effective or modern. Police may have modern equipment: cars, radios, computers and closed circuit television cameras. They may have recently been promised "insurance" to cover them for the risks hey bear while striving to keep us safe. Better housing may be in the offing for the vast majority that live in squalor. Professional training may be available for those on whom the gods have smiled and awarded them opportunities to travel to foreign universities, usually in western capitals. The knotty question of remuneration may be undergoing serious review too. But how we recruit, train, deploy and manage the police have remained hide-bound since the days of the colonial Home Guard.

This is a problem that afflicts the entire firmament of the National Executive, and has become a contagion spreading across county executives' offices abroad in the land. In the edifice that is the National treasury building on Harambee Avenue, there are three sets of lifts: four lifts for the working stiffs, one for the senior staff and one for the VIPs. You should not be surprised to hear that the Senior Staff and VIP lifts are gilded and can only be operated by someone with a key. And just in case someone not authorised to ride in those lifts somehow manages to gain entry, each is permanently occupied by an "operator" whose sole job is to verify that one is indeed authorised to ride in that lift. Do I need to point out that the four reserved for the use of lesser beings are not gilded or that they are prone to frequent malfunctions? If I do then you have not been paying attention.

The National Treasury is a reflection of the situation with the National Police. The Inspector-General, his two deputies and senior members of his staff are the gilded ones, enjoying, I shit you not, Gold Level insurance policies. Their remuneration packages put private sector professionals of similar age and experience to shame. They live in the lap of luxury: they own their own homes, their children attend upper class private schools, they have cars, drivers and bodyguards. Freshly deployed police share living quarters regardless of the sex of the ones sharing. Their remuneration is barely sufficient to sustain them, let alone start a family. Their children share the same fate as the millions of children whose parents can only afford the "free" primary education and subsidised secondary education offered by the Government of Kenya. What is shocking is that because of the failed economic policies of fifty years, there are parents willing to pay bribes in order for their children to be recruited by an institution that does not really care for them and will do everything in its power to corrupt their souls and kill their spirit.

We have pretended for far too long that we can have our cake and eat it; that we can run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. Those days are surely up when we cannot protect ourselves from brigands and bandits or even from the greedy, grasping hands of our police. We have elided the need for the strict application of the law against those who would abuse our trust. It is time that we rejected the official perfidy that has become the norm. If the men we have tasked with the job of sweeping out the Augean Stables the Government has become are not up to the task, we must find someone else who is. Excuses will no longer suffice. The presidency has made promises. Members of Parliament have made promises. The Judiciary has made promises. It is time they kept those promises. The time for piteously whingeing about "resources" is over.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In 1978, when Mzee died...

My friend, Eric Ng'eno, may not want me to repeat this, but our mutual friend, Kirono, is right: in 2017, the general election (if there will be one, to begin with) will be #TeamDigital's to lose. A majority of the voters made the generational leap of electing a President and Deputy President who were under 55 years of age. #TeamAnalogue has expended goodly sums of disposable income to ensure that Baba, Brother Steve and that guy from Western Kenya continue to retain a patina of youthfulness. (We all know that it has failed and failed abjectly but who will bell the cat?)

It is important to remember that until the #TeamJubilee triumph, Kenyan leadership was old, crotchety, doddery and prone to gall stones, gout and multiple bimbo eruptions. Post-2013, it seems, the new look leadership has jettisoned all the foibles of the Old School - except bimbo eruptions. Nairobi's senior-most elected representatives are just the most famous of the Bimbo Eruption School of Politics.

It is difficult to express why the likes of Makau Mutua are living in a fantasy world. Mr Odinga - Baba - is the consummate Kenyan politician, but he does not have the touch - the one that elevated a shady Governor from a no-name rust-belt State to the White House in 1992 or a toothy lawyer with a pushy wife to No. 10 Downing Street in 1997. He does not seem to have the killer instinct that led to a frumpy politician being underestimated as she made her way to becoming the Chancellor of Germany in 2005. He is not shrewd enough to cobble together winning coalitions such as the most hated Hindu in India managed when he became the fifteenth Prime Minister of India. What Mr Odinga is is old, tired and bereft of any ideas that would work in the digital world. If #TeamJubilee even had one good idea, Mr Odinga wouldn't have a leg to stand on or acolytes in far-flung places singing his praises.

It is Kenya's tragedy that fresh ideas have not percolated to the top with the ascendancy of the Kenya's youngest government in two decades. Jubilee has done everything it can to sabotage its place at the top of the political food chain. Its Cabinet is one of the most reactionary in a generation. Not even Mwai Kibaki in the middle of the Orange Rebellion had such a problem with his Cabinet; sure, it had rent-seekers and some of the dodgiest crooks in Kenya's history, but it had certain cohesiveness that Uhuru Kenyatta must envy. If Mr Kenyatta's government were to be dumped into a swimming pool, it would have the aquatic abilities of a suitcase.

It is not the Cabinet-level officials who deny Jubilee a chance at glory; sub-Cabinet and sub-sub-Cabinet minions have done everything in their power to shoot Jubilee in the foot. Free laptops, Standard Gauge Railway, Kasarani Concentration Camp, Lamu, Westgate, Konza Technocity, Saba Saba...the list is long and it reads as an indictment of a Team that boasts youthfulness and fresh ideas but operates as if it were the reincarnation of the Kiambu Mafia and Mwakenya Movements rolled into one neat package of retrogressive thought. Every time Jubilee has been given an opportunity to drag Kenya into the Twenty-first Century, it has hesitated and every time things have proven difficult, it has fallen back on tried-and-tested analogue ideas, tools, tactics and actors.

Despite all that, despite the epic under-performance of Team Jubilee and the because of the decrepitude of Raila Odinga and his Minion-Principals, it almost as good as certain that in 2017, if you are significantly over 55 years of age, you will be laughed at when you come trolling for my vote. You can salvage some pride by simply doing the less expensive thing: buy a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, get a nice place in one of those shiny new flats along Rhapta Road, install a comely twenty-two-year old there and never, ever be seen anywhere near the precincts of Parliament. This is a game for the ones who don't start their sentences with the phrase, "In 1978, when Mzee died..."

From Homeguard to...Time stood still.

One institution cries out for reform. It is begging for it. It is also the one hidebound institution that will resist reforms until it is yanked, kicking, screaming, scratching and biting into the Twenty-first Century. Proof for the desirous efficacious effects of reform are to be found in two incidents, none surprising or shocking. 

The recruitment of ten thousand policemen proceeds apace to fulfill the President's desire  to hire ten thousand policemen every year. Luis Franceschi has described the cattle call that the aspiring officers go through before being selected as a vestige of the colonial system that wanted robots than computers. The colonial government used the same cattle call for the recruitment of the Home Guard which later became the provincial Administration. How a relic of a bygone era has managed to survive for fifty years remains one of those peculiarities that define the Kenyan experience.

The other incident is the death while in police custody of a man who owed a debt of six hundred shillings. He had borrowed money from a businesswoman in Githurai. He managed to pay back a substantial portion of the sum he had borrowed. At no point had he been accused of conning the woman out of her money or stolen from her. By all accounts he had met his obligations save for the balance of six hundred. He wanted more time. She would not grant. She reported him to the police. They arrested him. He was jailed pending "further developments." One of the policemen offered him an alcoholic beverage. He died the following morning "under mysterious circumstances." The police promised a "full investigation into the incident."

Daily, Kenyans get to interact with the forces of law and order, most commonly policemen and policewomen. Some are decent men and women; despite having seen much, they are very empathetic to the plight of others. Others are not, neither are they deliberately cruel. Still others are cruel, deliberately and vindictively so. It might have something to do with the manner they are trained, the manner they are treated by their superiors and the manner that they are treated by the public. But surely, we must all accept that as a nation we have treated the men and women who watch over our safety with casual disregard, hostility and utter selfishness and to expect anything other than the same in return is pretty naive.

President Kenyatta's government, having fallen in love with United Nations' statistics, has decided to build up the National Police to the tune of an additional 10,000 men and women a year for the next four years. But in tune with his predecessors, he has made tokenism in his treatment of the police a hallmark of his policy on police reforms. It is why some police will get decent housing; it is why some police will get a smidgen of insurance. The vast majority of an almost hundred-thousand man police force will make do with new equipment - leased cars and the like - but will live in squalor and filth while the hardened hears of their bosses continue to enjoy the benefits of "gold" level healthcare, apartments in leafy suburbs, chauffeured vehicles and opportunities for academic advancement. Where the freshly recruited 10,000 will end up remains a mystery.

The Government of Kenya is enamoured of public procurement, especially when the words "upgrading" and "reforms" are attached. Policing in Kenya is set to become the darling of the security sector procurement kings. Billions will be expended providing "insurance" to members of the National Police; billions will be spent building them "decent" housing; billions will be spent upgrading their equipment; billions will be expended sending some of them for "specialised" training in foreign nations; billions will be spent leasing cars and trucks. But unless how we as a nation view our police undergoes a sea change, cattle calls at recruitment drives and mysterious deaths in police custody will remain par for the course until the cows come home.

You can't look back if you want to conquer the future.

Beware the voices of inexperience promising solutions to problems that have bedeviled even the Devil himself. Scholarship is bereft of education today; it's principle aim, it seems, is to wangle the fattest paycheck in the shortest time for the fanciest toys. Scholarship is desecrated in the mad rush to move up in society, be seen at the right party, be seen with the right people, and be seen in the right accoutrements of material achievement. Scholarship is notable for the absence of wisdom and the haste with which new ideas, which are not really so new, are embraced as panaceas for what ails the Republic.

The constant battle waged between generations is in full swing in the political arena that Kenya has become over the past decade. In March 2013, #TeamFresh, in the words of my friend Eric Ng'eno, triumphed over the Old Men. But it might turn out that the victory of the Jubilee pair may be Pyrrhic; it's cost continues to devastate vast swathes of the national psyche. If there is one thing that is notable about #Team Fresh, it is the distinct lack of wisdom that characterises their obsession with the moves and countermoves of Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula.

It is satisfying, in a childish way, to kick the Minority Party while it is down. Some children, who end up as some of the most crass of adults, spend a considerable portion of their childhoods with magnifying glasses torturing small creatures under the scorching noontime sun. They take great pleasure in causing pain to others. Their "curiosity" is never sated; they grow up to be the high school bullies and the self-entitled wingnuts atop political or commercial enterprises of dubious provenance.

The Minority Party, unless one is wearing blinders and quaffing the Kool-Aid with wild abandon, is ashambles. This is something even the former Prime Minister will admit in the privacy of his coldly calculating mind. It is not a mess simply because its principals are Old Men; it is that their ideas may have been progressive in the heat of anti-establishment combat in the darkest days of the 1980s and 1990s, but today they are moribund and decrepit. Their ideas do not tug at the heartstrings of the demographic bulge that scares some and brings hope to others. It therefore beggars belief that #TeamFresh continues to obsessively track an Opposition peddling pig swill to a generation that has refused time and again to be seduced by that very pig swill. If #TeamFresh really was fresh, its ideas would prevail, it's programmes would receive overwhelming support and it would not even bother to dignify the 13 Points with a response.

What distinguished #TeamFresh in 2012 and 2013 was its unprecedented professionalism in running a political campaign, its munificence in political expenditure and its deployment of new media. Its manifesto, sadly, did what all Kenyan political manifestos did; it overpromised. But no one seriously thought of holding #TeamFresh to its campaign promises; we have been promised the moon so many times it's time we started taking Lunar Shares at each general election. But we did not anticipate that in governance #TeamFresh would, and with determination too, adopt battle-tried-and-tested "analogue" solutions to twenty-first century problems.

Two examples will suffice. When faced with a shambolic, though popular, demand for dialogue by a shambolic Opposition fast losing friends and allies, rather than redeploy the campaign braintrust that allowed it to keep ahead of the political game, #TeamFresh reached back to 1969 and 1990 and unleashed the forces of law and order on the opposition. It even deployed the same rhetoric in its allusions to political zones where the Opposition was unwelcome.

When faced with increased threats and violence against the public safety, #TeamFresh reached all the way back to Operation Anvil (1952) and rounded up every suspicious person it could find, evidence be damned, and deported those it could, jailed those it could, held many in a concentration camp and secretly assassinated those it could not handle.

We were seduced by the rhetoric of #TeamDigital versus #TeamAnalogue. We were seduced by the Twitter handles and Facebook pages. We were seduced by the matching red shirts and yellow shirts. We failed to peek behind the curtains. We didn't bother to ask the hard questions. We allowed "youth" to be a catchall for "change" and the "future". This nation is devoid of progressive leaders, never mind our progressive Constitution. If the likes of Mr Ng'eno believe that #TeamFresh is the future, it is time they injected wisdom in their ideas. It is time they turned their eyes firmly to the future and withdrew their hands from the cookie jars of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or 1990s.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bend or Break.

If you are one of the few sadists who does not feel for the Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, stop reading now and go find a copy of Fifty Shades of Gray or something. President Kenyatta the Younger is having a crap year. He is slowly coming to the unappetising realisation that he cannot govern without Raila Odinga and he cannot govern with Raila Odinga. Baba Moi found this out. So too did Baba Jimmi. Sooner or later, President Kenyatta the Younger will arrive at that unpalatable banquet and eat crow.

Raila Odinga is the Kenya political landscape, even when he has proven disappointing at actual governing. He has wrecked three successive governments with his hard-to-meet demands. Baba Moi wouldn't choose Agwambo as his successor, so Tinga rode roughshod over KANU before flouncing out of the government with his MPs in tow. Baba Jummi reneged on a dodgy deal and Agwambo fucked up his constitutional referendum forcing Baba Jimmi to find a last minute political vehicle to bring him to the 2007 general election. Baba Jimmi's second governemnt was going nowehere until he got into bed with Tinga; that marriage was the stuff of poisonous dreams that it inspired books.

In 2013, #TeamJubilee was sitting pretty, the cats that swallowed the canaries. They were chuffed that they had trounced the CORD's Raila Amolo Odinga. They used the Odinga Petition in the Supreme Court to humiliate him, saying cruel and intemperate things that did not befit their narrow numerical victory. They did not contend with the man's giraffe-like vision. It is barely a year and a half later and Uhuru's #TeamJubilee is staring at the wreckage of their agenda: Standard One pupils are yet to see their laptops; the Standard Gauge Railway may have been commissioned but a single kilometre of rail is yet to be laid; the Million Acres Irrigation Scheme has been commissioned but it turns out that neither the money nor the land has been set aside for a #TeamJubilee flagship project.

But worst of all, despite white folks in the United States and Europe going crazy over Kenya's first foreign-floated, dollar-denominated bond issue, Kenyans continue to be slaughtered like sheep by brigands, bandits and thugs. #TeamJubilee has attempted every propaganda trick in the book, but Kenyans simply refuse to heed the flowery rhetoric by dying at the hands of brigands, bandits and thugs. On national security and public safety, #TeamJubilee has been an abject failure. The only thing left is to feel deeply for the men who wanted the job: Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. On their watch, more terrorists, brigands, bandits and thugs have killed more Kenyans than at any eighteen month period in history. Not even the Mungiki were this prolific when Baba Jimmi ordered the late John Michuki to deal with it.

So that he does not have to speak about it on national TV, the Commander-in-Chief, the man we handed over a sword as a symbol of his authority over our disciplined forces, is now reduced to flagging off trucks of relief food from the safety of the militarised State House. His Strategic Communications Unit has been asleep for far too long and it is time they started to really consider the strategic part of their agency's role. For a nation that is boldly going into the Twenty-first Century without any illusions about its place in the world, what is the message our President communicating to our friends and enemies alike when he allows a security chief reduced to the caricature of a chef out of his depths? Or a food-surplus nation asking for food aid?

I feel for the President. No matter what he does, the flaws in his administration are the Achilles Heel that Raila Odinga intends to exploit. Whether he is in or out of government, Raila Odinga will be the one setting the agenda. #TeamJubilee will be the one playing catch up and attempting to misuse the tools in their hands for political ends. A change of tack is warranted. Whether the President's and Deputy President's egos permit them to do so remains the known unknown. Their current strategy to contain Raila Odinga is a tragic joke. Will they bend or will they break?

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Article 32 says a few things on the freedom of conscience, religion, belief and opinion. The United States, in the First Amendment to its Constitution, provides for both freedom of speech and freedom of worship. In recent months, the United States Supreme Court has made rulings that have greatly affected the manner in which Americans enjoy the protections afforded them by the First Amendment. Kenya's High Court, is yet to grasp the nettle that Article 32 is bound to become.

It s reported in some of the less-rigorous fact-checkers of Kenya's Fourth Estate that Muslim students at a school in Eastleigh have been prevented from attending school by the school administration because they violated a rule made by the Ministry of Education against the conversion of students from one religion to another. Apparently students of Maina Wanjigi Secondary School converted a female Christian student to Islam. Her parents were not amused. They protested to the school administration. The school administration locked out the Muslim students from the school. They demonstrated against the action of the school administration. The police intervened. The school was closed. And Article 32 took a walloping.

First, obviously, is the rule that states a student cannot be converted. Would such a rule apply if a student converted to another religion without being compelled or persuaded by another? Would the rule apply if the student converted as an act of protest against the school or the parents? What is a student converted in secret? Would then conversion have been so drama-filled if the conversion was from Islam to Christianity? The Ministry of Education rule is a violation of the constitution, regardless of the explanations that the Ministry exists to protect the students, even from themselves. It purports to know without a doubt that the religious feelings and beliefs of a student can remain static until the student is no longer a student or that it can prevent a student from believing what the student believes. In any case, the obvious solution would be to segregate students on the basis of their religious sentiments. Which would run afoul of Article 27 on equality and freedom from discrimination.

Second, it seems that the Ministry and the school's administration overreacted. This seems to be a particular brand of reaction of the Government of Kenya, whether one is in the Executive arm, or the Legislative of Judicial arms. In an increasingly cosmopolitan metropolis, the interactions between children of different cultural, economic and religious backgrounds will be more and more common. There are districts that will have more of one or the other. It is inevitable, especially when one includes the class considerations that will be inevitably in play. As a consequence, children will increasingly come under influences greater than what they experience in their families or homes. An event that is set to become more common will be conversion from one faith to another, whether through proselytising or admiration. If the Ministry and the schools' administrations react by sending in police, we can expect conflicts to multiply.

Finally, while Article 32 is not an absolute rule, any derogation from the rule would have to be reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic secretary based on human dignity, equality and freedom. The rights of children have not been derogated from simply because they are below the age of eighteen years. Therefore, while the Ministry, the school's administration and the parents were responsible for the welfare of the student, when she exercised her inalienable right to believe in another faith and expressed her desire to worship under a different tradition, their reactions should not have been to place the students they blamed for the conversion under siege, but to determine, as far as they could, why the student agreed to abandon Christianity for Islam. If there were psychological factors involved, as there usually are when dealing with hormonal teenagers, perhaps the student could have been persuaded that what she did was not necessary. Instead what was a cultural event was quickly militarised, children were traumatised, and the embarassment the public officials wished to avoid became a snowball.

The recent fulminations against Islamic fundamentalism and radicalisation in Kenya have polarised the country. Parents are now worried about sending their children to schools with large populations practicing faiths that are not theirs. If we do do not pull back from the edge, parents will start pulling out their children from one school and enrolling them in another simply because of the number of Muslims or Christian present in the former or the latter. Will this contagion spread to places of work, places of entertainment, hospitals?

Political hangings are back in vogue.

It used to be, in the dying days of Kenyatta the Elder's presidency, that any fool bold enough to imagine, countenance, contemplate and other wordy adjectives employed by Charles Njonjo the death of Jomo Kenyatta, he or she would have his or her ass hauled in front of a judge and charged with treason in the full expectation of conviction and a swift hanging thereafter. The immediate reaction to the latest leak out of the National Executive - that asking for the proper interpretation of the law on treason - will be a strengthening of the restrictions regarding access to information, and an investigation in the Attorney-General's Chambers to find out who leaked the damning letter. The "why" should be pretty obvious. But perhaps it is not. 

Was the demand for a legal opinion a sensitive security matter? Did it affect the defense of the Republic? Did it affect the foreign or diplomatic relations of the Republic? So far as I can tell, the answer is "No." The request from the Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service seemed like a political request at the behest of someone high up in the presidency to find a legitimate reason for taking the leadership of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy into protective custody.

Why is #TeamJubilee (Jubiree! Jubiree!) pursuing this course, when better alternatives are available? Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula are suffering a terrible malady. Their malaise can be traced back to the height of the 2012 campaigns. Then, Mr Odinga had been informed that the Orange Democratic Movement was facing a crisis in the Western Region; both in Nyanza and Western, nominations had led to very popular outsiders challenging lacklustre insiders and the insiders were seeking his protection lest they be left out in the political cold during the life of the Eleventh Parliament. Mr Musyoka, on the other hand, had just been reminded why Mwai Kibaki was the survivor; he had refused to endorse Mr Musyoka, his vice-president, while quietly assuring those who needed assurances, that he was foursquare behind the young upstart from Gatundu South. Mr Wetangula remained colourless among the chubby jolliness of Musalia Mudavadi, the earthy witticisms of Bifwoli Wakoli and the misguidedness of that Eugene Wamalwa fellow.

The CORD is a political joke, never mind the numbers it attracts at its rallies countrywide. Both its friends and enemies know that it is a political joke. So it is baffling why the presidency is so interested in ensuring that there is legal action against the CORD's leadership and why this legal action must be in the form of prosecution for a capital offence in the shape of a treason charge. Kenya is yet to execute anyone since 1989. It's last hangman is probably dead. Even if these two could be resolved, Messrs Odinga, Musyoka and Wetangula arrested, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to hang on treason charges without setting the nation on fire, who would stand to gain? CORD may be bankrupt and bereft of ideas, fresh or otherwise, but Mr Odinga remains popular. Any attempt to kill him, whether using the law or some Aboud Rogo-style assassination, will only end in greater bloodshed than the Republic could bear.

The CORD's thirteen demands resonate with many Kenyans, but their resolution will not be possible if the CORD's Parliamentary Group remains the intellectual backwater it has become. Parliamentary stars of the coalition have become mutes; they never say anything, and when they do, it is nothing of note. What makes this state of affairs tragic is that the #TeamJubilee side is made up of crass men and women whose imagination only runs so far as anti-Raila rhetoric and foreskins and no further. If CORD is in an intellectual dessert, #TeamJubilee is marooned on a dessert island with a copy of Hustler magazine for intellectual nourishment. So one has to ask himself why the presidency would even bother to find new and creative legal tools for cutting Raila Odinga and CORD down to size and why the only tool they have found is the sledgehammer of treason.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Do not doubt the degree of my scepticism.

A strange event occurred yesterday: a parliamentary committee was divided over whether the deal between Government of Kenya and Safaricom Limited was in the interests of the people. This  shouldn't come as a surprise.

We are assured by many astute managers of money that nearly all our elected representatives are not as rich as we would presume them to be; they have too many financial commitments for which the million-shilling-plus package is insufficient. There is a parliament that was ignominiously outed as possessed of members willing to take bribes from "outside interests", I believe is how they were described, to ask questions in the National Assembly. The same parliament's members were willing to take bribes to vote for or against censure motions, regardless of party whips or loyalties. It is not too great a leap to presume that this parliament is not possessed of members who would be willing to take bribes to scuttle a government security tender...or protect one once it has been awarded. No one is alleging that to be the case, but we would be naive to believe that it could not possibly be done.

Some of us have taken pragmatism to a pathological level. We are the skeptics' skeptics and until Lord God Himself walks among us and shows us He is God, we are unwilling to take the assurances of probity broadcast far and wide by the members of the elected classes to be true. Therefore our deeply held suspicions about the near-certainty that members of the security establishment and the parliamentary establishment may be trousering a fraction of the billions of shillings being bandied about in relation to the security of the Republic remain at troublingly high level. Therefore, the political pantomime being enacted and re-enacted in front of the cameras of the broadcast media and the theatrical accusations and counter-accusations made for the benefit of the unwashed masses will not trigger in the most pragmatic among us an automatic belief that one side or the other is in the pocket of one interested party or the other.

If you want to know why we are skeptical about the whole thing, this should sober you up. Some time in the mid-2006, the Official Leader of the Opposition was the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. The Committee investigated bent transactions in the security sector. Their hearing were very public and very impassioned. The Committee recommended the cancellation of tenders, agreements and stoppage of payments. Kenyans were impressed. Eight years later that PAC Chairman is now President and he has just authorised the National Treasury to make payments for the same tenders and agreements that he had passionately and publicly caviled against. Do not doubt the degree of my scepticism.

I do not ascribe to the theory that Kenyan politicians can be salvaged. It is a theory that has even bested-bleeding heart liberals, or what would pass for bleeding-heart liberals in Kenya. The insidious infiltration of the political arena by specimens of humanity that even hell would reject for the extremes they will go to in their interests has seen the core business of Parliament being auctioned off to the highest bidder with the basest morals. It is how billions of shillings can simply be palmed off to a trickster without the firmament of government going into anaphylactic shock. It is how we can turn a blind eye to men, women, children and livestock starving to death but still consider setting aside hundreds of millions to feed wild game. Do not doubt the degree of my scepticism.

Ideological twaddle.

A few weeks ago, a Jubilee (Chupilee! Chupilee!) elected representative declared, rather grandiosely I thought, that the Jubilee coalition is conservative. He did not say what the CORD was; safe to say he did not think that CORD is conservative in any way, what with its reckless declarations of "regime change" and "dialogue."

"Conservative", as Wikipedia tells us, is "holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion." If that is Jubilee then a lot is clear about the decisions of its leaders, especially its leaders in the National Executive. For example, President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto have decided, against all conventional wisdom, that the security of the Republic is safe in the hands of Joseph Ole Lenku, Raychelle Omamo, Mutea Iringo, Monica Juma, Michael Gichangi and David Kimaiyo. They will not be fired nor will they be asked to resign. Jubilee, you see, is "cautious about change or innovation".

 He would have been better off not saying anything, or attempting to create that Jubilee was a political party of note. It is a coalition of interests; the jury is still out whether the interests of the Jubilee coalition intersect with those of the peoples of Kenya. Kenyan political parties, bar KANU, Ford-K and Ford-P, have pretty remarkable shelf-lives. NARC didn't even last a year before bad blood led to the Liberal Democratic Party rebellion from within. DP managed to survive until the day Mwai Kibaki decided to dump it for PNU. PICK never moved on from being proof of one man's planet-sized ego. Who is willing to put money down that TNA and URP will exist by the time the ICC Question is settled and Kenyans are gearing up for the next general election?

It takes time and determination to build a political party brand that can outlast its founder-members. A party is sustained by its rank-and-file; the leadership may provide strategic guidance but it is the rank-and-file who breath life to it, who mould its political ideology and who ensure that it can fight every election as one united and committed entity. There was a time when KANU very nearly became such a party but with the relentless assassinations of outspoken and charismatic political leaders, KANU became a briefcase for the avarice of a few.

Kenyans' disillusionment with their political leaders is demonstrated by their utter lack of interest in political parties as institutions. They have no problem turning political parties into matatus of convenience but they will not take the time to build institutions that they can be proud to be associated with long after they have shuffled off this mortal coil. Our degree of civic participation is abysmally low; we do not join political parties, we do not subscribe to political ideologies, we do not pay to support political parties and we do not care who are nominated in the political parties that we happen to be affiliated with at any one time. It is how politicians who crassly refer to foreskins become nominated by political parties today to stand in elections.

Whoever thought of comparing brand Jubilee with the Grand Old Party of the United States did his coalition and conservatism in general a great disservice: his coalition will forever fall short of  any comparison with the GOP; conservatism will have been joined by a crass upstart interested in foreskins and not much else. In the absence of ideas or ideology, it seems, foreskins define at least one party in Kenya. Tragically, the man making the bold claim to conservatism does not understand just how possible it is to mistakenly apply orthodoxy and traditional values to preventing the advancement of new arguments and ideas that may very well preserve that orthodoxy or tradition. Conservatism, quite frequently these days, is short hand for a fear of knowledge and learning. If there is a group of people who have demonstrated a pathological fear of learning and knowledge it is Kenya's elected representatives, whether they are in the Jubilee or the CORD or all points in between.

It is no that we do not have a substantial middle class but that it is substantially uninterested in anything that could threaten their little comforts, something that the travails of the tourism industry has hammered home in recent months. The ones squealing the loudest about the effect of the political noise are those whose bottom lines are shrinking every month. They are lucky that Uhuru Kenyatta's government is trying to find solutions though the ones that will work require more than President Kenyatta is able to deliver. The middle class in Kenya has been afraid of pointing out the nakedness of the emperor for as long as it has existed; in the harsh Twenty-first Century it will not stick its neck out for the good of the political system if the price of its ex-Dubai Land Cruiser is going to skyrocket or the cost of a Dirty Weekend in Zanzibar is going to put them in the poor house. They will go along in the hopes that one day they will get a fat wallet in their Christmas stockings.

Can we de-tribalise, really?

A man endorsed by The National Alliance to stand in the by-election to elect Gatundu South's next member of the National Assembly has, in his attempt to get the electors of Gatundu South to give him their votes, alluded to "foreskins" in his campaign. He is not the first Gatundu South political candidate to do so. It is unlikely he will be the last. His allusion to that particular cultural shibboleth is a subliminal attempt to remind the electors in Gatundu South that the tribal card has special facility in Kenya's Twenty-first Century politics.

Koigi Wamwere has written extensively on the politics of negative ethnicity. He has pointed out that had it not been for some of the men who surrounded Jomo Kenyatta in the decade after Independence, the colonial legacy of divide-and-rule would not be expressed in the politics of tyrannies of numbers. Lets I be misunderstood, this is not a screed endorsing the idea that a community must rally behind one of their own in order to prevail and succeed; that has remained the intellectual bastion of the men and women who have dared to contest elections in Kenya since the declaration of the Republic.

The Orange Democratic Movement Party is seen as a Luo-dominated party. The National Alliance is seen as a Kikuyu-dominated party. The Wiper Democratic Movement Party is seen as a Kamba-dominated party. The United Republican Party is seen as a Kalenjin-dominated party. The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya Party is seen as Luhyia-dominated party. The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-People Party is seen as a Kisii-dominated party. And the list goes on and on. If the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission ever fixes its website, perhaps Kenyans will have the opportunity to go through the data the Commission holds and determine whether the parties' protestations that they are Big Tents, welcome to all, holds water.

That is the allegation, anyway. That politics and, by extension, public policy, is driven solely by the thought that "my tribe" shall have this, that or the other. Some of the optics, as crass as it might sound, are not encouraging. On #SabaSaba, the men who seemed to be third-wheeling uncomfortably in a largely ODM affair were Ford-K's Moses Wetangula and the Wiperists, Kalonzo Musyoka and Johnston Muthama. Odinga, Orengo, Nyong'o, Kajwang'...the optics could not have been better. Jubilee's affairs are no better. When the new Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps took his oath of office, those present hailed from the same general geographical and cultural region.

A keen look at the forty-seven county governments is revealing. Save, perhaps, for Nairobi, Mombasa, Machakos and Nakuru, the county executives of the county governments are dominated by one or two tribes. The county assemblies and county public services, too, reflect this uncomfortable fact. Turn your eye on state corporations and the same trend prevails. Surprisingly, too, state universities have joined the trend. What is shocking is that the phenomenon is also to be observed in the private sector, where one would expect that profit above all else would motivate whom one hired and whom one traded with. But when you observe that the so-called "tenderpreneurs" simply want to trade with the government and the government alone, it all makes sense.

In order for Kenya to make the leap from third-world middling backwater into a successful economic powerhouse in which poverty, illiteracy and disease are confined to the extreme fringes, where opportunities for success are available to all in a generally level playing field, and where institutions are respected and trusted, we must take concrete steps to reverse the trend of tribalising everything. We can begin by simply reducing the size of government investment to the bare minimum: schools, hospitals, policemen, roads and high-tension power lines. This business of trading with the government must be reduced to the barest minimum. How that can be done remains the one nut not even the advanced Western democracies have managed to crack.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A bad workman blames his tools.

Listening to Barack Muluka and PLO Lumumba on #JKL last night I was heartened that neither of them considered asking the politicians to "take politics out of the discussion of public affairs." It is not politics that has failed us. Politics is neither good not bad, but it can lead to either good or bad outcomes. Politicians, on the other hand, the principal practitioners of politics, can be good, middling, bad or catastrophic. 

Mr Odinga, on some days, is very, very good. On other days, he is spectacular. but every now and then, he has a bad day and has to start from the Bottom. #SabaSaba  was a bad day for Mr Odinga. The President is not a very good politician, though he has very good days. On balance, he seems to have more good days than bad and as a result he is the President of Kenya and Mr Odinga, who has had more bad days than good, is not.

Mr Muluka gave us an example of a bad politician: Moses Kuria, the TNA aspirant for Gatundu South, the President's old seat before he was elected president. Mr Kuria has brought notoriety on himself with his statements and his antics. In the heat of political combat, a lot is said and a lot is done in order to persuade the people to elect someone or not to elect someone else. A lot of the saying and doing is said and done by politicians. Mr Kuria has distinguished himself across different media including TV, FM radio, and social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter with the shallowness of his intellect and the viciousness of his vitriol against certain other politicians. If he stood for something - anything - it would at least be an explanation. But Mr Kuria seem to be of a kind with 99% of all Kenyan politicians: they are in it for themselves. Their constituents and their needs don't mean anything to them.

#Sabasaba was billed as a rally that would "change things" by its sponsors. The 13 demands by CORD, as Mr Muluka and Prof Lumumba both agreed, are legitimate; the manner in which the demands were made and the threats that accompanied the demands are not legitimate means for dialogue. Both are right to question the politicians' motives by the manner the politicians have made their demands for dialogue. If they were the astute parliamentarians they have styled themselves to be and the constitutional lawyers they have persuaded their constituents they are, they would have found more civilised means of stating their case. But because they are unwilling to do the boring work that all politicians must engage in - educating their constituents, talking to their constituents and not at them and so forth  - they have given their constituents the only valid reason to choose someone else come the next election: they are lazy and while lazy people usually find the easiest method to accomplish a task, in politics there are no easy methods.

Both CORD and Jubilee find themselves in the enviable position of having some of the worst political specimens that the gates of hell have rejected. If only the President and the former Prime Minister did what they were required to do - lead - the staggering amount of negative political noise being made would abate and the President would not have to be reminded every single day that Gatundu South is soon to be represented by a man a world apart from him in manners and common sense; a man many would refer to as a thug.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Let them eat grass.

There is a special group of people for whom Divine Intervention is the only way that their Sisyphean tasks will be eased. Every time providence provides them with the opportunity to excel at the mundane, their focus fails them and enfeebles their capacity to decide correctly - or properly. When faced with a fork in the road, they will not choose one path or the other, but they will attempt to walk both. Worse, they might choose not to do anything at all, rendered impotent by the weight of expectations about their choices.

The Cabinet Secretary it East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, or Environment, Water and Natural Resources? of the two has larked onto one of the stupidest decisions ever made public by a public officer in the life of the Jubilee administration. Perhaps more stupid than the order to "detain vehicles with tinted windows." (We will ignore the tortured grammar for now.) Definitely more stupid than the declaration by a lowly governor that he had "intelligence" about the chaos a political rally would wreak in his county. One of the two has decided to broach the idea of spending scarce public resources to buy grass for wildlife "because of the drought."

I have alluded several times before that I hold the professional political classes in very low esteem. And when members of those classes were members of the cabinet, I reviled them so much the bile was always up. I did not think that even with their poor public speaking skills and their relatively naive view of the public service that the new Cabinet's members would make statements and act like the aforementioned revolting political classes' members of the Cabinet. Yet here we are; in Turkana, Josephat Nanok is trying to find a way of guaranteeing better beef prices for farmers in his county in the midst of the same harsh drought with nary a cent being sent to Turkana in the name of fattening up the cows. But we are going to find no doubt hundreds of millions of shillings to buy grass - which ideally should go to the beef and dairy farmers - for wild animals? Are you fucking kidding me?

Kenyan tourism, it seems, is supported by Kenyan wildlife. Kenyan wildlife is under threat from drought. To restore Kenyan tourism we must protect Kenyan wildlife. To protect Kenyan wildlife, we shall allocate money from our disaster management fund, if we have one, to providing food for wildlife. Somebody else can worry about livestock and humans; in any case, cows, goats, sheep, camels and 99% of the human population don't really contribute much to tourism. If the two cannot see the message for what it is then it is time to congratulate them for becoming the one thing Kenyans thought they had banished from the Cabinet: a virus that has afflicted the National Executive and will eventually kill the body politic.

Priorities continue to flummox the National Executive. This new one is a humdinger. News has been tightly controlled but the starvation deaths in Kenya's forgotten bits are becoming harder and harder to hide, even in the midst of a raging war in Lamu and Tana River counties. For senior members of the government to propose feeding animals and not people is the height of cruelty. And if the proposal was actually made by either of the two, it would have been made by a woman, the universal symbol of compassion. If women leaders wish to be seen to be the equal of men, then this monstrous suggestion is a very good step in that direction.

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 ...