Friday, August 29, 2014

Bring Back the Mass Choir, Mr Esipisu.

President Kenyatta will continue to suffer a bad press if his PSCU continues acting as if it is Amateur Nite at the Apollo! Take this rubbish with the moving-target story about the stolen BMW. The Digital Directors of the PSCU should have kept their thumbs off their iPhone touchscreens until they knew what they were going to say, and how they were going to say it. When a person in a "sensitive" position as a State House "driver" is carjacked by armed men, the reaction should not be to blithely declare that "he is not a member of the President's Fleet" as if that in itself is sufficient explanation.

Don't Mr Esipisu and his directors wonder what even halfway intelligent Kenyans will make of their statements? The message has been received and understood. al Shabaab can murder members of the President's family without being troubled by our Special Forces. Car-jackers not only seem to be targetting members of the President's extended family with impunity, they are now targetting "drivers" out of State House. No wonder Inspector-General Kimaiyo wants an "intelligence" unit of his own.

But the worst management of the news cycle is the one on the billion-shilling drugs haul set to be destroyed at the Coast. Mombasa and Malindi are the preferred gateways of narcotics into Kenya. The last time around it was a very large consignment of cocaine. By the time that saga was over and done with, and the drugs destroyed, GSU officers were dead, NIS officers were dead, policemen were in hiding, politicians were blacklisted from ever setting foot on US soil ever again, and Kenyans' faith in the forces of law and order took another giant knock. You would think that Manoah Esipisu and his team would have drawn lessons about how to handle information this time round. Lightning rarely strikes the same place twice; regarding this drugs business, it did and Mr Esipisu and his team are pissing the opportunity away.

Maybe I have too much faith in my peers in the civil service. Maybe I have too much faith in #TeamDigital. What they have achieved in the past eighteen months would make even the most sunniest of dispositions cloud over and brig forth buckets of tears at the wasted opportunities. When the MV Bushehr was intercepted in the Port of Mombasa, Mr Esipisu should have set up a special team to keep abreast of developments in the matter and advise the Inspector-General, the Director of Criminal Investigations and the Director of Public Prosecutions on the best way to tell the story. Where it proved difficult to get the proper information out of these offices, he should have enlisted the help of the Chief of Staff who would rope in the Interior Cabinet Secretary.

Then Mr Esipisu should have read up on the law, and not just the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act, 1994. He should have taken time to familiarise himself with the Nairobi Convention also known as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the National Environment Management Act, 1999, the National Police Service Act, 2011, and, of course, the bits of the Criminal Procedure Code, Penal Code and Constitution that dealt with due process, rule of law and presumption of innocence. In this, Abdikadir Mohammed, the President's Advisor on Legislative and Constitutional Affairs would have been an invaluable resource.

When the Magistrate took pleas from the crew of the MV Bushehr, Mr Esipisu should have known what happens next. When the Prosecutor applied for the destruction of the remainder of the consignment after taking samples for analyses, Mr Esipisu should have understood how the process worked. When the President demanded audience when the drugs were being destroyed, Mr Esipisu should have known which bits of the law applied and which ones did not. Mr Esipisu is not a legal eagle, nor is he a criminal or constitutional lawyer. But he is not a moron either. But so far he has demonstrated such a casual disregard for the finer points of messaging that we remain to wonder what the hell these people were thinking when it came to this drugs business.

Drugs gave Mwai Kibaki's governments a whiff of narco-corruption that simply refused to fade away. Artur Brothers and narco-tarfficking remain an indelible stain on Mwai Kibaki's government. Uhuru Kenyatta risks being similarly tarred if the geniuses in the PSCU do not get their shit together. They call themselves "strategic communicators;" what they are is a privileged cohort of civil servants who are doing the bare minimum when it comes to their duties, but lining their pockets as fast as possible. If this PSCU does not have the capacity to shape the presidential national narrative, if it ever did, then perhaps it is time we simply went back to the Presidential Press Unit days of mass choirs and obsequious fawning on KBC radio and TV. It'd be less embarassing than the schlock peddled today in the name of "strategic communications."

What war?

A billion shillings. Nice, round figure. A figure to warm the cockles of the hearts of a swashbuckling robber baron. A tidy sum. One that conjures images of fast-living and loose women. Or men; the Constitution guarantees freedom of opportunity these days. That is the number bandied about in relation with the three hundred and forty one kilogrammes of heroin seized by Kenyan security officials. And the dhow in which the heroin was smuggled into Kenya. The President will witness the "destruction" of the heroin and the sinking of the dhow. Bold moves, says the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit. We are a more sceptical species, Kenyans are, so we wonder why all we know about the billion-shilling drugs haul is that it will be destroyed and the dhow sunk?

Let's take it step by step, shall we? How did the police know where the dhow would be? The Indian Ocean is a big ass ocean and the Kenya police are not exactly known for the tech-savvy. Was it the much-maligned intelligence by the National Intelligence Service that was "timely, accurate, credible and actionable" in this case or was it an informer?

What is the provenance of the dhow on which the drugs were stowed? What is ts port of registration? Who are its registered owners and are they proxies for others? The crew of the dhow were arrested. Very little has been reported about whether they were charged in court. We do not know their names. We do not know their nationalities. We do not know from where they sailed and whether Kenya was their last port of call. We do not know if this was their first rodeo or they are seasoned smugglers. We do not know whether they have provided information that would identify the source of the heroin and its destination. We do not know how much they were paid to smuggle it into Kenya or whether they were paid up front or they were to be paid after the job was done.

Third, when the drugs were seized, who took custody of the haul? Was it the County police boss? Was it the County Commissioner? Was it the County CID boss? Was it the County GSU Commandant? How much of the drugs was taken as a sample for analysis? Where did the analysis take place? Was it done by a person capable of conducting the analysis? What were the results of the analysis? Is it heroin? Is its purity high or not?

There are rumours that the heroin was "stored" at the GSU base next to State House, Mombasa, and that the GSU were concerned about their safety the longer the drugs were kept on their base, hence the destruction. We can understand their trepidation. The last GSU officer to deal with drugs died under circumstances that have remained unexplained to date.

There are more questions than answers regarding this drugs consignment. Mr Manoah Esipisu has done little to provide answers. His PSCU has done precious little to do so either; the constant tom-tomming of a #WarOnDrugs on social media by the PSCU's directors is, quite frankly, getting on our nerves now. They spew words into the Twittersphere without saying anything of substance. And now with now missing, now not missing armoured Beemer, they are becoming the butt of cruel jokes. If there is a War on Drugs, this is not the first we are hearing of it. But a war has fighters, it has battles and and it has victories and losses. If the war was truly being fought, on how many fronts has Kenya engaged the enemy? How many of the enemy has Kenya destroyed? How much of the enemies' territories has Kenya seized? And is Kenya winning the war or losing it, one billion-shilling battle at a time?

We are docile, not idiots.

Tell me you don't really feel sorry for the forces of law and order in Kenya. Whether it is true or not, the spectre of journos gleefully reporting that an "amoured" vehicle that is "part of the Presidential Escort" was carjacked simply reinforces what we have come to consider to be a crisis. Three armed men allegedly carjacked the driver of an armoured BMW, stripped him naked, drove off with the vehicle, and they are yet to be apprehended. Were they bearing .50 calibre armour-piercing rounds when they took off with the President's Beemer? Did they deploy a Russian-built BTR 80 with a 50mm cannon? Were they packing Claymore mines?

The emphasis in Kenya has always been on "security". In security-based scenarios, emphases are on uniformed, armed men on the streets, armed with the largest assault rifles that they can comfortably bear; the application of extreme coercive force to threats to that security; the obsession with the safety of "sensitive" persons and installations; the whittling down of the privileges enjoyed by the people; the constant monitoring of the people for any whiff of "treason" or "sedition"; and the permanent official denial of facts that do not comport with the "we-are-secure" narrative that is the foundation of the system.

This is how it has always been. Special Branch was the most dreaded security organ of the Government of Kenya. It was the President's preferred weapon of retribution against his enemies, imagined and real. It developed a fearsome reputation of infiltrating families, welfare associations, churches, women's merry-go-rounds, co-operative societies and land-buying companies. It was responsible for deaths and disappearances; tactics, the Establishment believed, necessary to remind the people that mkono wa serikali ni mrefu. It was succeeded by what essentially became death squads; unofficial and unacknowledged, they have waged a war against "security threats" using tactics and methods so far from the Constitution and the laws of Kenya, even the United Nations has taken note. Yet security continues to elude the Establishment now that even presidential armoured limousines are being "carjacked."

A few days ago, somewhere in Kwale, in the dead of night, policemen shot and killed a fourteen year old girl. The Inspector-General ordered an investigation into the actions of his officers. he sent the report off to the Director of Public Prosecutions. His officers alleged that the girl attacked the eight policemen who raided her home with a machete. They fired in self-defence, they claim. Kwale is not known for a steady or reliable supply of electricity. Maweu village, where the girl was killed, is not connected to the electricity grid. The family home was unlit on that fateful night. While it is possible, no one believes that then girl was sleeping with a panga under her pillow, and it is patently foolish to insist that when the doors to their home were kicked in, and the police rushed in eight-strong shouting and flashing bright lights in the faces of the residents, that the girl had the presence of mind to reach for a panga and charge at eight armed policemen. We are docile; we are not fucking idiots.

Our emphasis has always been about security; it has never been about the safety of the people. It is why pedestrian walkways are an afterthought after the road tender has been awarded. It is why street lights do not function, or drains are kept in serviceable order. It is why policemen still carry military-style assault-rifles, and not sidearms. It is why the first instinct of armed police is, to paraphrase what the Inspector-general exhorted his policemen to do, use their weapons as they were meant to be used and only then worry about the aftermath. It is why fourteen-year old girls are likely to be shot dead and presidential armoured limousines are "carjacked". In maintaining security, the people are part of the problem. The British taught us that. They taught us well.

Leeches in Sheep's Clothing.

If you have a wife, and you hold down a decent job that calls for hard-chargin' till the wee hours of the morning, and you neglect that wife, surely as the sun rises and sets I will not put my hand in my pocket to give your wife a stipend because "she is lonely" because of the long hours you put in your work. If you are a member of the County Assembly of Embu, and you have reasonable facility with English grammatical syntax, and your degree of comprehension of simple English sentences is above room temperature, know this: I am not paying your wife "compensation" for loneliness! Not now, not ever!

Let me turn my bilious attention to wives of Governors. First, you are not "first ladies"; this is not the United States of America. Second, your husbands are not and shall never be the equals of the President of the Republic; the only "disciplined forces" they command are the rabble we know of as local authority inspectors that are notable for their incredibly reprehensible lack of discipline. Third, you are not the social equals of the First Lady of Kenya in any way, shape or form. She is, whether she wanted it or not, the Mother of the Nation. More importantly, she acts like it. She doesn't swan around the nation "demanding" things; we the people, through our sometimes intelligent elected representatives in Nairobi, consciously chose to give her a budget and a staff because she, too, is an ambassador of the nation. You, on the other hand, remind us of the jumped up wives of councillors, and by demanding the same perquisites as the First Lady of Kenya, you behave exactly like them.

Allow me to excoriate the tedious behaviour of all elected representatives when it comes to dipping their long, grimy fingers in the national cookie jar. The avaricious culture associated with members of our august parliament is yet to be reversed. There isn't a parliamentary session that does not include ever greater monetary demands from elected representatives. They receive "grants" that they never pay back. They get mortgages at rates that ordinary middle class Kenyans can only dream of. They get "allowances" that belie the functions they perform. They live it up like princes and princesses in children fairy tales, while we, the people, live like serfs did in feudal Europe. The immorality of their greed no longer troubles their consciences.

I believe that what unites the MCAs, their wives, governors' wives and MPs is the tacit agreement that the Government of Kenya is not an institution in service to the people, but a piggy bank for the privileged ones in elective positions to dip into whenever it strikes their fancy. They will pretend to perform their functions of representation, law-making and oversight of executive branches, but in reality they will be marking time, one year to the next, awaiting their favourite Bill: the Finance Bill. In this Bill lies their true interest. It is the one law that they will devote a significant amount of attention to. But lest you think that their attention is for the good of the people or of the nation, perish that thought.

The attentions of these men and women will be narrowly focussed on whether foreign junkets have been budgeted for or not, whether or not their "entertainment allowances" have been raised or not. The sizes of their wallets are all that consume them while they pretend to play at politics or at overseeing governors and Cabinet Ministers. They are leeches; they latched on to a healthy institution and they are determined to bleed it dry.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What do bankers do, anyway?

It is time to admit that my mother is a worried woman. Her eldest son has done, is doing, is likely to continue doing everything in his power to avoid responsibilities of any kind. He has "commitment issues." But that is not what his family would call it. They will say, morosely, heads hanging down in shame, a touch of bewilderment in their voices, the catch being especially pronounced in my mother's throat, "Where did we go wrong with this man? He is independent, so far as we can tell. He earns a decent salary, and he doesn't seem to squander it on drink and women. In his field, he is an accomplished professional. So why does he not seem to want to become the President of Kenya?"

Now, you must be thinking that a decade of lawyering has gone to my head, that my mother's ambitions for me are plainly all in my head. And you would be right only to the extent that I admit that I might, perhaps, quite unlikely, of course, be wrong. Regardless of your poisonous doubts about the scale of my ambitions, let us review the obvious reasons why my presidential ambitions should be directed elsewhere. Or shelved.

First, despite the pomp and circumstance of it all, being the President of Kenya is not really that prestigious. Sure, US$13,000 or thereabouts a month, free room and board, a forty-limousine cavalcade...seems attractive. But you get the feeling that if you meet Yahyah Jammeh of the Gambia, or Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria or Jacob Zuma of South Africa, that they will view you with a touch of pity. Mr Jammeh is essentially the State, and the State is him. Mr Jonathan, never mind Boko Haram, presides over the larges economy in Africa. Mr Zuma and his much-married reputation simply thinks that it is extremely weak-kneed and foolish for a man to deny his wives or concubines; the more the merrier. It doesn't help that the President can't throw a proper bash like the one ours attended in Washington, DC, last month because the image of the President and his cronies living it up and dining off gold-embossed crockery and and gilded cutlery will send the wrong message when there are millions "at risk of starvation" in the half-forgotten parts of the country.

Second, all my friends will stop being my friends and they will all stick their hands so far into my pocket, I might start to fear for their sexual orientation. Not that I have any problem with gay people, transexual people, bisexual people, intersexual people, or people my fellow Kenyans would describe politely as "those people." But I do not want grown men with jobs and careers to spend every waking hour of my working day outside my office hoping that I will twist my Cabinet Secretaries' arms so that that tender to supply uji-mix goes to one of them.

Third, my mother will tell you I love politics and if I didn't equally love perverting the course of justice through my professional endeavours, I would have loved to be a politician. But politicians have been given a very bad name in Kenya. Even Presidents have given politicians a bad name, and that is no mean feat. To become President I would have to morph into a Kenyan politician. That is a sacrifice too far, even for the likes of me. I don't want the reputation of a person who would essentially forget his principles, forget what his mama taught him, forget his family and friends, forget the struggles of the people who elected him...I'd have to rip out my heart and soul, replace it with a shiny stone and erase the idea of "conscience" from my mind. I don't think the redoubtable Mrs Odhiambo from my mother's Lake Region Ladies' Merry-go-round will let go the erasure of my conscience that easily, and I don't want to put my mother through the arduous ordeal of having to explain to thirteen traditionally build ladies from the lake why her eldest son is behaving like a cross between Mussolini, Hitler and Idi Amin.

Finally, I do not want the love of the people. When the people love you, they usually have a tendency to turn on you when you inevitably break a foolish promise you made. I don't want to promise them lollipops for their daughters and then find out that the two available lollipop companies either produce them at too high a price or at a quality that even my pet pig would reject. And when they turn on me, I imagine, scenes from the days of the French Revolutions Reign of Terror will be repeated, with me and members of my Cabinet standing in for the French nobility. I can even see one of my closest allies playing the role of Robespierre simply because I wouldn't make sure that that uji-mix tender went to him. (Yes. I mean you, Hiram.)

I love my mother dearly. Perhaps she will be happy if I work really hard, maneuvre really cleverly, and save just the right amount of money and connections in order for me to be made the Barclays Bank (Kenya) Ltd Chairman of the Board of Directors. She likes Barclays; it's British. Maybe she'll be happy with that job. All I have to figure out is what bankers do and how they do it. Do you know?

Why is the PSCU still campaigning?

An examination of the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit, PSCU, of the Executive Office of the President of Kenya is an eye-opener. Reconstituted after the Presidential Press Unit was mothballed, it does very little administrative communications, save when Manoah Esipisu, Secretary of Communications in the Executive Office of the President and the PSCU's boss, makes statements on something the President has done or some place the President has visited. But its directors spend a significant amount of time on political messaging; fighting political battles for the President against all comers, whether they are in the media or in the opposition. The social media savvy these men displayed during the 2013 campaign is deployed in their new offices; they all have social media accounts and they almost always post something against a political threat to the President.

Uhuru Kenyatta's regime has been too long on the backfoot and to a large degree, the PSCU is to blame. Mr Kenyatta is the Head of State and Government, the President of the Republic, the Commander in Chief. On the political front, his was a complete victory; his party and his coalition form the majority party in both the National Assembly and the Senate, what Mutahi Ngunyi dubbed the tyranny of numbers. His coalition controls at least 18 county governments, and has a very strong showing in the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy's, CORD, Nairobi City County. Mr Kenyatta should not be explaining himself politically today, more than eighteen months after he was victorious.

The PSCU forgets that a President is never universally loved by his people. Only in theocracies like Iran and Vatican City, banana republics with cults of leadership or in Stalinist dictatorships are the people constantly harangued by their government to sing praises to their leader. Sometimes it is a requirement. I thought Kenya had moved on from the Baba Moi style of leadership. Refreshingly during the decade that Mwai Kibaki was President, he actively discouraged people from singing his praises; simple gestures like not having roads or monuments in his name, and the aversion to oily unctuous titles like "Mtukufu Rais" signalled an end to personality cults. His defenders and apologists in the press or the broadcast media spoke to his policies, administrative decisions and legislative agendas. Many Kenyans believed that Kenya was indeed a working nation simply because the old man actually seemed to want his government to work, never mind the many reported allegations of abuse of office or corruption.

We cannot say the same for the Uhuru Kenyatta government. His PSCU is an unremitting bringer of nothing but political propaganda, some of it very badly done. The President has political enemies and rather than leave the likes of Aden Duale, the National Assembly's Majority Party Leader, or Kithure Kindiki, his Senate Counterpart, or Johnson Sakaja, the TNA Chairman, or Onyango Oloo, the TNA Secretary-General, to deal with the president's political enemies, the PSCU is consumed by them to the almost total exclusion of communicating the President's legislative and administrative agenda or achievements. The PSCU's directors have a disturbingly dystopian view of their duties, and it is reflected in the string of bad news for the government of Uhuru Kenyatta.

Because the PSCU is constantly fighting political wars, it is yet to properly tell Kenyans what exactly the Government of Kenya is doing, what it is achieving, what milestones it is reaching, what technical challenges it is facing, and what it hopes to achieve through its administrative and legislative agendas. It is not enough for the National Treasury to state that "streamlining the tax procedures regime" will have benefits because of harmonization of disparate procedures in one statute; the PSCU must tell us why it is desirable to enact another piece of tax law and why we, as individual Kenyans, must support that agenda. It is a dull exercise, I know. One must read poorly drafted Ministry policies and reports and then distil their essence into soundbites that a six year old could appreciate. Until Mr Esipisu and his directors do that, the peoples' increasing revulsion at the Government of Kenya will not be reversed by scandalously repulsive screeds like the one entitled "All those Makau Mutua antagonises thrive" by the Senior Director of Messaging and Speech-writing on the Capital FM eBlog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Machakos Shuffle.

I do not recommend playing in the sand box with the likes of Moses Kuria, MP, or Sen Mike Sonko. Come to think of it, I would also steer right clear of Francis Atwoli, Secretary-General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions. I would think twice about sticking out my tongue and going, "Nye nye-nye nye nye!" at the Inspector-General of Police. All these folks play rough. But none takes the biscuit than the Governor of Machakos, former Government Spokesman, Dr Alfred "Alfie" Mutua, PhD. His deputy, Benard Kiala found out the hard way just how rough the Big Man in Machakos could play.

I still have no idea what their beef is about, not the messy details anyway. But I am fairly sure it all comes down to who is still paying obeisance to Brother Steve, the jobless former vice president. Mr Mutua has demonstrated to his party leader that he has a worrying streak of independence that cannot be intimidated into toeing the line; Mr Kiala does not seem to have demonstrated any form of backbone since he hitched his wagon to the Wiper train. There is, of course, the spectre of the Machakos senator, Johnstone Muthama, who's pathological aversion to the governor is as mysterious as it is deeply heartfelt.

Mr Muthama has made it his legislative mission to make Mr Mutua's life as difficult as can legislatively be. If it means sabotaging Mr Mutua's impeachment plans for his deputy, it seems that Mr Muthama is willing to pay the price. Given that very little is known about the inner workings of the Wiper Party (indeed of any party) in Machakos, and who is really loyal to Brother Steve, Mr Muthama or Mr Mutua, we are left to speculate about the real reason Mr Mutua attempted to sack his deputy and why Mr Muthama intervened on Mr Kiala's behalf in the Senate.

What we know is that Kenya's political parties are not really parties and not really political, save when they call themselves "political parties." They do not do the normal things that political parties do: sign up members, collect subscriptions from those members, distil party philosophies that can identify their members, take administrative and political positions on everything the government of the day does, and market themselves as institutions for the capture and retention of political power. What they do is what Soviet-style dictatorships used to do: build cults of personality and slowly disenfranchise the people by enfeebling their minds with twaddle.

No right-minded Kenyan would want to be known to be a member of CORD or Jubilee or their constituents parties. Those who are intelligent and know how they are perceived are only interested in their selfish ends, which usually means the moment they win that tender they have been eying like hyenas salivating at a carcass abandoned by a lioness, they will dump that party so fast, run with the money so far, and generally pretend they have never heard of the words "Baba" or "Kamwana."

It is why when the dust finally settles on the Mutua-Kiala throwdown, we may finally find out if Kenya's superstar governor was all that, or whether he had his hands elbow deep in the cookie jar like his predecessors at the Masaku County Council. We will find out whether his roads were build to last or whether they were built to smooth his ascent to the ultimate procurement office: the Presidency.

Do you want a sippy cup?

Let us stop pretending that things can be made better with the flick of a switch or the snapping of fingers. We are, after all, not children or mentally infirm. We are adults and as adults we know the truth. If we broke our leg, it would not take a kiss from mommy to set the bone or to heal the break. It would take a team of doctors and nurses and pharmacists to get the leg healed and useable again.

Think of Kenya as a human body with multiple organ failure. Nairobi is the heart of the nation; if it has an arrhythmia, the rest of the body's organs are bound to feel the aftershocks. If this nation is to make a stab at moving away from ten generations of governmental mistakes, it is in Nairobi that the necessary change must begin. Uhuru Kenyatta inherited a bloated public service that had been stuffed by the mediocre and the uninspired, hired by successive mediocre and uninspired regimes. Not even Mwai Kibaki, economist par excellence, could resist the urge of packing the rank-and-file with nonentities from great beyond.

But it was in the local authorities that this lunacy reigned supreme. Nairobi City had it the worst. When "ghost" ranks of employees were exposed, the problem was simply covered up. Ministers of Local Government proved to be the weak link; taking money from the grateful hands of local authority bosses, they were not prepared to rock the boat and the tumor of the bloated wage bill became the size of the organ itself.

Nairobi has been cursed to have been left in the hands of the selfish and the greedy for far too long. Mayors treated it as a personal cash cow, milking it for all they could. Its municipal facilities are in the shitter. Garbage collection is an intricate extortion racket. Public transport is an intricate extortion racket. Street lighting is an intricate...You get the point, I hope. And the idiots who think that Evans Kidero is a magician had better get their sippy cups, their bibs and put on their nappies, because we are sending them back to nursery school. Where they belong.

Serious people know that before things get better, Mr Kidero will have to demolish a corruption infrastructure that has survived three presidents, including one who hang around for twenty-four years; it has survived reforms, bankruptcy, dissolution, and civil war. It requires patience and intelligence to circumvent its decrepitude. I do not know if Dr Kidero is the answer to Nairobi's many challenges, but I know he does not have partners in the national government and his party is treating him as if he is transmitting the Ebola virus. If he achieves anything, it will be despite the sabotage by the National Government, especially the Senator and the Woman Representative, and it will be despite the backstabbing obsessive pettiness of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy's petty internal paranoia that sees conspiracies against Baba in every corner.

Before Mr Kidero can do anything, he needs money. Hundreds of billions of shillings. Billions to rebuild sewer and drainage systems, county dispensaries and clinics, county primary schools, county social halls, county sports grounds, county street lights, county by-lanes and main roads, county emergency services...Dr Kidero cannot do this if the only budgets that will be approved by the county assembly are those that see its members traipsing off to Italy to study "how wine is grown" when the motherfuckers can barely pronounce in vino veritas.

We know this, because none of us is a child easily persuaded by saccharine words spoken by unctuously oily adults. We have the ability to think. We have the ability to think clearly. It is time we started acting like it. Unless we are really hankering for that sippy cup, bib, nappy and nap-time at three p.m. sharp.

Thinking is the light.

It has been pointed out that not enough Kenyans read enough. Many of us make simplistic connections between events without asking what their true meanings are. We are satisfied with the simplest answer, the one that does not tax our intellect or arouse our curiosity. It is how the resignation of the Director-General of the National Intelligence Service is not greeted with curiosity from the people, the peoples' representatives or the intelligentsia. It is why there is no rational discussion of why the spouses of the head of government and his deputy receive a salary from the national treasury when they do not hod high office, or any kind of office, in the government. It is why governors and their executives, and members of county assemblies and their "assistants" can afford to go on all-expenses paid junkets to the Holy Land while doctors and nurses have to wait for five months for their salaries.

Our degree of curiosity is never aroused when our government bandies about several confusing figures while attempting to justify police-state actions. There is no rationale for the creation of multiple electronic databases of Kenyan nationals when one will suffice. We have allowed specious and self-serving explanations by government officials of murders and assassinations to go unchallenged. We continue to stand mute every time billions of shillings are embezzled and rather than the rolling of heads, what we get are wretched declarations of clear consciences.

The British colonists left us exactly where they wanted us: reading the bible with ever increasing fervour while our government, our leaders and our "friends" gouged us for every cent we had, even if it meant lending us the money so that they could gouge us some more. Churches, denominations, sects, cults and every shade of Christian thought and strain is to be found in Kenya. It matters not that the book they purport to teach from is the same, they ll have wildly differing emphasis on the bible's teachings and scandalously differing interpretations of key passages. It is the only book that Kenyans read avidly but never bother to understand. It wouldn't surprise me that the same applies in the other religions practiced in Kenya; wacha mchungaji afanye kazi ya bwana! Meanwhile our nation and its soul have been sold for a handful of magic beans.

Take titanium, for example. The jobs that mountain of titanium promised to deliver have not materialised. The good people of Kwale County continue to live in abject poverty and squalor. They are not holding their breaths that the promises associated with the mountain of rare earth will be kept either. Josphat Nanok of Turkana is no one's fool and he knows if he doesn't seize the initiative today, Turkana's oil and yet-to-be-seen lake of underground water will become the playthings of movers-and-shakers in Nairobi and his people will see not a cent of it. Sadly for Governor Nanok, the Turkana intelligentsia he should be relying on to help him outmaneuver the sneaky Nairobians are enthusiastically bending over with their pants around their legs for the Nairobians. They would rather get paid a pttance for the chance to be rogered in Nairobi than go home and help their county and their people make billions. It is easy to get shafted when one does no think about it.

If we were, as a nation, fighting this intellectual lethargy, there would always be a light at the end of the tunnel. And it would not be the headlight of an onrushing train. But where even professors of philosophy have given up their right to think, except when they are trying to bed their latest object of their amorous attentions, what others might see as a light at the end of the tunnel is actually the candle slowly fizzling out. One day that light will be no more and if we thought the past fifty years were bad, the next fifty will be a classic reminder that without reading and thinking all that awaits for a people are the burnt out shells of cities and towns, and the marauding ultra-religious hordes out to enforce their ever-crazier ideas about chastity and purity.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Odinga is the Key.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was not an idiot, but he was spectacularly naive. Even in the heat of anti-colonial combat, Kenya's first vice-president should have seen the signs. His increasing marginalisation at the hands of the Kiambu Mafia should have warned him that he had no chance of ever succeeding Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. In fact if he had not placed such faith in the party, he would not have been so outmaneuvered in 1968/1969. As it is his son seems to be treading the same path he did - with the same results too.

Raila Odinga has become the indispensable factor in Kenyan politics. Not the president, nor the deputy president nor any of the jokers screaming at the tops of their voices seeking validation in the eyes of the people. Raila Odinga is Kenyan politics. When he speaks, when he acts, when he is spoken about, when he is acted against - all these shape how the political field looks like and what its mood shall be. Without Raila Odinga, some may believe, politics could be easier, less fraught with disappointment or anger. But they are wrong; Raila Odinga is the political bellwether. He reflects the will of the people better than the government or the parliamentary parties or the official opposition as a whole.

While all the foregoing is true, it is also equally true that Mr Odinga is the truest reflection of the moribund politics of Kenya. He is also a mirror of the failures of politicians in Kenya over the past decades. Mr Odinga is proof that it is not policies or ideals or even ideas that matter in Kenya; what matters and what has always mattered are ethnic coalitions that do little to improve the lives of the people but hold the entire nation hostage to the whims of a vocal, moneyed minority elite. Mr Odinga and his bete noires in the ruling coalition are Siamese Twins. The only difference between the two is that the former is out of government while the latter is the government.

Mr Odinga's announcement that he will seek the presidency at the next general election has elicited faux squeals of umbrage from the Jubilee perennial whingers. Faux because they couldn't wish for a better lightning rod than Mr Odinga, whose image they will ride like a donkey to victory. He polarises the political environment, not on the basis of ideology, ideas or principles, but simply because he himself has played the ethnic card on more than one occasion. Mr Odinga came close in 2013. Unless the gods of elections smile benevolently on him, the next general election will be his last and lasting electoral loss.

That is not to say that Mr Odinga is irrelevant. Looking at the energies the likes of Aden Duale and Moses Kuoria expend in checking Mr Odinga's maneuvres, Mr Odinga is definitely the key figure to determine the pace and the tone of the election, and politics leading up to the election. His announcement is more than two years early, but it will so sow panic in the Jubilee house, the Jubilants will likely lose their minds. In their obsession with Mr Odinga, they will not tend to their constituents other than rile them up with the spectre of an Odinga victory. They will neglect their constituents and as a result they will become proud members of the 75% former MPs who never made it to the Big House in Nairobi. They will use Mr Odinga for their own ends, and they will lose their deposits because of it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Pesa nane politics and Ebola.

The World Health Organisation has stated that there is a "low risk of transmission" of the Ebola virus from air travel. Kenya Airways agrees. The Ministry of Health agrees. The Ministry of the Interior agrees. So all are agreed that the focus is on dealing with the aftermath of an infection in Kenya; they are not really concerned about an infiltration of the virus into Kenya through its border crossings. So the Ministry of Health has asked for slightly more than half-a-billions shillings and it is sending fact-finding teams of doctors to West Africa. It has set aside a quarantine ward at the Kenyatta National Hospital. And it is assuring us that together with the Ministry of the Interior, it is vetting all visitors into Kenya to ensure that no visitor introduces the virus in Kenya.

Just like during the World Cup, save in a few passionate locales, the interest in whether there is or there is not an Ebola outbreak in Kenya is pretty limited. Kenyans are still hanging out, after a fashion, in nyama choma joints, eating meat of dubious provenance and quaffing unquantifiable amounts of unlicensed alcoholic beverages without a care in the world. In other words, regardless of the Ebola threat, Migingos in Kenya's "informal" settlements are doing roaring business, under the noses of the forces of law and order deployed by the Ministry of the Interior I might add, and apparently invisible to the Ministry of Health's Public Health Officers.

Matters that should concentrate our minds, like the steadily upwards trajectory of the cost of food, energy, healthcare and education - and Ebola, of course - have been abandoned for the noise and heat of the political discourse, such as it is. Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans are daily glued to their TV screens for the day's political entertainment. The ruinous "debate" over the referendum has blinded us to the realities: CORD and Jubilee have little incentive to allow debate on matters that have real-world impacts on our lives. Baba Moi called it "Siasa za pesa nane." Baba Jimmi might have called the two coalitions "Pumbavu" without batting an eyelid.

If there is one thing that the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa tells it is that we have lost all sense of proportion, shame and logic. If the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Interior ever had a plan for the control of infectious diseases, that plan has not been dusted for a generation at least. Pravin Bowry recently examined the statutory and regulatory framework for controlling infectious diseases and highlighted the constitutional constraints that the Public Health Act would face. It is almost certain that Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and his mandarins, in their zeal to boost their budget, have not published their strategy to deal with the Ebola threat, but instead they have asked the National Treasury to set aside almost six hundred million shillings for the activity and enlisted ill-informed parliamentarians in their quest. That is not money they will be sharing with Interior Cabinet Secretary Ole Lenku, whose Ministry cannot explain how eight billion shillings has disappeared.

Kenyans have had the wool pulled over their eyes by the political theatre. So few of us are conscious of the risks that the Ebola virus pose to the general population. Our experiences with the health facilities in Kenya, whether public or private, has not been salutary unless one was willing to lay down hundreds of thousands of shillings for a certain quality of care. But even then, the money may not guarantee quality healthcare. Politics consumes our every hour of thought. Risks abound that we do not seem to care for. If there is an outbreak, bar some unforeseen circumstances, the elite that has pulled the wool over our eyes will board their private jets or sit in first class as they flee the melee. I can see Mr Macharia and Mr Lenku hiding behind their GSU bodyguard. And I can see the chaos visited on Liberia being visited on Kenya.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Digital Sycophancy.

We have had leadership cults for all of independent Kenya's existence. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was venerated. Daniel arap Moi had his own sycophants who sang, literally, his praises. Mwai Kibaki had the Mt Kenya Mafia that did everything to keep him in power, especially in 2007/2008. Uhuru Kenyatta's legacy will be measured by history. Perhaps he will be lucky; I fear he will not because of the men and women who do his bidding or, more crucially, believe they are doing his bidding.

When Mr Kenyatta first took office, some of his most ardent supporters were still passionately campaigning for him. It is understandable that they couldn't let go of the sense of urgency that the campaign had engendered; perhaps they wanted to transfer this sense of urgency into the government over the first crucial hundred days so that the ardour of a new government was not dulled. An early indication of the overt sycophancy at that time was the directive by the Secretary to the Cabinet regarding the use of VIP lounges at Kenya's border points, such as the one at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

The Secretary to the Cabinet, whose previous job had been Head of the Civil Service, wanted to demonstrate his absolute loyalty to President Kenyatta by cutting Uhuru Kenyatta's election opponent down to size. He essentially ordered all civil servants in Kenya, including those serving at border points, not to show any "special attention" to the former Prime Minister, the former Vice-President and any former somebody who was associated with the opposition leader. But in a rather stupid act of ethnic loyalty, he directed that those favours he wished to deny the opposition leaders would be extended to former Presidents, who just happened to be from the same ethnic communities that the new President and Deputy President hailed from.

It is a pattern that has been repeated since that infamous event. Every time the President makes a statement, there is a cohort of men and women who do not care about the statement's legality, practicality or wisdom; they have made it their mission in life to ensure that Uhuru Kenyatta's every pronouncement is treated as Holy Writ. This is a terrible mistake, especially at a time when the President must oversee the most difficult constitutional reforms in a generation.

President Kenyatta, in his previous avatar as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, was not known for suffering sycophants gladly. By all accounts, he preferred to be treated with respect, but not to the point where obeisance was the preferred manner of that respect. He was informal enough to take interruptions from "juniours" without it affecting the outcome he was seeking. In other words, Mr Kenyatta preferred that the procedures and principles of his ministry prevail over whether or not he was the senior-most civil servant in the room. Many expected that the men and women around him would have understood this when they were appointed to high positions in the government after his inauguration in 2013. It is terribly disappointing that KANU-style sycophancy is back with a bang.

Mr Kenyatta's government has done precious little to entrench principles, values and procedures in the firmament of the State. It is a cue that has been picked up by the public service in general. It is reported that Members of Parliament are dissatisfied with their perks; they want them enhanced, especially their security when they walk the twenty-five metres from the gates of Parliament to those of Continental House, where their offices are located. It is why few were surprised by the behaviour of the Deputy Chief Justice when she assaulted a security guard for not being properly deferential to her. It is why even Cabinet-level factotums insist on all their official titles, academic achievements and commendations are quoted in every letter addressed to them as well as have their portraits hung up besides that of the Head of State.

Where sycophancy was once solely directed at the Head of State, it has now become pervasive. We are all required to be as fawningly obsequious to our betters. We must pay obeisance to their greatness at all times. We must sing their praises at every opportunity. Whatever they want must be delivered. If we fail, it is not official opprobrium that we must expect, especially those of us who are known as "juniour staff". What happens is that suddenly a gatekeeper somewhere is unable to schedule a meeting, unless one has been summoned, or a clearance. Promotions are awarded after much extra scrutiny for fitness. Opportunities for additional allowances are  delayed or denied. One still has their job, but it is now a chore than a joy to do. If he does nothing to straighten out his senior officers, President Kenyatta will not be remembered fondly. Indeed, he is likely to be more reviled than Baba Moi without the chance for rehabilitation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Who's for for devolved police?

I think, and I am very, very sure that Isaac Ruto will give this proposal his customary full-throated support, that policing needs to be devolved too. Askaris inherited from the much-loathed inspectorates of local authorities have very little legitimacy, or training, or much else other than a penchant for mindless violence. They are hated and feared in equal measure. In addition to devolving policing, we also need to devolve public prosecutions.

Before you freak out and accuse me of throwing napalm in the fire, consider that most of what we will do, what we will invest in and what we will be accused of doing unlawfully, ultimately, will fall under the jurisdiction of a county government. When the County Government of Nairobi City comes to collect rates from my duka along Biashara Street, and I have entered into a cozy arrangement with the welfare security association administered by the local CBD's Mungiki deputy, I think I will be well within my rights to tell Kidero's men to go jump in Nairobi Dam. If Mr Kidero sends one or tow or even a platoon of his askaris to collect their money, a muscular response from the Mungiki will be sufficient to persuade him that there some battles you win, and some battles that you ignore. It is for his own peace of mind.

Joseph Ole Lenku has consistently assured us that the National Police has well-trained personnel. But even the blindest mouse on the street knows that the centralised management of the National Police has not been smooth sailing. It is within the spirit of the Constitution to devolve policing to the county level, devolving the resources to ensure that it is effective. The fears that each governor will build up an armed militia rather than a credible public safety department should be overcome by banning the deployment of armed police on the streets other than during a national emergency at which time the police will fall back under a national command. We can retain a national police presence for anti-terrorism, narcotics interdiction, domestic counter-intelligence and human anti-trafficking efforts.

Local policing is largely ho-hum. It is essentially to keep businesses and homes from being burgled or broken into or vandalised. It acts as a source of intelligence about crime organisations, such as they are, and crime trends, especially crimes against the person such as assault or sexual offences. It most arduous task is investigating crimes for which there are no witnesses or the available witnesses are unreliable. In few locations is the police called upon to use armed force to enforce the law; for the most part, the mere presence of police on patrol is sufficient to deter petty crime. This is what Kenyans need; effective policing that is not reliant on the wielding of the ubiquitous Heckler & Koch G3 assault rifle or the ever-popular AK-47. Even the police will admit that deploying assault rifles to deter purse- and mobile-phone-snatchers is a little too much.

National policing has been a disaster. Command and control is done from Nairobi. The Inspector-General and the Director of Criminal Investigations may be eminently qualified for their jobs, but the game has changed and unless they are willing to delegate effective control to county commanders, they will always be pushing against the sky in the war on crime. It is time they headed a smaller police outfit that concentrated on policing matters of national import; at the grassroots level - petty crimes and simple assaults - the governors should have effective control of policing. And to guard against tribalism, governors can only fill ten per cent of their police with persons from the county; the remaining 90% will be recruited by the Inspector-General and the Director of Criminal Investigations. It is time for bold solutions. Devolve policing.

Women, the economy and population control.

The Government of  Kenya, both at the national and county levels, sees population growth as something to worry about, hold workshops over and run programmes to address. Therefore, there are family planning workshops, policies and programmes that draw funds from the Consolidated Fund, county appropriation Acts and development partners. Some of the non-governmental programmes are faith-based; many are not. They all seem to target women mostly, with men getting a mention only rarely. Population control in Kenya is the responsibility of the woman; so says the government, so says the church, so says our civil society sector.

My father never uttered the words "Wewe ni mjinga kama mama yako" or ever state "Wacha kulia kama mwanamke." How could he? My mother managed to obtain three degrees, head a university department and raise three sons without any of them becoming the monsters many mothers of today have to contend with. Not that my father did not play his part, though it frequently seemed to consist of him handing over his wallet and praying that there is a balance for one or two down at the Masaku Bar. My father believes that men and women complement each other, in all respects they are each others equals and partners. One cannot be without the other; the rise of the one is the rise of the other. To him, I believe, the responsibility of controlling populations, if that, rests on both men and women.

Our government, our churches and other faith-based groups, and the civil society industry seem to believe that the responsibility for population control lies mainly with women. This is stupid. First, it remains unclear why population control in Kenya is such a crisis. Even in the middle of a famine, the same government keeps reassuring us that the nation can feed itself; not that it has the potential to feed itself, but that it can actually feed itself. The challenges faced in this goal are related to the poor logistics infrastructure for moving produce from one part of the country to the other. So pressure on meagre agricultural resources is not a sufficient enough reason to limit each family to two children.

Second, the government also assures us that if Vision 2030 is successfully implemented, Kenya will be able to absorb the thousands of graduates being churned out of the growing number of public and private universities. The government calls for positive contributions from everyone, including working men and women. Therefore, the population bulge that Kenya is experiencing right now is not a threat; it is an opportunity for the greater economic advancement of Kenya and should be treated as such, not as a problem to be managed.

Third, all studies show that positive programmes designed to financially liberate women affect population growth trajectories. When women are educated, the higher their education means the later they have children and the fewer children they actually have. Part of the reason is that educated women are likely to have greater confidence in themselves and their place as equals in a family. Their growing financial strength also means that they can choose who their life partners will be; the education of a girl is a financial tool for her liberation, as a person and as a member of the family.

It is that third ground that lays to waste the stupid population control strategy that says condom-use, tubal ligation, vasectomies or chemical birth control should mainly be the responsibility of women. If the government is truly concerned about the effects of the growing population, it should ensure that more and more women are educated, that their education is not just limited to university but takes in all technical fields, that the policies and regulations for job creation or for encouraging entrepreneurship boost women's participation in the economy, and that men are not merely an afterthought in population control. In fact, increasing the economic and financial capacity of women is the only sensible population control strategy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Land Question, Redux.

In 2010 when the Committee of Experts was about to publish the final harmonised draft Constitution, it held a retreat at the Great Rift Valley Lodge in Naivasha. One of the niggling matters that was being considered was the form of government that Kenya would adopt: parliamentary, presidential or a hybrid form made up of the two. The second one was the Land Question. Four years later, we are facing the consequences of the compromises that were made at Naivasha.

We have a presidential system of government that resembles the United States'. The members of the executive are no longer members of the legislature and both work hand in hand to appoint members of the Cabinet and the Judiciary. There is one crucial difference between Kenya and the United States: the power of the Executive Branch, exercised through the President's office, the Cabinet and executive agencies, is vast, limited only by the Supreme Court and the Houses of Congress. That is the United States. In Kenya, it is unclear how vast the power of the National Executive is, because there are many "independent" commissions and offices that do not seem to be under the thumb of the National Executive: they draw their funds directly from the Consolidated Fund; their administrative affairs are not the business of the National Executive; their discipline is the preserve of Parliament; and so on and so forth.

What this means is that in the current roiled political waters, it is almost impossible to determine whether the Land Question will be settled once and for all if the National Executive and its agencies are unable to pull in the same direction. In theory, the National Executive is responsible for policy; it only has the power to implement that policy where no other institution has been created for that specific purpose. In land, therefore, it is the Cabinet Secretary who determines lands policy, but it is the constitutional National Land Commission that has the mandate of executing that policy. Moreover, while the Commission may advise in the development of policy proposals, it is not for the Commission to decide what the policy shall be; its job is to execute the policy once the policy has been set by the Cabinet Secretary.

But the Land Question has not been settled since 1959, when the Emergency came to an end and the colonial government realised that it could no longer afford to hold on to the Kenya Colony. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first Prime Minister and President, did not do much to solve it, but he did a lot to benefit some areas while others languished. The settlement schemes overseen during his presidency benefitted tens of thousands of Kenyans. But when he failed to tackle squarely the question of what to do with the Million Acre White Highlands, the principal reason for the Mau Mau war, Mzee guaranteed that Kenyans would kill each other over land for the next forty years, and so we have.

Uhuru Kenyatta has the chance to avoid the legacy problems that his predecessor, and late father, suffers. For once, given that the Government of Kenya has failed for forty years to resolve the Land Question, it is time to admit that the National Executive has too many vested interests whose entrenched opposition to any reforms have made the problem almost intractable. The President and his Cabinet Secretary could begin by throwing their weight into formulating a policy that empowers the Commission, whittles down the power of the entrenched vested interests, and raises the costs to those interests the longer the status quo prevails. Second, the President could beef up the capacity for investigating and punishing land-related crimes, especially historical ones. If he could demonstrate his commitment by supporting the Director of Public Prosecutions when he goes after the Big Fish, it will give the entrenched vested interests the signal they need to shift their weight off of their opposition to land reforms.

Finally, despite the financial and international implications, the President must demonstrate that he will support all efforts to settle all native Kenyans on viable, arable land first before he goes for outside investors. This is not to say that only black Kenyans should benefit; that ship has sailed. If you were born in Kenya and you hold Kenyan citizenship, you should enjoy right of first refusal before Chinese, Emirati, British or Indian investors get a look in. Mr Kenyatta has a chance to leave a lasting, positive legacy. He should seize it.

Yeah, Kigali!

Kigali, Rwanda. In a short career, I now find myself staring at the beautiful hills of the up-and-coming investors' paradise. The hills are beautiful. The streets are suspiciously clean; how can anyone resist that powerful urge to simply drop that annoying banana peel so that the one behind you has a spill and a fall? How can they remain so calm in their infernally smooth traffic jams?

I have no profound things to say about Rwanda or the Rwandese. You all seem to have profound things to say about them. I have a much different measure of a place: can they make rice-and-beef-stew that doesn't taste like ass? Sadly, no. They are like those inexplicably bad Embu eateries that go out of their way to attract the attentions of the public health authorities for how diarrhhoea-inducing their meals are.

The people are polite, though a little aloof. I get the impression that they don't like being looked as some specimen of wonder. I get the impression that all people will associate with Rwanda for the next fifty years will not be the economic miracle they are, but that in a hundred days of violence twenty years ago, they descended into hell. The young ones I have seen have the de riguer jeans-and-tees, but they don't seem to be having fun; they seem to be forcing themselves to have fun. It is not fun to watch.

I have done the unthinkable and booked a hotel with an agent I do not know and checked in without the required serikali handholding that I have so come to loath. Hell, I tested the national ID as a travel document. It worked, after a fashion. I guess the immigration people knew I had used my shiny, barely used passport last time and were wondering why I wasn't employing it this time round. After all I had collected the entry/exit stamps then. If I admit that it is because I forgot it...

The Kenyan side of the immigration dance, as always, is pretty intimidating. If you are black, you are handled with a great degree of suspicion. If you are Kenyan, that suspicion is twice what is even considered polite. I wonder if they wonder at how a scruffy Kenyan like me would be able to afford the minor inconvenience of an empty bank account for the opportunity to experience the famed Kinyarwanda hospitality. Or whether I'll bring home drugs. Or Ivory; ivory seems to be the big thing these days. Either way, they are not very gentle with the Kenyan flying abroad.

The Rwandese aircrew and the Rwandese customs and immigration people are aloof, but not hostile. I like that. The hotel receptionist is aloof, but she won't say no with a sneer at my meagre dollars. The barman, on the other hand, is very generous with the cigarettes and the matches. It is going to be an OK trip.

I met a girl.

I met a girl. Actually, I met two girls. Though the second one is not really a girl; she only wishes she was a girl. The former is special. Not like that; get your head straight. She just is. The other is the green grass in the snake; she will smile while she sticks a stiletto in your back. So I met two girls, and I am pretty sure that one or the other is going to be my ruination.

The special one has a quality that is quite intoxicating. She occupies more mental bandwidth than is good for my sanity. She occupies an outfit such that it is impossible to walk with her down the street; the desire to let her take a few steps forward so that I can admire the wiggle of that ass is sometimes overwhelming. I have a feeling that in twenty years when my desire to justify every bad decision I have ever made I shall wish to pen a memoir. I intend to devote several long paragraphs, maybe even a chapter, to the wonders of that wiggle. Whoever decided to add Lycra to denim and invented the skinny jeans deserves a special place in heaven because, Damn! that girl can fill out a pair!

The bitch, on the other had, is not intoxicating, though she occupies a substantial amount of mental bandwidth too. How can anyone take such perverse pleasure in being a bitch. If she was a rocket scientist, I could somehow understand her degree of bitch-ness. But she doesn't. All she is, as far as I can tell, is the gatekeeper. She decides who gets to see he-who-shall-not-be-named. She decides what documents come before him for approval. She decides the form certain documents shall take before they are placed before him. If all she did was to gatekeep, we would leave it that. But she goes out of her way to make sure that whatever it is that you are looking for, whether it is an official response or an approval, will only come after you have kissed her ass. Sometimes I wonder whether she intends the ass-kissing to be literal.

Two experiences in the space of a week and it is clear that there are people who are inherently good and there are those who are inherently assholes. The gatekeeper is a bitch, which is just the female version of an asshole. If she wasn't a bitch, she'd probably have more friends and not take her lunch all alone at her desk. And there would definitely not be some pissed off civil servant ion Rwanda supposed to be enjoying himself writing unflattering things about her pockmarked, over-made up face, sagging tits or the whiff of desperation in her attire. Skinny jeans were not invented with her in mind.

So, really, I met the one girl and encountered the other. The girl I met had coffee with me and...you don't really need to know. The girl...bitch...I encountered will not be getting compliments anytime soon. She will have my undivided attention. Not in a nice way neither.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Political liabilities.

He is well within his rights to nominate Chirau Ali Mwakwere and Robinso Njeru Githae to the diplomatic corps. The President needs men he can trust in the capitals that he considers important. He demonstrates his seriousness of purpose by the men he sends to these world capitals. Washington, D.C. is an important capital, hence his nomination of that stalwart of the Mount Kenya region, Mr Githae. Tanzania is a strong partner in the tourism sector, hence Mr Mwakwere's intended gladhanding in Dar es Salaam.

Kenyans have long forgotten that Mr Githae extolled the virtues of rodents as sources of proteins in the anti-famine efforts of the national government. We accepted his rationale and moved on. It seems the good folks of Ndia did not find his suggestions helpful. Nor the people of Kirinyaga, generally. They chose other people to represent them at the National and County levels. Mr Mwakwere, on the other hand, had a rather colourful encounter with members of the salacious bits of Kenya's press. His earthy vocabulary on that occasion made him stand out. In Tanzania he will cut quite the diplomatic figure.

We should all relax; Messrs Githae and Mwakwere will not be deciding foreign policy any time soon. Their job is to execute the President's directives. Mr Mwakwere will not be having tea with President Kikwete unless President Kenyatta says it is OK to do so. Mr Githae will not phoning Foggy Bottom to follow up on this, that or the other, unless Karanja Kibicho communicates in minute detail what he will say, in what tone he will say it and to who he will say it. Being an ambassador, even the Smith Hempstone kind, means doing what you are told by your head of state to do without question. Otherwise you can try your luck in the private sector or elective politics.

There are those who are less charitable, though, and they will remind the President that one is known by the company one keeps. Many claim, without a shred of proof or an iota or persuasive facts, that he has been keeping company with odious men. One of them has recently won an election without a ballot being cast in his favour, a thing not seen since the 1988 KANU elections. So he will be judged by his nominees for ambassadorial and high commissioner positions. Whether these men are competent will not matter much than how they acted when they had power. Their past actions are proof of their future intentions. What they do outside the strict parameters of their diplomatic remits will reflect on the President and because they have had wobbles in the past, their futures, and that of the President, do not appear so rosy, Kenyans no longer being the optimists of 2003.

The Americans call it patronage. So do we. It is a political tool that buys a President political capital. But it can also cost a President credibility in other venues where he needs political capital too. Why couldn't he have sent the who worthies to Jamaica or Barbados  or one of those beachfront isles of leisure where they couldn't set any political fires? Washington and Dar es Salaam, despite the Chinese Adventure, are critical capitals. Washington DC is the political channel to New York and, by extension, London, the financial centres of a globalised world. Dar es Salaam, eventually, will be the only partner against Islamism along the East African Coast. Neither of these men is well-suited to the role, even if they are backed by teams of geniuses and experts. They simply don't have the stuff. They are political liabilities.

This is not 24.

Militarising policing in Kenya's forgotten bits is not the answer to the Shabaab Question, the Land Question or the Referendum Headache. The entire Northern Frontier is essentially one big Kenya Defence Forces theatre of war. Nairobi is getting its very own military unit whose mandate remains remarkably murky. The National Government approved the deployment of military units in "key highways" but we still have no idea how they decided which highways are "key" and which ones are not.

Perhaps this is the changing face of policing in Kenya after the slow-puncturing of the place of the National Intelligence Service in keeping Kenyans' safe. Militarising civilian intelligence gathering has made every solution to a public safety problem a military solution. The army is a broad sword; the police should be the scalpel. In Kenya, the police is more like a sledgehammer and every problem it encounters is a Big Nail That Must Be Hammered. In that environment, the subtlety of intelligence-gathering, analysis, and interpretation are lost to the men and women at Vigilance House and, lately, Jogoo House.

John Michuki is mostly responsible for the conversion of the police into a quasi-military force. He built up both the Administration Police and the General Service Unit to more than twice their size. The Administration Police got military-style combat equipment; the GSU expanded to a size that was too big for it to be used as a special tactics police unit. The role of the APs also changed; they were no longer used as the main element of support for the Provincial Administration but they started playing a key role in policing, further eroding the idea of the police as a purely civilian institution.

We have now come full circle, especially so in the last year. After Westgate, when it became apparent that the regular police had few specially trained units who could respond in force and at speed, the decision to simply give the job to the military seemed an obvious one. It is as if the people making decisions made this decision from watching episodes of 24! Many of the them are under the mistaken idea that force of arms alone is sufficient to pacify the nation, bring down violent crime and terrorism, and keep the civilian population safe. What they have done, instead, is to water down the military's mandate from the defence of the homeland from external military threats to that of corralling the civilian population for the purpose of the continuation of the State.

Every time militaries have been engaged in policing of restive civilian populations, such as is happening in the Northern Frontier and the Coast, they have inevitably gotten involved in politics and then they have inevitably decided that they are better disciplined and capable of running things. Militarising policing will have very bad long term outcomes. Even if there is never a military coup against the civilian government, the risks of swatting political mosquitoes with army sledgehammers only will continue to grow. Words like treason will be bandied about. Privacy will be eroded like water against a stone. Public safety will be forgotten. National security will dominate the conversation. Eventually we will have a war of our own here in our homeland. And it will be against the army, not a foreign invader.

I hope he resigned.

No one resigns in Kenya. No one who controls a budget of seventeen billion shillings resigns in Kenya. Ever. They either die in office or they are fired. Anyone who believes that Major-General Michael Gichangi "resigned for personal reasons" as Director-General of the National Intelligence Service is living in a fool's paradise. He was fired, so the pundits and the men with the inside knowledge tell one and all.

But what if he did resign, and that his resignation was indeed for personal reasons? This would be a first modern Kenya. Senior public officers controlling billions of shillings do not simply resign. They will die in office if that is what it takes. Should one care to examine the list of State and public officers and parastatal bosses who have died in office over the last twenty years, they will swiftly disabuse themselves that there is a core sense of honour at that level. Mr Gichangi might very well be the first honourable State officer to resign his office.

The State of Kenyan intelligence remains shrouded in mystery in a hall of smoke and mirrors. Perhaps that is a necessity; after all spies do not go around telling one and all that they are spies and what they are up to. Mr Gichangi has been blamed for the failing to warn the right people at the right time of terrorist attacks. he has been accused of incompetence for failing even to identify the men behind the sugar smuggling into Kenya that has done so much to undermine the stability of the sugar sector. He has been accused of failing to keep an eye on the "local political networks" that have taken leaves out of al Shabaab's handbook and sown so much mayhem in Lamu, Mombasa, Moyale, West Pokot and Turkana. In all this he has kept his head down and remained silent like the Sphinx.

By all accounts Mr Gichangi has been a competent intelligence boss. While the National Police and the Defence Forces have been riven with internal grumbling about tribalism, corruption and abuse of office by senior officers, the National Intelligence Service has not suffered embarrassing leaks about its operations. I suspect that the leaks about timely intelligence that was ignored is a campaign being waged by some loyal intelligence officers who did not wish to see their boss unfairly cashiered for failings that were not his or his agency's fault.

Then there are the rumours that Mr Gichangi is being looked at askance because of his hand in the indictments of the President and Deputy President at the International Criminal Court. Their supporters argue that Mr Gichangi and his agency should not have co-operated with the Waki Commission nor should they have honoured Mwai Kibaki's commitment to the ICC Prosecutor of "full co-operation." By following lawful orders, Mr Gichangi has been painted in a bad light. The irony does not escape me.

I hope that Mr Gichangi resigned and was not pushed out. For a former fighter pilot, he was remarkably restrained. Fighter pilots are not known for their modesty; they are superstars of the air and they know it. Mr Gichangi has comported himself in all his public dealings with dignity. An excellent example was what happened during the Westgate siege. Rather than posture in front of the cameras like his colleagues in the security establishment, he kept a very low profile. When Kenyans exposed the lies and misinformation the others were feeding the public, it is remarkable how fast they turned on the intelligence boss, while it is their missteps that brought them ignominy. If he resigned, it I hope it is because for once an honourable man was unwilling to remain in a room where he was treated like a skunk for doing the right thing in the right way.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Raw.

Perhaps it is because it is Friday that I have turned my thoughts to someone special. If you have not met her, I am so sorry. If you have, and you are a man, keep your mitts off her. And if you are a woman, yeah! she's all that and a million bucks!

Men are idiots when it comes to women. And that is a good thing. Life would be so much harder if we knew exactly what they wanted, how they wanted it and when and in what form. Life is hard when you don't have to try; it is why the War of the Sexes will never be worn; not when we are discovering new gender permutations we never thought possible a generation ago. Can you imagine what would happen if I knew what She meant when she said what she said three weeks ago especially in That Tone of Voice? I didn't. Thank God! because I am still here, She is still here, and I still keep on bugging the stuffing out of her.

Men are not as simple as they make themselves out to be, however. So She too has her fair share of surprises. Some are within the realm of the tasteful; most of mine have strayed so far from the tasteful line, I wonder if She is working on the most elaborate method of despatching me to meet my maker. I would blame he if she was; after all, it is so not cool for your attention to wander when you are with Her, is it? Not even when it is an armed robbery in progress; only She deserves attention, you hear?!

There are limits to how much bending and contorting to compromise that either of us are prepared to do. I suspect that men are prepared to bend over till they can kiss their own asses and then some more. Women, I am not so sure. That wackjob that got acid flung in his face clearly did not know that the limits his sugar banana was prepared to tolerate were hair-trigger short. She, by the by, seems willing to tolerate a lot. I on the other hand, keep finding new limits to get over. I can't say it has done my system of neurons any good; they feel, these days, like they have spent each second being zapped by steadily increasing voltages of electricity: RAW! But what can I say? I made a rather beautiful bed and only an Act of God is going to yank me out of it, bankruptcy, impeachment and the Hounds of Hell notwithstanding.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It's not about security. It's more insidious.

It is not security that rouses Inspector-General Davide Mwole Kimaiyo and his National Police Service to rope off large swathes of public spaces. Every public building which houses a ministry, department or agency of the government or any arm of the government has a complement of police to guard the building. I used to think that the reason these places had armed police was because they contained deep government secrets that would jeopardise the security of the State if they were revealed. So the State and its government deployed armed police to keep its secrets safe.

I also believed that the men and women who worked in these places were valued by their government, and that their security and safety was of paramount importance. If you were a bad man and you intended to cause a civil servant harm, the armed police would dissuade you about targetting the civil servant while he was in his place of work.

How naive! These are all rational reasons for the continued shrinking of public spaces available to the public. Of course, enhanced security measures are needed in the wake of Westgate, Mpeketoni and Mombasa. Of course government building contain secrets that must be protected. And of course civil servants must be protected when delivering services to the people. But these reasons do not explain the active hostility of the government towards its people.

A clue lies in how the government treats its poor and how its security measures are directed overwhelmingly at the poor. Take Nairobi as an example. A cosmopolitan city, it's population is estimated at about four million people. It's population of the poor is quite likely half of that, spread out in low-cost estates and slums. Nairobians who came up in Eastlands know these low-income estates very well: Ofafa Jericho, Jerusalem, Makongeni, Makadara, Maringo, Kaloleni, Shauri Moyo, Mbotela. They are also very familiar with the slums: Mathare Valley, Korogocho, Kibera, Mukuru.

Areas where the poor reside are startlingly similar: electricity and piped water connections are notable for their absence; social facilities such as schools, healthcare centres, police stations, playing grounds, markets, roads, sewerage systems, drainage systems, footpaths, street lights - all the things that contribute to a civic system are missing. When crimes are committed by residents against residents, first there is not place to report the crimes and, second, if a report is successfully made, the police will not investigate, the public prosecutors will not prosecute. As a result, crime is rife in these areas. And as a result, there is no incentive to "civilise" the poor; it is easier for the government and the rich to exclude them from the "other" Nairobi.

This has been achieved rather easily. First, public transport was "liberalised". The old subsidised system was run down and then moth-balled. The cost of public transport is beyond the reach of a majority of the poor in Nairobi. One only needs to drive along Mombasa Road in the morning and evening to see the armies of the poor marching off to work. With expensive public transport, few of the poor will venture into the city centre or the districts where the rich reside.

Second, public places were made as hostile as possible to the poor. If you wish to gain access, for example, to Sheria House, or the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, or Nyayo House, you must undergo enhanced scrutiny by the armed policy and the private security who complement them. You must state your name, provide proof of identity, empty your pockets, and finally state what your business is. It is meant to be as humiliating as possible. It is meant to intimidate. It is very effective at keeping the poor out. Once you get past the armed guards, you must get past secretaries and clerks who, sometimes it seems to be deliberate, will withhold vital information needed to complete your transaction.

Third, because the poor are likely to be on foot wherever they go, where they walk is slowly being stolen from them. The city centre is demarcated by Tom Mboya Street; one half is for the poor and they are not welcome in the other half. Look at the ridiculous ropes Inspector-General Kimaiyo has deployed outside public buildings and how this has inspired everyone else. These security measures do not affect motorists; they affect people who have walked long distances. The additional spikes we have placed to prevent people from sitting down and the sneaky removal of public benches simply tells us that the poor are not welcome in the posher bits of the city centre. We have established a hostile and disengaging urban scenery and employed a hostile architecture designed to exile the poor from our sight and we wonder why the poor refused to sympathise with us when our friends were murdered during the Westgate siege.

The Ebola Risks.

The managers at Kenya Airways are in an untenable position. In March, the airline reported a 3.77 billion shillings half-year loss because of the insecurity-driven drop in passenger numbers. Now it must contend with Ebola in West Africa, one of its lucrative African routes. It must fly for as long as it can or the knock-on effects of cancelling flights will guarantee that it comes out of the red farther in the future than planned.

Our problem with this profit-driven scenario is that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in Kenya rises every time passengers from West Africa disembark in Nairobi. South Korea is so concerned about onward transmission from Kenya that its national carrier has suspended flights to and from Kenya. In our own peculiar way, we are dealing with the Ebola threat, even as the World Health Organisation warns that the risks of an outbreak in Kenya are staggeringly great: the Ministry of Health has taken this opportunity to make a play for a half-a-billion shillings; the Cabinet Secretary for Health has "briefed" the President on the crisis; and Parliament seems of a mind to make portentous and ponderous declarations that provide little logical or rational guidance. (I am talking about you, Mr Okoth from Kibra.)

As with drugs traffickers, terrorists, sugar smugglers and foreign workers, we know that if there is an Ebola outbreak in Kenya it will be because someone at our border control points let Patient Zero into the country after trousering a fat stack of green. We may have the best disease surveillance and response system but it is useless if the men and women who are our first line of defence have filthy lucre on their minds than the safety of the people.

If the Ebola outbreak is insufficient to concentrate the minds of policy-makers fighting corruption, then there is no hope we will ever triumph over the civic disease. Uhuru Kenyatta has made several statements caviling against corrupt officers in the public service. He has even spoken out against the ones in his very own Office of the President. Mumo Matemu has promised Big Fish will be prosecuted. Keriako Tobiko has done the same too. Willy Mutunga assures us that his Judiciary will play its role. So too have David Kimaiyo and his National Police Service.

Yet when one looks at the anti-corruption landscape, ones heart sinks sickeningly. When foreign naval vessels interdict a drugs-smuggling dhow in the high seas near Kenya's territorial waters, its officers are so concerned about the integrity of the Kenyan police that they destroy the entire consignment while still at sea. When Kenyan naval vessels interdict such a dhow, there is a massive show of hauling the whole haul to a warehouse "guarded" by armed police while rumours circulate that what is being "guarded" is wheat flour, the drugs having been "repatriated" elsewhere between the dhow and the warehouse.

The Judiciary took in a very large chunk of the national revenue between 2011 and 2013. Recent revelations of the abject working conditions of magistrates should sober everyone up about the appropriateness of granting the Judiciary financial autonomy. Half-completed judiciary projects raise many fundamental questions about the integrity of the judiciary's officers and staff. We will not even try and go into the seriousness of the Matemu Commission's investigations or the DPP's prosecutions of Big Fish; Kamlesh Pattni is a free man, the architects of AngloLeasing and Triton roam free. President Kenyatta's anti-corruption credentials are notable by their heavy rhetoric and light impact.

The institutions that should keep Ebola at bay cannot be trusted. Our national carrier will keep flying to Ebola hotspots because it is financially the only thing it can do to turn a profit. Our border entry points will continue to operate with officers interested in greenbacks than anything else. The Ministry will do what all ministries do: it will seek to fatten its wallet without doing a thing. When - not if - the outbreak happens, I wonder how long it will be before the "investors" flee with their "investments" for the opportunities in Johannesburg or Bloemfontein.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nairobi traffic and mental health.

Having "mental problems" in Kenya is no joke. I am not talking about the men, women and children who require psychiatric intervention and psychological support as they navigate the confusing neurons of their brains using therapy and chemicals. I am talking about the most stressed out lot on God's Green Earth: the motoring public of Nairobi. Whether we admit it to ourselves today or are simply waiting for the day our parents, siblings, co-workers or lovers find us in a foetal position, driving in Nairobi is bad for our continued mental health.

Allow me to speculate mightily about things of which I am totally ignorant. There are, unless the High Court, Court of Appeal and (its bete noire) the Supreme Court say otherwise, two new additions to the National Assembly. Without proof whatsoever, I shall declare that these two men have held driving licenses for some years. I'd now like to dig a hole in which I am standing and declare that the new representative for Mathare has or has had a driver for a considerable portion of his driving past, but that fellow in Gatundu South, for whom an election proved unnecessary, has never had a driver and is quite unlikely to get one any time soon.

I say this without a shred of humility: glaring at the online profiles of the two new waheshimiwa, you get the sense that while the Mathare guy might have spent a little too much time under mummy's religion-infested thumb, he is at heart a rather pleasant fellow. He smiles. A lot. Toothily too in his campaign photos. He doesn't look the sort that would hurt a fly. Actually he doesn't look the sort that you would suspect of anything bad. His recent election - and his previous attempt - puts a giant question mark over his apparent goodness, but still, a nice guy.

But that Kiambu guy is another kettle of fish. He also smiles toothily in his campaign material. But you get the sense that it is not a smile of joy or glee like that of the Mathare chap. This Kiambu guy has a smile that is reminiscent of the Sicilian mafia hitman whose contract has been settled in full. I think the reason for the two apparently different personalities is Nairobi traffic.

For some reason, Nairobi is not defined by order or chaos, but by apparent order out of chaos. Traffic lights work, but no one obeys them. Traffic signs are frequently erected, but they always end up in scrap yards of one form or the other. Road markings are notable by their absence or incomprehensible design. Driving schools abound, but anyone who thinks ten hours are enough to be proficient in the operation of mechanised vehicles needs mental healthcare more than I do. The rules are a confusing mishmash of national and county ones and a hodgepodge of enforcement agencies: National Police, Administration Police, on rare occasions, Kenya Defence Forces, Nairobi County Inspectorate, National Transport and Safety Authority, and matatu crews of dubious qualification. So it is any wonder we do not slaughter each other using our vehicles or the firearms we seem to acquire like candy these days.

Those who are driven to work, whether it is by chauffeur-driven personal limo or by public transport monsters, are considerably less likely to arrive at their destination with a homicidal desire to take out their motoring frustrations on someone else. There are exceptions of course; if you are one of the sad people who have to experience an Umoinner, Utimo, Mwamba, Forward Traveller...a dozen crowded and stuffy moving discotheques from the farther, violent bits of Eastlands, you might be even more homicidally frustrated than the equally sad people who own Imprezas with massively loud exhaust systems but who can't exceed the 15kph speed limit that Nairobi seems to impose on traffic, never mind what the signs actually say.

It is frustrating to discover that everything you have been taught since you were taught about right and wrong, respect and courtesy, greed and need, matters for shit when it comes to moving several tonnes of steel and rubber from point to point in the name of commuting. Every chance you get to make the other guy's life miserable, you must take because he will not be grateful that you showed him any courtesy. Any chance you get to get away with chancy driving, you must take otherwise you will be taken for a complete dolt. And when it all goes tits up and you have a chance to flee, please do so or the innocent bystanders will take the opportunity to relieve you of your valuables and, in certain extreme cases, your life. 

There is a mental health epidemic coming; I hope the mental health authorities of Kenya have started building facilities for the flood. If we are electing men who think of foreskins as metrics of governance, that day may be closer than you think.

We need to learn, again, how to think

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