Friday, October 31, 2014

Put him out to pasture.

It is dead. All we are waiting for is the funeral. The Orange Democratic Movement is dead. Raila Odinga knows this to be true. Magerer Langat found out the hard way yesterday, Thursday 30 October 2014. (He'll be needing a new set of tyres for his humongous SUV, too.) From the Men In Black Incident to the Magerer Langat Fiasco, ODM has done everything in its considerable repertoire of skill sets to bring itself low. It doesn't get any lower than having the Jubilee Alliance's garrulously inarticulate members hold a press conference in order to plead for government intervention in the affairs of the ODM.

It is difficult holding your own when you don't have anything to hold. Raila Odinga is fast coming to realise that his all-in gambit was a foolhardy errand. He has to telegraph his intentions through Moses Wetangula, Jakoyo Midiwo, Otieno Kajwang' - and ODM's Nairobi's MCAs. "Party leader" may sound grand to the Great Unwashed, but the reality of the title is that it means diddly squat to the men with real power. They will not listen to you. They will not pay obeisance to you. They will not fawn and genuflect. They will treat you increasing;y like a skunk: delicately enough that you don't raise a stink, but yet at arms length because you almost certainly will. "Party leader" is a political figleaf for political irrelevance.

The slow decline of a political colossus continues. Mr Odinga single-handedly re-branded opposition politics in 2005-2007 (Orange v Banana, Round 1). But he failed to grow out of it, bitching all through his coalition with Mwai Kibaki. Instead of building up his political leadership credentials, he reinforced his image as a hard-headed political anarchist out to shake things up. He surrounded himself with equally fish-out-of-water flunkies and advisers. It all ended in tears. He couldn't even be bothered to establish a credible machinery to fight the 2013 general election; he couldn't be bothered to set up a war room to troubleshoot the political, legal and constitutional problems that the general election brought up; and he couldn't be bothered to instil discipline in his political troops leading to the best opposition performance for a long time but the worst outcome since 1992. 2013 was Mr Odinga's to lose; he managed to do just that. Twice. First at the ballot; then in the Supreme Court.

It is only then that his leadership flaws became painfully apparent. He vacillated for so long over whether a party member would step down for him in the National assembly or Senate and ended up pissing off potential sacrificial lambs into hardening their hearts against him. He couldn't decide whether his would be a loyal opposition or it would be a flame-throwing party of "No!" He couldn't even force a credible party poll. Then he pushed off to the US for three months without leaving a management team in place to take care of the nuts and bolts of political leading. Now his Okoa Kenya gambit is being painted by Kanini Kega of all jokers as the last feeble grasps at the brass ring of national power sharing and he does not have a credible riposte to the allegation. He is done. He is a has been. It is time that Ababu Namwamba and his fellow restless and rebellious members did the merciful thing and stuck political knives in his back right out there on the senate floor. It is time Mr Odinga was put out to pasture.

The are all political, Mr Gathara

If the civil society industry wants to prevail against Moses Kuria and his Jubilee band of raiders, they must go beyond listening to the whingeing by Patrick Gathara, Harun Ndubi and their friends in the trenches. One step in this direction will be to recognise that the Government of Kenya is not staffed by idiots. Moses Kuria may come across as the latest member of the Jubilee lunatic fringe, but seen in context, the Jubilee juggernaut has not stopped rolling since the day secret talks opened between Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto in the ignominious days of the Gang of Seven. All that have attempted to put paid to the UhuRuto plans have come to grief. Payback, they say in the United States, is a female dog.

The Government of Kenya is adept at adjusting to shifting sands. It's basic perfidious, corrupt, autocratic heart has not changed since the days of the Legislative Council. It may have a different cast of characters, but at its core, the GoK has remained surprisingly the same. One of its adaptive techniques has been to co-opt potential competitors - or destroy them. Civil society for the longest time has been a "partner" in development; what it never realised is that it was co-opted by the dark heart of the GoK, adopting its language, its systems, its style. Look at the rife corruption regarding funds and finances and the only difference between civil society and GoK is that the former doesn't seem to have a dress code.

What Mwai Kibaki did was to formalise an already insidiously incestuous relationship between civil society and the GoK. The results have been plain to see. If this were the peculiar Kenyan version of George Orwell's Animal Farm, the metamorphosis of civil society into the dark heart of GoK would be astounding. It did not matter that the co-opted belonged to "political" civil society organisations or non-political ones; they all lost their heads when they were appointed as Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, heads of parastatals, heads of commissions of inquiry, heads of task forces...the list is rather long.

I think it is time civil society did the unthinkable and cut all incestuous ties with the GoK and truly went out on its own. This means all those dodgy lawyers from the LSK sitting on boards of parastatals, or serving on task forces and commissions, quitting and letting the LSK truly hold the GoK's feet to the fire over all maters related to the Constitution, the law and governance. You cannot purport to speak truth to power if your truth is being shaped by the power your are in bed with doing God knows what. If any civil society whinger is getting money from the GoK, it is time they sent back the change with a polite note saying that the time has come for a civil society organisation to let the nation come first.

The distinction between political and non-political public benefit organisations (PBOs) is specious; they are all political PBOs when they perform functions that should be performed by the government. If a PBO is immunising children in West Pokot against polio, that is a political act because it is the job of the GoK to kick polio in its teeth. If a PBO is building classrooms in Wajir, that is a political act because it is the job of the government to build, and staff, schools. A PBO digging boreholes in Turkana is as much a political PBO as the one that is demanding the release of "political" prisoners. It is time Gathara & Co upped their game and quit flower-girling Moses Kuria and his odious colleagues to ever greater power. If they are not careful, when Moses Kuria and Jubilee attain ultimate, popular total power in Parliament and in the national Executive, it will be a short hop, step and jump before assassinations are back in vogue, presidencies-for-life are a fact of life, and testicular fortitudes are tested in the reopened dungeons of Nyayo House.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Not Marie Antoinette, Thank God!

The few misguided characters that find their way onto this blog sense that if there is something bad to be said about any public figure, I will find it and I will most likely say it. (I'm sorry, Eric, for picking on you and poor Manoah these past few months; I won't do it overmuch any more.) So you can imagine the deep shame I am feeling for failing to find something bad to say about her. Not for lack of trying, but I have searched, nay, scoured! the internet looking for dirt on her and it simply does not exist.

That crazy white chick, Tilda Swinton, played a mean-looking Archangel in Constantine, but since archangels tend to fight wars for God, they have to be mean-looking I suppose. Angels, on the other had, are sweet-looking and terribly inoffensive. She is sweet, sweet-looking, motherly, totally inoffensive and really, really fit. Anyone who dislikes her is a mean little shit and deserves to be kicked in the head by a donkey.

You must have seen the photos on the internet when she finished that marathon. Sure she took several hours more than everyone else, but so what? I haven't run a metre since I bid adieu to the hallowed grounds of my beloved Masaku. I suspect the only marathon you have run is the one from your place of business to the doors of that annoyingly loud, smelly, hooker-ish joint that sells alcoholic beverages for which excise is yet to be paid and nyama choma whose providence would exercise your mind if you ever bothered to consider it. She looked genuinely excited to have done it. If she was faking that thousand-watt smile, she is a better actor than all those pale-skinned Oscar winners we suffer on screen these days. (OK, Lupita is hardly pale-skined, but still...) What really tugged at the one heart-string I have left was the radiant, joyous smile her husband had for her when he met her at the finish line. That man was prepared to give her anything she demanded right there and then!

And then there's the reason she is running marathons and half-marathons and mini-marathons: preventing the deaths of mothers during childbirth. He predecessor loved children, especially girls. She spoke out often and forcefully for their protection and care. But this one loves the family as a unit and she knows that it is fucked if the mum is dead. You must be a royal shit if you can't even admit that a mom is the family; without her, the boys will be rough-edged rungus with the subtlety of a nuclear weapon and the girls will look increasingly like the dad's gateway to hundreds of cows. The Beyond Zero Campaign is important. It is a critical weapon in safeguarding and securing the family unit. If you're not going to give money to it, that's your selfish prerogative but keep any negative comments you have about it to yourself.

Margaret Kenyatta is the mother of our nation. I'm sure she never, ever wanted this job; Kenyans have a nasty habit of treating their mothers like shit, after all. But she is and she is doing it with style, poise, grace and that unbridled joy she demonstrated after the London Marathon. Thank God she is not a politician; thank God she is a mother who cares about other women and doesn't appear to be the African caricature of Marie Antoinette. Thank God!

Saving our national soul.

It is a national pass-time, almost a sport. Every end of year we all freak out when our sprogs sit for national certificate exams. Because every mum wants her son to go to Alliance or her daughter to go to Kenya High, the degree of freaking out is usually out of all known proportion when the exam is the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education. But it is taken several extreme degrees higher when a son or a daughter is confronting the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education; parents, teachers, pastors, friends, headmasters...everybody freaks the hell out and do things that really reveal just what an individual is willing to do to "succeed" in Kenya.

Exam cheating is the national pass-time these days. I think it is time we decriminalised it. We are spending too much time, too much money and too many man hours trying to keep candidates from circumventing our clearly inadequate anti-cheating controls. The idiocy of extreme penalties for exam cheaters who get caught will eventually be made manifest. Getting caught cheating should only warrant the cancellation of ones results, not a supid five-year ban from sitting the exams again.

I think it is time we "leaked" the details of each year's exam at the beginning of the year. Given the mechanised manner in which syllabi are gotten through in the year, we all know that the last three academic months of the year are devoted to cramming as many potential answers as a seventeen-year old can retain without losing their mind. Why not ease the pressure; give them the test questions at the begging of the year without indicating whether the answers will be in multiple-choice form or in essay form and let them "read for the exam" in relative mental peace.

In one fell swoop we will have killed the market for corrupting Kenya National Examinations' Council officials, County Education Office officials, and the dozens of officials and middlemen between the national examiner and the candidate. Parents will no longer have to sell the family goat to finance a harebrained exam-paper-buying scheme. Candidates will not have to come up with elaborate, multi-player plots to sneak answers into the examinations hall. And invigilators will not have to worry about watching their backs because they might have offended quick-tempered, nervous and hormonal teens when they clamped down a bit to strongly on attempted cheating.

Since we already accept that our system is out to weed out the last ounce of free-thought among the hormonally-driven thirteen to eighteen demographic, there is no reason not to guarantee that all free thought is extinguished. This is achieved by allowing them to get the test in advance. They can work with whichever witchdoctors and consultants they fancy, but by the time they are siting for the exam, they must have memorised every possible solution to every question.

Before you freak out and call be a flame-throwing anarchist out to drive a nail in Kenya's creativity coffin, just because some kid managed to cram his or her way to an A in the KCSE does not mean that they will be automatically admitted to the university of their choice to pursue the course of their heart's desire. No, far from it. All they have done is to prove that they are very capable robots. For them to prove that they can read and think, they will need to sit for an entrance exam whose questions will be kept secret on the pain of academic excommunication for anyone who attempts to sabotage the system. The universities will manage the entrance exam for each course they offer. Only those who meet the strict qualifications set by the university will be admitted. The rest can try their luck in "tertiary colleges", polytechnics, the National Youth Service, the Mungiki Welfare Association or any of the three thousand five hundred "SACCOs" operating in the transport sector with wild abandon.

The reason I think they should be allowed to know the questions in advance is that the skills they demonstrate in their efforts to cheat are usually scaled up when they join the formal and informal workforce. Many of them become managers, elected representatives, preachers, teachers, doctors or lawyers and, having gotten used to lying and cheating their way to "success", they see it as a virtue to inculcate those same tendencies in their children and those under their care. They corrode the moral fabric of society even before most of them learn how to shave. Take away the incentive to cheat and save the soul of the nation. I beg you!

Fourth Estate Betrayal

If it was not clear yet, let me make it plainly so: I am not a journalist. Which makes me perfectly suited to stand in judgment of the Fourth Estate, doesn't it? After all, as Michael Joseph will sooner or later endorse, that is another of our peculiar habits. Carrying on from where I left off in my previous post, our conflation of "media" and "press" has led to an unfortunate understanding of the media and the press in Kenya. 

When we talk of "media", I do not automatically think of journalists or news reporters, though that is its modern meaning. I usually think of television, radio, newspapers and the internet as "media". I believe that in Kenya this failure to distinguish between the media houses that employ journalists and those journalists has contributed greatly to the friction between the media houses and the government, the media houses and the consumers of news, especially political news, and between journalists and the government. As I understand it, a democracy only works if the people choose who governs them freely, if the choices their government makes are made with the people's consent, and where the people shall know of their government's deeds and misdeeds from an unrestrained press.

We may have held free elections in 1960 and 1962, but the doubts surrounding the Little General Election and all subsequent elections will never, ever subside because with the deterioration of the political process came a co-option of the press for the perfidious ends of a few, usually the president and his closest business and political cronies. Fateful events have taken place n Kenya since Independence; journalists have reported the news, sometimes even faithfully, but they have done little to contextualise the events. I wasn't alive, but the impression I got from my father's generation of the assassinations of Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya and JM Kariuki was that it were insiders in Jomo Kenyatta's government who plotted and executed the assassinations, that journalists knew and that they kept the truth from the people. Few of them even considered consigning their suspicions in private journals that could get published posthumously.

With the assassination of Robert Ouko and the suspected hi-tech assassination of Masinde Muliro, Kenyan journalists had an opportunity to redeem themselves. They let it go without asking of Daniel Moi's government the hard questions that lead to the fall of governments elsewhere. Then came the 1992 and 1997 election-linked clashes and the journalists sensationally reported the murder, rape, rapine, arson and banditry in gory detail, but they studiously turned a blind eye to the burning embers of the rumours of provincial administration and Kenya Police Force bigwigs supplying firearms, simis, spears and rungus to militia who were funded by politicians close to Daniel Moi's government.

Then came the All Africa Games and the two-hundred million shilling hold that Henry Kosgei left behind when the last athletes had left for home. Even then the journalists would not raise their heads above the parapet. Soon after came Goldenberg and the "liberalisation" of the economy through the privatisation of parastatals like the  Kenya Posts & Telecommunications Corporation. What ran through all the sensational stories published "bravely" by the Daily Nation and the East African Standard was the softly-softly approach they took when it came to Moi's favourite MPs. The newspapers' journalists and commentators have never been able to effectively explain why they did not take a stand against the spectre of suspects getting courts to whitewash the suspects' alleged crimes by "removing their names from reports" of commissions of inquiry or parliamentary investigative committees.

We believed that the Second Republic would use the constitutional protections of speech and access to information to keep the government on its toes. It is time to admit that ours is a false hope and that the only difference between the Second Republic and the Independence one is one of size and scale. There are no so many power centres and avenues for corruption that it makes no sense to think of ourselves as living in a democracy. We are living in the age of betrayal and no betrayal bites as much as that by the Fourth Estate.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

All for a belly rub.

I feel bad for Patrick Gathara. I watched as he unsuccessfully made the case for the public-interest obligations of the "media" before Clay Muganda, Ngunjiri Wambugu and Denis Itumbi on Sophia Wanuna's Morning Express on KTN. I might be pedantic about it, but I believe Mr Gathara's first mistake is to equate the "media" with a press. That may be the modern and lazy thing to do, but the two are not synonyms of each other. The press may employ media, but the media isn't necessarily a press in the context of reporting the news, especially political news. Mr Gathara's second problem is assuming that Kenya has a press.

It is only a matter of time before it dawns on Mr Gathara and his fellow-travellers that what Mr Itumbi and his colleagues in the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit have achieved is nothing short of a propaganda victory against Kenya's leading media houses, Royal Media, the Standard Group and the Nation Media Group. Mr Itumbi and his colleagues have managed to make the national Executive tail wag the Fourth Estate dog; rather than the press, through their media houses, reporting the news of the day, it is the PSCU that recites the events of the day to media houses through the press. What Mr Itumbi and the PSCU have achieved is the recreation of the All Moi, All the Time "reporting" that was the staple of the voice of Kenya/Kenya Broadcasting Corporation for nigh on two decades. And they have done it without plastering the Commander-in-Chief's face on our TV screens every second of the day. It has been a brilliant coup.

The other night I watched Macharia Gaitho defending the press on Mark Masai's PressPass on NTV against Mr Itumbi again. He did his best to remind NTV's viewers of the glorious past of the press before and after independence. But Mr Gatho and Mr Gathara, eventually, will have to take a step back and examine the news media environment. If they do not weep in shame, then they are stronger men than many. The press, especially the news media, is lying supine on the floor for all manner of strangers to rub its belly. While these allegations have never been proven, the fall from grace seems to have started when Kamlesh Pattni became a frequent visitor along the corridors of justice. The rumours of brown envelopes of cash exchanging hands between press-hacks and Mr Pattni's minders for favourable coverage of Mr Pattni's shenanigans have refused to die down.

Mr Gathara's plea for the press to report the news and to offer objective coverage of issues of public interest will fall on deaf ears and Mr Gaitho's spirited defense of a sector that has become more capitalist than most will be met with eye-rolling from insiders. It is up to "citizen" journalists to keep the fire burning by dedicating their resources to holding their government to account. What used to be the job of the press has been overshadowed by their parent companies' desire for profit at all costs, even if part of the price to be paid is to cozy up to the powers-that-be for a belly rub.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bovine, porcine legislating.

Whatever else a normal person wants, they do not want to witness the making of sausages - or legislation. The former is just stomach-turning processing of different bits and pieces that may or may not have bovine or porcine. The latter is stomach-churning but for very different reasons, even though the words "bovine" and "porcine" come readily to the mind of a witness to law-making.

Those who have an indulgent boss like mine is will have experienced the utter shock of having their auditory senses assailed in the early, coffee-fuelled morning by portentous pontifications by our makers and shapers of opinions. This very morning, as I struggled to force my mind to adjust to the intricate machinery of the Value Added Tax Act of 2013, I was briefly jolted awake by a rather forceful justification for "heavy penalties" in a proposed access to information Bill that is yet to begin the arduous journey to enactment. Apparently, the International Commission of Jurists (Kenya Chapter) and some of its partners in the civil society complex have been promoting the enactment of such a law for a long, long time and they feel that, with the incorporation of an access-to-information clause in the Bill of Rights, they are one step closer to their dream.

I will not debate the merits, or otherwise, of an access-to-information law; I will wait patiently for the law to be enacted before I weigh in with totally unwarranted assessments. However, the premise that for a law to be obeyed or for a law to be effective it must prescribe "heavy penalties" for those who would contravene its provisions is a premise that must be challenged. The five years since the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010 has seen a flurry of law-making. One is hard-pressed to find a new law that does not have an Offences-and-Penalties section that prescribes stiff fines or imprisonment or both for contravening provisions of the said new law. This is sheer lunacy. Looking at the armed robbery and murder statistics in Kenya, it is clear that the harsh penalty imposed for both crimes has had little deterrent effect on armed robberies and murders in Kenya.

How will an access-to-information law benefit if it is designed to punish public officers who are reluctant to participate in exposing long-held secrets of the state? The United States and France have a long history of defying kings and emperors, as does England - in its own fashion. One of the tools available to these nations was the freedom of the press to broadcast far and wide what was being done in their names by their elected representatives, whether they be in the king's court, the emperor's court, the presidential mansion or the parliaments, congresses or chambers of deputies. The more the state tried to hide, the more viciously the free press fought to expose the government and its agents. The British suffered the Profumo Affair even when it still retained the power of the "D-Notice" and it took the Supreme Court of the United States to slap down the US federal government over the Pentagon Papers. Kenya's brief dalliance with whistle-blowing during the Goldenberg Affair was cut short with the rather Stalinist invasion of the premises of the Standard Media Group, the seizure of its news equipment and the dead-of-night burning of newspapers.

Kenya is not England, France or the United States. Threatening public officers, even those who have no truck with the Stalinist tendencies of their seniors, with hefty fines and long jail terms is not the way to get them to co-operate in lifting the veil on the State's long-held secrets. What you want is to persuade them. What you want is for them to volunteer information, make it readily accessible, and make it accessible to all at a reasonable cost - or no cost at all. Instead, the International Commission of Jurists and its partners have thrown down a gauntlet and challenged the State and its agents to resist the imposition of an access-to-information law, Constitutional provisions notwithstanding.

The experience with the Article 35 Bill is symptomatic of all laws made since 2010, indeed all laws made in Kenya. This obsession with penalties makes all Kenyans potential offenders. One of its less salubrious effects is that it makes  mockery of the law because there are too many laws to enforce effectively. People have no respect for laws or law-enforcers because they instinctively know that if all the penalty clauses were to be enforced and the maximum penalties imposed on offenders, the courts would be filled with so many petty offenders that the machinery of the administration of justice would not only grind to a halt, it would break down irreparably. Before parliamentarians and the law-making semi-literates who advise them add new offences to the hundreds of thousands already on our books, it is time they took a step back and reconsidered this penchant for fines and six-month prison sentences.

Monday, October 27, 2014

No apology needed.

I suppose there are those who will sympathise with the Leader of the Minority Party in the Senate. I suppose there are those who feel that our national carrier, Kenya Airways, must apologise to the senator. I have no doubt that there is a group that is convinced that because of the senator's notoriety, he has no need to comply with mandatory requirement to carry one's national identity card at all times or the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority's mandatory requirement not to permit passengers to board airplanes without displaying at least one official document of identity.

Obviously, as if you didn't know by now, I do not fall into any of the aforementioned categories of victims of the Big Man Syndrome. I do not sympathise with the senator, nor do I think that his political notoriety entitles him to special treatment. From what we have been regaled with about the incident, Kenya Airways did not cover itself in glory either and they deserve the acres of bad press they are going to get. It's a shitty airline and if we had the option of flying Ethiopian Airlines on our domestic routes...or Virgin, Lufthansa or Emirates, you can guess how swiftly KQ would lose market share, can't you?

Back to the Big Man Syndrome. Nancy Barasa discovered just how swiftly the fall from grace can be once The Powers That Be turn their backs on you. I am informed that, like the Speaker of the National assembly and the Narc-K boss, the senator was once a magistrate, those pernickety sticklers for the letter of the law for which no discretion shall abide in its interpretation. So I am not inclined to cut him any slack because of his perceived importance in the face of a combative Kenya Airways; if the law that the senator imposed on others with magisterial determination demands his presentment of a national ID, why should he be given the go-bye simply because he is a modern-day nabob?

These people (and by "these people" I mean elected people) really should be taken down a peg or three. The Mau Mau could not have predicted that its land and freedom war would end up bequeathing Kenyans with aristocrats who were more beberu than the wabeberu. There are those kaburus who are yet to get the memo that Kenya is no longer a British colony and there's little we can do about their delusions. What they need is psycho-social support. But our modern-day colonists-in-African-skins need a sharp kick in the shins to snap them out of the delusion that they are the heirs of a British mandate to civilise Kenya.

If I am to go through security-vetting, so shall you, bwana senator. If I am to bend over backwards so that Kenya Airways does not illegally sell my seat on their flight to the next pale face, so shall you bwana senator. If I am going to suffer the unwashed armpits of that mzungu in the premier section, guess what, bwana senator? So shall you! You are not special. You don not deserve an apology. It is your job to show the way by obeying the law. All of it. Not the bits that you feel like. All of the law. And by the by, your Kenya Airways Platinum Membership Card, which I suspect taxpayers have financed, and your five credit cards (why the hell do you need five anyway? Mastercard and Visa are enough!), are not documents of identity. They never were. They never will be. You can ask the Cabinet Secretary for the Interior and Co-ordination of National Government to grant you one, but I do not think he is in a mood to give you a special dispensation. Hizo enzi zimepita!

You don't have the balls.

By your pretty limited standards, we are poor. By your even more limited standards, we are unlettered. By your criminally ahistorical standards, we are uncivilised. And that is why you have decided to enslave us by guile. You don't even have the balls of your forebears to come and steal us away by force from our own land, you have to use subterfuge, deceit, lies and trickery. You do not have the ocean-crossing balls of the slavers of the pre-colonial Africa. You are pygmies in a land of giants thinking that your money is the ticket to legendary achievement.

We have witnessed the lengths you will go to in order to hide your inhumanity. You have murdered. You have bribed. You have intimidated even governments. You have managed to keep out of official documents your records as enslavers. You have succeeded in ensuring that world powers will continue to turn a blind eye to a practice that is as abhorrent as the cultures you claim to be superior. But in an interconnected world, with the tools of communication at even a slave's fingertips, do you imagine that we do not know? Do you imagine that we are blind to the plight of our fellowman? Do you imagine we will not expose the vacuity of the cultural vacuum your entire lives are?

My government has proven to have a knack for doing the wrong thing and doing it with gusto. The man in charge of vetting - what a stupid idea - the companies that arrange for slaves to be shipped off to the unforgiving sands of your camel-infested state, has done a piss-poor job of vetting, if he even attempted it at all. And so, like a metronome, every month there is a "shocking" video on YouTube in which a woman - it is always a woman - weeps piteously and begs someone, anyone to rescue her from her slave-owner. Our man, or one of his colleagues, promises to do something. And promptly forgets his promise. Until the next slave posts the next video on YouTube.

Meanwhile your government, when it deigns to speak, denies, denies, denies, that any of its subjects is a slave-owner, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Human rights organisations that are reviled by your government as they are feared by mine have documented the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, and Nepalis sweating, bleeding and dying to build your stadia, skyscrapers and highways to nowhere. It is only a matter of time that the slavery of the hundreds of thousands of women from my part of this continent begins to be documented and published. But we know you will feel no shame. You will feel no remorse. You will merely offer us money because you already know that our souls can be bought.

We defeated the slavers of the eighteenth century. We defeated the colonists of the twentieth century. We will defeat modern day slavers and colonists, which you most definitely are. We will beat you because we are richer, more educated, more cultured and more civilised than you will ever be. Our wealth is not denominated in dollars like yours is; it is denominated in that free-spirited love of life that years in the dessert has scorched out of your souls. We are better educated because even with the corrosive influences of the pale faces from the intemperate north, we have not forgotten essential truths about ourselves, where we came from or who we are. Our culture is our civilisation and it is not obsessed with the sexual enslavement of our women whom we revere, despite the pervasive, pernicious influences sponsored by your and your northern friends. We will prevail and there is nothing you can do about it. That scares you, doesn't it?

Not Superman. Sigh.

You have no idea how devastated I was to discover I am not Superman. All those capes I had planned to purchase - and tights! I am never going to jump over tall buildings in a single leap. I am never going to reverse time. I do not have ancestors from beyond the stars. I do not have a Fortress of Solitude. I do have fatal flaw, though. It is this most human of bodies. It is this vessel that is a petri dish of every virus and bacterium in the known universe. It is this unsculpted mass that takes up more and more equatorial space the longer it snuffles with wild abandon the tastier and tastier offerings of institutions of eating with names like flame-grilled. My mortality is tied to the time it will take to murder every single cell in my body.

It feels like I have killed ninety per-cent of by cells today. Everything aches. Even the aches have aches. She, yes that One, is going to mock me and use cruel phrases like Man-flu, but I am not exaggerating this blasted fever that has simply refused to abate even after it broke six hours ago. This fever simply refuses to accept that I cannot be laid up when I am supposed to be making the lives of several cabinet Secretaries and the Principal Secretaries, and sundry heads of institutions sit up and pay attention. I cannot be laid down when I am supposed to be breaking the hearts of several tenderpreneurs who were just a little bit too free with their wallets. If I am to keep the people's faith - and that of my boss - I can't be flop-sweating all over this damn keyboard!

Why in the name that is kryptonitically holy did they - na, wanajijua - ever think of planting in my mind the idea that I was Superman? Of course it had something to do with my feeble intellect that I swallowed their praises - hook, line and sinker. Of course it had something to do with my planet-sized ego - after all, I am, or should be, a beneficiary of the rule of primogeniture. I am fighting a fever with every tool at my disposal save for the one that matters most, my mind, because I am devoting oodles of mental bandwidth to subconsciously berating my nearest and dearest for planting ideas in my mind about my alleged superpowers!

Yet, it isn't so bad. That youthful looking product of the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital has prescribed rather hallucinogenic amounts of drugs. Drugs are the best thing about fevers. Painkillers with opioid properties are such a blast! All those vivid colours are so intense; I can almost taste the mauves and magentas and fuschias...they remind me of really properly salted pistachios. Other than this persistent desire to throw up all over myself, the best thing about this fever is most definitely the drugs.

Of course I don't want to go through this again. It's quite horrible sharing a matatu with characters making the walks of shame trips back to their horrid lives, all unbathed and under-deodorant-clad. The smells, Lord help me, were more than my rather delicate gastric organs could withstand. Not even wide open windows seemed to be of much help. I was violently assailed by a combination of post-coital sweat, three-day weekend un-washed body odours and what, I am sure, were (Yesu Kristo!) unwashed undies. For once I agreed with my brother George: private car ownership-and-travel is the only sensible thing to do for the delicate ones among us. (But my own jalopy would have done me no good with all the opiates coursing through my veins and breaching the blood-brain barrier so vividly.)

Whatever! I may not be Superman. I may not even be a superman. But I am alive. I am enjoying the experience of being doped up in the office. Should he-who-must-not-be-named demand audience with me, it'll be interesting to see how much redder I can make his face because in all likelihood I won't be in a position to give two shits about his latest pet project. The dope will definitely lower whatever inhibitions I might have about hiding that from him. But he won't call. Jesus won't let him.

Slow, not foolish.

Representation. Legislation. Oversight. In that order. Representation: the action of speaking or acting on behalf of someone. Legislation: the act or process of making or enacting laws. Oversight: the action of overseeing something. That, at least, is what the ordinary Kenyan on the street understands the role of his elected representatives to be. he is hard-pressed to find "overseas travel" in the list of activities that would enhance representation, legislation or oversight. Anyone who suggests that any of the three functions would be enhanced by the jetting in and out of the country by the elected classes needs a serious re-education in the proper functions of legislatures.

We have come to accept the peculiarities of Kenyan institutions without questioning whether these peculiarities are ingrained or acquired. I do not subscribe to the school of thought that simply because we have done things in a certain way for years, or even decades, that we must continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For example, just because Baba Moi tried to bribe his MPs with foreign trips does not mean that we should carry on in the same vein.

Justin Muturi and Ekwe Ethuro and their deputies have let things slide. I do not see why the elected representatives sitting in parliamentary committees need to visit India, China or Malaysia to gather information in order to perform their functions when they have perfectly capable staff for that purpose. (Pictures of the chairperson of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee and an unknown woman canoodling at the Taj Mahal reinforce this point.)

If we are to make the parliamentary business more effective, the professional staff employed by Parliament (and by extension by county assemblies) must perform the bulk of the work of collecting and analysing relevant information. In other words, in addition to the State agencies that perform investigative functions, it is the staff of the parliamentary and county assembly services that must investigate or interrogate the information that parliament or county assemblies receive. If this requires foreign junkets, it is the professional staff that must travel. Elected representatives do not add value by flooding the capitals of friendly powers with a string of peculiarly Kenyan demands that are sometimes difficult to meet.

If parliamentarians and county councillors were properly informed we would not be suffering the idiocy of demands for a "men enterprise fund" or impeachment motions against governors who refuse to approve budgets that run counter to the Public Finance Management Act. Instead, we would witness semi-coherent examinations of auditors' reports, semi-intelligent interrogations of officers of the executives, and policy-driven law-making. But because they are spending so many days flying from one world capital to another, canoodling in front of tourist attractions, and doing precious little learning, we have to listen to constant justifications of why they must travel and why such travel is for our ultimate good. We may be slow, sometimes, but we are not complete idiots.

Friday, October 24, 2014

How to win.

When billions are on the line, whether the billions are denominated in shillings, naira or dollars, no one is above suspicion. Not if they carry a passport with the coat of arms of the Republic of Kenya they are not. Therefore, when it comes to all the public and non-public characters swirling around the laptops tender, the Lamu coal power plant tender, the standard gauge railway tender, the Kitui Mui Basin coal mining tender...our suspicion should be cranked up to eleven. I don't trust the people drawing up the tender documents. I don't trust the people reviewing the bids. I don't trust the people awarding the tender. I don't trust the people signing the contract. I don't trust the people appealing against the award of the tender. I don't trust the people hearing the appeals. I don't trust the people financing the whole kit and caboodle. 

I don't trust anyone when it comes to these sorts of tenders because I am not a naive, fourteen-year old girl visiting the city for the first time and being taken advantage of by an oily parliamentarian in Chester House. It is an attitude more and more Kenyans should adopt because their government has become a machinery for the collection of taxes and the conversion of those taxes into lucrative, white-elephant, billions-shillings tenders of dubious value, dubious utility and dubious legality. We have been here before. This is not our first time at the garden dance. Kisumu Cotton Mills, Rift Valley textiles, Kisumu Mollases, Nyayo Bus Corporation, Kenya Railways Concession, Turkwell Gorge Dam, the 10th All Africa Games, the Nyayo Pioneer Car Project...it is not a short list. So spare us the Vision 2030 fairy dust. Fool me once, shame on me.

We never seem to learn. Throwing money at a problem will generate short-term solutions, but will magnify the inevitably resurgent problem. Take the constitutional reform process. It gave us the Yash Pal Ghai team and the Nzamba Kitonga team, and swallowed up billions of shillings. We thought we were home an dry with the Constitution we promulgated in 2010. Then we held a general election. Whatever word we will use to define where we find ourselves, we should be honest enough to admit that the billions that the constitutional institutions are snuffling today are a pale shadow of the billions that all three previous regimes consumed because of the speed with which we are consuming billions today. It is the National Executive, the Judiciary and Parliament, plus the national-government based constitutional commissions and independent offices, plus the sprawling parastatal edifice, and the forty seven county executives and county assemblies. If the scale of the billions-shillings snuffling doesn't give you pause, you must have greater testicular fortitude than I.

The habit of solving all Kenyan problems through money or legislation is not a new one, but it is one that the Bretton Woods institutions favour against all evidence that these solutions have led to greater political and economic instability in Kenya. It is time we tried a new way. It is time o admit to ourselves that our problems will never be solved simply by making new laws or loading up on more debts. And it is time to admit to ourselves our government is too big for us to handle. The President had the right idea about government-owned entities, except he was too timid in what solution was, which should have been Bill to repeal every single Act of Parliament that establishes a government-owned entity, whether it carries out a vital function or not. 

Second, all those CORDists screaming themselves hoarse about a referendum have the wrong idea. If a referendum is to be held, it should be to merge counties and county governments, reduce them to the 8 provinces we used to have. Third, devolve everything but national defence, diplomacy, health and education to the counties. Yes, even policing too, should be devolved and in the larger province-sized counties, there should be no fear of mini-armies being created for restive governors. Amend the law to provide for a small armed national response police unit; the remaining county police should walk among us without bearing firearms. Devolution should also include that of the Judiciary and the Office of the DPP; a national Judiciary and a national prosecution service have proven to be the greatest impediment to the administration of justice.

Now since the national government has been substantially shrunken, there is absolutely no need for a 290-constituency, 47-county parliament of elected representatives. We can revert to the 122 National Assembly at one-third of the allowances they used to get. Tell me we won't be the happier for it?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

TV shall distract, delude, amuse and insulate us


Hatemongers of God.

Some of the vilest hatemongers in the world are clothed in the garb of  men, and women, of God. It seems to matter not that they are Muslims, Jews, Roman Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Pentecostals or itinerant preachers of every shade. The degree of hateful speech that they spew into the world is sometimes quite shocking. it should come as not surprise that while some of them have been to school, it matters not because they wear a certain degree of ignorance with pride. Take that hatemonger called Pat Robertson as a template, and you have a pretty good idea of the type of character some of us are compelled to deal with from time to time.

The certainty demonstrated by men of faith is sometimes disconcerting. It explains how a pope ordered the murder of a scientist for demonstrating that the Earth revolved around the Earth, that the world was round and not flat. It explains why an imam, without a shred of proof, will declare complete strangers to be apostates simply because they do not profess the same fundamentalist beliefs that he does. it is how a rabbi will feel no qualms about the extermination of an entire people because the land of Israel was bequeathed on the Jews for all time. People of faith have perpetrated some of the worst crimes known to man.

What is ironical about the hatemongering and deliberate obtuseness is the constant litany of proclamations that "our religion is a religion of peace." There's a classic debate between men of the cloth over apartheid South Africa on YouTube which every sentient being on this planet should watch. Jesse Jackson takes on the racist Jerry Falwell and exposes the awful truth about religion, especially evangelizing Christianity and Africa. From the days of the Church Missionary Society at the turn of the twentieth century to the new era of evangelists and their mission to save souls through the planting of seeds, we have seen every shade of charlatan come among us in the name of God.

Beginning in the 1970s with the loosening of the bonds that subjugated the wills of women to those of men, the truly religious among us have waged a vicious war to maintain a patriarchal, paternal orthodoxy that is anathema to the advancement of women, homosexuals, non-Christians and non-whites. This war was fought to a bloody draw in the United States and now it has crossed the ocean to Africa. Kenya has not been spared. The past twenty five years has seen a veritable who's who of celebrity evangelists from the United States and Western Europe make a beeline for our borders promising wealth, prosperity, peace and salvation. Ethnic clashes, land clashes and post-election violence would seem to belie their rosy predictions for our lives.

What is truly depressing about it all is the polished, suave and reasonable-sounding cadences they employ to impart their messages. Listening to that hateful man, Robertson, explaining how one can get HIV/AIDS simply by using towels in Kenya, it is hard not to cast your mind to the same cadences employed by their lackeys in Kenya. Then there are the smiles. Smiles of guile. Smiles of deceit. Smiles of lies. That smile must have been patented by an evangelist because it is replicated in the faces of hatemongering charlatans the world over. The twisted interpretations of "holy" scripture, coupled with the demented desire to control the sex-lives of believers, and the fostering of hatred for everyone who is not part of their club while fleecing their believers of all their earthly material wealth is the sole reason to treat all celebrity pastors, preachers, reverends, evangelists, apostles, brothers, sisters...with contempt, and a bit of hostility.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Preservation, at all costs.

At the top of the securocracy is the Presidency. Beneath it are the civilian heads of the military and the police, and other civilian agencies with limited policing functions. Then come the security heads and their troops. It is a simple enough organogram to draw. It's time to toss it out. It's time to rethink what we know of security. It is time to redraw the map of national security and inject it with as much confusion as possible so that we can flummox any al Shabbies that manage to get past the troops on the ground. The securocracy is about to undergo a massive expansion.

We have paid little regard to the militarisation of policing that started with the appointment of Maj Gen Hussein Ali in 2004. In recent months, the National Executive has embarked on an ambitious programme to reform policing that has been shrouded in secrecy and rife with speculation. The latest revelation is the conversion of the National Youth Service to a bigger paramilitary force and its engagement in security and security-related activities. It will no longer recruit three to four thousand youth in a year; it plans to have 60,000 recruits in 2014/2015.

That, with the placing of the disciplined wings of the Kenya Forest Service and the Kenya Wildlife Service under the direct command of the Inspector-General of  Police, who commands the General Service Unit, the Anti-Terrorist Police Unit, the Border Patrol and the Flying Squad, in addition to the regular police and the Administration Police, means that more and more disciplined forces are engaged in security-related affairs than at any time in the past twenty years.

The sole focus of the National Executive, indeed of the National Government, is the preservation of the security of the state at all costs. It is why the Commander in Chief is increasingly favouring photo-opportunities in his Field Marshall/Commander-in-Chief fatigues. It is why he is placing more and more military officers or retired military officers in sensitive, security-related agencies. It is why purely civilian outfits are acquiring a para-military bent and their missions are being shifted more and more towards the security of the state and further and further away from their core functions of youth capacity enhancement, protection and preservation of forests or wildlife.

The National Executive consistently elides the link between national security and public safety. The former has always come at the expense of the later and yet if the focus is shifted to the latter, the former is bound to be enhanced. The focus on national security means that policing will be used as a tool to control the people in whose name policing exists in the first place. It will be reflected in the number of newer and newer offences created when enacting legislation. It will be reflected by the number of documents of identity a person must possess. It will be reflected by the number of places a person is not permitted to be in, to photograph, or even to speak about. It will be reflected in the number of documents classified as "sensitive", "confidential", "secret", "top secret" or "ultra-top secret''. It will be reflected in the secret powers of secret police to conduct secret operations among the civilian population. And it will inevitably be reflected in the number of secret courts, secret trials and secret executions conducted in the name of national security.

The National Executive has fed us a constant stream of fear-mongering news. The news media have done a brilliant job of broadcasting the fear far and wide. The intellectual boosters of the national Executive have described in acute detail the things that could affect our nation security and therefore, us. Now the National Executive has come up with a plan which it assures us will keep us safe and preserve the national security. But the National Executive keeps the policy document, its blueprint for our national security secret, and employs demagoguery of the vilest kind to browbeat us into submission. This is how it starts, the slippery slope to a Stalinist state. This is how it begins.

No bang for the buck.

There's a perverse logic in paying such exorbitant and extortionate sums for "administrative services" by the Executive arms of government: if we refuse to pay them what they demand, they are the ones best-placed to sabotage the operations of the Executive arms of government. That is why I have great faith that if the 350 million shillings transferred to the Ministry of Health to fight the Ebola virus is spent as the National Treasury intended it to be spent, a substantial proportion will go to "administrative costs".

The Ebola virus has killed almost five thousand people in West Africa. It has killed at least four in Western Europe and North America. We do not know if the Antipodes have been affected nor do we know whether here have been reported cases among the Asian Tigers, the "R" and "I" parts of the BRICS or in the darling of Africa, China. What we do know is that Western Africa will take, maybe, a generation to recover after the worst is over. And the worst is yet to come according to the World Health Organisation.

What should be agitating the minds of Kenyans is the sneaky suspicion that James Macharia is in over his head and that Dr Hadija Kassachoon is not playing at the same administrative league as her predecessor, Dr James Nyikal. When Dr Sultani Matendechero and members of his medical professionals' union warn that Kenya is unprepared, you also have the sneaky suspicion that Dr Matendechero & Co are angling for a piece of the 350 million shillings Ebola kitty and not really about preparedness for the day the Ebola virus sneaks into Kenya.

The reason we burn a bundle on administration is that we have consistently to pay attention to the development of robust institutions. The Ministry of Health should ideally be the premier public institution, second maybe to the Education Ministry. It is not. It never has. It probably never will now that Kenya is avidly discovering oil and gas deposits, and building or proposing to build power-generating plants. And therefore, in the obscurity of the constitutional transition, the Ministry has become an empire where money determines power or favours.

Look at what the United States has done in preparation for the Ebola virus. According to many American commentators, the US government's preparation has been shambolic and inadequate, and yet, it has only led to three deaths. Kenya has never even set aside funds for specialised suits, isolation wards (remember the brouhaha in 2013 over the sad state of the tuberculosis isolation wards at the Kenyatta National Hospital?) or border-crossing surveillance. When the virus crosses the border into Kenya, not even divine intervention will do us much good.

Mr Macharia seems like a bright enough spark, but he was taken hostage by the Ministry's bureaucrats and long before he knew what hit him he was losing credibility with health workers and users of Kenya's public health facilities. The spectacular public relations gaffes regarding Ebola will not restore confidence in him any time soon. The President loves loyalty; but even he must now start to worry about what his Cabinet Secretaries are doing. One by one they are proving to be more flash and no bang. Mr Macharia is just the latest disappointment.

Nyumba Kumi and police reforms.

As I understand it, under the Nyumba Kumi programme, I must familiarise myself with my immediate neighbours, participate in electing a leader from amongst us, and participate in policing my community to enhance the security of the community. The National Executive has embarked on a multi-pronged programme to enhance the security of the nation and includes amendments to key statutes such as the National Police Service Act, the National Police Service Commission Act, the National Intelligence Service Act, the Kenya Defence Forces Act, the Information and Communications Act and the Nyumba Kumi initiative. The overwhelming attention of the civil society industry has been focused on the Nyumba Kumi initiative.

What the National Executive and the other boosters of the programme seem to miss is that the legitimacy of the security establishment is low. It is low because it is obsessed with keeping our leaders secure; it is not overly concerned with the general safety of the public. It is riddled with corruption. It is prone to the commission of grave offences, though little proof has been advanced of those offences. It is renown for its cruelty and ruthlessness when dealing with petty offenders, and its kid-gloved treatment of millionaires and billionaires. It's partners in the judiciary and the public prosecutor's office are reviled for their rigid application of the statute books against petty offenders and, we suspect, highly motivated broad-stroke interpretation of those same statute books when it comes to the high and mighty.

Because my Nyumba Kumi group must work hand in hand with the police in policing my community, I will have to share personal details with the police. The National Executive already has these details in a database somewhere, the same database that contains my birth records, my application for a national identity card or passport, as well as my application for an income-tax Personal Identification Number and a Subscriber Identity Module card for my mobile phone. So sharing all this information with the police will be no big deal. It is what the police will do with that data that gives me reason for pause.

There isn't a day that passes without an examination of the nature of policing, especially in the context of corruption. We focus on the petty corruption among the officers of the traffic department. And it is in this context that the Nyumba Kumi programme will either succeed or fail. Many Kenyans' first engagement with the police is not in relation to the commission of crimes, but in the enforcement of the Traffic Act. 

Whether as motorists, passengers or, on rare occasions, pedestrians, many Kenyans have had the humiliating experience of having a policeman, under the cover of authority and the threat of judicial wrath, extort money from them. It is our coziest description of a policeman. It is unlikely to be reversed soon. It is the reason why the Nyumba Kumi programme has so far been resisted, vocally so, by the civil society industry and has found such great purchase with the ordinary Kenyan. Unless the police service can demonstrate that it is changing, that it is no longer a weapon for the extortion of the innocent, that it cares - really cares - for our general safety, then Nyumba Kumi shall remain an initiative for the enrichment of the few without serving a single discernible purpose.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

It is not incest.

It is not an incestuous relationship, but it is riddled with perfidy, conflicts of interest, inefficiency and great anger. The relationship between business and the Government of Kenya, the whole government and not just the national government, is a strange one. Nurtured since pre-independence it has survived SAPs, PEVs, quasi-sanctions and five changes of government and three changes of the constitutional order. It is the only relationship that is perfectly symbiotic and mutually benefitting. It is an indictment of hope over sense, faith over logic.

The easiest way to assess the insidiousness of the relationship is to examine the ranks of the monied and the landed. For months now we have been discussing the Coast Land Question, with the President and his Cabinet Secretary, and the National Land Commission promising that the problem will be solved once and for all. But a not-so-casual examination of the land records of the Coast, where they can be found, will swiftly demonstrate that all this talk hides more than it reveals.

The number of former public officers and civil servants who happen to own and operate beach hotels sitting on land "allocated" to them in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980 and 1990s is a veritable Who's Who of the senior ranks of Jomo Kenyatta's and Daniel Moi's regimes, as well as former parliamentarians, army officers, policemen and "business associates" of the former presidents. Indeed, if there is a former member of the Cabinet in either regime who does not own a beach plot, that must be the rare Minister who ran afoul of Mzee and Baba.

So it is no surprise that business welcomes with open arms a new Bill to further regulate the securities industry, especially the so-called "advisors" offering financial and investment advice. You would think that the Bill is a solution to a problem that has bedevilled the financial sector what with the number of Kenyans getting ripped off by financial institutions. You would be horrifically wrong. The principle aim of the Bill is to establish another "authority" which shall levy fees and do precious little to solve the problems for which it was originally set up to do anyway. It's secondary aim will be to use the resources it has accumulated for the express purpose of joining the rest of the Government of Kenya in investing in the real estate sector by building a massive office building and charging exorbitant rents to those who have the balls to pay. 

And in a decade or so when a review of the law that led to its establishment is done, it is almost certain that a new report recommending a "restructuring" of the sector will recommend mergers of regulatory agencies "and streamlining" process by establishing a new super-agency. And the wheel will have turned full circle and we will be where we left of a decade earlier. What should make you smile in a light-bulb moment of realisation is that the men or women chosen to head these authorities have had deep and lasting relationships with the Cabinet Secretaries making the decisions, or their Principal Secretaries. And the ones appointed to "investigate" the problems in that sector and recommend the establishment of the authority are connected to those that will be appointed.

While in the past the sole purpose of the Central Government was to transfer prime land assets to favoured sons and daughters, the scarcity of such land and the conflicts now inherent in land have required the National Government to transfer financial assets or control of financial assets or control of the agencies that oversee the management of financial assets from the government to favoured sons - and daughters. What we have done is exchanged one part of the machinery of perfidy from land to finance without solving national problems - or indeed any problems.

Appoint a Commission, Mr President.

The ghosts of the Westgate Mall will not rest easily. Every time there are doubts over what kind of measures we need to take in the name of national security, Westgate is invoked with a degree of gravity to emphasise the urgency of the measures being proposed. The President, in his Mashujaa Day speech, invoked Westgate not less than three times while asking the people to support his government in its efforts to enhance the security of the nation through the incorporation of the National Youth Service, NYS, into the security sector and the Nyumba Kumi programme.

The speculation surrounding what the National Executive did during the Westgate siege will not die down and its constant invocation by the President and members of his Cabinet will only keep that speculation alive. Westgate revealed deep operational schisms between the National Police Service and the Kenya Defence Forces, something the President hopes to resolve by the establishment of the Metropolitan Military Command. It also revealed the woeful unpreparedness of the Cabinet Secretary for the Interior as well as his counterpart in Defence. It revealed that major changes are needed in the National Police Service, including in the Directorate of Criminal Investigations which we are now told is being starved of trained managers in the 47 commands established in the counties.

Parliament has singularly failed to oversee the affairs of the National Executive. Its creation of the the General Oversight Committee is an admission that despite the highfaluting talk of oversight, its committees lack the maturity to prioritise matters of national importance. Its examination of the Westgate affair was shambolic and is report was an embarassment.

Kenya is in a strange place. It is more mature than its neighbours in the establishment of public institutions. But it is hobbled by a complicated past that has not been addressed with sobriety or honesty. Too many ghosts hide in the closets and before we can even begin to reform the national security apparatus, we must grapple with uncomfortable truths about the men and women in charge of the national security. We must also hold a bold conversation regarding the place of national security in the general safety of the public. Before the President can exhort us to join in neighbourhood policing, he must make public moves to assure the people that they will remain afterthoughts as exemplified with the National Executive's obsession with national security at the expense of public safety.

The President has a chance to break with the past, as his predecessor did with the appointment of the Waki Commission after the violence of 2007/2008. He must appoint a Commission of Inquiry, as he had promised, to look into the national security apparatus generally, paying particular attention at the events of September 2013. It is the only way that the people can participate effectively in the reforms being undertaken in policing. It is the only way people can trust that the process will not confirm in office wolves in sheep's clothing out to make a killing from the people. It is the only way to have an objective assessment of the state of national security and public safety in Kenya. It will be a demonstration of the President's commitment to the peace, safety, security and welfare of the people.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rule #1: Don't embarass me.

In the spirit of positive criticism, it is time we had an honest chat about some peculiarities of the Kenyan public service, especially the one where the avoidance of "embarassment" at all costs still prevails. Truth be told, if there is someone who appreciates the ludicrousness of the Do Not Embarass the Government line it is the President and Commander-in-Chief himself. While the likes of Manoah Esipisu and the entire gang of protocol officers littering the corridors of the national Executive were shitting their collective pants when shoes and other missiles flew at the Head of State when he visited that dodgy Migori market centre, the President kept a cool head and later on used the fracas to gain political mileage.

If only Uhuru Kenyatta's sangfroid could trickle down to the hyper-sensitive minions in his government. It is one of the reasons why even laid back individuals coming in from their lucrative sinecures in the private sector are beginning to swan around like Arabian princes. They have been persuaded by the seniormost mandarins that they must maintain the dignity of their offices at all costs. So they surround themselves with gun-toting bodyguards, drivers, secretaries, personal assistants and a retinue of ass-kissing flunkies whose contribution to the effectiveness or efficiency of President Kenyatta's minions is doubtful at best.

I don't know if the Deputy President noticed when he was appointed to act as President when Uhuru Kenyatta went to The Hague, but the manner in which his security detail behaved left a bitter taste in the mouths of many. Of course we are aware that there are wackjobs who would not hesitate to do the Deputy President harm, but we can assure Inspector-General Kimaiyo and his National Police Service that ropes will not stop bullets or defuse explosive devices. What the police did over those two days not only endangered the lives of pedestrians, it was uncalled for and simply reinforced in my mind that our public service obsesses too much over embarassment or potential embarassment.

You can see it with the portraitisation of public offices. Under old Jomo and Baba Moi's iron-fisted regimes, it was the foolhardy that would not prominently display the portrait of the Head of State at their places of work. However, this began to change with the laid back, hands off approach of Mwai Kibaki. He would keep his dignity at all costs, but he would not demand privileges that simply created resentment. Today, in some public offices, in order to appear as if one is truly loyal and committed to the agenda of the boss, in addition to the Presidential Portrait, you will have a portrait of the man in charge and quite often that of that man's principal assistant. It is not enough to demonstrate our loyalty to the President, we must now demonstrate it to his minions and factotums.

President Kenyatta, I am sure, knows that things must change and one of the most important is that the people his government is in office for should not fear members of the public service, whether they are State officers or ordinary rank-and-file. President Kenyatta will likely trade the dignity of the office of a Cabinet Secretary or some similar Cabinet-rank official for the chance to empower the people to be true partners in national building. You can see it in his usual rapturous engagement with the people when he freaks out his security detail and mingles a little bit too freely. If only his Cabinet and the hyper-sensitive "protocol" obsessives could follow suit.

It isn't time yet.

I believe what I am about to write is the equivalent of eating crow. In the past two weeks I have had the privilege of sitting together with members of Kenya's elite, Judges, parliamentarians and members of county assemblies. I have interacted with them at length. I have socialised with them. I have listened to them make their case in relation to the work I do. Save for the embarassment of confirming that MCAs are a stain on the national conscience, away from the glare of the TV spotlight, Judges and MPs are thoughtful, conscientious and intelligent. Even as they grab ever larger shares of the national treasure, in the relative privacy of a conference room, they are persuasive and rather accommodating of divergent views or challenges to received wisdom.

In the spirit of revising my rather obdurate views of the elected classes, I have carefully gone over the statements attributed to the Speaker of the National Assembly. I believe he has been unfairly cast as the villain of too many pieces. In my view, while he has a knack for coming across as an arrogant and hubristic man too full of himself, Justin Muturi is a public servant performing a high-wire act over a river full of hungry crocodiles; a misstep and his career will be cut short. He presides over a chamber where political passions run high, where allotted time is little to make an erudite impression and where very little of the Jubilee agenda has been reduced into a White Paper or a Bill. Mr Muturi's National Assembly has been reduced to making resolutions which, so far, have not had the desired political or oversight effect the Members expected.

Even among the well read, few appreciate the magnitude of the changes being wrought by the Constitution. From a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system that favoured the presidency at the expense of Parliament to one that seems to favour the two-chamber Parliament, long-nurtured relationships had to undergo a sea-change. President Kenyatta and Speaker Muturi are in an unenviable position of trying to streamline both the process of overseeing the National Executive while performing the legislative role of the National Assembly in a chamber where the Minority Party does not have the numbers but punches way above its political weight. The complete transformation of the government may not be accomplished in this election cycle or even the next; it will take time and it is time that everyone came to this rather obvious conclusion too.

It is in this context that the reforms being pursued in various areas should be seen. Take for example the "militarisation" of the National Youth Service. It has been in existence since just after the attempted coup in 1982. It's first five years generated a generation of leaders who went on to university and beyond, achieving heights not seen before. The Nyayo Bus era of the NYS coincided with the explosion in graft in the public service and it was inevitable that the NYS would become another statistic in the hollowing out of public institutions by corruption. In a nation suffering high levels of youth unemployment, it was inevitable that the revival of a once-successful institution would be attempted. Some may see it as the militarisation of the NYS, especially with the recent placing of some its assets in the hands of the Inspector-general of Police, but an argument can be made that by making the NYS a more disciplined outfit might safeguard the proposed changes to its mandate and mission. Before we lose sight of the forest for the trees, let us monitor whether or not the NYS will contribute significantly to the reduction of youth employment and an uptick in youth entrepreneurship.

What we must do, rather than constantly nay-say, Like I have done for the past eighteen months, is give the government, all three arms of it, a chance to implement its agenda. We should monitor the changes taking place. We should hold dyed-in-the-wool sticks-in-the-mud to account. We should demand excellence in whatever pursuit the government engages in. We should keep a hawkish eye on the public finances. And when the next general election is held, a sufficient amount of time to gauge progress, we can assess whether we are better off or not. And then we can choose to celebrate or express our dissatisfaction in what I am sure will be creatively Kenyan ways.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Social graces.

I proclaim this with a very limited experience of five-star beach hotels, but things must surely be very bad if the only way you could see a hooker at the beach hotel is if you went out and brought one back with you. My recent working holiday was quite an eye-opener; "terrorism" has killed much of the mzungu-fuelled tourism; the few wazungu I saw had a larger than proportional number of "budget" tourists who are even more tight-fisted with their money than the local mzungu or the "domestic tourist."

My hotel had a prowling phalanx of watchmen; rather than make me feel safe, they made me nervous that they were nervous that some man with bad intentions would somehow make his way onto the hotel grounds with the intent to do bad things. Then when I was taking my time to partake of beverages that attract hefty excise duties down at the "beach bar", I saw a trio of blue-clad, sun-glassed, G3-armed policemen stomping up and down the beach. The fierce concentration in their faces as they struggled to not look at the hotel aroused a suspicion deep in the recesses of my mind that, (a) their G3s did not have live rounds to fire, and (b) if some al Shabby tried his thing at my hotel, the trio would take off like shots - in the opposite direction.

But my imagination was captured by the few patrons of the hotel who were determined to live a Mombasa Raha life while in Mombasa for the three days I was struggling to understand phrases like the forty/sixty rule, pensions viz. retirement benefits, pensionable emoluments and such like. Thee was this pair. Relatively young too. Clearly recently come into a big bundle. Obviously determined to make their presence felt. So, after valiantly stuffing themselves into pairs of jeans and figure-hugging vests with a suspicious degree of elasticity, they vanished in the middle of our cocktail and reappeared half-an-hour later accompanied by a bevy of Mtwapa's finest "college students."

I would have paid them no mind except that these two characters thought that I should appreciate the lovely nature of their companions. Readers of this blog will appreciate that I was in an untenable position. The three gentlemen I had been conversing with had proven to be singularly interesting, especially as the youngest is my father's age, and I had no intention of giving up their wise counsel for what I was sure would turn out to be a litany of banality that would stretch my very thin patience to breaking point. I politely declined the two gentlemen's offer to accompany them and their companions to the far end of the bar "where it was quieter." That was hat, I thought, until one of the aforementioned companions decided to challenge all the rules of social congress at once.

It is said that with age comes wisdom, but only if one learns the proper lessons of his experiences. Elder Gentleman No. 1 sensed that my blood was well up and that the chances of more social rules were about to experience a Zulu-like violation, so he suggested rather generously I thought, that perhaps the two gentlemen and their companions would appreciate a very large bottle of something very expensive at their table. Elder Gentleman No. 2 was already signalling the floor staff while Elder Gentleman No. 3 had somehow managed to clear out an entire section of the bar without lifting a finger - or an eyelid. Those three gentlemen are proof positive that a certain degree of professional and personal decorum, coupled with intelligence and experience, are all the power a man past the prime of his youth requires to prevail in a hostile world full of whippersnappers full of lead.

Suffice to say, I cannot say I remember the names of the jeans-and-tight-vest-clad characters; I probably never will. But the Three Wise Men have had a profound effect on my future plans. I am afraid that I may lose a few more "friends" in the process, but for the chance to do what the three have done and achieve what they have achieved, I will set on fire s many bridges as need to be burned.

All are not equal.

Perhaps I am not imaginative enough. Perhaps I do not have the capacity to ask the right question in order to get the right answer. Perhaps I have been too long in the wrong company. Whatever the reason, I cannot understand why the civil society industry is proclaiming outrage at the "lack of co-operation" by the Government of Kenya in relation to the long-stalled trial of Uhuru Kenyatta. It must be my lack of imagination because I believe the situation is plain enough to understand without searching for more complex "facts."

There are only two ways to examine the matter. Neither of them will make the civil society industry happy. The first, obviously, is that "the Government of Kenya has refused to co-operate." We are not small children in need of adult supervision, I believe. We are not naive. We are not idiots. We know what we know because we have the benefit of experience. So I cannot understand why the civil society could not anticipate this non-co-operation. This is not something that was out of the realm of the possible; it could have been countered by deft footwork, planning and astute political tea-leaf reading.

I have no doubt that the Attorney-General of Kenya spoke the truth each time he appeared before the Trial Chamber Vb of the International Criminal Court and detailed the elements of the co-operation of the Government of Kenya with the Court. I also have no doubt that the co-operation he detailed before the three judges falls far below what the Office of the Prosecutor would consider "full" co-operation. It all depends on who was in charge of doing what a what time and with what facilities and in what context.

When the Government of Kenya brings its might to bear against you it can be surprisingly efficient and effective. But if it suspects that it is being challenged, even by a powerful foreign court, it will do what it does best; it will marshall its resources, and it will apply them to its survival. The many elements that make up the Government of Kenya are like white blood cells and anti-bodies designed to destroy pathogens in the bloodstream. The ICC is a pathogen. It must be stopped or destroyed.

The second, of course, is the more plausible: the Office of the Prosecutor should not have brought the Uhuru Kenyatta case to the court and the civil society industry should not have underestimated the myopia of Kenyans. Philip Waki knew that Kenyans would do nothing about the violence. He had seen it before. So he demanded a local mechanism to investigate all the cases related to the violence. 

By publishing a secret list of twenty persons he held most responsible for the violence, Justice Waki was not saying that all the other complaints should be forgotten; he simply wanted the small fish to share the dock with the big fish, reinforcing the idea that all are equal before the law. The civil society industry and the Office of the Prosecutor failed to appreciate this subtle distinction and pursued headlines instead of justice for the victims.

Mr Kenyatta's case may never start. Too much time has passed. Too many witnesses have despaired at the delay. Too many victims have been revictimised. The crimes have become political footballs, used to win elections. The victims - survivors - have become pawns in political games. There might have been a moment when there was concern for their welfare. That moment is no more. Whether they ever recover seems not to matter to the ICC or their own government or their fellow citizens. It seems that the moment we find ourselves in is one where opportunists will milk the milch cow that is the ICC for all it is financially and politically worth. And then kill the cow once and for all. (For its skin.)

The folly of hubris.

It is impossible to follow the advice, "Don't take it personally." It is twice as difficult to do so when ones ego is the size of a small planet. But a snowball will survive in hell first before a person with the ego of a small planet and a self-righteousness to rival it decides not to "take it personally." That latter person is the embodiment of the Kenyan "leader": supremely egotistical and equally supremely self-righteous. Watching one of this species holding forth at a baraza, a rally or before generally fawning member of the supine Fourth Estate and you can sense the self-confident arrogance of the self-righteous egotist.

It is becoming a pervasive phenomenon, spreading like the Prosopis juliflora spp did in the drylands of Baringo, Tana River and Garissa.It is a contagion like the Black Death. It is persistent too, like the Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome. And it lingers like a bad smell, like the aftermath of a skunk's attack. That sense of egotistic self-righteousness can be observed today not just in the elected classes, but in "top" businessmen, "popular" preachers, "artistes", certain senior members of the public service, "socialites" and "celebs", and a few of our "top rugby players". It is being emulated. In many instances it crosses the line to hubris pretty easily.

Excessive pride, excessive self-confidence. That is hubris. Where some of us would harbour slight doubts even when we are the masters of what we see, our "leaders" know no such humility. They have conquered their worlds. They have done so by hook and by crook. They have done so despite the spite and jealousy of their opponents. They have done so because all the known gods are on their side. They planted the seeds of success, they watered the sprouting saplings, and now they are reaping the fruits. Because only they could do it. It would behoove us lesser mortals to keep this in mind when we are in the presence of greatness. It behooves us to genuflect, to curtsy, to be as reverentially deferential as demanded by greatness come among us.

That is the sense you get when you stumble on one of their secret redoubts, where the only hoi polloi allowed in are the servants, the pot-scrubbers, the watchers of men. In these habitats, these "leaders" reveal their true natures: crass; petty, small. It comes as quite a shock to realise that very few of their number have truly transcended great wealth and power. This elite few understands that power does what power does, it needs no spokesman. Power need not announce itself; it is seen, it is feel, it is experienced. It simply is. The vast majority of these "leaders" cannot but help prove that they have power and by trying to prove it they reveal that they do not. They end up as the dog being wagged by its tail. They end up as whispers in the dark, snatches of conversations past, vestiges of notoriety long forgotten. Their power play is piteous to witness. Their hubris blinds them to their folly.

Monday, October 13, 2014

If football has defeated us...

We know what ails football in Kenya. We have known it for two decades. Even in its halcyon days, football in Kenya was dysfunctional. It is why many Stars who turned out for the national team died in abject penury while the men - it was all men - in charge of Kenyan football grew fat on the money that football generated. None much has changed since the 1970s. Changing the thickets of laws, rules and regulations but keeping the same monkeys is not the solution. It hasn't worked anywhere else and it is futile to expect that it will work here.

Curiously, this is not a problem that is limited to Football Kenya. Athletics Kenya finds itself in the cross-hairs of a committed group who want changes. The wool of global glory in the marathon, long- and middle-distance races will one day be lifted and the truth will be there for all to see. And so the story goes in hockey, volleyball, netball, basketball, boxing, rugby, cycling, the martial arts, swimming...Sports in Kenya is the beneficiary of a plethora of rules, regulations, constitutions and associations and yet it is as if its management has been entrusted to the rank-and-file members of the Mungiki and not the top-level bankers, accountants and lawyers that keep that criminal outfit running decade after decade.

The problem is not even limited to sports in Kenya. Look at government, that behemoth that is the Colossus to our Alexandria. It is a sprawling enterprise. Its tentacles reach every nook and cranny of this no longer fair land. Its remit is without challenge. It disguises itself in various shades, hues, shapes - it is variously an army, a police force, a civil service, a teaching service, a health service, a road-builder, a water supplier, an electricity generator, a jailer, a judge, a legislator, a tax collector...it is many things at the same time. Yet for all its many disguises it cannot hide its true nature. In its disguises is revealed its nature. The masks it has worn over the years has fallen. What we see is Football Kenya writ large.

Football Kenya is the promise unfulfilled. Football Kenya is the cautionary tale. Football Kenya is that boy your mama warned you about. Football Kenya is the reason why millions of Kenyans will devote a considerable degree of their loyalty to Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and the top-flight teams of the Barclays English Premier League. And if Football Kenya is the Government of Kenya writ large, our imagination about what a government is will forever be captured by the Court of St James or the District of Columbia.

When we measure our achievements in the art of governing ourselves all the indicators will pile on the leaden feeling until we suffocate from the pressure. Take the most fundamental requirement of a representative government, to represent the interests of the greatest number for the greatest good. In our Year of Jubilee there isn't a man alive who can stare at our Leviathan without experiencing a rage that boils from deep inside his bowels. Look at what the wazungu call Human Development Indicators and watch the gap between the haves and the have-nots widen like the Great Rift Valley. It goes on and on. You know what I'm going to say next. You have half-expected it since you atarted reading his screed. If we cannot manage a football club, we have no business pretending that we can govern ourselves effectively.

They all fall, eventually

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