Monday, March 30, 2015

Name them. Shame them. Prosecute them.

The corrupt among us are a cancer that we must surgically remove. If we do not, they will metastasize and target more and more organs. Eventually they will kill us as a nation. Where we surgically remove them, there will be pain, a long period of national recuperation but, hopefully, a return to good health. That is the increasingly common tale of cancer. The President has laid down a gauntlet, or half of one. It remains to be seen what will become of the presidential challenge.

The challenge is not just to parliament, the forty-seven county governments, the Judiciary or the public service alone, but also to us all. Some of us seem to have panned the president's challenge and decided that we really couldn't be bothered at all. Take the comedian, for example. After he made an ass of himself regarding whether or not marred women should only feel safe within certain hours of the day, he had the temerity to invite a charlatan to his nationally broadcast show to, I shit you not, pray for the nation. Corruption is not just when someone fiddles with public funds to our great loss, it is also when we stand by as another robs us not just of our money but our dignity. What the comedian allowed the charlatan to do is unconscionable. I have a feeling he will not be apologising for that any time soon.

We have turned a blind eye to the robbers among us, and we have rationalised it with mealy-mouthed words like "the world is unfair" and "this is the cost of doing business in Kenya." None of us want to die poor; so we will mouth the right anti-corruption slogans while making intricate plans to swindle the next man to come along. In David Ndii's words, we all wish to live and prosper at the expense of others, and where the cost of that living an prospering at the expense of others is low, we will do it with impunity. In Kenya the cost of corruption is shockingly low.

But the Nitpicker's solution is no good if everyone is on the take, whether they are in the government or the much vaunted private sector. The insidious relationship between the private sector and "senior" public officers is no longer an open secret; "scratch my back and I will scratch yours" must be their slogan. I wonder how many people marvelled at the irony of the manner by which Kenya's only anti-corruption czar was appointed. Old men who were in Mwai Kibaki's circle engineered his appointment. That alone guaranteed that no matter his good intentions, there will forever be doubts about his probity for accepting the appointment in the first place. If the private sector is just as riddled with corruption as the public sector, hopes of it overseeing the public coffers with a beancounter's mien are slender.

There is hope, though, and it may lie between the bold proposal by the Nitpicker and the equally bold, though secretive, challenge by the President. It is a proposal by Wanjiru Gikonyo, the national co-ordinator for The Institute for Social Accountability, where she insists that it is not just the judicial process that will guarantee anti-corruption success, but the ruthless use of administrative procedures to weed out the corrupt. The administrative acts of public servants are not covered by Article 31 on privacy, and can be exposed under Article 35 on our right to information. It is time that all administrative heads of institutions, and those that do business with the government, published the names of those with five-fingered-discounts tastes for the whole world to know. And then had them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Name them. Shame them. Prosecute them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Incompetent or Clueless

Our governor, it seems, just can't catch a break. A "Chinese" restaurant has blown up another of the illusions that our governor labours under. Before one can operate an establishment at which food will be served for a price or drinks served to the discerning, certain permits ad licenses must be applied for by the proprietor of the establishment, an inspection conducted by the municipal authorities, and the permits and licenses granted, if the establishment meets the standards for which permits and licenses are required. The "Chinese" restaurant was in operation; it's proprietor did not posses the requisite permits or licenses. 

The governor heads a government that cannot police establishments operating contrary to the provisions of law at which even senators can be entertained. It would not be to much to say that either he is among the most incompetent men in government today or the rot he claims to be trying to clean up is so ingrained it may never be cleaned up. That latter is a dystopian outcome that Hollywood favours. We are not in Hollywood - or in a movie. The former is increasingly looking like it might actually be true.

Let us begin with the simplest problem that the governor could solve: public sanitation. His has been one wrong decision after another followed by one unpersuasive excuse after another. What is true, more than two years since he took office, is that public sanitation is in the crapper and he and his government are to blame.

Look at traffic management too. The governor and the national Executive carry the blame equally for the mess in our capital. Stupid rules regarding public service vehicles, on-street parking, traffic lights, traffic cameras and traffic management, and an obsession with making driving the preferred mode of movement in the Central Business District, guarantee that for the foreseeable future, gridlock will remain a fact of life. (The idiotic debate about roundabouts versus four-way intersections just confirms this line of thought.)

However, the saga of the "Chinese" restaurant shares disturbing parallels with the sad state of our public sanitation infrastructure. In both there is a casual disregard for the rules. In both the city's inspectorate is asleep at the wheel, if it behind the wheel at all. In both there is a casual mistreatment of the "less-fortunate" - less fortunate because of skin colour or economic circumstances. In both the governor appears clueless.

Anyone who has ever visited City Hall Annex in order to "push through some paperwork" will know that the governor lives in his own fantasy world. Anyone who has suffered the casual corruption of the yellow-clad corruption-is-evil parking attendants will scoff derisively at his e-ticketing system. Nairobians, it seems, will suffer the governor's incompetence and excuses till 2017 and then they will be forced to make a choice - do they double down or do they elect a real leader for their city and their county?

Time to accept and move on.

I sometimes forget to follow my own advice. When I put my foot in it, the effort it takes to take it out is always greater than the ease with which I put it in in the first place. Thankfully, even by the truly lax standards of the Digital Age, I am not a "public figure" and what I say quite rarely causes a ruckus in the public domain. That is not so for some of my fellow countrymen who have built careers on being in the public eye, seemingly, all day every day.

A famous comedian recently stuck his foot so far down his throat that he quite probably stepped on his kidneys. As part of his public act, and following the alleged vicious sexual assault of a woman by a parliamentarian, the comedian asked an insensitive, callous and asinine question regarding the presence of the woman in the parliamentarian's office after ten o'clock in the evening. Kenyans on Twitter were not soon far behind in reminding the comedian that sexual assault is never, ever the victim's fault. He is still trying to put the whole ordeal behind him.

I can almost guarantee that his friends will use the phrase "he did not mean it that way" as an explanation for his words. This confirms that when it comes to sexual assaults on women, Kenya is still in the Dark Ages. Women victims of sexual assault are always partly or wholly to blame for the attacks against them. That was the message the men who stripped and assaulted women recently were perpetuating. It is the same message that the comedian was repeating with his words. We cannot let these ideas stand.

I believe that we are far from reaching the point where we treat the rich and famous with irreverence. We adore the rich and famous. We make excuses for their bad behaviour - and crimes. We are prepared to debase ourselves in front of them in order to catch some of the fairy dust that covers them. We are prepared to ignore the poor choices they make that sometimes lead to tragic results. We are only prepared to see their "good works" and "heroic achievements." If this means that women or girls are forgotten in their hours of need, so be it.

It is not just asinine comedians who confirm our casual misogyny. The church too is in on it. And I am not restricting myself to the fly-by-night Kanyari-like operations that have flourished in the last decade. The "mainstream" denominations too have a stake in the erasure of women and their accomplishments from the public psyche. When they "reserve" women congregants to the softer side of the ministry, when they decide what is decent ad not decent dress for women, when they refuse to acknowledge that some of ther male congregants are criminals for sexually assaulting women - when they keep quiet when women and children suffer, the church is just as complicit in the crimes as the attackers are.

There is no explanation that will justify assaults on women and girls. There is no joke that will erase the pain, humiliation and tragedy of sexual assault. No amount of mealy-mouthed apologies will whitewash the comedian's casual misogyny. If hs friends and fans cannot see this, if they cannot appreciate this, then they are complicit in his misogyny - and they should also be treated with the same contempt that he deserves. The time is right to acknowledge that women and girls are the equals of men and boys in all respects. All. In the words of a campaign slogan of ill-repute, it is time for us to accept that fact and move on.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Our true selves.

Arlington, Virginia, has invisible drains. Arlington is massive; there is no way a boy from Nairobi can walk the entire hood in fourteen days and discover its many pleasures. But it was quite clear everywhere I went that Arlington has invisible drains. When it snowed on Friday, and the snow melted, and started to flow down the road, it...disappeared. Like some kind of architectural, civic engineering juju, the drains and the apertures that let in surface runoff are disguised and invisible and unless you are in on the magic, the water simply disappears. That and the broad and magically empty public sidewalks on which the mechanised transport allowed is the bicycle are a miracle of civic planning.

The week that the Governor of Nairobi City County made a spectacle of himself walking to the five-star Kempinsky from the CBD, I marveled at the sidewalk along Arlington Boulevard that, despite the rain and the melting snow was not muddy or flooded with water from blocked drains. Had it rained the day the Governor decided to go walkabout along Waiyaki Way he would have needed gumboots and raincoats because he would have slogged through shin-deep mud and he would have been splashed with water from Nairobi's incredibly hostile motorists. But I suspect he would have found a way to bully other road users off his path on his way to his Very Important Meeting.

It rained last night and this morning I wished I was back in three-degrees-Celsius Arlington, my ass frozen to a Popsicle because all that is wrong with the Governor's priorities came flooding back, literally. Drains were blocked. Sewers overflowed. Motorists made a sport of splashing hapless pedestrians with muddy water at every opportunity. What few paved footpaths there are were commandeered by the ballooning swarm of boda boda riders determined to rival the late great Evel Knievel in motorcycle stunts.

Our governor thinks that the solution is the incredibly expensive, and stupid, idea of doing away with roundabouts and replacing them with traffic-light-controlled four-way intersections. If motorists have refused to obey the rather helpful rules of the Highway Code when it comes to roundabouts, what makes the governor think that four-way intersections will work out any better? This whole project has a whiff of the let-us-spend-billions-for-the-sake-of-it about it. Some fatcat is about get fatter from the tender to flatten the roundabouts and fatter still when he wins the tender to rebuild them.

The billions that the Governor is about to pour into this harebrained scheme should go to expanding paved footpaths, clearing out drains, unblocking sewers and putting up street lights. But those billions will not be spent on things that make the lives of the walking public better. The billions will be spent to make motorists more miserable and hostile than ever. Because that is how we do. We are a wash-rinse-repeat kind of people, and our government appeals to our true selves more and more every day.

Orwellian pigs and Schiphol memories

Maybe they did not want to harass a lowly government lawyer, but that weird company that runs Schiphol airport or that strange army called the TSA that runs America's airports just floored me with their laid back, laissez-faire, couldn't-give-a-damn style. Schiphol, first. The Nitpicker touched on this some time back and it wasn't until I found myself in the cattle-class lounge that I truly appreciated just how far behind Kenya really is. This gem from the Nitpicker is spot on accurate:
"Apart from the fact that the shops, restaurants, lounges and rest areas are of the highest quality with very friendly and professional staff, the visual layout of the airport is a constant reminder that there is more that lies to the country outside the confines of the terminal buildings. The success of the customer experience at Schiphol means that there are several repeat customers. 67% of the total passenger throughput in Schiphol are from outside the Netherlands."
As a passenger on transit I did not have to deal with immigration officials à la Johannesburg. Schiphol has these conveniently located terminals on which one can confirm their itineraries without having to trouble the professional, polite, English-speaking airport staff. The eight cumulative hours I spent in Schiphol's Lounge 3 were among the most restful I have ever had in an airport, Jo'burg's Oliver R Tambo International's and Sydney International's departure lounges included. Not even Dulles' International Airport's excellent facilities came close to Schiphol's. Before the Kenya Airports Authority can claim that it has achieved its vision of providing “globally competitive airport facilities and services” it will have to flee from the ridiculously cartoonishly hostile manner in which it treats its customers.

Now to Dulles International Airport. One thing it has in common with Schiphol but absolutely not with Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is the ease with which one can move from point to point without having to take of shoes, laptops out of laptop bags, jackets or belts. That was the most shocking bit of coming through immigration control at Dulles: a casual confirmation of the details on my passport and visa and I was out of there in twenty minutes. Not the hour and half I shuffled in line when the hideous shuttle finally deposited me and the four hundred and twenty five other KLM passengers at the hostile garage passing for International Arrivals at JKIA. But Dulles outdid itself with the "ushers" at immigration control who made sure lines moved smoothly and counters were always manned. Not for  Dulles to have unmanned counters when three 747s drop down on the airport at the same time. Something else that the folks overseeing JKIA could pick up from the much-unfairly-maligned Americans.

We are a century behind in customer-oriented service. We are paternalistic, defensive, hostile and passive aggressive. JKIA's beautiful T1-A is proof that you can put lipstick on a pig, but it will still be a pig. That terminal is beautiful; the wackjobs running it are the Orwellian pigs that made life so difficult for everyone on that farm.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jail the granny.

Why are people appalled that an old woman was charged with contempt of court, was convicted and jailed to purge the contempt? This is not so far-fetched in a nation where combat over land has all sorts of casualties. This is the nation that we call Kenya, where courts are held hostage by the black letters on the white, or yellowing, pages of the law books of the State. Prosecutors have no discretion over whom they will prosecute for contempt and whom they will not. And now we are called to be sympathetic to the plight of a woman, and her aged sons, who defied an order of a competent court to give satisfaction to another old woman in the small matter of succession and land.

Why should the age of a contemnor, as the lawyers would brand her now, be considered when that age was not a barrier to the commission of the act of contempt in the first place? We make elaborate provisions to protect children, especially children of tender ages. We order the behaviour of all adults using the law. If you are above the age of eighteen years, you cannot argue that you do not know the meaning of the law when you commit an offense or a crime. 

When a court orders you to do something, and you refuse to do that thing that the court ordered for whatever reason, you are not just defying the magistrate or judge who ordered you to that thing, but you are defying the entire institution of the Judiciary and the authority of the State. There can be no mercy when you are that contemptuous of the State.

The press, if they can still be called that, want us to sympathise with the granny in jail because of her age. Little is reported of the actual contempt though. We know not why the granny and her sons refused to heed the order of the court and subdivide the land in favour of the other woman. We know not what motivated them to offend so much that she would sue in court to get satisfaction. What we know is that the granny and her sons in a fit of sheer contempt defied the court and ignored its orders and now she is in jail, her sons are in jail, and the press want us to sympathise with her.

Why should we go around praying for a rule of law label when we are willing to cut some slack for contemptuous grannies? We might as well start on the slippery slope of positive discrimination for good reasons, before it is special interests that are being protected over one thing or the other. Old people have had the benefit of experience and education, formal or informal, and they cannot be the reason why institutions of the State are treated with contempt by anyone. If grannies, whether justified or not, and their aged sons think that they are right on defying courts of law, what is to stop presidents from doing the same and claiming executive privilege, or policemen by claiming national security exemptions, or ministers by claiming national interest as the basis for their contempt? Rather one granny go to jail than a hundred run amok in the corridors of justice.

Our grand future.

There is something slimy about a person who tattle-tells on his friends, especially when they have made a bargain to keep each others' confidences. A sneak who would record his friends' intimate confessions and then broadcast it to the narc's is worse than a rat. There is no way the business of the National Assembly will go back to business-as-usual after the revelations regarding the Parliamentary Accounts Committee are dealt with, one way or the other.

I don't know why people didn't see this one coming after what John Githongo put Mwai Kibaki's government through, especially as revealed by Michela Wong in It's Our Turn To Eat. Since those halcyon days, the technology has gotten better, and the sneaks have gotten sneakier. No one is beyond the reach of the sneak. Your position does not protect you from the sneak. Soon enough Parliament will ban all cellphones from its premises; they have become way too smart for the comforts of the lawmaking class, as wayward lawmakers are discovering to their grief the world over.

Is this the end of the Kenyan Age of Innocence regarding our government? We have always suspected without hard proof that it is riddled through with corruption and corrupt beings. Until John Githongo made his explosive revelations - revelations that reverberate till this day - we always assumed that the grandly corrupt were a few very bad apples in bushels of moderately bad apples. 

Even after Ministers and Permanent Secretaries resigned, we were not seriously concerned about the corruption of the State. Even when lawmakers were caught taking handouts to ask questions in Parliament, we didn't think it was a crisis. Even when heard about lawmakers and ministers conspiring to profit from desperately hungry or homeless Kenyans, we let it slide; exceptional situations were a recipe for graft, we whispered to ourselves. The PAC revelations are finally the cause for the last scales to fall from our eyes. Kenyans can no longer pretend that they have a government they can be proud of.

The only person who seems to be sure of the direction he must take, ironically, is the President. Unless one is blind, our President's failings do not include a penchant for grand five-fingered discounts. He is truly the only one not on the take. He is the only one truly frustrated by the anti-graft efforts of his government. His anguish is palpably clear every time he is forced to confront the networks that have made such a grand comeback in his government. He can't fight them on multiple fronts. If Justin Muturi and Ekwe Ethuro will not be his partners in Parliament or Willy Mutunga in the Judiciary, I don't know to who the President will turn to win the war, because we, the people, have our own problems to deal with.

We are now confronted with the same spectre that haunts the President. We can no longer casually swat the fly away; it has become a swarm and we are its target. Lawmakers are accused of engaging in such flagrantly corrupt acts it is a wonder they even get to enact any laws. If we truly lose Parliament to corruption, it will be a short hop to Nigerian-style civil chaos. Our al Shabaab problem will become something along the lines of Nigeria's Boko Haram's problem. That is what we can look forward to if we keep turning a blind eye to every failing of Parliament.

Dictators are not the answer.

Being the boss is not easy, is it? Being the boss in a "democracy" is twice as difficult, isn't it? They may have vastly different administrations but the President and the Governor of Nairobi City County have remarkably similar problems. The massive edifice that is the Government of Kenya and the glorified city council that is the County Government of Nairobi City suffer the same problems, both political and administrative, and for both leaders it is attractive to flirt with the idea of authoritarianism in the short term to set things on an even keel for future glory.

The former could do it, but it would come at a great cost. The latter can't even fire slothful workers without it attracting the wrath of his Senator, his Woman Representative, his vengeful MCAs or the shadowy cabal of city MPs who don't seem to do much other than get shot at in mysterious locations.

Going by the commentary by respected columnists, the idea of a a dictator is gathering pace among the intelligentsia. In their minds, it is simplicity itself to round up the corrupt and the lazy, remove them from the administrative corridors of power, and banish them to purgatory for all time so that the honest and the diligent can get the economy running like a well appointed Rolex. That would be so before the internet and the information revolution; it is not so simple any more when it is easy to link private developers and sundry other pigs-at-the-trough to those making the make-me-a-dictator proposals.

China and North Korea have a done a bang up job of policing the internet; one is an economic powerhouse that can afford to do so, the other is a Stalinist prison camp where the only one who's free is the one buried six feet under. Even if the Government of Kenya wanted to do it, the irreverent innovation of the Nairobian would all but guarantee that dictatorial proposals were exposed and lampooned for their sheer lunacy. Kenyans will continue to bitch about the cost of this, that or the other, but only the elite think that re-imposing KANU Era controls is a good idea.

Democracy is expensive and chaotic, but it is the only way, today, to assure the people of involvement in the questions of the day. The people, so far, are content to elect slothful, mindless zombies to make decisions on their behalf. The Second Liberation will not end until the people realise that the Second Liberation was not about the election of their favoured sons or daughters, nor the blind faith reposed in their tribal chiefs, but about the calibre of the men and women who would seek to impose order on them. Until Kenyans can make that intellectual leap of the imagination, water shortages, traffic jams and terrorist attacks will continue to plague them. Dictators will not be the answer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A glorified mayor of a slum.

What is wrong with the people who make decisions for the City of Nairobi? I saw a picture of the Governor of Nairobi City County walking to a meeting at a fancy five-star hotel because of the traffic jam. His motorcade couldn't bulldoze its way through so he was forced to reckon with the incredible stupidity of a city with no footpaths for the millions of walking Nairobians long neglected by the government. Instead of the governor sympathising with the hapless ones without the wherewithal to splurge on a three-pointed star, four rings, or airplane propeller, he intends to implement the "raft of proposals" designed to make motoring that much easier for the motoring classes. What is wrong with these people?

Some of us, on someone else's shilling mind you, have had the privilege of visiting "world class cities" and they all have some things in common. Functional public transport systems, superb facilities for the walking public and traffic management systems that are logical, predictable, efficient and effective. Nairobi City has a public transport system that can only be envied by the weak-minded and lazy. 

The facilities available to the walking public are not just inadequate, they are an indication of the great contempt with which their government, and motorists, hold them. But by far the worst thing about the city, I think, is the fact that the Governor, his government and the national Executive have conspired to create the most illiberal traffic management system in the world. It is corrupt, corruptible, inefficient, wasteful, and chaotic, and it has proven to be a drain on the time and resources of Nairobians, whether working stiffs or gazillionaire private developers.

The Governor of Nairobi City is a lost cause. Those who still hope to see him make our city the envy of the world are blind to the incredible lost opportunities our city has suffered in the last two years. When he was first elected, and the national Executive in a fit of pique denied him Shell/BP House, the governor said he would work out of his car to provide services to the people of Nairobi. Every time we are bullied off the road so that his quasi-presidential motorcade can glide past, those words mock us cruelly.

Being a glorified mayor of a metropolitan city must gall for the governor. Being the glorified mayor of a metropolitan city that is more than two-thirds slum must really, really gall. But being a glorified mayor of a slum with no money for slum upgrading must be the worst. Until this simple fact sinks in, until he lets go of his stubborn, misguided idea that he is in charge of a world class city, the governor of Nairobi will continue to live in the Utopian world where there are metro systems and mass transit buses run on a timetable and he can get to his meeting at swanky five-star hotels without having to share the dusty sidewalk with the sweaty, smelly, unwashed working stiffs who seem to crawl out of every wooodwork in Nairobi.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bad, bad Senator.

What would possess a Senator of Kenya to posit that a return to semi-nude dress for the entertainment of foreigners would lure tourists to our beautiful, sun-kissed coast? Why would she speculate that our "culture" is best expressed for the benefit of dollars-bearing foreigners? Is this the nature of the deliberations that the Senate of Kenya engages in as a matter of habit?

Kenyan tourism has suffered since an elderly British couple were attacked in Lamu in 2010. Bombings, shootings and political turmoil have chased tourists away. The national Executive enacted, in the Finance Act, 2014, a law to permit value added tax rebates for employers who financed their employees' holidays at Kenya's hotels. The President appointed a task force to recommend solutions for the persistent slump in tourist numbers. Every governor and his uncle has made arrangements to encourage "local" tourism.

All these have come to naught. Now a Senator of Kenya thinks that if the women of the Mijikenda went about topless and danced for the benefit of the tourists, tourism might, perchance, improve. In the middle of a serious crisis this is the best that a nominated Senator of Mombasa county can come up with. What is wrong with these people?

There are many moving parts to the revival of an economic sector. There is no benefit to be derived from the ill-advised musings of children in the Senate. Instead, we are to be pitied that this person would even think it appropriate to appropriate the sexuality of an entire community of women for the entertainment of lecherous foreigners. We may quibble over the finer points of the national Executive's proposals regarding the revival of the tourism sector, but we cannot ignore the fact that the proposals are founded on facts and figures available to the makers of policy at the highest level of government. I doubt that this Mombasa Senator has founded her misogynistic proposals on anything other than a juvenile desire to make a splash on social media platforms.

We have made strides, small one albeit but strides nonetheless, to eliminate sex tourism from our shores. The challenges we face in the name of poverty are profound. We cannot afford to go back on our progress with asinine suggestions that a community be exploited for the sexual gratification of foreigners. For tourism to improve in Kenya, the safety of the people and their visitors must be assured. The casualness with which the elected (and nominated) representatives of the people are treating the question of public safety does not inspire confidence that they can be credible partners in the revival of the tourism industry. This Senator has just confirmed that Parliament is not the repository of wisdom, careful deliberation or good taste.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Safety, always. (Then politics.)

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb hand book is ninety-four pages long. The section on car/truck safety and construction is fifty-eight pages long, excluding diagrams. While the annual event, held since 1915, is supposed to a fun day out for motor racing enthusiasts and spectators, the safety of both the racers and spectators is paramount. Among the requirements for the safety of all the participants is that cars must have roll cages, and all drivers must possess valid competition licenses and medical insurance certificates. The organisers of the event reserve the right to reject a competitor who poses a risk to himself or others, and they are free to interpret the rule book freely in order to ensure utmost safety during the event.

A cursory examination of the fourteen-page Club Motorsports handbook for the KiambuRing TT, billed to be an incarnation of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, leaves one with a feeling of dread. It is unclear what the eligibility of the competitors is based on. The KiambuRing TT handbook claims to focus on public safety, but it remains unclear how this safety is to be achieved when the criteria for qualification remains muddled, at best. No mention is made of the requirement for roll cages, competition licenses or medical insurance certificates. It is unclear what motor racing organisation has sanctioned this event too.

This is not surprising. In Kenya the rules are for the squares, the mindless sheep following their leader, lemming-like, off a cliff. When it comes to the operation of motor vehicles, especially for sport, I believe that only the Kenya Motorsport Federation, KMSF, has the technical and organisational capacity to organise an even such as the KiambuRing TT. It may have lost a step or two since the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the FIA, removed the Safari Rally from the calendar of the World rally Championship, but it remains the only credible organisation with the institutional memory to oversee the complex machinery that is an event such as the KiambuRing TT.

The KiambuRing TT has been held twice, in 2013 and 2014. It has been endorsed by the Governor of Kiambu County. It is an attractive event, especially for amateur racers, owners of fast cars not built for racing. In memory of the death of a racer on the roads of Kiambu it is time that the Club Motorsports and Kenya Motorsport Federation agreed to collaborate to make the event safe for both competitors and spectators alike using the same stringent rules as those the KMSF and the FIA use.

The traditional knee-jerk reaction to tragedy is usually to ban the thing that caused tragedy. That would be a mistake. Clearly, there are people willing to risk life and limb to test their mettle in motor racing. If the government is determined to exploit their enthusiasm for revenue and publicity, the least it can do is insist on the application of the same rules of motor racing as apply elsewhere. This way, even when in practice, the lives of competitors and spectators alike will be prolonged a bit longer. (My obsession with the insidiousness of such events will not be assuaged, but at least I shall have live specimens to poke my finger in their eye.)

I am not penitent.

In a state of nature, we are cruel beings. We endeavour to cause misery by the very fact of our existence. The very act of our birth, whether it is accompanied by copious amounts of barbiturates or not, creates pain on an unimaginable scale. But by our civilisation, by our education, we are taught to temper our baser instincts. We are taught humility. We are taught kindness. We are civilised. In our civilisation we are reminded that it is in bad taste to mention the dead in anything but the fondest of words. And especially so in my homeland, we are taught to expunge all memory of imperfection from our minds, to hold aloft the memory of the departed as something approaching a singular truth of perfection.

I am confronted by my words. I am accused of abjuring that civilisation to which I owe my livelihood. Yet I am not penitent. I refuse to eat crow. I shall not apologise.

I will not rely on my right to be mean, though I refuse that characterisation for my words. And, yes! I have a right to be mean. So long as I am not slanderous or libelous, I am well within my right to say the meanest things about that which catches my fancy. But, pray tell, what is so mean in employing the words of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary to demonstrate that context is vital to examining the place of the individual in the grand scheme of things?

We are a nation of contradictions. A tiny elite has the wherewithal to support racing teams - racing drivers living the dream. It can afford to take over the public commons for their amusement. It is blameless even when its actions come to grief. It has the capacity to rationalise its every selfish act. Try this one out. "It is Saturday. There are few members of the commuting public heading off to work. Besides, these are not really busy roads. Moreover, our use of these roads will encourage more people to visit our county, spend money in our county, generate revenue and, crucially, jobs. This event is an important part of the economic fabric of our county."

When tragedy strikes, as it must every now and then, we the Others must bow our heads in respectful silence. We must pay obeisance to the fallen great ones. We must elide what we know to be amiss. We must deploy solipsism and cant in the service of civility and good taste. We must not loudly declaim in the agora that the emperor is not habillé. Yet I am not penitent. I refuse to eat crow. I shall not apologise.

My words are not meant to denigrate the one who has crossed the river. If possible, they should help you confront the utterly desolate situation in which a death has occurred. A people called to greatness are misled, lied to and cheated of their future by an elite that promises the moon but instead provides rocks for bread. How can it be that when the fate of millions is in jeopardy once more the nation should mourn a man made famous performing feats those millions can never engage in? How can I allow a tragedy befalling a small elite distract me from seeing the utter incongruity of that same elite's fleecing of a people? I am not penitent. I refuse to eat crow. I shall not apologise.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Death of a boy-racer.

I do not fit the description of an angry man, young or otherwise. I am endowed with a skill-set that affords me a decent enough living that I am only in fear of losing that life to which I am now accustomed. I sleep hungry only by choice. I commute only by choice. My suits are threadbare only by choice. There are millions of Kenyans who do not enjoy the same life I do, while there is a tiny elite who will never ever want for anything - nor will their children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

That elite is no longer invisible. You will hear of their exploits from time to time. When one of their own passes on, the nation is usually gripped for a time with tales of their goodness and accomplishments. In regard to how high up the tree of elitism they are, the examination of their lives will be calibrated to establish just how important they were, with the attendant public expiation of their goodness by someone or two of similar rank.

Yesterday a man died in a road traffic accident on a road in Kiambu. He was driving a very expensive racing car. Few Kenyans could afford it. His death was not an "ordinary" accident, in that it did not occur on his commute to or from his place of work, or on his way to an appointment with his dentist, doctor, chiropractor or mistress. He died while driving very quickly on roads that were not designed for driving very quickly. He died in the company of his friends who were driving similarly expensive cars beyond the reach of the majority of car-owners in Kiambu. His death was examined and re-examined in the free press and on the internet. Even from thirteen thousand kilometres away I am forced to confront the death of a man I have never met, would only have heard of in the most exceptional of circumstances, having died something that I could only dream of if I were a member of the fat-wallet society.

It is something that should enrage us, this celebration of wealth for celebration's sake. In his acquisition of the wealth, or riches, that permitted that dead driver to purchase that expensive toy, we are left to speculate about how much worth he was tot he men and women who walk or commute to work every day, those who slumber with rumbling stomachs of hunger, unable to walk into a shop and purchase off the rack new sets of suitings, shirts, stockings, underwear, belts and whatnots. That while the just government of the people is engaged in an orgy of self-immolation at the altar of corruption we must engage what little of our public commons to the mourning of the death of a boy-racer should enrage us to seismic proportions. It is a complete negation of the priorities that should order our lives.

No, sir. I do not deny that he was a man of some worth; I refuse to accept that his worthiness was greater than that of the four men who labour day and night to watch over my property while I toil or slumber. When their ilk is attacked in the dead of night and murdered in cold blood, they are not mourned save by their loved ones. Their day to day exploits in service to others are not celebrated - instead, they are tolerated when they ask for just a little more when they offer to wash our cars for us or clear out the gutters of our roofs.

So I shall not mourn the boy-racer. He died doing something foolish. He died in the company of other boy-racers doing foolish things. All that promise his family and friends saw in him was sacrificed to the vanity of the elite who must show us that they have more, they are more, they can do more. I should not be asked to mourn him, though I mourn every loss of life. I need not know of him. He was not me, and I could not possibly be him.

Friday, March 13, 2015

How does it end?

Maji yaliyomwagika, hayazoleki. ~ Swahili proverb.
This past week the Republicans in the United States Congress have been agonising over the Clintonian gift that keeps on giving, attempting to find the right knife to stick in Hilary Clinton's back before she can get her sea legs in what is presumed to be her next stab at the Democratic Party's nomination for the US presidency. Mrs Clinton, when she was Secretary of State, kept a private server for her emails, both official and personal and when she was asked to give access to these records for the purposes of archiving, she stonewalled, dissembled and obstructed the reasonable demands of her government. What is instructive, however, is that despite her attempts to hide what she did, the American people have an opportunity to witness her at her best - and her worst.

Back home, though, we are still not sure whether the chairperson of the National Assembly's Parliamentary Accounts Committee, PAC, is corrupt or not. Allegations have been levelled at him and he has retaliated by alleging that his life is in danger. This coming on the heels of revelations that he taped his party leader allegedly engaging in corrupt acts. To say that the scales have finally fallen from Kenyans' eyes regarding the state of our public institutions is to presume that Kenyans are paying attention, the same way that Americans are paying attention to the state of their political institutions.

We have been here before. We know how this movie ends. I will be shocked if the PAC chairperson resigns his post. The allegations are bad enough, but that he would, in an underhanded way allegedly tape his party boss engaging in the commission of an offence and do nothing about it raises serious doubts about his integrity. How can the man tasked with overseeing the investigation of the executive branch be party to the commission of an offence and not speak out?

Parliament, as an institution, lost its integrity a long time ago. What we are witness to in this day and age is akin to the dying days of the Roman Empire, when corruption brought it low and allowed its enemies to strike without fear of retribution. If there is a Kenyan who still believes that the war against graft will be won, the recent revelations about the National Assembly, the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission, the National Police Service or the Teachers' Service Commission should be a harbinger of how far from victory we are as a nation.

It is not personalities who make a nation great. Inspiring leaders are all well and good, but they must lead inspiring institutions too. It is institutional strength that guarantees ultimate survival against all enemies. Our institutions have been hollowed out by greed and sloth. Parliament is no longer the institution to lead the fight, neither are the police nor the anti-graft watchdogs. Kenyans are on their own. Their choices are simple - either we carry on as before or fight for change. Past behaviour is as good a guide to future actions. We have seen this movie before. Will the ending be the same this time around?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I should be worrying about Her hair.

I am staring out the window on this sixth floor and I am in awe. Again. I thought that Sydney and Perth were amazing. Then I came to Arlington, Virginia (apparently there are Arlingtons in Texas and Alabama) and I was simply blown away. It is the end of winter though my freezing self wouldn't know it for all the snow that seems to just sit there mocking me with its iciness and begging me to put a foot wrong so that I can put to the test Obamacare.

Every time I leave the comforts of Eastlands and find myself on someone else's East, I am always amazed at the shocking differences I encounter. Take public sanitation, for example. There are staggering differences in what Nairobians - Eastlanders, really - are willing to tolerate. We no longer bat an eyelid at garbage at the side of the road, overflowing sewage or blocked drains. We see nothing wrong in littering and we have a casual acceptance of the sloth in the public sanitation department when it comes to removing trash from the streets.

It's been raining the past few days in Arlington. In stark - STARK - contrast to Kenya, things haven't gone to total hell. Traffic flow remains civilised and rule-bound. Drainages haven't blocked. Sewers haven't overflowed. Sidewalks (pavements) are eminently usable. Civic facilities continue to be functional unlike the chaos that prevails every time a single drop of rain hits the ground in Nairobi and all other towns and cities.

It is easy to look at the facilities available to Virginians and wring ones hands in despair at the chaos that prevails in Kenya. But that would elide the poor civic mindedness of the residents of Nairobi. We have refused to participate in the effective governance of our city citing the difficulties involved in such participation. But our reticence has contributed significantly to the liberties City Fathers have taken over the past three decades. They lie, cheat, steal and mismanage while we go about our lives without a care in the world. We are past masters at bitching about the state of affairs, but every time we are given an opportunity to contribute to the reforms needed to make our city the pride of the world, we take a step back, raise our hands in surrender and say, "Si tuko na serikali!"

Being a Kenyan is a study in stoicism. We suffer our own apathy. We suffer our leaders. We suffer our decrepit public infrastructure. We make a life for ourselves despite all this. If we simply got off our asses, pushed the Kideros of this world to do their damn jobs without bitching about the past and the mistakes of past leaders, can you imagine how much improved our lives would be? So Kibera is being upgraded. What we know is that such projects invite rent-seekers of the worst kind. We must stop suffering our leadership. It is the only way that when we walk down the street in the middle of a rain storm our fear will not be about the mud, the blocked drain, the overflowing sewer or the lawless motorist, but whether or not Her hair will be at risk.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Five minutes and the Constitution.

Dreamers need the pragmatic among us to keep the trains on the rails. This new five-minutes-at-bus-stops idea is good in principle; buses will be in motion, not obstructing traffic as they fight for the commuting public. It, however, seems to gloss over some of the realities of the public transport sector in Nairobi. First, public transport was deregulated almost two decades ago; bus schedules are no longer the key feature of public transport. In the absence of a schedule, and in a desire to maximise daily profits in the shortest time possible, buses and matatus stop for as long as they need to in order to leave the stop with a full complement of passengers.

Second, the county government would have to redeploy all its inspectors to ensure that each bus or matatu that comes to a bus stop does not exceed the five minute limit, whether it has a full complement of passengers or not. These inspectors will be redeployed from their other duties, such as policing the exploding population of hawkers and street families that have invaded the central business district. They will also have to be deployed along all major roads leading into the CBD including Jogoo Road, Mombasa Road, Langata Road and Waiyaki Way at choke points such as the City Stadium roundabout, the Nyayo Stadium roundabout and the Westlands stage near the Mall.

Third, the main reason why public transport is in such a mess is because of the corruption that was engendered by the deregulation of the sector in the 1990s. Public service vehicle crews are a law unto themselves because they are willing to offer bribes, and law enforcers are eager to solicit bribes, in order for them to operate with impunity. This plan risks being hijacked by the corrupt tendencies of both PSV crews and law enforcement officers where it is almost certain that some crews will offer bribes in order to exceed the five-minute limit or law enforcers will solicit bribes in order to allow crews to exceed that limit.

The traffic problem is not only because there are unruly PSVs operating in the city, but also because motorists in general and law enforcers are unable or unwilling to observe and enforce, respectively, the Highway Code. Years of unruly behaviour must be reversed if the traffic problems of the city are to be solved. The organisation of the one-way streets, two-way streets and calibration and co-ordination of traffic lights must also receive the attention they deserve in order to ensure that traffic flow is smooth. Finally, the pricing of on-street parking must be calibrated to ensure that there is maximum efficiency. The right price might encourage many motorists who do not use their cars for the most of the day to use public transport, thereby freeing up space for those who need parking space for short periods.

Finally, this plan seems to have been cooked up without engaging all stakeholders. It is of a piece with the way the government traditionally operates. Top-down decision-making is a legacy of the command-and-control style of governance that has been in force since colonial days. It treats the stakeholders of the city like toddlers in need of adult supervision, not as valuable contributors to public policy. This guarantees conflict every time a decision is made regarding matters that affect the city which leads to resistance and, in many cases, corrupt acts. It is high time that the shift envisaged by the Constitution towards more citizen participation is implemented. It will make ideas like the five-minute rule more effective.

Monday, March 09, 2015

What the Nitpicker missed.

In my own view, a college of voters who constitute business owners should elect Nairobi County’s administrative leader. A staggered system of votes, based on number of employees can be designed so that those with more skin in the game have more say. ~ Carol Musyoka, The Nitpicker (The City of Nairobi as a Financial Hub)
The City of London is not a financial hub because those "with more skin in the game" get to elect London's mayor. It is one because it has a very long history of financial innovation. It may have a lost a step or two in the past, but The City remains a financial hub because of the level of interconnectedness between The City, other financial centres (such as Frankfurt, New York, Singapore and Hong Kong), the manner in which the financial system evolved in Europe and the degree of investment in regulations and civic facilities by the City of London and the government of the United Kingdom.

Nairobi does not have a history of innovation in financial services; by and large, it has followed where others have led. Safaricom's MPesa is an outlier, but nairobi' banking, mortgage and inosurance sectors are mirrors of those in Johannesburg, Lagos, Cairo, New Delhi, Karachi and Istanbul - mirrors of The City, Frankfurt, New York, Singapore and Hong Kong. There is no alchemy to becoming a financial hub; Dubai has demonstrated that if you invest in the right regulations and civic facilities, offer exorbitant incentives and guarantee safety and security, the investors will come.

On the regulatory front, we are doing well. On regulatory enforcement, we are still the Wild West. A regulatory system works best when it is speedy, certain and trusted, none of which is the regulatory environment in Nairobi, indeed in Kenya. When commercial disputes take years to resolve, where the decisions of regulatory authorities and the judicial system are uncertain and mistrusted, the dream of becoming a financial hub may die on the vine before it is ever realised.

The Nitpicker is correct about the logistical nightmare that is Nairobi. reliable mass transit is a dream for now, never mind the Governor's deals with Japan or Frankfurt for trains and buses. If employers and employees cannot commute speedily and reliably, many man hours will be lost sitting in our interminable traffic jams. The communications infrastructure is also a barrier to the dream of becoming a financial hub; unreliable internet and telephone links remain the greatest challenge to speedy information exchange, the foundation for deal-making. This affects too the movement of goods between manufacturers and their customers.

Finally, the constitutional scheme that the Ghai Commission designed and was harmonised by the Commission of Experts means that the choice of the County Government will always be in the hands of all Nairobians. There is a little-talked about statute that is yet to be implemented and it is one reason why Nairobi remains slow-footed regarding its dreams of becoming a financial hub: the Urban Areas and Cities Act, 2011 (Act No. 13 of 2011). Its implementation would separate the administration of the County from the administration of the City. It would be the surest way of streamlining investment in financial services from everything else, allowing a city manager to focus exclusively on the things that the financial services sector really need to flourish. In this, perhaps, the Nitpicker would approve: those with "skin in the game" could have a say in the appointment of a city management board.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Naughty, naughty, naughty.

Is a cigar really just a cigar?

Every now and then, a respected member of the ruling classes (if the Senate passes the Order of Precedence Bill, 2015, I want there to be a record of respect for those people on this blog) ends up on the front pages of the dailies. Every now and then the inches of newsprint is not laudatory because that respected member of the ruling classes is usually being accused of something very bad in relation to an innocent's naughty place, to put it as coyly and delicately as possible.

A respected business leader who became a political leader struck another respected leader in the face because he feared for the safety of his naughty place. Another respected leader who joined the ranks recently obsessed endlessly online and on air about a certain leader's naughty place, placing great stock in biblical received wisdom that linked leadership with a certain surgical procedure, not to put too fine a point to it. 

When the Security Laws (Amendments) Bill, 2014, was passed by the National Assembly, a fracas ensued, and a respected member of the ruling classes accused some of her colleagues of extremely ungentlemanly behaviour. She was so incensed by their attempts to catch a glimpse of her naughty places, she partially disrobed in their presence. Now another of her colleagues has been accused of violently interfering with another respected leader's naughty place. What is the respected leadership of this country coming to?

This obsession with the naughty places of others' by the respected ruling classes has a rather short and sordid history. The match was set to the tinder when a novice member of the elected classes made what has become the obsession of the aforementioned respected leader obsessed with the link between leadership and a certain surgical procedure. It may be coincidence, but the former novice and the newly obsessed one come from the same neck of the woods, but it is no longer happenstance when both wonder publicly and loudly whether another older member of the respected ruling classes  has undergone a surgical procedure that is very, very private.

We have Americanised public life and public discourse. Our obsessions with salaciousness encourage those who would rule us to ever greater attempts at public notoriety. Hush-hush rumours of their infidelities and peccadilloes now consume a greater portion of the national conversation than, say, the rising death toll in Mandera and Lamu or the out-of-control public debt. Our lives are now enriched by sordid tales that have little to do with public policy; instead of asking why this is so, we are begging for more of the same. We can't get enough of these new obsessions by the respected ruling classes. And our fearless media, where the respected press goes to die, keeps selling us the same salacious sordidness. In the end, it seems, we all want to be entertained and sordid tales of naughty things in naughty places by respected ruling classes seem to fit the bill rather nicely.


Betrayal cuts deep. It's wounds fester and turn gangrenous. It burns your face as you valiantly try, sometimes fail, to hold back the flood of tears. It utterly destroys faith in your fellowman. It is a sin against yourself. It is the greatest sin against yourself. It shatters the illusion that your loved ones, your friends, have your best interests at heart at all times. It sucks the joy out of life.

We have all been traitors before, but it is others' betrayals that we dwell on, obsess over, mull endlessly in our minds, lose sleep over and shed piteous tears over while we chest-heaving sob for hours and hours. We try our best to understand why the betrayal; we can never find a reason that explains it all. What we find out is never enough, is never a valid justification. The shock, the pain, the terror of it all guarantees that we will never accept the betrayal. We can't. If we did, what would that make us?

Did you really?

For days we will linger over the details. Even though our faith in people is ebbing, we will still saddle someone with the burden of our betrayal and pray that they have the shoulders to hold up our world, make it right, smooth over the rough edges and - vitally - explain to us why the betrayal happened and what it means. It is never enough. It can never be.

Just like when we deal with grief, we will finally come to accept the reality of it all. Our souls will be a little deader, our faith a little less faithful, our love a little less loving. We will struggle to accept that the traitor is one of us, and we will live with that horrifying thought because the betrayal is now part of our lives, it forms part of our subconscious, it is the hair-shirt that we wear when we must do penance for sins known and unknown. What continues to cut deep, what continues to burn - that which drives us to homicidal rage - is the realisation that the traitor does not care for us, even as we do for him. We always have. We always will.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Have some swag.

If you are one of those idiots that threatens others via electronic means - or in front of un-bribeable witnesses - you deserve having the draconian bits of the Penal Code and the Kenya Information and Communications Act hurled at you with vigorous intent. Since Julian Assange stole those State Department files containing unvarnished truths about the high and mighty, it is now almost certain that if you put out there via text messages, tweets, facebook posts, emails, WhatsApp, SnapChat, will come back to take a chunk out of your ass if it threatens people.

Electronic footprints are no longer the preserve of action movies or TV dramas. They are real, and they are becoming a menace. Many Kenyans - some of them intelligent even - are getting swept up in the ever widening net of criminal prosecution because they simply cut lose and lose their marbles when they are online, believing that they are anonymous. The courts are not being generous at all with the application of the law: convictions are occurring against men and women of all ages, social classes and intellectual capacity.

So if you are one of those idiots who does not read the paper or watch TV or who has absolutely no social life, remember these few rules:
  1. Don't threaten anyone in writing.
  2. If you do, write the threat in an unfamiliar hand on a piece of paper while wearing gloves. You never know; one day Kenya's capacity to collect and analyse forensic evidence will be quite high.
  3. If you must use electronic communications, don't use any equipment registrar in your name. Preferably, find one registered to the object of your animus; he'll have difficulty explaining why he is threatening himself.
  4. If you must use one registered in your name, use an anonymous account, that is, one registered using absolutely false biographical information, including your gender.
  5. Finally, never, ever, EVER, send text messages. Ever!
And please, have some swag.

Piteous Hand-wringing and Self-serving Promises.

Nairobi City's governor spoke - well, wrote - though most of it was statistics twaddle, some was buck-passing ("Sadly, the central government never invested in the infrastructure and services necessary to cope with this growing demand.", " and policing remains the responsibility of the national government", et cetera) and some of it were campaign promises in precis form. We don't really care about him passing the buck; he is a politician after all. We don't mind the statistics twaddle; that PhD did not come about because he is the soul of repartee. We mind, and mind terrible, that he is making promises in his third year in office.

Dear keen reader, you will notice that of all the promises he is still making, the governor has developed amnesia over the one that matters most to us: public sanitation. His has to be the filthiest administration - metaphorically an literally - since the death of the Magic Mike Tent Revival of the 1990s. The Capital, which he still incredibly believes will become a world class city, is spectacularly filthy. Mounds of garbage are to be found everywhere, except where he and his fellow plutocrats live, work and play.

When was the last time the governor took a walk down Accra Road, River Road or Grogan Road? Has he experienced Landhies Road on a sweltering Thursday afternoon? I bet he hasn't been to Muthurwa after a rain storm. Whether or not the governor "duals" Ngong' Road or turns the Dandora dump into a power plant, we will all remember him for letting our no-longer-beautiful city drown in garbage and overflowing sewerage.  We will not forgive him either.

He claims that he was "given the mandate to bring business-like leadership to solve our city’s challenges" when he was elected. What he seems to have done coming into the third year of his government is to wring his hands piteously and pass the buck on problems he promised to solve while simultaneously promising to solve the same problems. I don't even know why we are still giving this man audience any more. If you ran my business this badly for two years, I would have you blacklisted in the industry!

We are not fools. Of course things would not improve overnight. But even when George Aladwa and Geoffrey Majiwa were doing their thing in City Hall, rubbish was collected and Nairobi was not the stinking eyesore that it has become. Whatever we feel about the things that the solid waste management industry gets up to, under even Dick Wathika, Nairobi was reasonably well-tended. And these were men who presided over the City Council, a snakepit if there ever was one where a misstep meant flying chairs and weeping men.

The governor is not elected by councillors anymore; that is now a privilege reserved to the long-suffering residents of the City. This governor has abused our hospitality and he continues to do so every day a drain remain filled in with the soil Creative Consolidated dumps in it in the name o making motoring more pleasurable or every day a sewer remains blocked because "it is now the responsibility of the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company". A recall will most likely fail against this very, very wealthy governor, but I don't think if 2017 rolls around with these mountains of filth we will be in a mood to hear him out on dual carriage roads, rapid transit systems or dumps-turned-to-power-plants ever again.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Hypocritical hostility.

The international wave of hostility against smokers and chewers of tobacco is set to worsen on our shores. We are set to emblazon all cigarette packs and all conveyances for cigarettes with graphic images - that is, disturbing and gory pictures - depicting various ill outcomes of tobacco products. I have nothing against that. Rotten teeth, blackened lungs and all manner of warnings should be conveyed to those fortunate enough never have to partaken of the Devil's Stick.

We shouldn't stop there, though. The long term plan of the national and county government should be to phase out the production of tobacco for human consumption, unless such consumption is not the road to cancer, emphysema, asthma, tooth decay or death. The government is a hypocritical beast and it will not flat out declare a ban on tobacco or tobacco-growing so long as the excise it collects from tobacco and tobacco-related products continue to swell its ever-empty coffers. But if it is truly serious about cutting down on the harmful effects of tobacco on the human body, then the government should strive t identify that alternate use for tobacco that will generate the same revenue as the addiction of millions of Kenyans.

But we all know how these things go. Big Tobacco is not known for rolling over and playing dead. It never has and it most certainly won't do so in Kenya. It has lost major battles in major western markets, but in the Least Developed countries of the world it as found a ready market, a pliant government and a weak civil society incapable of standing up to Big Business. (Before you get all hot under the collar about my lumping Kenya with the LDCs, just know this: Kenya provides a ready market, a pliant government and a weak civil society that has taken some serious knocks since 2005.)

So it is almost certain that the first half of the bargain will come to pass but the other that will wean millions of Kenyans off of the poison, save the national economy billions in doctors' fees and drugs' costs, provide an alternative market for tobacco farmers and all around make Kenya a better place will be ignored and given short shrift, not least by Big Tobacco. The writing is on the wall. It may not happen this decade, or the next, but sooner or later the world will ban cigarettes and similar tobacco products. We know it. They know it. They are the ones burying their heads in the sand.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Blueprint Capital.

Let it not be said that I wouldn't do something to help my fellowman when calamity befell him. If he was on fire, I would pee on the Governor of Nairobi City to put out the blaze. He'd appreciate the fast-thinking reflexes of a resident of the County he promised to turn into a world class city.

About that promise, by the by, he has, so far, been an abject failure. Every now and then, when the spirit moves me (usually very large snifter of something Scottish), I dare to commute to work after 7 in the morning. Daring because Jogoo Road is not known for its sensible drivers, marked roads or fidelity to the Highway Code. As a dodge, my fellow commuters and I are usually taken on a tour of the forgotten roads of Eastlands. Eastleigh is a particular favourite of that Savings and Credit Co-operative known as Buru Buru Transport Sacco, and its roads are a reminder that billionaire politicians know fuck all about the plight of the working man.

Before you can buy those German mass transit/rapid transit buses or those Japanese commuter trains, Bwana Governor, fill in the potholed roads, restore our pavements to us, get Creative Consolidated to collect all the garbage in the CBD and for God's sake, take more than a cursory glance at the state of your city's drains and sewers.

Nairobi City will not move forward so long as the Governor's blueprints remain blueprints, fancy documents that he uses to persuade gullible Asians and Europeans as to the sincerity of his development agenda for our city. I will not go as far as to suggest as Muriith Mutiga has that Mr Kidero be the last elected governor of this city; that ship has sailed. All we can do as long-suffering residents is ask that Mr Kidero pull the thumb out of his mouth and charm all those that need to be charmed so that things that are important to the sweaty, walking masses are sorted out. Mr Kidero should remember that he is now a politicians and we have a nasty habit of turning on clever-but-useless politicians.

We can't all be Ted or Kevin.

There are many Ted’s and Kevin’s in Kenya. They have chosen to buck the trend that our education system has tried to force down our collective throats which says that cramming, passing exams, going to university and looking for a job is the ultimate route to Canaan. ~ Carol Musyoka aka The Nitpicker (Youths Blazing Trail in creating jobs in ICT sector, Business Daily, 2nd March 2015).
Please don't knock the comfort zone that is salaried employment. While entrepreneurship is to be admired - these are indeed the trailblazers, pioneering spirits that see opportunities in every dark nook and smelly cranny - it is not suited to all persons and it is not all suited to all times. The Teds and Kevins of Kenya are coming of age at an exciting time: barriers to information have fallen, and barriers to useful information are being torn down before our very eyes.

The single most critical reason why more and more youth are staring ambition in the eye without flinching is because they know more than youth at any other time in Kenya's fifty one years. It is no longer necessary to follow your father's career trajectory that started with certificates of education and ended with the words "permanent and pensionable" stamped in ones personnel file. But this shouldn't blind us that there are still hundreds of thousands of Kenyan youth who do not dream of becoming Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey or Jay Z, but are interested in "security" and "predictability" as they raise their five children and spend weekends "upcountry" cutting the fat with similarly inclined peers.

Drones play a crucial role to the success or failure of a bee colony; treating them with contempt may endanger the entire hive. The same is true of the drones disinterested in "making something of themselves" or "building something for posterity." These are the spanner boys who know the nuts and bolts of bureaucracies, who know the value of a well-placed phone-call and who for sure know when a tender has been priced out of reach by a well-placed brown envelope. (Though nowadays it's more about chickens than brown envelopes.)

It is drones who turn the visions of dreamers and risk-takers into reality by, sometimes, mindlessly repeating the same task over and over again until a pattern emerges that satisfies the dreamer. The impatience of the entrepreneur is tempered by the entrepreneurial sloth of the paycheque brigade. Without one the other surely wouldn't exist. It costs us nothing to acknowledge that just like in any other ecosystem, in a market-economy, there will be entrepreneurs and risk-takers and there will be drones and cheque-bandits, alpha males and followers. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. And that is a good thing.

Satraps and bans.

"Call me Ishmael."

Do you remember that scene when Captain Nemo leads the first recruits of the league of Extraordinary Gentlemen from that London gentleman's club to his automobile and declares, grandiosley I thought, that it was "The future, gentlemen. The future!" quite forgetting the presence of Mina Harker in the process. (I still get a little frisson of joy every time that big V-16 spools up and the thing rumbles to life.)

Kwendo Opanga, writing in the Sunday Nation (Act now or we continue filming mediocrity, 1st March 2015), states baldly that despite the thousands of films produced in Nollywood, they do not really qualify as films because, according to the Unesco Institute for Statistics, April 2013 report, “Nigeria has a very high number of audio-visual productions — on average releasing 966 films per year between 2005 and 2011 — but they are semi-professional/informal productions, most of them artisanal with limited or no theatrical release …” Raise your hand if you think Kenya has somehow managed to escape the Naija fate.

We all loved Nairobi Half Life, and many of us were chuffed that because of Shuga, Kenya's very own won an Oscar, but we know that these were flashes in the pan, flashes that have come after many other flashes without turning into a full-scale conflagration. With the zombies in charge of the film industry in Kenya inured to the realities of torrents and megauploads, it will be quite a while before the film industry, Riverwood or not, contends with the best of Nollywood.

It cost $78 million to make the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The Kenya Film Commission cannot raise one-seventh of that budget to promote sensible film policies in Kenya because it is busily banning films because it simply doesn't understand how the internet works. Until a pro-film-industry cabal takes over the Kenya Film Commission, it really doesn't matter that the Pan African Federation of Film Makers (Fepaci) will be hosted in Nairobi for the next four years, because (a) Kenya Film Commission satraps will be unhappy that they won't get to fly off to Fepaci events in Ouagadougou or Timbuktu for the fat per diems, and (b) the Kenyan film-makers who will need the tender attentios of the Federation will never get near it's directors for all the hurdles placed in their way by the Kenya Film Commission's satraps who will want all access for their own "pet" projects.

Some bosses lead, some bosses blame

Bosses make great CX a central part of strategy and mission. Bosses set standards at the top of organizations. Bosses recruit, train, and de...