Friday, May 29, 2015

I'd love to tell you that...

I wonder if the conspiracy theories are true. Not the stupid ones about the Moon Landing or the Grassy Knoll, but the stupid ones about Twitter Headgirl, her No. 1 Booster and the PSCUBotnets. I wonder if there is a cabal of "independent" voices on the 'net that spend all their time spreading the message of good cheer that is handed down to them by the Man Who Said Police Had Died.

Look, none of us want a state where all you hear about the State of the Nation is an unremitting litany of bad, bad, oh-my-God-catastrophic news. I'd love to tell you that if you visit the Java on City Hall Way, you won't walk on a sidewalk that has been dug up over and over that there is now a subterranean river that bursts its banks every time it rains in Nairobi.

I'd love to tell you that if you choose to take to the roads, you will do so in the confidence that lande marking do what lane markings are supposed to do, traffic lights do what traffic lights are supposed to do, and if you happen to be stuck behind a dinded-windows (thank you Kimaiyo) cut-rate grey import, a slight "bump" will not bring forth and armed-to-the-teeth irate-till-red-eyed driver, but a solicitous let-your-insurance-sort-it-out motorist.

I'd love to inform you that we no longer need mama mbogas because their national and county governments have sorted them out with loans and grants and business training such that all of them run veggie-delivery operations that do not need them to squat in the middle of busy thoroughfares, their snot-nosed, mushori-wearing sprogs getting in and out of pedestrians' legs, while keeping an eye out for rungu-wielding, tear-gas spewing kanjos.

I'd love to show you the pictures from back in the day when there used to be zoos, which we called "informal settlements", where we corralled men and women who subsidised our day-to-day lives by taking less than the minimum wage while working their fingers to the bone to wash our clothes, clean our homes, guard our "estates" and care for our children, because the "slum upgrading" programmes will have succeeded beyond our wildest imaginations.

But because I can't do this, let us speculate with unhealthy relish about the professional relationship of Twitter Headgirl, her No. 1 Booster and the PSCUBotnets. Is it a tacit arrangement, aor lare there settled Terms of Agreement? Is there a quid pro quo between the two groups? Do they believe that changing the narrative online about the State of the Nation will change the narrative offline about the Realities of Life in the Nation? I don't know. I don't think so. But then again, Twitter Headgirl's No. 1 Booster is quite convinced that intellectually I do not rise above room temperature, so there is quite much I am dim about. Much.

Securocrats, sugar and terrorists.

This thing with the security of the President and Commander-in-Chief is getting out of hand. We are all quietly laughing to ourselves, about the List of Eighty-four that was leaked to the press and compelled the President, due the terrible optics, to miss the swearing in of Muhamadu Buhari as Nigeria's President today. What Kenyans must wonder is that, after the abortive flight to the UAE last month and the mysterious theft-and-return of the BMW, who is in charge of presidential security and what, exactly, are they doing.

President Kenyatta seems like and easygoing man, personable and prone to moments of exuberance that encourage him breaking free of what must be a stifling security bubble to mingle with the people he hopes voted for him. But this attitude, surely, cannot be transferred to his bodyguard. That praetorian guard must be on the alert at all times, even when he is out of the country or, simply, out of sight. It is why it is quite baffling that other security bubble around the president does not seem to take into account the security of his papers and similar sensitive and confidential documents. Leakages, and stupid statements, seem to indicate that his bodyguard is made up of the less-intelligent, at best or, at worst, the malign.

Any opposition to the president's agenda is purely political, not personal, and because he is our president, we must pray that his safety is at the top of the agenda even of those who oppose him politically. We are not Nigeria, Colombia or Afghanistan, that have a penchant for assassinating their heads of state. We should all be concerned that for the billions we appropriate for the safety of the president, there seem to be truck-sized gaps in his security. How can those arranging his itinerary pad the president's entourage the way they did with the ridiculous list of eighty four? If an assassin could get to the person leaking the list, that same assassin could get into the circle and work his way too the president undetected.

Sometimes you get the feeling that the men charged with the security of Kenya and the safety of the people don't have their hearts in their jobs. When one remembers Gen Hussein Ali shaking up the Kenya Police or Gen Daudi Tonje and the Tonje Rules on the retirement of his senior officers, you had a sense that they knew what they were doing and that, vitally, their officers accepted what the leadership was up to. Under Gen Karangi, the Kenya Defence Forces became synonymous with charcoal-sales to Yemen and shopping bags during terrorist sieges. Under Kimaiyo the National Police became a punchline; his successor is treading the same gaffe-stricken road. But despite all this, you would expect that the Defence Forces and the National Police would keep their feet from their mouths when it came to the Commander-in-Chief.

It seems that our graft-riven, gaffe-ridden securocracy can't do even one thing twice. And whispered assurances about the number of plots that have been foiled without our knowledge will no longer do; we are not the gullible ones impressed by a little insider knowledge. If public snafus in the safety and security of the president cannot be prevented, we are no longer confident that are keeping us safe and our country secure because we are sure that they are meddling in the importation of sugar and complicit in the smuggling of terrorists.

Change is not a monopoly.

Just so it doesn't come across as supremely egoistic, there will be no footnotes or references. In fact, I doubt whether I will acknowledge the contributions of the great ones; I'll simply assume that you know who they are and make whatever judgment you will. Here goes nothing, then.

The aims of the Shabaab are not unknown to us, its methods are brutally familiar to us, and its capacities have yet to diminish since Kenya's "police action" in 2011 that is yet to come to a close. Taking a leaf from the pioneering work of Usama Bin Laden and the Blind Sheikh of New York, and carrying on from the ashes of the Islamic Courts Union, the Shabaab has employed every communications medium at its disposal to propagate its messages of hate. Whether Kenya's mainstream media reported the Shabaab's messages or not, it is almost certain that they would still proliferate, and not just in the anonymous terrain of the internet.

The Shabaab's campaign of terror is not an end in itself; it is not its intention to simply terrify Kenyans, and others, and leave it at that. The Shabaab is after a specific political agenda. The East African Community, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the European Union, the United Nations, the United States, everyone, is united in condemning the Shabaab's tactics and rejecting its political agenda. In the comity of nations, the Shabaab will not find legitimacy.

It is important to acknowledge, legitimate or not, that the aim of the Shabaab is not simply to terrify but to establish a political-cum-theocratic state. Therefore, how it prosecutes its campaign is important news that we must be informed about. What it says and what it means when it says it are also important news stories; we will not benefit from being shielded from the gory facts of the Shabaab campaign. That is what we do for children; we are not children. Not any more. The age of innocence for Kenya has passed. But to understand why we are being terrorised by the Shabaab, or how they are capable of terrorising us in the first place, we must not shy away from examining our own government and our own unity.

In 1992 when Somalia descended into anarchy, it is only the United Nations, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the United States that still had the capacity to intervene in force to save Somalia from itself. They all tried. They all failed. Kenya became their surrogate in managing the unfolding situation. But Kenya's settled politics was also unravelling; its government could not pay attention to the complex evolution taking place in Somalia. It attempted containment with the complex of refugee camps. Containment is now ashambles.

Kenya's de-evolution of the Kenyan political and administrative scene contributed greatly to the ease with which outlaws like the Shabaab, and their predecessors such as the Mungiki, are able to commit great atrocities with impunity. This is not a situation that is likely to be be reversed simply because we have chosen to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Until we accept that a rotten political and administrative system lalcks legitimacy and, therefore, public support, all calls for "doing your part" will fall on deaf ears or, worse, disillusioned ears.

In 2012 and 2013 there seemed to be a campaign to murder Islamist preachers who had no love for Kenya, its government or its policies towards Somalia. These murders will never be investigated and, it seems, have received the broad endorsement of the people, including ministers of faith. Even when they call for the youth to take up arms against their own government, Islamist preachers are promoting an ideology and spreading ideas. The blunt instrument of extra-judicial acts, such as murder, will not kill the ideology; it will turn them into martyrs. Martyrs are powerful symbols in both Christendom and, recently, Islamism. An illegitimate government will not have a credible counter-narrative to that of the Islamist preacher and will thus resort to "unconventional" thinking-out-of-the-box scenarios such as assassinations and communal punishment, as happened in Eastleigh in 2013 and 2014.

We know what we must do to prevail against the Shabaab and other enemies of Kenya. A more draconian statutory regime is not it. A more emphatic application of colonial policing tactics is not it. Cranking up the national security paranoia to eleven is not it either. We are in fear because the institutions we have entrusted to lead us in the fight against the Shabaab have consistently failed to put the people first. If the government is asking us to change our mindsets from that of "serikali saidia", then it is time for the government itself to shift focus from itself and its high officials to us. Change should not be the monopoly of the civilian population alone.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Am I an extremist?

A cursory run through the online definitions of "extremism" finds that there is no standardised meaning of the word. It's connotations, depending on ones biases, are mostly negative, though neutral in academic circles. A common thread, however, is that extremism, whether political or religious, is an ideology far outside the mainstream views of the society. But am I an extremist simply because I refuse to accept a situation where forces of law and order can pick and choose when to abrogate provisions of the Bill of Rights when they are dealing with other extremists?

Let us presume that the vast majority of adults want to abrogate the Bill of Rights when dealing with extremists. Let us also assume that they are willing to have this standard applied to them in the future when the circumstances change or some other ideological crisis arises. If that is the case, why have the Bill of Rights at all?

There is a reason why we declare that the Bill of Rights is not the gift of the State, but inherent rights that one enjoys. An abrogation, a limitation, of those rights must be, and I quote the constitution, "reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom." The constitution is a statement of our values, values that we all share and that we all agree to abide by. It is the compact we have made with each other as we organise our government and order our lives. It is littered with values statements, but simply by promulgating it, we agree to live by what it says.

The rights it enshrines are statements of how we value each other and how we must treat each other. The Bill of Rights is principally a bulwark against the, yes, extremism of the government, but also the extremism that lurks beneath the surface of society in times of crisis. If we say, in Article 48, the every person has a right to justice, we do not limit that right to the moderates alone; that right is also extended to the extremist. If we say, in Article 49, that an arrested person has certain rights, and, in Article 25, that certain rights cannot be limited or abrogated, these are the values that we chose to live by.

An accusation of extremism is likely to be made by the officers of the government against an individual or a group. The accusation alone is not enough to abrogate or limit the rights of the alleged extremist. The accusation must be proven. It can only be proven by a trial. During the trial, the alleged extremist can challenge the proof advanced by the government or its witnesses. It is for the judge to weigh the substance of the accusation as well as that of the defence. This is also a value that we have chosen to live by. It is why we must not be afraid to let officers of the court, advocates, who also live by a code of conduct and ethics, to perform their duty under a set of values we call our constitution.

My fear is that it will not end with extremists in the mould of the Shabaab. Take Article 26 on the right to life and the exceptions to the prohibition on abortion. Whether or not an abortion law is enacted, the broad circumstances under which one may be procured have been enumerated in Article 26. If the medical practitioner who procures an abortion is labelled an extremist, would the lawyer who defends him be an extremist? Will the nurses who assist in the operation be extremists? Will the pharmacists and chemists who provide the drugs necessary for the procedure be extremists?

The Shabaab are extremists. Their ideology glorifies murder and the subjugation of the weak and minorities. Their misogyny is extreme. Their interpretation of scripture is puritanical and extreme. Their acts are extreme. At the heart of their ideology is the nub of an idea. For us to prevail against them, we must not just defeat them on the field of battle but also in the field of ideas. Their ideas must be fully challenged in every theatre, whether it is the law courts, the editorial pages or the television and radio studios. 

We must live with the values that we have enshrined in the Bill of Rights and allow their lawyers to state their case unfettered. Either our ideology, ideas and values are persuasive or they are not. To limit their extremist ideas and ideology using patently value-less unconstitutional fiddles tells me that we are afraid that our values, our ideas and our ideology is the lesser of the two. Either we believe in our Bill of Rights or we don't.

Is this an extreme view? Am I an extremist?

Do I get full marks?

Two separate questions with profound implications on how we may prevail against terrorists, terrorism and terrorists threats to Kenya. By "media", let us assume that the author of the question means those correspondents and journalists who report the news, and the editors who determine whether or not an item will be published or broadcast. We will further assume that rumour-mongers are not part of the equation, or those who write for the gossip or propaganda columns, or those who host "talk" shows that are an unconvincing veil for salacious innuendo and pop culture.

Let us also assume that by "extremists" we mean persons who have taken up arms against Kenya, Kenyans and institutions of government. These shall also include those suspected to have done the same. I am loath to include those who would preach hate against Kenya, Kenyans or institutions of government, but let us assume that they are also included in the meaning of "extremists."

The job of the media is to report the news. The ethics of the media will determine how that news is reported. The ideology of a particular media organisation will determine what slant to put on the news. We may prefer the media to be "patriotic" but there is absolutely no obligation on the media to be patriotic. Patriotism, a value identified in Article 10, is not an obligation that a person can be compelled to exercise. It is something that must be felt before it can be expressed. But it is not unpatriotic to report unflattering truths about ones country, its people or its government.

When one hundred and forty seven Kenyans were murdered in Garissa, the declarations of responsibility by the Shabaab were legitimate news stories. The news media were justified in reporting them; they formed part of the context of why the murders took place. To report or not to report was a decision that the editors of the news media had to make and all of them chose, rightfully so, to report them. Kenyans have a right to know what their enemies think of them and what their enemies intend to do to them, their country and their government. I do not believe that this is "propagating terrorist statements" as the author of the question would seem to suggest.

It is a canon of criminal law that a person is presumed innocent until he is tried and convicted by a court of law. Even when a murderer is found standing over his victim with the murder weapon in his hands, he is innocent unless convicted by a court of law. Kenya has abided, by and large, by this doctrine since even before the declaration of the Kenya Colony in 1920. Few Kenyan communities, indeed I would argue none, had a system of summary judgment where an accused person was not permitted a defence.

The United States has pursued a policy of denying "enemy combatants" the protection of the law. One of their reasonable arguments is that enemy combatants are not citizens of the United States nor soldiers of a state actor and, therefore, do not deserve the benefit of the US Bill of Rights. That policy has had mixed results, to say the least. Its iniquitous character has contributed significantly to the swelling ranks of the Islamic State. The US's global war on terror has been an unmitigated disaster.

Kenya cannot afford to pursue the US policy. Kenya is not an island fortress; its "porous" borders would not benefit from an abrogation of the due-process rights of extremists. Kenya's history of such abrogation is not pretty. Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi relied on such policies to unlawfully detain their political enemies. Massacres also took place under their watches because the forces of law and order and the armed forces were used as blunt instruments of oppression. These policies did not engender a respect for the rule of law; indeed, it is not too farfetched to posit that they contributed significantly to the impunity that led to Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing, grand swindles that affected the economy and led to great misery.

Finally, very few Kenyans want other Kenyans to be murdered in their dormitories or hostels. Most Kenyans want prosperity in a sea of peace. However, few Kenyans trust their own government. Unless that trust is built, it is almost certain that terrorist attacks and extremism will not be eradicated. That is why the media must report the news as they see fit and extremists permitted due process. If we do not build up our institutions of governance into entities we can trust, then we will never prevail.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A destination. And Her.

There is a moment of panic when you answer the phone, especially when it is the office touch-tone phone, say, Hello, this is Samson. May I help you? and get dead silence on the other end. You are not sure whether they heard you. So you repeat your tried-and-tested phone etiquette at a higher octave. Then she blurts out, Olivia yuko hapo?! No introduction. No warm-up, Hali ya asubuhi. Nothing! How do you even begin to respond?

There is a moment of irritation that borders on the angry-twelve-men that grips you when you are about to alight from a lift, especially a lift in a serikali office where watu wamekuja kuhudumiwa na wako na haraka kidogo. I don't know if users of lifts in private-sector building go through this. I should hope not. Anyway, the doors open, the lift is six-people strong, the outside of the lift is ten people-strong and the momentum is inwards, not outwards. Sometimes the outside is one-man strong - usually the boss, or the boss's minion-with-power. The momentum is definitely inwards in those moments 'cos, Wakubwa hawatakungojea. Does the strength it takes to hold your tongue require a nap afterwards?

There is a moment of despair when, five-minutes before the clock strikes five, your boss's boss decides that he hasn't had you volunteer your free time in a while so he says, Samson, I think this is right up your alley. I need it tonight. You stare at the file and your instinct is, Hell fuckin' no! But then you think on it. He knows your name. They never know your name, but he knows it. Which means his secretary knows your name and if there is a person you don't want to piss of it is her because if he is unhappy, then by God so is she and when she is unhappy your life is fucked six ways to hell. Does the despair need copious amounts of intoxicating libations in order for the desperation to be less desperate?

There is a moment, after strategising and maneuvering, long after you have patiently shaken your head, No, at that kanges, when you finally get that window seat you love so much, the one one row beyond the door on the left that lets you watch Nairobi-at-dusk slide by as you daydream of the E55 AMG and the plot in Runda. There's a moment, right after you've planted yourself with a little distaste in your seat, when One of Them sits next to you. Grossly overweight. Sweaty. Armpit-y smelly. Halitosis from here to Dandora and beyond. Chatty as hell, which means that it is going to be a forty-minute Oh-God-Don't-Let-Me-Puke ride. At that moment, wouldn't you pay anything, wouldn't you'd murder anyone, wouldn't you spend eternity on your knees supplicating to Him, if it meant that this cup would be passed to someone else? Wouldn't you?

There is a moment when, having made it there, there it sits, brooding malevolently, as if it would like nothing better than to take you by the neck - and snap it like a twig. You approach it tentatively, cautiously. You dare not startle it. It has been there all day. Under the inclement elements of a hostile Nairobi. You sense it's frustration, its resentment at being left behind with them, watchmen of ill will and greater ill repute. It doesn't have modern gee-gaws, so you slide the key in its door and, gently, turn, pull the handle and, smoothly, slide in its still-smells-like-new driver seat. 

You soak it in. You savour the moment. Leather. Paint. Polish. Oil. Something. You don't pull the door after you. You want the heat to abate, but then you don't because it is your heat, maybe. You stroke the 'wheel, lecherously, amorously, a little too creepily, but, Hey! a guy and his wheels, eh? When you switch it on, you can feel it come alive, because it spools up first, the carbs pulling Super Petrol from somewhere in the back, before the sparkplugs, one, two, three, all the way to forty-eight, explosively ignite the air-petrol mixture and it rumbles alive like a baby volcano. That is the moment that you have been waiting for. All day. Phone calls from hell. Lift passengers made in Beelzebub's image. Boss's bosses with a streak of sadism. Halitosis that will keep Colgate-Palmolive in business till the end of time. The moment when all petty irritations fade away. The moment when you are in command, control. You yank the door shut and all that is left is a destination. And Her.

Article 25 and the Shabaab.

This is the argument: let us limit the application of the Bill of Rights, win the war on terror and then restore the Bill of Rights to its rightful place in the pantheon of laws that Kenya has enacted. Sounds right, right? Reasonable, cogent, simple. (Forgive me, please, as I wipe the spittle off of my lips.)

That is what every government in the world wants. The only difference between the theocracy in Iran or Vatican City and the US federal government is that the former two are appointed by God Himself and take their orders from Him. In all other respects, especially the desire to determine when the phrase "national security" should act as a statutory fig leaf for human rights' violations, remains strikingly similar.

Apologists for the scheme to limit the rights of terror suspects in Kenya would have you believe that "as soon as the war is won, we will restore full rights to every Kenyan." Or similar assurances. You will notice one curious thing about these apologists: they are not the victims of suspicious government attention of their activities. They are free to go where they choose, live where they choose, associate with whom they choose, without the forces of law and order taking an inordinate interest in their affairs. They have not been victims of police encounters that ended in death or grievous bodily harm. They are more likely to be treated with kid gloves when they are in conflict with the law - and they often are.

It might have been accidental or inadvertent, but the primacy of the Bill of Rights is assured by the procedure required to amend it, and the requirements for a limitation of any of the rights enshrined in it. And then there is Article 25 which is explicit about the rights that cannot be limited, not by law, not by forces of law and order, and not by the courts. Among the tools that the US government relied on in its global war on terror were torture, or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of enemy combatants. We promulgated a constitution that explicitly forbids this, because these powers have rarely been used against terrorists but against the law-abiding civilian population as in Mt Elgon and Wagalla.

These quasi-constitutional lawyers need adult supervision. Narrowly focused on the need to find and kill the enemy, we have frequently become the enemy of the government. In this war against error, every Kenyan is a threat and not just the combatants of the Shabaab. But so long as you have the wherewithal to "contribute" to the "efforts" of the women and women who make political decisions in the securocracy, you are unlikely to be troubled by the securocracy's activities. If you have the temerity to be poor, to come from the wrong ethnic community or to live in the wrong district, whether or not you are  sympathiser of Kenya's enemies, you will increasingly feel the unwavering attention of the long arm of the law on your back, and this attention will not give two shits about Article 25 if some Kenyans have anything to say about it.

The Senate is still lost.

We solve our problems using statutory measures. We make laws to solve problems. That's just who we are, what we have been programmed to be. So it is no surprise that the Senate believes that it can fight the Shabaab, and other national security threats, using statutory measures. This is the genesis of the proposal to establish the National Security Emergency Service, which, minus the Commander-in-Chief, will essentially be a re-hash of the National Security Council. It is also one of the stupidest ideas ever conceived by the Senate, and that is saying something.

Kenya's problems have never been about the law, but its enforcement. The colonial government, which had a penchant for enacting patently racist laws, was always cherry-picking which of those laws it would enforce and which ones it would give the stink eye to. Dividing and conquering was so ingrained in the colonial government that it became an article of faith for post-independence Government of Kenya in its zeal to appear "civilised" and Anglicised like its colonial forebear. As a result, the government has enacted hundreds of laws but enforced them selectively. The result has been chaos, confusion and, every now and then, great crimes such as the Mpeketoni and Garissa massacres.

The Senate is living in a colonial utopia where to make laws is seen to be doing something in solving our challenges. I doubt very much the authors of this scheme have examined the statutory landscape or learned anything from it. We have a robust statutory regime when it comes to the security of the nation, and we still retain the death penalty for treason and waging war against Kenya. What we do not have is an effective enforcement ethos; we pick and choose which laws to enforce, against whom to enforce them and then we cry foul when elements of the Shabaab sneak past border guards and intelligence officers and murder with wild abandon.

The structure of of the securocracy does not need more rearranging-of-the-deckchairs-on-the-Titanic moments as the Senate is proposing. Throwing more money at the securocracy will not make it any better or effective either. Transparency and accountability are the only tools in the toolbox that we haven't tried. Securocrats are a law unto themselves, accountable to no one, with their operations remaining as clear as mud. Crucial documents that would explain how they make decisions, why they make certain decisions, and the outcomes of those decisions remain swaddled in secrecy, unavailable even to those who should know.

It is shocking that the Northern Frontier remains, in the Twenty-first Century, a punishment posting for the foot-soldiers in the war against the Shabaab, North Rift cattle-rustling bandits and Ethiopian and South Sudanese invaders. Instead of deploying seasoned, well-trained, well-equipped and highly motivated personnel to these zones, Vigilance House and its counterparts in the Directorate of Criminal Intelligence, the National Intelligence Service, the Immigration Department and the Kenya Defence Forces deploy raw recruits and personnel facing disciplinary proceedings, including for graft. How the proposed National Security Emergency Service will resolve this colonial culture remains a mystery that even the Senate is powerless to resolve.

To think outside the box, as is the Senate's intention, the Senate needs to know what the box confines. The Senate has no clue what is in the box. Nor does its counterpart, the National Security Council. It is why Parliament still falls back on statutory measures to fight wars. There isn't a nation in the world that has ever won a war using statutory measures. Look at the United States' war on drugs. Since 1972, the Drug Enforcement Administration has consumed more than five hundred billion dollars yet the cocaine market in the United States alone is worth one hundred billion dollars every year. "Tougher" laws and tougher sentencing guidelines have not won them this war. Neither, it seems, is the thirteen trillion dollars the US has poured into its global war on terror. Osama bin Laden may be dead and gone, but his poisonous legacy lives on.

If our Senate is determined to plow the same field that the mighty US government has plowed with such dismal results, perhaps Okoa Kenya is right to question the utility of that chamber. There is no reason for Kenyans to be saddled with a two-chamber parliament determined to dress up a pig in lipstick and tell us it is the next Victoria's Secret cover girl.

Almost bliss.

It's the silences. Comfortable ones reaffirm the relationship as healthy and stable. Passive-aggression is symbolised by the silence that shouldn't be, the one where you know they should do something about it and you're waiting for them to do it while they fiddle with their smartphones, watches, whatever. 

Angry ones are where there is this odd buzzing in the air that you don't hear but sense. These are the silences where you wish they would so that you could. Awkward ones are the ones you dread the most because you suddenly know that it is over, that you are done, that they are done. They are the silences of the silent goodbye.

The silences these days are comfortable. Even when there is much to be said, the pressure to simply talk is no longer there. There is time, even if that feeling might be illusory or, worse, delusional, there is time. Is that awkward? Probably. But it is what it is and that is enough, for now. The conversations that we will have, and the fights that those conversations will bring are all down the road of time and the comfortable silences in-between.

I like silences. Then I like the non-silences, you know, the ones where I speak and you say nothing but I know or think I know what you would say if you said it at all? Like when it is that scene in the movie, the one that always affects you, and I interrupt the movie-theatre silence with one of my canny, but inane, observations and you sigh the way you sigh when you think, What an idiot! and I smile anyway because, shit! you knew I was going to say it anyway. I like those ones. They are the memory of the fun times and the promise of the future joys. They are ore than comfortable. They are almost the definition of bliss.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A rare WTF! moment.

Someone asks, "Who is constitutionally mandated with the security of the president on air and land" because, I shit you not, it finally occurred to them that when the presidential journey to California was canceled last month, "the sovereignty of Kenya was at stake." Don't get me wrong; I do not want someone to frag my Commander-in-Chief. He's the one we have and are likely to keep him till the end of the decade and beyond. I wish him long life, prosperity, sagacity and success.

We have fetishised the constitution since its promulgation that we are now in danger of losing our minds over the document. At almost 80,000 words, it is not an easy read but it is not a blue print for every single government boondoggle that we'd care to tack onto it. In our zeal to seal off all possible loopholes that previous regimes had driven through in the former constitution, we ended up with an unwieldy document whose implementation has proven to be the No. 1 cause of political angst and idiocy.

The most important object of a constitution is the organisation of a government, assigning functions and duties among the various arms. That has been the constitutional arrangement of successful democracies for nigh on four centuries. It needed tweaking in light of evolution in state/individual relations and that is why no one will quibble with the Bill of Rights taking precedence over the organisation of the government. And it is the primacy of the Bill of Rights that should be the first clue every time we go on and on about the sovereignty of Kenya; it is not presidential.

The president is not a sovereign; this is not a kingdom or a theocracy. His death or injury at the hands of an incompetent securocracy will not affect the sovereignty of this nation. It is bigger than the president. It supersedes the president. It exceeds the president. The president is a creature of the constitution, but the sovereignty of this nation is the will of the people. It is not the will of the constitution. It is immutable. Without the people there is no sovereign state. It's that simple.

The safety of the Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief is an operational matter, not a constitutional one. The safety of the president affects the functioning of the government; it does not amend or alter the constitution one iota. Before someone loses their shit and comes after me with a hashtag, the president is in office in accordance with the constitution but he is not the State, he is not the embodiment of the constitution and his safety is best addressed in the context of what the fuck his handlers were doing when he boarded his presidential jet for the United Arab Emirates.

There is a reason why Kenyans were encouraged to read and debate the harmonised draft constitution. Few could manage a nuanced debate devoid of partisan political rhetoric. We hoped that public commentators would lead the way. They did not and now we have columnists seeing constitutional crises in how the safety of the president is handled. Or conflating the presidency with the sovereignty of this nation. I will not declare that only constitutional lawyers should make bold declarations on the sovereignty of Kenya; but before a layperson makes that bold declaration, they had best ask three lawyers for their opinions and, hopefully, from the sixteen that will ensue, she will have a clue about what she's talking about.
Who is constitutionally mandated with the security of the president on air and on land? - See more at:
Who is constitutionally mandated with the security of the president on air and on land? - See more at:
Who is constitutionally mandated with the security of the president on air and on land? - See more at:

Of hashtag-accusations

How do you know if someone is acting against the national interest? In the civilised world, you will find out the moment someone is accused by the government or prosecuted for treason or for any related offence, like aiding the enemy. If the charge is proven against the one accused, he will face the music on his own and we, the people, will go back to our own affairs.

The Inspector-General of Police some time last month declared certain financial institutions and civil society organisations of being in league with the Shabaab and he gave them two days to prove to his satisfaction that they were not in league with the Shabaab. This was intended to be the first salvo in freezing the bank accounts of these organisations. In typical Kenyan fashion, we have not followed up on whether the bank accounts of the declared entities were ever frozen, and if they were, which ones' officials will be prosecuted for aiding and abetting an enemy of Kenya.

That is how the situation prevailed until a government functionary decided to take on the Norwegian Embassy and the Norwegian ambassador to Kenya, who says that Norway will keep funding an organisation that happens to be one against whom the Inspector-General had accused of colluding with the Shabaab.

Unless a prosecution and a conviction have already taken place in secret, which would be the definition of a kangaroo court, no proof has been adduced that demonstrates that the Norwegian Embassy, the Norwegian ambassador and this organisation have conspired to send money to the Shabaab and that that money has been used to launch attacks in Kenya by the Shabaab. We are asked to take the Inspector-General and this other functionary at their word.

There was a time when Kenyans willingly went along with everything their government told them. This is not to say that Kenyans believed their government without reservation. Anyone who thinks that is living in a world of fantasy. Kenyans do not have fond memories of the "long arm of the law" and they were very, very careful about what they voiced their scepticism. 

If the government declared someone to be a financier of the Shabaab or that it was doing so in cahoots with a foreign power, only the foolhardy would pooh-pooh such a declaration. The long arm of the law would mean long hours, days or months in dark basements with electrodes, car batteries and genitalia forming part of the experience. Those days are over; we now have to contend with the impotence of accusation-by-hashtag in an environment where it is the agents of the "long arm of the law" who are more likely to be in league with the Shabaab than an embassy or an NGO.

The government and its agents suffer from a legitimacy crisis complicated by a great trust deficit. We have accepted the reality that our government has one or two rotten tomatoes. We have accepted, too, that there are many well-meaning and dedicated officers in the government. But the overweening secrecy surrounding things that affect us intimately means that every time a new hashtag-accusation is posted online, our initial instinct will be to scoff at it, ridicule it and declare it to be a Houdini-like distraction because something sinister is being undertaken in our name.

Leeches and poison quills.

If only this defense wasn't based on absolute bias based on gender,if only we could use that eye that doesn't employ the use gender card whenever a colleague in gender is attacked,if only we could be fair then maybe we'd be liberal level headed and take note of faults by both njoki chege on one hand and her attackers on the others.But to sit in a darkroom in the middle of the night and take the view that this is entirely Male uncalled for attack is wrong especially taking into account the meanness and toxicity of her pen..oh and her insults to. Condemn the attack on her but with the same breath condemn her insults.They have no justifications ~ Joe Onkeo
I hate to admit it, but this made me roll on the floor laughing out loud. I had written that "the right of a woman to be incorrigibly disagreeable is unfettered." I haven't changed my mind.

This is the Information Age or the Digital Age, depending on what floats your boat, and in the online bazaar, gender is a highly fluid characteristic. Insulting posts on blogs, Twitter and Facebook are a dime-a-dozen, and only the thin-skinned will lose their rag over it. However, it is important to note that we may disagree with the content of a post, and we may demand penance from those we disagree with, but to ignore the double-standards at play when women engage in the same salacious innuendo as men is a great disservice to the concept of free speech.

I do not agree with Ms Chege's worldview and I don't care that she holds that view. She is not the only disagreeable writer. But to take special umbrage because she has taken potshots at youthful men of limited means who imbibe cheap liquor and drive cut-rate grey imports is to engage in a Sisyphean trial of immense proportion by attempting to elide our hypocrisy.

There are many men who have a very precise idea of what they imagine the perfect woman to be or what the perfect woman should wear, and some of them say it with an eloquence I can only envy. But it does not occur to them that the days of men determining what a woman can be and what she can do have gone the way of the mighty moa. Whether a woman wants to leech off a wealthy man or whether she wants an independent existence where she runs her own enterprise and chooses her own lovers is no longer something men can do anything about. If there is a crisis arising out of the pro-girl-child movement, it is that many, many men have lost their confidence because they can no longer rely on their patrimony to control women.

So what if she is mean and toxic? Given half a decent chance she might yet grow into a brilliant writer, her satire may become more nuanced and experience may temper her poison quill and, hopefully, imbue her with humility and wisdom. Hers will not be a lone voice. That field is being plowed by dozens of men and women. It is time to either turn the page or switch off the light. Either way, it's got nothing to do with the price of beans.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dreams turn to ash.

There are many kinds of secrets in the government, but the ones that seem to keep securocrats awake at night have nothing to do with the safety of the people or the security of the nation. The secrets that keep them from the comforts of their beds are, in the order of importance, the various fates of the Commander-in-Chief, the unknowable fates of other lesser elected representatives, the fate of billion-shilling tenders, saving face when they screw up, and keeping up appearances.

I do not remember the securocracy being roused or riled when Ethiopian forces (or armed forces from Ethiopia) laid siege to a police station in Kenya's forgotten North on Monday and Tuesday. Do you? I am unsurprised about the spectacular opacity regarding the Shabaab siege of Yumbis, Amuma and Damajeley. Between the Ethiopian invasion and the Yumbis, Amuma and Damajeley siege, the Inspector-General and the idiots in his high command have fallen in love with another plan to secure Parliament Road and Harambee Avenue. Other than an "everything is under control" non-message from the securocracy, do you have any confidence that these people know what they are doing?

Barack Obama, the most powerful Luo politician in the world, will come to visit in July. I imagine Inspector-General Boinett and his boys want o demonstrate that they care for Cousin Barry's welfare and that they would be mortified if he had a very unpleasant experience because we don't know anything about security. That may explain why where once traffic flowed smoothly, even by Nairobi's standards, there is nothing but gridlock on Parliament Road and Harambee Avenue. In addition to the continuing land-grab by Boinett's police, Cousin Barry's Secret Service will surely be impressed by the arrangements so far.

If there is one person who can lead the way in reassuring Kenyans it is the Commander-in-Chief. I don't mean he becomes the mourner-in-chief like Bill Clinton; I mean that when it comes to the overweening secrecy that shrouds his government, he could make the unilateral decision to let it all hang out, warts and all. He can keep a hold of the secrets that keep his ass from getting shot at by the Shabaab's fighters; but, surely, he has no reason to keep secret the list of advisors and consultants his government has engaged, does he? He doesn't really have to keep his draft policies secret anymore, not if he wants our help in achieving the goals of his manifesto. All this digital-government talk of his is all hot air if we can't even get pdf versions of his anodyne policies.

The secrecy at the heart of the government ignores advances in information technology that have rendered much of that secrecy redundant. It is counterproductive for a self-proclaimed digital government not to publish all its non-securo-paranoid papers. It only fosters suspicion and mistrust. If we have an disaster preparedness plan for schools, universities, malls, whatever, publish it. If we have a plan to decongest Nairobi, publish it. If we have a plan to make room for clandestine liaisons in Kileleshwa, publish it. You'll be surprised by how much co-operation you receive. Keep a tight lid on things like you are now and watch all your dreams turn to ash.

I am not The Stath!

What gets my goat these days is the incredible assumption that I, an individual of singular attributes, have a law-enforcement function, that I am a police of one, that I am singularly responsible for national security and public safety. That just riles me up something fierce. The asshole who cooked up that rule should have his balls slathered in honey and dipped in an ant-hill.

This is not Texas, where everyone seems to own a firearm and a predilection to use them all the while going, "USA! USA! USA!" This post-colonial Kenya, a backwater where firearms are status symbols and half the civilians who own them use them to get laid or something equally bizarre. The other half don't even remember where their gun-safes are anymore. How the fuck am I supposed to take down al Shabbies and likeminded wackos when it will take the intervention of Jesus, Thomas Aquinas and God knows who else to get me past the Directorate of Criminal Investigations for that "certificate of good conduct," the Chief Firearms Licensing Officer for a gun permit and Brig Gen Kihalangwa's Department of Immigration to sneak my brand new Ceska past customs?

I am not Jack fuckin' Bauer! And this is not fuckin' 24!

I'm not saying that if I see al Shabbies that I'll keep my mouth shut. They are nasty dudes and I think that the best thing that could happen to them would be for those kick ass snipers from the Recce Company to introduce them to the beautiful science of ballistics, you know? If an al Shabbies' head is introduced to the pointy end of a .50 BMG travelling at 853m/s out of the barrel of a Barrett M82, I won't feel bad. Actually, I'd dance a happy jig and carry on till the wee hours. All I am saying is that unless we get to that point where we can hack minds and someone uploads the necessary skills, nerve and psychopathy necessary to wield said Barrett M82, taking on al Shabbies is not something I will be doing any time soon.

Look, moron, all I want is for your boys to stop acting as if I wanna steal their lunch or something. If I tell you I've seen al Shabbie types near some mall or something, don't fuckin' lock my ass up - go lock their ass up. Which, in essence, means you gotta trust some of us some of the time and stop treating all of us as if we were all out to take Kamwana's lunch-money from him or something. I'm gonna do my duty and tell you when I see bad guys doing bad guy shit. You do your duty and arrest them or shoot them or whatever.

If that asshole thinks that I'm not doing enough, then he'd better come up with a better idea than turning me into an Eastlando version of Jack Bauer, Steven Seagal and The Stath all rolled into one because that shit just ain't never going to happen. All I want is to be left in peace to eat my veggies in peace and to avoid Garissa Lodge and its funny smells in peace. Is that too much to ask, asshole? Is it?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Chivalry and Kidero.

When it comes to matatus and Nairobbery storms, chivalry died unmourned. If you think I am talking through my hat because you think you are the last Knight in Shining Mercedes-Benz Armour, perhaps you are that "gentleman" who demonstrated just how wide the back left wheel really was last evening outside the Hilton. The two Mama Mbogas boarding the No. 46 to Kawangware really appreciate your chivalrous decision to demonstrate its all-weather characteristics.

Uncle Kidero is a lost cause. It's not as if he is totally unaware that his governemnt is responsible for surface drains and should crack the whip when the Nairobi Water Company screws up the sewers. Anyway, because of Uncle Kidero's lackadaisical approach to all manner of drainage problems, there are few places where a Nairobian can walk with confidence once the heavens open.

I was just strolling casually under my massive umbrella towards that chaotic terminus known as Ambassaduer. I was in no hurry. It was raining and speed risked getting my pants legs wet from the rain. I was taking my time. I knew that even if I hurried, there were certain immutable facts about Ambassadeur. One, all, and I mean ALL, women would be under the awnings of the dukas along Moi Avenue. Two, because the pavement has been dug up by so many of Unlcle Kidero's contractors, it is a mud-pit every time the rains come and no woman is going to endanger her shoes to that quagmire unless her baby is being eaten by hyenas. Not even then, perhaps. No matter how much dawdling I did, if the rain kept falling, there was no chance I'd miss my bus.

Men, on the other hand, didn't seem to mind dashing madly, hither and thither, their suits getting soaked more and more. Nor did they seem to mind trudging through Uncle Kidero's mud-pits. They all seemed rushed and stressed and prickly all at once. So as I approached the chaos formed by sundry Citi Hoppas, City Shuttles, KBSs and taxis, I saw this determined man pushing forward though the pouring rain, determined to make it to his bus. This adventurous gaggle of women in front of him seemed like a minor inconvenience, I thought, and he would go around them.

That is when it happened. The rain and the noise and the cold faded away, like That Moment in a John Woo film. Time slowed down. He simply thrust his hand forward between the fat one and the skimpily-clad one and shoved the fat one aside like one hands off a pesky opponent on the rugby pitch. He must have used great strength because she went flying back. She instinctively grabbed the third woman in her group, the quiet one who didn't seem to have been paying attention, and pulled her along, all the while the skimpily-clad one's mouth was agape in shock and fear, I think. 

He didn't pause. He didn't look back. He had spotted his bus. He jumped on board, pulled out a hankie and proceeded to mop his disheveled and sodden features. He was totally oblivious to the chaos he had wreaked. He didn't observe the aftermath, with the three women attempting to straighten out each others' outfits, or the fact that no one paid them any mind in the midst of this assault. You could tell they were upset, not by their raised voices but by how they kept stealing fearful looks around them every few seconds while trying to appear calm. Chivalry is dead. And not to pile on, but I blame Uncle Kidero.

Sunny is right.

When you have nothing to lose, which is never really the case, there are certain risks that are not really risks. Usually, I think, it is when one has finally given up, knowing that they will not benefit regardless of the amount of effort expended, fatalism comes very easily. Everyone has something to lose and every now and then, someone usually decides that, win or lose, they will act. Sunny Bindra says, "It's not your competitors who will finish you. It's your own employees and customers." I hope he knows how apt that statement is when it comes to the public service.

I don't think my boss's boss thinks he has any competitors. He is a genius in his field. He sits or sat on the boards of blue chip companies. His annual income statement could have been filed by a mid-level sole proprietorship for the zeroes it has on the bottom line. He is among the best-paid of the senior ranks of the public service. 

Yet, never mind what he says, he has competitors, both in the public service and out of it. If they were to be ranked on customer satisfaction and value for money or profitability, he wouldn't make it to the top ten. He probably wouldn't crack the top fifty either. And it has nothing to do with the quality of his staff or the size of his budget. It is all about incentives, of which there are precious few.

I undertook my unpaid apprenticeship at a mid-level firm. My master was unlike any other boss I had ever worked for. He took a very keen interest in my apprenticeship, ensuring that we sat down at least twice a week to go over what I knew, what I thought I knew, what I didn't know and what I needed to know. As a professional, I have very little to criticise him about. But he took it beyond that also. Lunch at his home and at his members' club were surprises I never expected.

Of course he kept a keen eye on how I carried out his instructions, though without a heavy hand. He was not a back-seat driver even when there were millions at stake. His instructions were frequently concise and clear, written down in his neat hand and signed with his customary flourish. There were no doubts about what was expected of me or when. He did not simply demand the impossible and then hit the roof when he didn't get it. He and I knew that I would not hold over when the apprenticeship ended, but he encouraged me to spread my wings and here I am today, mfanyakazi wa serikali.

My boss's boss, on the other hand, has been infected by the serikali aversion to written instructions. Joyce Nyairo covers one side of the problem when she writes about a peculiarly Kenyan aversion to responding to written communication. I wonder how shocked she will be when she encounters the corollary: few public service bosses want to give written instructions, preferring instead informal verbal ones in which details remain unclear, expected outcomes are made up as the instructions are carried out and which are frequently altered, sometimes even without knowledge of the one instructed. That's my boss's boss.

In the private sector, incentives are sometimes monetary, but frequently involve nothing more complicated than making the workplace conducive to work. Vast swathes of the public service would qualify as hostile work environments. Mine is not, touch wood, but it has more disincentives than incentives, the greatest being my boss's boss and his attitude towards the less intellectually gifted. 

When he refers to us and some of our seniors as idiots without finding ways to help us mitigate our idiocy, we have little incentive to make him look good in comparison to his peers, whether in the public or private sectors. He can boast his fat pay packet as an achievement, but it is a uniquely selfish achievement. When measured in terms of performance, output and quality, he can only hang his head in shame, cast down his eyes in embarrassment and mumble under his breath about sabotage. Unless his attitude changes, when the performance accolades are handed out, he will not be taking home any gongs.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Coolest Man Alive.

I remember the exact date my father schooled me on what was and what was not cool. Jesu Kristo! That man is ice-cold cool. No wonder the whole clan knows him as Uncle Cool. Anyway, back to The Day Cool Came Down to Earth. Thirteen-year olds think that they are The Shit. They are capable of mad skills on and off the court. They can put Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo to shame with their skills on and, Mos Def, off the pitch. Collins Injera ain't got shit on them. They are God's Gift and, God knows, they act like it.

That was not me. I had skills, but they didn't involve dribbling or dunking. In fact they had nothing to do with balls of any kind. I was the snot-nosed kid with his nose greasily pressed to the glass waiting to be invited to the party. That invite never came, by the by. But I had a skill for acquiring, shall we say, favours from quarters far and wide and these favours were always - ALWAYS - very lucrative, in that juvenile way that thirteen-year olds measure lucre, not that it matters any more.

Anyway, on one of those rare days when the DS9 was in a less than motorable condition, thirteen-year old me had suffered a medical emergency that required parental chaperoning to the nearest subsidised health facility not yet undermined by Baba Moi's cost-sharing idiocy. So dear old dad, who was yet to turn grey or old, walked us from the security of our Buruklyn casa to the bus stop and from there on out it was surprise after surprise from the Coolest Man Alive.

Did I ever tell you that I got my eclectic tastes from him, though it seems the Gods of Sartorial Flair denied me a bit of his amazing fashion lustre. His is the most complete discography of Elvis, Bob Marley, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Charlie Pride, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Jimmy Cliff, and The Beatles that I know of. And it's all on vinyl. Jesus Christ! If you've yet to experience Elvis' Harem Holiday or Bob's One Love or Ray's rendition of The Beatles' Let It Be on vinyl, God must really, really hate you because there is nothing as sublime as the greatest musicians experienced in scratchy vinyl. Nothing.

Now, remember, this was when javs were strictly divided into manyangas and everything else. In Buruklyn it was a choice between what was the coolest of them all, Shadow, and that hideous No. 36 collective nicknamed kereti. I was thirteen, therefore, I was cool. He was not thirteen and therefore, he was not. To my already medically frayed nerves, I was shocked to find out he couldn't wait for Shadow to pull up (Bob Marley blaring from the utterly over-the-top sick collection of Pioneer and Kenwood sub-woofers and tweeters, the kanges doing their best rendition of a Shabba Ranks accent) before dragging my near catatonic self into the coolest Ma3 ever. If he'd suggested, there and then, that we eat muthokoi for the next millennium I would not have cared.

We did the doctor thing, hit the still-shiny Wimpy's at Corner House, caught a cameo of the Living Daylights at the Twentieth Century and then rode back in medical triumph in the only serious rival to Shadow, Sanford & Son, which was owned by my friend Habel Peter's dad. Despite the ridiculous fever that wouldn't die down for another three days, it was the best day of my life. It was the day I met the Coolest Man Alive. His sheng' was a bit shit, but he was the coolest. He still is. He might be a professor of the stultifying subject that's entomology, but to all those who know him, and love him, he remains the Coolest Man Alive.

Who is she to be who she is?

I don't care what you say, my friend, but injera is the vilest tasting thing that I have ever had the displeasure of enduring for the sake of social courtesies. I would endure a hundred tonnes of it if it meant that I did not have to suffer through another selfish and indulgent justification for why my government continues to let me down. I would have injera every day for the rest of my life - breakfast, lunch, supper, in-between-meals snacks - if it meant that I would not have to go through another I-hate-Njoki-Chege blog post.

If you have not been paying attention, this is not your grandfather's Kenya. You know? The one where Mother's Union was not the nom de guerre for seriously unsexy women's panties, where no woman left her home without a head-scarf, an unfashionably long dress, covered-up arms, petticoat and stockings of the non-fishnet variety. This is not your grandfather's Kenya where he was the cock of the walk and his crow was law. It is definitely not your grandfather's Kenya where a woman who had somehow managed to sneak past standard three was looked at with great suspicion.

Supposedly "liberal" Kenyans on Twitter, #KOT, can't seem to accept the fact that in a world where all people are created equal, the right of a woman to be incorrigibly disagreeable is as unfettered as that of the man who would dare to not only notch his bedpost as proof of his golf game, but would spend precious time setting down on his blog his Rate Card and what it takes for you make it on the Score Board. It seems that it is perfectly okay for a man to describe in detail, salacious and not, what would make a perfect mate for him; it is anathema for a woman to engage in the same shallow standards'-setting as the man.

Not every man with an outstanding golf game is Tiger Woods or Kenya's version of Adonis of ancient mythology. Truth be told many of the avatars relied on by these golfers belie harsh, disfiguring truths. It is entirely that the golf game they describe in vivid fashion on their online bully pulpits is as mythological as Adonis himself. So it is difficult to understand why they can make up stuff as they go along and not some twenty-something woman with an eye on a big payday. Isn't that what we wanted for ourselves when we entered the Digital Age: an opportunity to cash in at the earliest age and retire to blissful notorious obscurity?

For many men with the wherewithal, and they will deny it till the cows come home, their feinted love and respect for the female and feminine members of their families is as ephemeral as the morning mist, quickly blown away when they log onto their online accounts in their online avatars. The misogyny that they have bottled up all day spews onto their keyboards and touchscreens like so much molten lava from a volcano that has finally and violently eschewed dormancy. They will, with inventive cruel glee, twist the typewritten words of the objects of their envy and anger, they will do so with attention to maliciously salacious detail, and they will ask for the online misogynistic horde to march in lockstep with them because, after all, who is she to be who she is?

We volunteered.

If I had two cars and ten thousand shillings to service both of them, I'd have to make the ten thousand shillings count between the two cars. If I bought a third car, but still had ten thousand shillings to service all three, I would have no choice but to make the ten thousand shillings count. Except where I seemed to have an endless spigot of money. With such a spigot, I would never turn it off and I would buy more and more cars until I was sick of motoring.

Unless mathematics has undergone a radical change, at the very least the sums on either side of an equation must balance. We collect so much national revenue on the one side. We spend so much of the national revenue on the other. The latter is usually a higher sum than the former. The difference between the two is made up by loans, never mind the fancy names we apply to the loans. The cost of these loans is high. It is now being passed down to the next generation of Kenyans and, quite possibly, to their children.

We ratified the harmonised draft constitution in 2010 knowing full well that the Government of Kenya would dramatically expand. This is not something that came and bit us in the ass because we weren't paying attention. Some attempted to warn us of this expansion but we swatted away their concerns because we had been seduced by the idea of a new constitutional dispensation in which Chief Justice Evans Gicheru and Attorney-General Amos Wako would be given the steel toe and reforms would come upon us like manna from heaven. 

Mwai Kibaki had overseen a dramatic rise in Kenya's GDP and the economy was booming, after a fashion. Even the 2007/2008 crisis did not slow down the economy that much, not for the sectors that mattered to the Kibaki government anyway. And the Kenya Revenue Authority continued to rack up achievements in tax administration, swelling up the Consolidated Fund with its diligence.

Mwai Kibaki had also been in charge when Members of Parliament demonstrated an avarice that continues to boggle the mind, an avarice that has been emulated in the Judiciary and the senior ranks of the public service, including the boards of management of state corporations. Seven-figure remuneration packages for parliamentarians and senior state and public officials have become the norm. None of this is strange and none of it is a surprise. We did not "screw up the constitution."

We expanded the ranks of the seven-figure-salaried. This was even when we knew how much the Consolidated Fund would get on an annualised basis. But rather than hold our government's mandarin's feet to the fire, we turned a blind eye to the stupidity of keeping remuneration at the same level it was before we promulgated the constitution, making up the difference with more borrowing. Instead of paring down salaries, we listened to hamfisted lawyering that ignored the fiscal realities of the day and borrowed so that our modern-day African Maharajas and Maharanis could take home their seven-figure salaries. Screwed up the constitution? Please. We volunteered for this shit!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tea with Richard Leakey.

When the first shipment of "tea" was intercepted in Thailand, I said nothing. This was, after all, an anomaly. Feisal Mohamed was in gaol awaiting trial and his attempts at bail had fallen on deaf magisterial ears. The Kenya Wildlife Service, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the National Police Service (after a fashion) and Wildlife Direct, a civil society bigwig, were rubbing along nicely. Now a second shipment of "tea" has been intercepted in Singapore and I think this thing is getting out of hand.

Despite the fact that China is booming, that boom doesn't seem to have had a salutary effect on its people's superstitions and appetites. Millions upon millions of Chinese still swear by the aphrodisiac qualities of ground rhino horn and deer penis, and the allure of ivory carvings and accessories. Their appetite for animal trophies will not be showing a downward trend anytime soon. But they are not the only ones hankering for animal trophies; the economic rise of Asia has been followed by a rise in the demand for animal trophies which, in turn, has accelerated the rate at which African wildlife is being decimated.

But regardless of the rise of China and its avaricious neighbours, Kenya suffers not so much from the pull factors from the East as from the structural infirmities in its policing of its borders and the safety of its wildlife. We are no longer blind to the fact that despite the fact that the Director of National Intelligence, the Inspector-General of Police, the Director of Immigration and Cabinet Secretary for Interior are all military men, men used to discipline, the public safety, border security and the security of the nation continue to leak like sieves. Poachers and bandits alike seem to waltz through our nation with a freedom that boggles the mind.

Vicious and unsubstantiated rumours abound about the connection of high-ranking Kenyans, whatever that means anymore, with the incessant "export" of "tea" to markets in the East. These rumours will be investigated, it also seems, when hell freezes over. These rumours are not new; they have existed since 1972 and our response is not surprising for it has remained the same since 1972. A key feature of the Kenyan approach to wildlife protection has been wash-rinse-repeat starkly displayed by the doddery but triumphal return of Richard Leakey to the Kenya Wildlife Service after a spirited lobbying by his supporters and fans. Anyone who believes that Mr Leakey is the solution to the one problem we have refused to address over poaching has simply not been paying attention.

We know what we must do. We have known since the United Nations Environment Programme set up shop in Nairobi and this was confirmed when we set up the KWS the first time around. Small-time, single-cargo poachers are not our problem. Just like with the Somali piracy that brought traffic off the eastern seaboard to a crawl, we need to get the kingpins, like Mr Feisal, in order to deter the poaching. And until we admit to ourselves that these kingpins are not your run-of-the-mill bandits but "high-ranking Kenyans," those mysterious shipments of tea to Singapore, Thailand and God knows where will not stop. Ever.

We elect the government. We are not the government.

Pedantic it might be, but the constitution sets out the Government of Kenya. It is made up of the Executive, both at the national and county levels, Parliament and county assemblies, the Judiciary, parastatals, independent offices and commissions. 

Just in case it is not clear, voters are not part of the Government of Kenya, even as they elect the Executive, Parliament and county assemblies. You will notice that voters do not elect holders of independent offices, commissions or the Judiciary. Citizens, including voters, have specific roles to play, key among them being to obey the law and pay their taxes.

Article 4(1) declares Kenya to be a "sovereign Republic." "Republic" means representative government. Article 4(2) states that Kenya shall be "a multiparty democratic state." One meaning is that the Government of Kenya shall be formed through free and fair elections and that more than one party shall be permitted to participate in the elections. 

Citizens can either vote as members of political parties or they can vote without being members of political parties. Their most important role in the formation of the government is to elect representatives who who represent their interests in the government. The role of elected representatives is to hold the Executive to account, as well as the other arms and agencies of the government. The role of the citizen, including the voter, is to hold the elected representative to account, the most common way being by way of elections, including recall elections. More expensive means of holding them to account include constitutional petitions to the High Court.

That should be pretty straight forward. I pay my taxes. We all do, unless we are unpatriotic tax-evading private developers. When pooled together, these taxes are applied, in theory, to projects, programmes and expenditures for our benefit. Among those benefits are public safety and national security. In public safety and national security, our role includes providing information should we suspect that our safety or the security of our nation is at risk. 

While we may have a limited power to arrest those suspected to be threats to our safety or national security, we have a trained police service and defence forces to do the heavy lifting. When the members of the national Executive declare that "security begins with you and I," I take that to mean that I will give relevant information to relevant authorities and they will act based on that information for my benefit. When our safety is threatened or our national security is compromised, we will demand that our elected representatives hold the Executive and its agencies to account. If they do not hold the Executive to account, we will take our frustrations to the streets.

It is a fallacy to state that because we elect the Executive, Parliament and county assemblies that we are part of the government. We are not. We hold our government to account indirectly through our elected representatives. If our elected representatives fail us, we can take advantage of Article 37 and assemble, demonstrate, picket or petition the government or any of its agencies such as independent offices or commissions.

Not on the same page.

Hollywood has been comfortable with the idea of strong women for ages. For those who were enamoured of Sydney Bristow (Alias, 2001 to 2006), there was no doubt that she called the shots and that people deferred to her, followed her lead, or feared her. Kenya's entertainment industry, such as it is, is yet to present narratives that portray women in strong positions; for the most part, as in the hip hop sub-culture in Hollywood, women in Kenyan entertainment are eye-candy. So too in politics, with the exceptions that are Martha Karua, Charity Ngilu, the late Grace Ogot and the late Wangari Maathai.

Do you remember the "Dame wa Mtaa" meme during the 2013 general election? Do you remember the "I will strip if Uhuru is indicted at The Hague" dare? More recently, do you remember the "Let the women dance topless to revive tourism at the coast" idiocy? It is snot too farfetched to state that women are not held in high esteem by the peoples of Kenya. Gado once published an editorial cartoon that reminded us that even as newscasters, women are valued more for how high they are willing to lift their hemlines than the content of that which they will inform us on our nightly news.

To achieve the Two-thirds Gender Rule, it will not be enough to change the law or to enforce the law. We must change how we see women and how we value their contributions. Look at the boards of private-sector corporations and you discover that despite the growing number of women university graduates with post-graduate experience, they sit on few boards and that many of the same faces sit on multiple boards. When it comes to women CEOs of blue chip companies, the numbers are even starker.

We live under the illusion that Kenyans care about politics more than anything else. I suspect that Kenyans care about their money more than anything else and this obsession is reflected in whom they place their confidence to manage their money. To my knowledge, it is only DTB that has a woman CEO; Barclays, Standard Chartered, KCB, Consolidated, National, Co-operative, Equity...all male CEOs and men-dominated boards. Since we do not seem to trust women to manage our money, on the lesser obsession that is politics, do you see women being elected in droves? I do not.

We know for a fact (thank you Institute of Economic Affairs) that it will not break the bank if we elect or nominate women to the Parliament. What we know, however, is that culturally, politically and economically, despite the numbers of women entrepreneurs and graduates, we are unwilling to let women play commanding roles in leadership. There is the law. Then there is what we want. On the Two-thirds Gender Rule, these two are not on the same page yet.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Unwanted guests.

Of course he would want a third term. In neighbouring Rwanda, the people are the ones spearheading the demands for the incumbent to stay. He has neither accepted nor rejected the proposals saying only that the will of the people will decide his fate. In Uganda, they did away with term limits all together; he has done a bang up job since he shot his way to power. It is the only thing he has done since he stepped out of the bush. He just can't seem to let it go.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, matters seem to be extremely fluid as the incumbent's term runs out while in Ethiopia no one seems to be talking about term limits any more. South Sudan and Somalia remain basket-cases and the Sudan just overwhelmingly endorsed the incumbent to the tune of 97.5% of the votes. (The 0.5% was a nice touch.)

The only ones who seem to accept term limits with good grace in our neck of the woods are the guys to the south. We have accepted them with ill-disguised contempt and you can see that some see an opportunity in the Burundian imbroglio. To their canny way of thinking, if the Burundians can get it done without turning their capital into a bombed-out parking lot, that might not be a high price for pushing for an end to term limits.  It is the political Holy Grail of certain types who seem to live under the illusion that they will live forever and, consequently, they should rule forever.

It is a bit difficult to remind old school dictators that the old ways are over when you have the likes of the Kims (I wonder if this Kim has an heir) in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or Putin of the Russian Federation, or the Gnassingbe of Togo, Museveni in Uganda, Bashir in the Sudan or Mugabe in Zimbabwe seemingly welded to their seats. But they are indeed, over. In Burundi are the kicks of a dying horse and as soon as the last of our old school tinpot autocrats kick the bucket, an era in Africa will have come to an end.

He doesn't care that he has been a disaster for his country. By all accounts, his countrymen are better off than when they were during the civil war, but they are not enjoying the benefits of the peace dividend either as he and his cronies are. He will not go quietly; his ego won't let him and he is prepared to burn down the whole place if it means he can hang one just a little bit longer. He is the guest who refuses to leave long after the hosts have gone off to bed, the music has been turned off, the kitchen has been shut and the lights switched off. Pity.

Risk and family.

Some people perform very dangerous stunts. Then they die while performing the stunts. Then the whole world goes ape-shit as if these deaths were unexpected. One of the world's greatest rally drivers, Carlos Sainz, is one of the world's greatest rally drivers because even in practice, his car had a regulation roll-cage and fire-suppression system. He is still rallying because he leaves nothing to chance.

There is a thrill to taking risks. The rush that comes with letting go of the ledge and jumping without the benefit of a safety net or a reserve parachute is intoxicating. You blood pumps just a beat faster - you are, for that moment of risk, the king of the world. It is a heady feeling that can quickly become addictive. When tragedy strikes, the whole world feels it, but not as much as the ones whose lives are inextricably entwined with that of the risk-taker.

It is an extremely selfish thing to found a family and then endanger its welfare by endangering ones life. No one is saying that life comes with a lifetime guarantee; that s why we have religion, alcohol and the insurance industry. But it is extremely selfish to ignore that ones life has changed as soon as one gets married and has children. Your life is no longer yours to endanger willy-nilly. The consequences of your injury or death reverberate beyond the finances; the emotional core of the family is also shattered and a child will be forced to grow up raised by a single parent or strangers.

When one endangers his life, that is one thing. But in the search of greater and greater adrenaline rushes, if he endangers the life of the public it is time someone stepped in and reminded him that the public commons are not his own playground. In the hedonistic west, where the pursuit of pleasure seems to consume the people's lives, where there is even a hint of danger to the public, stringent measures are established to protect the people. Thus, if one is jumping off a cliff clad in a wing suit, you are likely to find that the authorities will have cordoned of a zone for him to jump and should catastrophe strike, only the jumper pays the price.

We are all touched when a brave soul dies. We feel for the dead and we are sorrowful for the loved ones they leave behind. We should be angry that a life is snuffed out due to the selfishness of the adventurer, but we aren't because the adventurer lives the life we wished we lived, taking risks without a care in the world. But we all have a capacity to care, and it is why we slow down when we become spouses and parents. It is why we think twice before we jump off a ledge. Our desire to make our loved ones smile overrides our desire to jump off cliffs in winged suits or race around in the dark in cars that don't have roll cages.

Prune them.

If Nairobi's alternative governor is its current senator, then we might as well give up now - or move to Machakos. Politics, Nairobi-style, is a zero-sum game. The gubernatorial politics of the Capital is not designed to encourage compromise or collaboration. It is designed to stall things long enough for one side or the other to gain an advantage and the the side to lose. Anyone who believes that the senator will have a rum time of it instead of the current governor has surely not been paying attention.

Let us look at the key areas of concern. Nairobi City County inherited massive debts from the City Council. Some of these debts were ill-advised, sanctioned by a series of local government ministers,including the current president, for political expediency. These debts have hobbled the county. It cannot invest in the facilities it needs to power its economy or improve the quality of life of its residents. These are, however, small-potato problems; the Capital is crippled because the Governor, the City's MPs, the Senator, the Woman Representative and the County Assembly refuse to work together to solve common problems.

The Woman Representative, for example, in a bid to build a name and a reputation for herself among the county's workforce, fomented disaffection among them, lead them to picket the county headquarters and engaged in fisticuffs with the governor. The Senator, on the other hand, has led a spirited vendetta against the governor, making allegations on very tenuous grounds. He has also, more or less, established a parallel county service of his own that runs breakdown services, ambulances, a fire brigade and, inexplicably, a wedding limousine service.

What the political stakeholders have failed to do - something their counterparts in the national government seem to grasp without much prodding - is to collaborate on the quiet. Especially in the case of the governor and the senator, their egos are so enormous and the air between them so poisoned it is impossible to believe that these two are politicians. Politics, someone should remind them, is the art of being in the same room with a skunk, holding your nose, and getting the job done. To each other, the senator and the governor are skunks and it is time they got over it.

Nairobi's challenges can only be resolved if there is a strong partnership between its political class and the national Executive, especially seeing that the national Executive is seated in Nairobi. Two years after its election and the overwhelming stories of doom and gloom about the prospects of the city refuse to die. How, for instance, can we have the Kenya Meteorological Department in Nairobi and still get caught wrongfooted to such an extent that homes are flooded? How can the traffic police be headquartered in the most traffic gridlocked city in Kenya? The governor and the senator are poisonous trees and it is time we pruned them from the fabric of the city.

As by law established

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