Tuesday, June 30, 2015

To my friend.

My friend's husband died. I don't know what to say to her; I never know what to say.

Maybe these words from holy scripture will say it for me:
Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. ~ Psalms 16:11

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Southern Bypass Strategy.

There is a Kenyan lawyer of no mean repute - a friend of his described him as an avid swordsman, whatever that means - who is enamoured of hereditary dynasties, political first families, strongmen presidents and strongarm tactics to handle every unpleasantness a nation could experience. There is an amazing research scientist whose achievements are nothing to be scoffed at who believes that the international regime we call international law supersedes domestic law. Many modern Kenyans entertainers emulate what Hollywood has to offer, even the offerings from the seamier sides of the industry. 

Nearly all of them sneer at the quality of our political leadership, degree of scientific innovation and capacity for home-brewed entertainment that is just as captivating as the schlock fro Hollywood. They reflect something that has been prevalent to the discerning for decades: the depth for self-loathing among the hoi polloi as among the elite remains staggeringly high. When "an ordinary Kenyan" visits an establishment where this level of self-loathing is sill a mark of "class", it is difficult not to miss the artifacts of that self-loathing: slow service, dismissal of opinions and, on occasion, discrimination in favour of a Black Coconut or a Caucasian.

For better or worse, the Standard Gauge Railway will be built. Anyone who thinks that the political, economic or environmental objections to the project will scuttle it "before it goes too far" has not been paying attention. This project has the backing of the presidency and you are either on board or you are an enemy of development. In the fullness of time, the railway will come through the Nairobi National Park,where it will have its boosters as well as opponents. Then there are those who will be accommodated and those who will be ignored. The experience of the opponents to the Southern Bypass should be instructive.

The road was meant to skirt the outskirts of the park; it was not going to "encroach". The construction of the road was delayed, whether the delay was deliberate remains an unexplored mystery. Because of the delay, what would have been its reserve was "grabbed" and residential and commercial properties erected on it. Rather than demolish the unlawful constructions, the national Executive decided to carve off a piece of the park for the road and its reserve. Friends of Nairobi National Park objected, filed suits and whatnot. They lost. The Standard Gauge Railway, never mind what the Constitution, the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013, or the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act, 1999, say, will be diverted around African Heritage House because of its unique contribution to Kenyan culture and similar-sounding bullshit.

There is a hierarchy to those who enjoy privileges unavailable to others in Kenya. Kaburu families and their descendants are at the top. Then come Kenya's First Families. Then come the Caucasian expatriates, whether they are running local branches of multinational corporations or they are slinging coffee at the Caramel Lounge. Then come the billionaires with close ties to the political establishment. Halafu nyinyi wengine mtaamua kama mko kwa list au la. What this all means is that the law will find a reason for the African Heritage House to keep standing where it has stood for the past decade; the railway will just have to go around it.

Ubeberu mambo leo.

Collective punishment is as old as Kenya has existed. The successions of Governors Kenya colony endured believed fervently that the only way the natives would be civilised would be to lay blame for the acts of one on his entire family, clan or tribe, depending on the gravity of the act. Fifty four years since we gave the mkoloni the steel toe, that legacy lives: Shifta, Wagalla, West Pokot, Mt Elgon, Eastleigh, Lamu. Seems that the lesson has been learned and learned well: the National Transport Safety Authority has joined in the game too.

I am not fond of most of the Savings and Credit Co-operatives, Saccos, that run matatus in my beloved Eastlands. I would go so far as to admit that if the proprietors of those death-traps were to be suddenly stricken by palsy of the mind and of the tongue, I would not feel a twinge of guilt for wishing them incessant volumes of drool and the pitying ridicule of the able-bodied. But those Saccos that bear the legends Umoinner, Forward Traveller, Embasava, Utimo, Pin Point and Marvelous have become laws unto themselves, harkening back to the pre-Michuki Era when public service vehicles sowed death, destruction, mayhem and criminality like a bastardised modern-day version of the American wild west.

Sadly, we have decreed for ourselves, by Constitution and by statute, a culture of the rule of law. The law shall be enforced as it is written; we shall not presume to make the law up as we go along. It shall bind us equally, without fear or favour. You contravene any provision of our written law and it is between you, the prosecutor and the magistrate on whether or not the maximum penalty will be imposed against you. I say sadly because we have very little faith in that concept of the rule of law. We attempt to bolster it by the creation of mini-empires to enforce specific areas of our written law. When it comes to the Traffic Act, it was the police and the magistrates who held sway. They have now been joined by the National Transport Safety Authority, NTSA, and with it has been revived for the modern era the concept f collective punishment.

The rationale of collective punishment is simple enough. Like the Cabinet each member of the group is bound by the actions of his colleagues; when one strays, all stray and all are liable. Embasava Sacco is notorious for the recklessness of its crews, in and out of service. It will find little sympathy from the victims of its recklessness because of the NTSA suspension of its operating license. But nonetheless it must be defended, because to leave it to the arbitrary diktats of summary collective punishment is to revive the colonial mentality that held sway for nigh on sixty years.

Ours is a very liberal constitutional arrangement, placing primacy of the individual over all else. It is reflected in the tone and emphases of the Bill of Rights. While I am sure there are very few innocents among the ruffians of Embasava, I am nonetheless unwilling to go along with a patently unconstitutional penalty for the proven recklessness of one crew. In Mario Puzo's words, "Better a hundred guilty men go free than for an innocent man to be jailed."

The NTSA' s collective punishment instincts are its stark admission that it cannot effectively regulate the transport sector and that it has run out of ideas of how to do so. It is therefore time we asked ourselves whether it is worth keeping the NTSA. We shouldn't be pouring billions of scarce resources into an institution whose instincts recall the basest parts of our national history. If it cannot see the irony of using tactics employed by a colonial power that galvanised a nation to fight a war of liberation, then it is time we shuttered its windows, padlocked its doors, sent home its officers and erased it from the national conscience for all eternity. Just like we did with the wabeberu.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Maybe God is in the details.

I am resigned to certain realities. Not those ones - Raila and Ouru and all that; those ones can always get worse. I mean those realities that are as immutable as blue skies and sandy beaches. I am resigned to the reality that when it comes to the dedication required to name some outfit M/s Things of Desire and wangle a multi-million shilling payout through the IFMIS that seems to fascinate the Public Accounts Committee, I am unlikely to use the hashtag #Blessed on my Twitter feed or in accompaniment to my toothy I-made-it smile on Instagram.

I am also resigned to the fact that come Lupita Nyong'o's ten-thousand-shilling-a-plate "dinner" at the Vila Rosa Kempinski, I shall be negotiating with Mustafa Adams to obtain a high-def copy of Fury Road. Or something. I am resigned to the realities of an aging skeletal frame, a sclerotising circulatory system and an atrophying intellect. I am taking each of these realities in stoic style; they are, after all, not the be all and end all.

However, there are some realities that came out of Left Field, a reference my cousins from New Jersey will appreciate. How they came about is none of your business; what matters is that they are realities now, and by the grace of God will remain so for the foreseeable and unforeseeable future. How can we fail to acknowledge the Hand of God when things take the turn that they have? My laissez faire approach to my faith notwithstanding, I am conscious of my many, many limitations, and it is plain to see that for some reason they have not been a great handicap. If that is not God masquerading as providence, then I do not have an explanation. And no, Occam's Razor, most certainly does not apply here.

The only other reasonable explanation is that God is manifest in Her, Rei and George, the Prof and the Doc, Nan, my epic boss and Leo and Maureen. I mean, aren't they the reason I am what I am at this very moment? Their advice, support, criticism, honesty and merciless mocking (that would be Her) have inspired some of my zaniest ideas that didn't immolate me in my bed or something. So, for the non-deists reading this, perhaps God is in the details and my details are Her, Rei and George, the Prof and the Doc, Nan, my epic boss and Leo and Maureen.

Land, history and iniquity.

While I am still trying to figure out whether I should admit to Kwame Owino that I know nothing at all about anything of significance to do with poverty, let me expose my ignorance on something else entirely: land.

The Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution has published for public comment a legislative proposal (you think of them as "Bills") to give effect to Article 68(c)(i) of the Constitution on the minimum and maximum land holdings. The merits or otherwise of the legislative proposal will be known soon enough. What remains unclear is whether the enactment of the proposal into law will be a Magic Bullet to solve the myriad problems that bedevil the land sector in Kenya.

One way of describing industrialisation is the gradual transformation of an agriculture-based economy to a largely manufacturing-based economy. Sometimes this transformation is rapid; more often than not it is a decades' long process. Kenya's government's statistics indicate that its economy relies to a very great extent on agriculture and tourism. In the agriculture sector, the most valuable exports are horticultural produce (largely "cut" flowers and fruit), tea and coffee. In the tourism sector the most valuable patrons of the hotels lining our coast are foreigners, as are the attendees of national and international conferences held in Nairobi, Nakuru, Naivasha and Kisumu. Both sectors rely overwhelmingly on land, but more so in agriculture.

The history of agriculture policy in Kenya is the history of land, at least until 1963. It is striking that the same language employed by the settler community and the colonial government continues to pervade public policy-making in the twenty-first, independent century. It is almost as if the policies, and the legislative proposals designed to implement or enforce them, are still being drawn up by the men who built the Lunatic Railway to Uganda. That history is replete with discrimination and exclusion of those who were deemed incapable of dealing with that land profitably. It is why the same faces seem to occupy land in what is still defined as "high potential areas."

The ostensible policy objective of prescribing a maximum holding in these "high potential areas" is that a person who holds land in excess of the maximum will be compelled by various legislative, administrative and policy instruments to reduce his holding to the maximum recommended. The land that is surrendered as a result will be redistributed to families that did not possess land before. In turn, this redistribution will establish a "vibrant" land market and the prices paid for land parcels will reflect the true value of the land.

We shouldn't worry too much that Article 40 may scuttle the maximum land holding proposal; that one is likely to be superseded by Article 24 on the limitation of rights. Between 1963 and 1969, Kenya implemented the Million Acres Programme. It was meant to redistribute settler land to landless Kenyans. Forty five years later the reverberations of the swindles perpetrated in the name of the people through the settlement schemes are still being felt today, especially in the restive coast. I can see the new settlement schemes being modeled closely on the Million Acres Scheme.  The same iniquitous outcome is all but guaranteed.

The revised land law of Kenya has done little to encourage clarity in land administration; the current hot-then-cold war between the National Land Commission and Ardhi House is just one manifestation of the mes that is land administration. This legislative proposal does little to resolve this mess. Until the key stakeholders in land administration play a pro-landless role in the sector, we will still be talking about "challenges in the land sector" forty five years hence.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It was Father's Day...

Now that I got that off my chest...

It was Fathers' Day over the weekend. I didn't get my father anything, not even a card. He had just celebrated his sixty-fifth that week and I didn't want to spoil the man who had spoiled me my whole life. I had time to reflect on what my father means to me, what he has meant to me since the day I could consider the thing of it.

Children never consider things like compassion until decades later when they are trying to find a grown-up word to describe something. I definitely didn't know what compassion was when I was a boy; all I cared about was the world defined by the reach of my spindly little arms, the distance that my stubby legs could travel and the universe that my exhaustingly inquisitive mind could imagine. But my father is a deeply compassionate man, giving of himself and his wealth to right an wrong and reverse an unfairness or to soothe a wounded spirit. And he taught me compassion, not by lessons written down or passed on in conversation, but by doing that which is compassionate. In a hostile world, one of us has to be the fount of the milk of human kindness.

My father was strong. His nerve never failed him. His back was always ramrod straight. And he would only bend when he chose to bend. He is still strong. I have no idea how he does it. Is it the inner certainty that in that moment, with that choice, the only choice is the right one? Or is it years of experience - decades, really - where he knows what hands you have been dealt and he knows that if he holds out just a little longer, the minestrone you call a backbone will fold? I don't know and I think that I shall spend the rest of his life trying to figure out what makes him so strong in the face of such overwhelming odds.

He has the greatest sense of humour ever; he needs it more and more as his world is increasingly invaded by teenagers with massive smartphones and the intellects of weaver birds. (He knows a lot about weaver birds, by the by.) He lights up a room simply by pithily reminding its occupants of something or the other. His pith is without compare and those snot-nosed teenagers attempting to get by the intricacies of taxonomy are usually held rapt by his semi-casual delivery of the science and the theory of zoology, entomology and god-knows-what other -ology.

All that bullshit doesn't really tell you that he loves me, he loved me. It is here that we usually add "in his way." I don't have to. When I was sick, he worried. And then badgered Uncle Jasper to treat me even though he was not a paediatrician. When I was afraid, he gave me the courage to go out and try. When I couldn't make heads or tails of the simplest principles of mechanics, he patiently broke it down to its basics, and ensured that when I ascended to the realm of principles of physics my ass was not hanging out there like a bonobo's. He nurtured me. He protected me. He educated me. He made me a man.

How do you a buy a man who's done all that a fucking card?

Not Bernado Bertolucci.

It used to be that the thing one had to fear most, especially a self-respecting, self-aware person of even average intellect, was that like promising untold riches on ones web-browser. Then we all got ourselves internet-enabled antivirus software and the risk of a Not-Safe-For-Work pornado has receded mightily. Nowadays, in the social-media era, it is not pornados that are annoying; it is Twitter monologues.

The one who pioneered this exercise in self-indulgent, babbling bullshit should be shot. In the head. Twice! How any self-respecting adult with a smidgen of self-control could put unsuspecting users of Twitter through that crap beggars belief. The most recent "monologues" seem to have been about the oldest question in the book: how do men and women get together? and the second oldest question in the book: do we want to know about it?

I am not a Twitter celebrity, and that is fine. Sunny Bindra is a celebrity on Twitter in my eyes; his 55,000+ followers are proof that the author and management guru has a positive impact on our lives even if we will never meet. Jackson Biko is a celebrity on Twitter too; if you have had opportunity to read through bikozulu.co.ke you will understand why. The kinds of people who tweet monologues, especially the ones that tend towards to the risque and salacious, are the reason why treading through the streets of witter takes a certain kind of weary wariness that deadens the soul and reminds one that  public displays of self-indulgent bullshit are frowned on for a reason: they are cringeworthy to the nth degree.

Then we have the legions of entertainers, a much-abused word of late, that make music, movies, read news, and generally make themselves notorious, infamous and "famous." For better or for worse, they define where our "entertainment" industry has reached. Then come the socialites about whom I refuse to speculate. In any case, given their notorieties, we do want to know about them and their llives, just as US citizens seem obsessed with the Kimyes, Brangelinas and whatever schlub whose heart Taylor Swift happens to break this week happens to be. They entertain us - and we have turned their personal lives into more entertainment.

So far I am unable to see the entertainment value in Twitter monologues; they are rarely funny, well-written, witty or smart-tart. They frequently have, especially over the past week or so, a whiff of the me-too about them, and not in an edifying way. They are the wave of flotsam and jetsam that gets washed back to shore long after the tsunami has devastated the coastline. They are the gag-inducing backwash from a rancid bottle of Kibao gin. They are the crass, San Fernando Valley version of Bernado Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris. And in extreme cases, you tend to need a forty-minute shower afterwards.

I cannot imagine even the crassest Kenyan version of Us Weekly spending time, money and manpower attempting to dig up more on the purveyors of Twitter monologues. Now I may be out of touch with the trending topics. So be it. I may be fuddy-daddy-ish in my sensibilities. So be it. But tell me, honestly, do you find anything redeeming or edifying in a Kenyan Twitter Monologue? If you do, Lord Help us, then we have greater, more serious problems than how someone attempted to swindle eight hundred and twenty six million shillings out of the National Youth Service.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Who needs DSTV?

In the interests of being absolutely fair I admit that I think that I prefer the National Assembly over the Senate; it has proven the more entertaining of the two and for the millions each of its members trousers every year, I want value for my damn money. If the Senate caught on fire and immolated its entire membership, and you needled me long enough about it, I'd probably admit to missing that woman senator who seems to bring a whiff of the too-new-at-this-game with her alleged penchant for spiritous beverages and licentious behaviour in private conveyances.

The Senate has proven to be a complete waste of my money and it is time we reminded them that we already have one set of crybabies to deal with; we don't need another. The constitutional scheme we made for ourselves, or had made for us by the Committee of Experts and the tenth Parliament, did not foresee a major role for the Senate, bar the anodyne representation of the counties, participating in legislation-making that affects counties, allocation of national revenue among counties, and impeachment of the President and Deputy President. 

If this OKOA KENYA bullshit ever makes it to a Bill-making stage, one of the Bill's provisions should be to convert the Senate into a sessional chamber that meets over the budget and when impeaching somebody. For the rest of the year, Senators can hold as many committee meetings as the Controller of Budget will let them get away with or bugger off to their homes and hearths and stop giving us agita over their bullshit demands.

Kenyans are neither Britons nor Americans; we do not have a Senate/House of Lords hybrid. We have always wanted those people we called MPs to be powerful; that is why we bestowed on them great constitutional power. The Senate has always been an afterthought and the CoE fucked it up six ways to hell for ever, ever entertaining that asinine idea beyond the derision it deserved. Now that we have a Senate, it is time to clarify that it is the inferior chamber and that we don't want it to poke its nose in important matters of the national Executive. It can keep playing patty-cake with the forty seven governors it loathes; but that's it. It should keep its meaty paws off the national Executive and its dealings with the National Assembly.

It doesn't help that the Senate takes itself so seriously. When its members speak, bar maybe the Speaker who is a properly intelligent man, you get the impression that someone is wearing their daddy's shoes and speaking the way their daddy speaks when he's being officious and shit. You get the sense that they are pretending to be grown up, acting the way they think grown ups are supposed to behave. But every now and then one of them slips up and makes an ass of himself, like when one compares a member of the National Assembly to a headmaster - or a gossipy school prefect. I'd like to know where that Senator has met gossipy school prefects. Was he a gossipy school prefect once?

The National Assembly, on the other hand, is just about the best entertainment this side of a DSTV subscription. Look at the ten-day show they put out over the nomination and vetting of the Secretary to the Cabinet. The reasoning behind their thumbs down was something special - something short-bus special. They did more than shoot down her nomination; they decided to vet a nominee to replace her even when that nominee's name had not been formally forwarded to them. What did they care; they had had it with that woman and whether her appointing authority cared to listen or not, they were sending a very strong message about what they wanted, goddammit! I don't know why anyone would listen to the Senate when all we ever wanted was an entertaining National Assembly which has outdone itself. If it keeps up, I may never get a DSTV subscription; the 9 O'clock news bulletin will be enough.

You break it, you buy it.

A court in the Republic of South Africa ordered the detention of the President of the Sudan against whom a warrant of arrest has been issued by the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The order should have been enforced by the executive branch of the Government of South Africa. It was not. Omar Hassan el Bashir was "permitted" to depart South Africa for the Sudan.  The Republic of South Africa has ratified the Rome Statute and domesticated it in the law of South Africa. The Sudan is not even a signatory to the Rome Statute.

Jacob Zuma's government is not the most coherent, but on this it follows a long history of governments playing realpolitik in the national interest. Look at the relationship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Keeper of the Two Holy Places is a breeding ground for the most radical and virulent strain of Islam. It's geopolitical interests have seen it export that strain to the most violent part of the world today: Afghanistan. It's nationals are responsible for spreading violent jihad across the globe. Yet the USA has not and probably will not sever ties with the Kingdom.

The government of Margaret Thatcher supported the apartheid regime of South Africa. So did the Jewish State of Israel. France has coddled Francophone Africa dictators for decades. The Republic of South Africa, regardless of what its courts ordered, was well within its rights to consider the implications of detaining the President of the Sudan and delivering him to the Hague to stand trial for crimes committed in the Sudan.

Mr el Bashir is an odious man. He has blood on his hands. But the ICC indictment against him confirms the hypocrisy of the international criminal law regime. He is not the only head of state who has committed heinous crimes. Between 2003 and 2015 it is estimated that at least 600,000 Iraqi civilians have died because of the post-9/11 interventions of the Coalition of the Willing led by the United States and the United Kingdom. The violence has spilled over to Syria where it is estimated that between 2012 and 2015 at least 250,000 civilians have died. The presidents of the United States and the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, responsible for greater crimes against humanity than the President of the Sudan have not and will not be indicted at the ICC.

The Republic of South Africa has troops in the Sudan, as part of the African Union Mission in Darfur. If Mr el Bashir had been detained by the Government of South Africa it is likely that his government would have attempted to take hostage the South African troops until Mr el Bashir was set free. Had that happened, the Government of South Africa would have had to choose between sacrificing its soldiers or attempting to rescue them. War would have been a distinct possibility. If war between the Sudan and South Africa broke out, it is also possible it would have spread to Chad, Egypt, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya.

If the Western powers who are so interested in Mr el Bashir's trial at the Hague are determined to see the matter through, then let them stop pussy-footing around with his arrest and detention. The United States invaded Panama in 1989 to "arrest" Manuel Noriega. The United Kingdom fought a war with Argentina to keep the Falklands. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation gave air support to armed rebels who toppled Muammar Gaddafi. They should get their hands bloody and bring their war to the Sudan. But they should remember this Americanism: You break it, you buy it.

The question of whether or not the refusal or failure by the Government of South Africa to detain Mr el Bashir was a violation of the Constitution of Suth Africa is an extreme exercise in navel-gazing. The order was made to compel the executive to arrest Mr el Bashir. The actual enforcement of that order is not within the power of the court, but the executive. This order was unenforceable; in diplomacy, the law is just one other factor to be taken into account when acting. Mr el Bashir's detention would have been in conflict with the decisions of the African Union whose summit was being held in South Africa and why Mr el Bashir was there to begin with.

This conflict would, therefore, not have been restricted to a South Africa/Sudan spat; it would have sucked in the other fifty three member states, demanding that they either pick sides or remain neutral. It would not just have had diplomatic consequences but economic ones too. Trade wars would either have been started or escalated. Jacob Zuma's government was right to play cat-and-mouse with the courts over Mr el Bashir's detention. Now the courts have to do the right thing and slap the wrists of the officials concerned.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Acts of Parliament are for pussies.

Bar an Act of God - Acts of Parliament are for pussies - certain facts shall remain ineluctable, immutable, known simply because the data supports them. There's no faith needed. The proof is there for all to see. For instance, Kikamba and Dholuo fly right by me. As does Gikuyu, Kichonyi, Kimeru, Kitaita and Kinandi. Thus when I pull up my pants in the morning the last thing I am thanking the gods for is that Charity Ngilu is a Cabinet Secretary in charge of a docket where it - literally - rains!

Take the case of those lost souls in Uasin Gishu who are still pining after the Inspector-General's office after "their" man, David Kimaiyo - whom I didn't know came from Elgeyo-Marakwet - resigned in disgrace after acquitting himself rather poorly. Or those poor elected representatives from what we like to think of as Ukambani who have vowed - to strike a kithitu, I think - simply because Asman Kamama and his colleagues think that Monica Kathini Juma is a waste of administrative space. Or the vocal Luo Nyanza elected representatives - as opposed to Kisii Nyanza? - who can't live with the fact that UK told them to get stuffed when they came up with the harebrained idea of a multi-million shilling retirement package for the former Prime Minister.

You can pore over the fine points of the katiba, and you can keep turning over and over the loose rocks of the Bill of Rights, but I assure you that you will not find any provision that acts as a panacea for our collective stupidity when it comes to tribal pride, greed and "our dues." Did you seriously think that Big Frank would just slink out of the limelight after what his proto-replacement had done - on the president's bidding no less? Did you really think that Charity Ngilu would appear before court to take plea on her own? If you thought that the campaign to line Agwambo's pocket even further with taxpayers' shillings was over simply because UK told the Luo Nyanza cohort to go f*** themselves, man you have not been paying attention.

In 2013, when we electing a new set of characters to replace the PNU lot, I challenge any one of you to say with a straight face that tribe was not a factor. When they were sworn in, tribe informed key appointments. From Cabinet Secretaries to Principal Secretaries, from nominees to parastatal boards to nominees to the Bench, tribe influenced it all. Then Cabinet Secretaries got in on the act too. Remember the massive uproar when Kiplimo Rugut was redeployed and Nelson Githinji appointed in his place? No? Have you been living under a rock these past few months?

Look...there are forty-two recognised tribes in Kenya, though those in the know - linguists and such - say that the number of "tribes" could be as high as a hundred. I know that among my Wakamba there's an invisible line that separates those from Kaiti from those in Mukaa. It is a line that is sometimes drawn in blood. So it is reasonable to presume that tribal identity, even when one has a fungible conception of tribe like me, is important to a great many Kenyans and only after they have paid their dues to their tribal identity do they even contemplate inconvenient things like constitutions, laws or regulations. So unless you are prepared to tell my - it's not a tribe, yawa; it's a lifestyle! - Wajaluo that Agwambo is getting his fat pension cheque in full and on time, don't expect to move motions in parliament or some such asinine thing. Like I said, Acts of Parliament are for pussies.

Sweet hypocrisy.

You can tell that many Kenyans don't really give two shits about what the constitution says about leadership an integrity. No doubt they follow keenly allegations of graft that are broadcast in the media, but they don't think it has anything to do with the price of tea in China. In recent weeks, political and administrative leaders have been in the news regarding goings on at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Uasin Gishu County.

There is a plan to expand the capacity of the hospital, and this may require either expanding the current facilities or moving the entire establishment to a greenfield site. The contractors, the hospital's director and the Deputy President have been mentioned in connection with this programme. Allegations of bribery and tender-inflating have been made with the director of the hospital being implicated in the allegations. Then the Cabinet Secretary for Health decided to "redeploy" the director to Afya House. That redeployment set the cat among the pigeons.

His replacement, letter of appointment in hand, received a hostile reception from Uasin Gishu MPs and residents alike and not more than twenty-four hours after making his initial tour of the facility, he was headed back to Nairobi and the now-no-longer-former director's redeployment had been rescinded. One of the residents interviewed by Kenya's leading tabloid claimed that had the director been redeployed as had been intended, another member of the Elgeyo-Marakwet would have lost his job, never mind that his redeployment was not a dismissal. (The other Elgeyo-Marakwet civil servant she was referring to was the spectacularly gaffe-prone former Inspector-General to Police, David Kimaiyo, who has since been appointed as the chairperson of the Kenya Airports Authority.)

What is interesting is that these people who intervened in force on behalf of the director did not care whether the allegations made against him were true or not; they were only concerned with the appearance that Elgeyo-Marakwet would not have senior officers in the government. I am not alleging that it was a this-is-our-time-to-eat reasoning; but it is instructive that they did not want the director to be redeployed to some other position in the government regardless of the accusations made against him in relation to his current bailiwick.

We are a bit schizophrenic when it comes to graft. We hate to part with bribes but we will bridle with rage when "our man" - strange how it is always men - is hounded by the sleuths of the anticorruption commission or uppity Cabinet Secretaries. In the name of measuring up in the big boss stakes, "we" do not want one of our own to be redeployed to some inferior invisible government post because it is seen as a slap in our collective face. We should stop the hypocrisy; and that includes pretending to be outraged with the fantasy being concocted in the NYS that between November 2014 and June 2015, it was entirely reasonable to spend thirteen million shillings on sugar.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

But does he have spine?

The Finance, Planning and Trade Committee of the National Assembly deals with the following specific subjects: Public finance, monetary policies, public debt, financial institutions, investment and divestiture policies, pricing policies, banking, insurance, population, revenue policies, planning, national development, trade, tourism promotion and management, commerce and industry. 

Only when dealing with a matter related to "population," I believe, could the members of that committee have wandered so far off the track when vetting Uhuru Kenyatta's nominee for the office of the Governor of the Central Bank by demanding an explanation as to why the fifty-four year old superstar economist was unmarried.

Wiser and more experienced heads in the governance of the Central Bank will weigh in on the suitability of Dr Njoroge as the next Governor. I will concentrate a little on something the Nitpicker tangentially touched on a while back: bank supervision. And even with bank supervision, I think it is time we asked an uncomfortable question of the nabobs of the Central Bank: what happens when billions of dubious provenance slosh through the banking and financial system without the Central Bank either detecting it or doing something about it?

Take the alleged billions to be made from narcotics, guns and smuggled sugar. Narcotics cannot be legitimately entered into a Bill of Lading when they pass through Kenya. Someone along the supply chain is paid a tidy sum. That sum is not kept under a mattress anymore; twenty million shillings cannot fit anyway. It must pass through a bank, an insurance company, a stock broker or a mortgage company. Why has this sum, and those connected to illegal arms or smuggled sugar, never been flagged as a suspicious financial transaction? Is it because more often than not it is converted into overpriced, poorly-finished, "apartments"?

The President declared that "security begins with you and me," and I suppose the "you" part includes the Central Bank too. The armed groups waging war against Kenya will not just rely on hawala traders; a more reliable system is the banking and financial one, backed by lawyers and their rules of privilege. And the Governor of the Central Bank is the principal agent in fingering the financiers of the men and women murdering innocent Kenyans in their school hostels and sowing despondency abroad in the land.

Njuguna Ndung'u was a capable enough banker. Dr Njoroge probably will be too; but he must expand his remit and go after the financiers of terror lurking in the laxly supervised corridors of the financial sector. Whether he does or not will be a testament to whether Kenya's war on terror is a serious one or another grand exercise in window-dressing masquerading as action. Dr Njoroge's marital status is neither here nor there; his determination to cut off the terrorists' finances is a more germane subject of discussion.

Three-score-and-five.

The Prof celebrates another year on the right side of the Earth's surface. Jesu Kristo but the stories he could tell about his three-score-and-five! It must amuse him no end when he hears eh second generation kids philosphise on life and life's challenges, believing that there's an app for everything and that contracts are sacrosanct. he has seen it all, or as much of it as a man of his experience and wisdom can see. He has been to places where they serve escargot and frogs' legs without batting an eyelid. He has seen snakes roasted over an open fire. And he has seen death stalk those nearest and dearest to him. In all this it is ineluctable that he is without a doubt the One Man who has made a difference in our lives. And, God-willing, he will continue to do so for another three-score-and-five. Happy Birthday, Prof. Do you think its time you taught me how to play that snazzy guitar?



Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Cousin, biro.

I heard that guys tend to do a little light dusting when thy think that are about to bring home some mama for a little horizontal bonding. Somehow, though, that dusting tends to miss obvious corners that the mama will definitely stumble into: bathrooms that have never seen the caustic end of Vim; kitchen shelves that harbour billions of roach-y eggs; seat cushions that have never had the benefit of a vacuum cleaner - or sunlight. Nairobi is quite a lot like those guys I heard about.

In July, our famous cousin from America will come to visit. We've known he was coming since hata sijui. But the City Fathers surely must have thought to themselves, We gonna get laid tonight! because the kind of light dusting they are engaged in better not get ruined by a "light shower" or our cousin's massive Caddy will also need a snorkel.

I've seen the Big Daddy of the City Fathers hanging out a lot at Pumwani Maternity and I've always wondered whether the man is blind. He might be short-sighted; doesn't he wears spectacles? Anyway, he was there a few weeks ago - he tweeted about it on May 26 - delivering equipment of one sort or another. I wondered if he had seen the massive mound of garbage outside the Doctors' Quarters. Or whether his fellow City Fathers and the City Fathers' mouthpiece ever saw the mound of garbage. I don't think they did because it is still there and now it seems that there is someone living next to the mound of garbage.

Maybe our cousin will not depart too much from this side of Moi Avenue and he won't get to see Eastleigh's First Avenue or Munaina Street. Maybe he'll be a gracious cousin and keep himself to an itinerary that won't stray one inch over the white lines of Moi Avenue. Because by my reckoning the City Fathers are going to pour a few millions into flowers on Uhuru Highway and temporary paint for the road. They are definitely not going to remove the massive mound of garbage outside the Doctors' Quarters at Pumwani Maternity Hospital.

In fact if our cousin's security people decide to confound the bad guys by taking Lusaka Road to Landhies Road to Haile Selassie Avenue to Moi Avenue to Harambee Avenue to Parliament Road and then into the Intercontinental, I don't know what the City Fathers will do. That route is remarkable for the number of blocked sewers, overflowing drains and invisible pedestrian footpaths. Pedestrians are forced to walk in traffic, dodging boda bodas, mikokoteni, matatus and effluent of unknown origin. The City Fathers definitely don't want our cousin to see that. They'd better deploy those ridiculous drums of theirs across Lusaka Road to ensure our cousin and The Beast stick to Uhuru Highway.

What is it about smart people that allows them to act like complete morons anyway? Sure we want the American President to feel respected and welcome, but this tone-deaf stupidity about the Nairobi sanitation, drainage and sewerage system beggars belief. It is this kind of stupidity that drives Nairobians to drink. If NACADA wanted to reduce the degree of substance dependence in this City, it should investigate and find solutions to the stupidity that seems to afflict the City Fathers.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Anything but KQ.

One day, it remains unclear whether that day will arrive courtesy of a successful award of the Mombasa county uji tender or whether it will be because my spectacularly un-Christian-like behaviour has had a road-to-Damascus transfiguration, I shall partake of a first-class ticket - or an upgrade to first-class bourgeois status. For the foreseeable future, though, I shall remain a loyal passenger of the cattle class section, of which, never mind the neocolonial overtones, I have found Qantas to be the best - and KQ to be the absolute horrid worst. (KLM, despite its aging fleet, is miles better than KQ.)

It is five hours to Johannesburg's OR Tambo International from JKIA - and it is five hours to Accra's Kotoka International. Both, when I made the fateful decision to temporarily depart from my beloved Green City in the Sun, are served by the KQ workhorse - the Boeing 737. It's configuration remains a mystery. Those five hours, whether it were to Jo'burg or Accra, were the worst five hours in any form of public conveyance I have ever experienced. Noisy. Smelly. And, believe you me, roach-infested. Roaches!

The food, and I cannot emphasize this enough, had the texture and consistency of vulcanized rubber. (Those of a certain vintage remember playing "bladder" - or watching the girls they were sweet on playing "bladder" and will surely remember chewing on a piece of that black stuff. They will also remember the taste with cringe-inducing vividness.) That, my friends, is what cattle-class catering on KQ feels like - with a side helping of salt and a condiment of unknown provenance.

I wouldn't mind the food so much if it were not for the legroom - or lack of it. (After all, I survived six years of gastro-experimentation in the World's Largest Democracy with enthusiasm so rubber-chicken diners are neither her or there.) But for the ten billion shillings' hole in its books you would think that at the swingeing prices that KQ charges for its seats they would have adequate legroom for a man of my miniature stature. Alas, dear reader, you would be most assuredly wrong. If the architects of the Wrack and the Wheel, employed with religious zeal by the authors of the Spanish Inquisition, had had access to KQ's B737 fleet, I believe the confessions they sought with ISIS-like ruthlessness would have been readily to hand for which no blood would have been spilled or bones broken.

Sitting for an hour in a cattle-class KQ B737 seat is an exercise in endurance that I fear must cause catastrophic orthopaedic damage to those who are even an inch taller than I am. I contrast this to the relative plushness of the eight-hour KLM B737 flight between Schiphol and Dulles, and the positively regal thirteen-hour Qantas B747 flight - in row 47D right next to the tail generator no less - between Jo'burg and Sydney. (And when you sit in the non-tycoon portions of the snooty, hostile OR Tambo International or the spectacularly please-come-back-again cattle-class where-are-the-airport-staff sections of Schiphol, you curse the fact that we have a "national carrier" that treats the vast majority of its "nationals" as cattle even before they board.)

If I believed even for a second that KQ would improve, I would hit the delete button and wait for that day to arrive. There was a glimmer of hope with the Embraer fleet. That hope has since been snuffed out. I will, wherever a choice is offered, avoid-like-the-plague our national carrier in favour of a complete stranger - like KLM, Qantas or the efficiently German Lufthansa.

The Chairman and I.

The Chairman and I had a wonderful time together. He snuggled close, and sniffled into my collar, and listened to the keeping-pace-with-Bob-Marley heartbeat as we went through the entire Bob Marley discography. He's a heavy tyke, by the by, but once you get him into your arms, even if you have been hard-charging without sleep for three days, you don't want to let go.

The Chairman, I believe, is still totally clueless about all the stimuli that is coming at him from all corners and all strangers, yours truly included. But in my arms, he was as calm as a waveless sea on a sunny day. He found my ears fascinating, though, and if his CEO and CFO hadn't intervened in force, the Chairman would have extended that examination all over my massive head.

His head, on the other hand, is so small and his hair is so soft and warm and smells of honey and lemon and, I shit you not, old oak-barrel Jack Daniels. When he decided he didn't want to listen to Bob Marley anymore and took a small nap, his snuffling was so adorable I almost forgot to breath just so I could hear him snuffle through the in-and-out of inhalation and exhalation. I wonder if he finds his breathing as fascinating as I do.

So smart she was foolish.

I feel for Dr Monica Juma. But that does not mean that because of her excellent credentials she was the best candidate for the office of Secretary to the Cabinet. I am appalled at the crass reasoning of the Asman Kamama committee; shifty-eyed dodgy men with a long history in the cavernous blood-soaked perfidious trenches of the provincial administration unwilling to come to terms with the colonial-era reasoning of a woman and her place. 

That being so, Dr Juma committed an unpardonable sin with that October letter. She was well within her rights to write what she did; she demonstrated a lack of judgment in actually writing the letter. That would have presented difficult problems for her, the Cabinet and the President had she become the Secretary to the Cabinet.

Some traditions, of course, have to be jettisoned, but I don't think the tradition of the mjumbe going to see the waziri so that the waziri can intervene in a job or a transfer is necessarily a bad thing. This is not the west where public school ties or Ivy League college connections influence decision-making in the corridors of power. Despite a remarkable improvement in the calibre of elected representatives in Kenya, the vast majority of those with longevity are men with limited academic credentials, whose power or influence with the people and in the government is measured by the favours they are owed and the favours they owe. This is how they practice their politics and for better or worse, this is how they have always practiced their politics. Telling them the equivalent of "get stuffed!" is not the way to get things done in this government. That is effectively what Dr Juma did.

The risk of the old way of doing things, of course, is the possibility of a Deep State beyond the control of the President himself. That is what the Muthaura/Kimemia axis effectively became and, in no small part to the efforts of Dr Juma, that network has been dismantled. If Dr Juma had not written that October letter, the old boys would have been hard-pressed to find a reason to torpedo her nomination. But because she seems to believe that all old ways must go, she couldn't see that indeed, in the Government of Kenya, the road to National Assembly hell is paved with good intentions.

Second, by writing that letter, Dr Juma forgot that in the corridors of power, written documents, whether lawful, justified or otherwise, can be used as weapons against their authors. Everything she highlighted in that letter is justifiable and correct, but that means nothing if people don't like you. The Asman Kamama committee and its string-pullers behind the scenes don't like Dr Juma; everything she's ever authored is potentially a black mark against her. If sh has demonstrated such a lack of foresight  in her other correspondence, it is almost likely that she will never survive parliamentary vetting in the future. It shouldn't come as a surprise that seemingly smart people can sometimes be very foolish. She's not the first; she will not be the last.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A moran and three bottles.


We met this guy halfway between Marsabit and Kargi, seventy kilometres from any semblance of a road - or a tree. Between Lucy, who speaks a bunch of languages that I had no idea still existed, and Paul, who speaks the remaining ones, they had enough Rendille to find out that he had been walking from two days and that he hadn't eaten anything in a day or had any water. He went through a litre and a half in about half the time it took to write this sentence. He freaked out my chairman, Pauline, because he didn't speak Swahili, he wouldn't pretend to even like our World Vision Land Cruiser, and because he had another two days walk before he found his manyatta, somewhere well beyond Kargi where we were headed.

This was in 2008, just after Kibaki's government had pulled down its pants and gotten in bed with the Chinese sugar daddy, before the roads became the thing we remembered Mwai Kibaki for. From Isiolo to Archer's Post to Laisamis to Marsabit was a seven-hour, dust-filled, rock-strewn you-need-a-Land-Rover trek that required a shiatsu massage on either end or one could do themselves a terrible injury. It was hot and lonely and if it was not for the occasional Burji-owned lorry ferrying goats to Kiamaiko, we were the only ones on that two hundred and fifty kilometres. Not even the UNICEF team we had seen that morning was in sight.


Marsabit remains the largest administrative region in Kenya, all 70,000+ square kilometres of it. And the sun scorches every inch of it. Harshly. It's as if God has a magnifying glass between the sun and the volcanic-rock-strewn lunar-like surface of Marsabit county. Watering points are few and far between. And herds of camels are commonplace.


I remember his stoic, what-will-be-will-be-look as we waited for Ngala and Mwangi to replace the ruined Land Cruiser's rear left wheel. It was happenstance that we happened by and if we chose to leave him behind it would be no skin off his nose. We gave him a lift, despite my boss's irrational fear that he would turn his shiny rungu on us, to a point maybe thirty kilometres off the track we were following and he took a bead on the sun, shrugged his shoulders, raised his rungu in thanks and headed off into the vast, harsh unknown. I wonder what he became. I wonder what he did. Does he still do three day treks across that vast county without food or water on him?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Crude weapons

Crude weapons.

Barbarism, right? You're thinking rungus, nyahunyos, bows-and-arrows and the all-important, always-prevalent simi - I like simi; it is so deliciously malevolent - aka panga aka, according to the New York Times and its white cousins, the machete. Not Machete the Danny Trejo character, but machete, the weapon of choice for marauding gangs hellbent on disembowelment and beheading anyone in their path.

When it these weapons are being deployed with, again to borrow from the Grey Lady, atavistic determination in any African nation, they are "crude". But when we are watching American Ninja III with Michael Dudikoff and his Japanese katana, which is really a very long and very sharp simi, we do not think that the pale face disemboweling and decapitating his enemies is wielding a "crude" weapon, do we?

We have been programmed to Pavlovian-like responses when the phrase "crude weapon" is deployed. It is always deployed in service to an African somewhere in Africa engaged in an act that has been engaged in in the rest of the world for God knows how long.

A weapon, so far as I can tell, is supposed to injure or kill. Yeah, yeah, yeah...some asshole is going to remind me that weapons can be used in self-defense and shit like that. But really, any weapon is a tool for the injury or death of another. The one dying doesn't give two fucks that it is or isn't crude. The one killing doesn't either; if it gets the job done faster and more efficiently, so much the better.

It's never occurred to them that the crudest weapon of them all is the human mind, especially the one that expends precious national treasure to find ever more creative ways to kill ones fellowman. Look at the evolution of the human mind and it is mirrored in barbarous creativity in the evolution of the means of killing each other. From flinty rocks to spears to poisons to explosives to firearms to radiological weapons to genetic weapons, the mind of man does not evolve to find solutions for man's selfishness, greed and congenitally violent tendencies.

What do you mean "crude weapons?"

He should have been polite.

Wewe ni nani?!

I assumed he wasn't yelling at me. I had my nose buried in the Sunday Nation, and my APs aren't that stupid as to yell at me ati, Wewe  ni nani?! in that tone of voice that implies that I am better advised to sit outside in the elements, hugging the fence with the shifty-eyed brokers who have recently been exiled from Embassy House. Anyway, he repeated his question a bit louder. I lowered my paper and told him courteously, Nimekuja kuandika budget lakini secretary hajafungua mlango huko twelfth floor.

He was not, absolutely not, taking that as a valid answer. He switched gears. Mimi Sikujui, he declared officiously, na kama sikujui, ondoka ukamngojee secretary huko nje. Maybe it is because it was a Sunday, or that I had just realised that I wasn't all that, or that it was a Sunday and there would be no irate phone-calls from higher-ups and their underlings with chips on their minuscule shoulders. Maybe it was all this and that I am generally oily and unctuous with the less-fortunate forced to serve in inclement circumstances. I was not prepared to match him, alto for alto.

Nimeongea na yule alikuwa twelfth na akaniambia ningojee hapa chini mpaka ofisi ifunguliwe. He was having none of that. I think he wanted to show the rather trim lady officers that he was the Big Swinging Dick over there and that if we were to lay them side by side, his balls alone would be enough.

Sadly, J.Z. was not answering his phone that Sunday. He's even more chilled out than I am. Wanyambura it was, then. He is not a softly-softly boss. He is Thor-gurgling-his-mighty-hammer loud. Friendly enough when he and you are on the same side. Louder than God's revolver when he decides you are fucking with his friends' comforts. So I asked him, while he was still stuck in Thika, Mbona hawa askari wako wanataka kunifukuza kazi? I could see the Big Swinging Dick getting a Deflated-Balls feeling deep down in his belly. 

I didn't like seeing him grovel, but he should have been polite. Hakuniambia yeye ni nani, alikata kusema anaandika budget, amekataa kusema ametoka kwa ofisi ya mwanasheria mkuu, and on and on till Wanyambura mercifully cut him off. If Lucy hadn't walked in right then and indicated that I was not a stranger, I fear he could have attempted to do me an injury for how mad he was. Now every time I walk into the lobby, he ducks into his pokey office, yanks down the blinds and pretends to be in the middle of a security exercise of one administrative description or another.

He really should have been polite.

Sons and guitars.


He really wanted me to learn something about guitars, didn't he? That guitar and the Pentax that captured this moment were for the longest time his most prized possessions. The guitar is still alive somewhere in the bowels of his sprawling estate; the Pentax is now rendered obsolete by the emergence of the DSLR and the pocket-fitting digital camera. I miss both, terribly.

The messenger and his message.

"You don't need billions, millions to become the Deputy President of Kenya." ~ William Ruto, Deputy President of Kenya.
How true.

Mohammed Abduba Dida was the highlight of the 2013 general election. His approach to the presidential election was methodical, if a little eccentric. He would meet the people. If they agreed with him, they would elect him; if they didn't agree with him, they would elect someone else. There were no unfriendly rumours of the billions, or millions, he was spending to hire helicopters or 4x4s to get him from campaign venue to campaign venue. 

There were no ugly rumours that he had bribed anyone to vote for him. He did not make promises that were unrealistic. Despite his apparent probity, the former teacher was not elected, his ideas were scoffed at by the punditocracy, and he has since faded from public view. But it is not because he lacked the billions or millions that the Jubilee or CORD teams spent that Mr Dida was not elected; it is because he dared to suggest that wealth was not a relevant criterion for political office and that all one needed was common sense, a great measure of integrity, a large dollop of political honesty and a realistic outlook of what the nation is and what it can be. As it is, of the candidates who were seen as no-hoppers, Mr Dida was first among them, surprisingly beating Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth in the number of votes garnered.

The Deputy President, humble-bragging about his rise to the second-highest political office in the land, attempted to pass off as his own Mr Dida's message. I do not think many people were persuaded. Many Kenyans who voted for him probably did not watch that news broadcast on which the Deputy President, so they may not appreciate the irony of a man who admits to be a part-owner in a multi-million shilling hotel with dubious antecendents preaching to them the virtues of hard work and diligence in the pursuit of high public office.

Kenyans are not idiots. Kenyan voters are definitely not idiots. The choices they make are informed by many factors, not just the ethnicity of the candidate or the size of the campaign war chest. More often than not Kenyan voters will elect or re-elect the devil they know than the angel they don't, and Mr Dida was just too unknown to make a credible presidential candidate. But far more than anything, the billions that Jubilee spent to elect its candidates did not go unnoticed and a beneficiary of those billions is the last person to remind Kenyans that billions and millions are not consequential in an election.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Legacy.

If I died today...

Legacy is not something that a young man on the make should worry about, is it? It is definitely not something he should talk about. But when you get to that point, the point where you see yourself in the eyes of your lover, your parents, your bosses, God, you get the sense that you should ask, If I die today, who would care?


I know I would care about what you thought about me when the time came to cross the river, in the same way that I care that you don't think of me as a crass, materialistic, incompetent, stick-in-the-mud, asshole lawyer. But I don't know if  at this point I have a legacy, even a slight one.

Have I lived the life I was supposed to live? Have I fought the fights I was supposed to fight? Have I kissed the lips of the ones I was supposed to kiss? I don't know. 

Have I written the great Kenyan novel? Have I written that tweet that made you stop, go Hmmm... and wonder, What the..?! Have I been the one get it right more times than not? I do not know.

But I guess I won't know. I guess I can't know. I'll just have to keep doing the things that I do with a bit more flair, won't I? If it's nibbles and a Bloody Mary, so be it. If it's jammin' and a bit of the fruit of the tree, so be it. If it's a date and dinner, Yeah! we can change it up like that. Let's see what's what. Maybe I get a legacy. Even if I crash and burn.

From Mt Kenya to Marsabit


I remember when I took that. It was at the Mount Kenya National Park, a day before the World Environment Day. It was a chilly day, drizzling, and the KWS rangers were not taking chances with what they clearly thought were dodgy looking city types who had not appreciation for rampaging buffaloes. It remains one of my favourite adventures.


I remember thinking, "Thank God, the elephants are on the other side of the river because..."


...elephants can cross rivers with un-elephant-like speed. And freak out everybody at the...


...Samburu Serena Lodge. Which happens to be about halfway to Marsabit, which then did not have a really good road. The blue-plate Paj paid a heavy price.


...while everyone freaked out. Again. And pretended to know something about diff locks and whatchmacallit.


Marsabit is wild and beautiful and I am glad I went.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Uhuru Kenyatta, anti-corruption crusader.

I was wrong. Uhuru Kenyatta has done what I thought would be the impossible.

When you claim on national TV that you are not a crook, whether we believe you relies almost entirely on whether we like you or not and, crucially, whether we like your accusers or not. Your likability, if you are a politician with a checkered past, doesn't rely entirely on just your tribe. The platform you choose too to make the Shaggy Defence ("It wasn't me!") is also important. As is which fellow politicians choose to publicly believe your Shaggy Defence.

When the President directed, in his State of the Nationa Address to a Joint Sitting of Parliament, that the anti-corruption forces go after the big fish in his government, we all thought that we had seen this movie before and we knew how it was going to end: a whitewash. Many thought that the President's goal was just the investigation and, where proof existed, the prosecution of the big fish. I don't think that was the President's only reason. I think he had a much more important outcome in mind: senior public officials would be compelled to state their stand, in their own way, on the question of the fight against graft.

Take what the Deputy President did on the Big Question on Citizen TV this past week. He categorically denied having a hand in the graft that is associated with the expansion or relocation of the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. His denial was not just the same bland statement of denial that politicians are enamoured of; it was an almost hour-long back and forth with the interviewer about his relationship with his accusers and why he had anything at all to do with something that is the preserve of the Ministry of Health and the county government of Uasin Gishu. Whether we believe him or not is not the point; this is a rare thing in Kenya. For a Deputy President to go on TV and deny that he is a crook is a very big deal.

The Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries and parastatal bosses being investigated by the anti-corruption commission should borrow a leaf from the DP. Their studious silence will not stand them in good stead should they be exonerated by the EACC or the Office of the DPP. They are accused of bambozzling the public service of billions of shillings and swindling the people of Kenya of hundreds of acres of public land. Simply letting their lawyers do the talking will engender a sense that they are dodgy people who are not fit to hold public office in Kenya.

We are at a crucial stage in the reforms of the Kenyan state. More and more people are getting their information from non-state controlled media, and their impressions of their betters in the public service are coloured not so much by "my tribe, my man" but whether or not jobs have been created, safety has been enhanced, security has been assured and wealth has been created. There are those politicians and public servants living in the past, refusing to move into the present day, but they are a dying breed and it is only a matter of time before their way of thinking is consigned to the ash-heap of history. And all it took was for the President to accuse a miniscule 175 public servants out of a total of 500,000 of being crooks. Uhuru Kenyatta has done more for anti-corruption than we will ever appreciate.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Be rude on your own.

Among the synonyms of "chivalry" are gallantry, gentlemanliness, courtesy, courteousness, politeness, graciousness, mannerliness, and good manners. There's only one antonym: rudeness. Chivalry has come in for flak on Twitter. I have seen some women object strongly and rudely to having a door opened for them by a man, arguing unconvincingly that they are capable of opening their own doors without the assistance of the men.


Let as allow for one moment that chivalry is dead and that we are just trying to muscle our way to the top. There are, however, some of us who, even in the rush to get to the top, do not have to use our elbows or raise our voices. Some of us still wait patiently for the lifts to empty before entering; we still allow others to go first if it seems as if they are in a hurry. For some of us it matters not what your gender is, we will still hold open the door for you and allow you to go first. If it happens to be that you are a woman, please don't take it as a statement of your relative strengths or weaknesses, but only that some of us are still courteous and very rarely put ourselves first.

But the rude reactions - especially to the door-opening - has caught me off-guard. Many men accept that in the modern world they are the equals of women and women are the equals of men. The rude reaction to door-opening is uncalled for. If a women chose to open the door for me and allow me to go first, I would not take it as an affront to my masculinity. I would assume, correctly I hope, that it was a  reflection of the courtesy being extended to me by that woman.

I do not know if Kenya should be sucked into the culture wars that so animate the West; we have somehow managed to make our own peculiar rules as we have developed over the decades. Some changes have been incremental; others have happened quick like lightning. Some have been heavily contested; others have come to pass without a murmur. In the Information Age more changes are taking place more quickly now and how we deal with the changes reflects what we consider important. For some, the appearance of independence can be sacrificed at the altar of civility, and it seems that they would rather be rude than be treated with civility if that civility threatens their perceived independence.

What is astounding to these people is that they would rather vent their frustrations with these overt acts of civility online rather than confront those who were civil to them in person. Some attempt to justify their rudeness with a statement affirming their agency and independence, but it wears thin when the justification is not directed at the persons who were courteous to them but the online hordes that cannot identify with the event in question - because they were not there.

Those who are truly courteous have no choice but to act courteously at all times. Until they don't. There are events that require a firm rebuff, which may or may not be rude. But rudeness should not be your first instinct when someone treats you with courtesy or acts courteously. If you are used to being rude, it is best to keep your rudeness to yourself. And off the 'net.

What police reforms should look like.

The police should ordinarily not be armed.

That is the sum and substance of my proposal. Disarm the police as a crucial step towards enhancing public safety. Despite the opacity of the tender, we have made our peace with the security-camera roll-out by Safaricom. But for the safety of the public to be enhanced considerably, policing must be localised and this can only be successfully achieved if the police services are disarmed.

The bargain struck in the Constitution in Chapter Fourteen on national security has failed to hold. It is a restatement of colonial and post-colonial single-party values that the post-2002 Narc bargain firmly repudiated. The risks inherent in a colonial policing mindset have been demonstrated time and again over the past decade: the human rights violations in Mount Elgon and the response to the violence of 2007/2008 are proof that where the preservation of the State prevails over all other considerations, the people are not seen as partners in public safety, but as a threat, and are to be treated with suspicion at all times, even when they have legitimate grievances that must be addressed by the State and its agencies.

The National Police Service should be removed from the list of key institutions required for the security of the nation. That is a job ideally suited for border security forces, the defence forces and the national intelligence service. The principal purpose of the police service is the safety of the people and their property, and the investigation of crimes. Then, and only then, can the police service participate in the security of the nation. If it has failed in its principal job, then it matters not whether it plays a role in national security; where it has lost the trust of the people, it will be an inadequate source of vital information or intelligence about threats to the security of the nation. If that mistrust is allowed to fester, the police service may face the active resistance of the people to the performance of its duties which may require the deployment of the defence forces and intelligence officers against the civilian population and not external threats to the nation.

Another crucial step will be the devolution of policing. For it to be effective, command and control should ideally be as localised as possible so that decision-making is faster and less-prone to the waiting game that saw one hundred and forty seven victims of the attack on Garissa University College. What is retained at national level is the detective corps and the rapid reaction forces such as the Administration Police's Rapid Deployment Unit and the General Service Unit (including its Reconnaissance Company). The disarmed police service, under the command of the county government, will be better placed to deal with petty offences and work closely with the communities to prevent the commission of crimes. The national detective corps can deal with the crimes for which no witnesses are available, though, in the long term, even the detective corps should ideally be devolved. The rapid reaction forces can focus more on training and responding to major events such as the Garissa attack with minimal time-lags.

There are challenges, of course, to this proposal. But they pale in comparison to the colonial legacy that we seem determined to hold onto despite its myriad problems. Training can still be completed at national level; deployment can be the preserve of the National Police Service Commission while civilian complaints dealt with by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority. But once deployed, and unless an officer asks to be transferred to another county, promotion and other human resource management matters remain the province of the county government. 

The national police command structure should be done away with; the Office of the Inspector-General is an expensive boondoggle that we no longer require. With a national training college, the principal objective of the national command structure is the proper training of the police recruits, and the command of the rapid reaction forces as well as the detective corps until it too is devolved. If it must be retained, then the Office of the Inspector-General may perform limited domestic intelligence functions with the aim of interdicting major criminal organisations such as the networks or cartels that traffic drugs, weapons and humans across our borders.

This is what reforms in policing would look like.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

My city.

It is because I love my city, and it is my city, that I get very, very hot under the collar by what the County Government has done to fuck it all up to hell and beyond. 

I love its matatu culture; not the fuck-you! driving style of the Forward Travellers or the Umoinners, but the unapologetic hip-hop/dancehall/ragga/reggae vibe that the moving works of urban art that are matatus bring to an otherwise dreary city grind. When you board a Ma-3, a jav, whatever, it is not just that you want to get from point A to point B. It is not just that you have no choice. It is a choice. And when you're in that 14-to-25 demographic, stodgy buses do not float your boat. You want the colourful ones with graphics that remind you of the hip-hop scene in New York and Miami and evoke a graffiti-like sense of adventure but most of all a big FU to the wankers who have no sense of style.

I love its sheng' culture, though I am so far removed from it from my eighth floor perch these days that additions to the patois pass me by like flashes of lightning. Sheng' is the language of this melting pot; it unites us more than the "official" languages mandated by the Constitution. We'll know from which part of this city you hail from by the sheng' dialect you adopt. We'll know from which decade you were raised by the connotation you apply to an evolved word. And we'll definitely know whether you are fresh off the bus or not by whether you have a facility with sheng' or you are still trying to figure out whether a cop's wagido (thank you Rei, for that one) is a good thing or not.

I love its markets, and I don't mean the back-from-the-ashes Westgate, the Sarit Centre, or TRM and it's me-too cousin, Garden City. I mean those markets that don't have KAPS manning the pay-as-you-go gates, that don't have the hebu-fungua-boot uniformed private security. I mean the ones where at the stroke of six, vendors shut shop and the market gate is padlocked and chained. Markets where Mama Otis still prepares fresh-from-the-lake mbuta in massive woks and where Mama Njoki still makes the best chapo-madondo in Nairobi. I mean those ones that have a love/hate relationship with the City Fathers because of their informal, floating nature, where almost-new Levis can be had for a grand and orange, ankle-high Converses can be had for two. These are the markets that define Nairobi fashion, never mind what Fundi Frank and Kiko Romeo  have achieved on the regional and global scene.

I love this city because when you want your windows fitted without hassle, Lawi Metal Works will rival the prices at Steelworks. When you want your E320 serviced, Ochieng on Jogoo Road will beat DT Dobie for price, speed and quality of work. When you've missed Age of Ultron at the Imax and She wants to watch it even though it is no longer screening, Mustafa Adams will hook you up with HD-quality DVDs for a finje.

But I love it most when the weather takes a turn and the roads are undriveable, when the javs are stuck somewhere on Landhies Road, when the inclement weather threatens to ruin your cut-rate Perry Ellis suit and your Bally Oxfords. I love it because on those days, you can throw a stone and hit thirteen joints where you will be welcomed like family, the spirits will not be adulterated, the conversations will be agreeable and the wallet will thank you four hours later when you look for Edu and his gypsy cab for that fifteen minute ride home when the streets have mysteriously cleared.

I love this city. It's a pity the City Fathers don't.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

A Ministry of Political Religion.

The National Prayer Breakfast came and went. Do you have any idea why we have a national prayer breakfast?

We pretend that we have made a conscious effort to separate religion and the state. It is time we stopped lying each other. We want religion in the affairs of the State and we want the  State in the affairs of religious institutions. It is why the Constitution makes a declaration about "Almighty God of all creation" and why we still appoint kadhis. And it is why politicians and ministers of faith will invite the business community and the diplomatic corps to camouflage their blossoming romance.

Mwai Kibaki had a hot-and-cold relationship with ministers of faith; none was seen to be close to him but he still managed to find time to attend one or two church services during his tenure. Baba Moi, on the other hand, had his pet ministers of faith and their churches received his patronage on a regular Sunday basis. But Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto and their allies have taken to churches and godmen like ducks to water. It is fascinating.

When George Muchai, his bodyguard and his driver were murdered, the political class expressed its anger in places of worship. When Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto attempted to rein in the combative Bomet governor, they made their attempt at the inauguration of a minister of faith in Governor Ruto's Bomet itself. Of course, you remember that the anti-ICC campaign that whipped up sympathy for the Dynamic Duo was prosecuted with the active connivance of ministers of faith and sundry dubious godmen.

The National Prayer Breakfast, financed by captains of industry so that the charge of a misuse of tax shillings is never made, is the price the politicians will pay for the endorsement of the ministers of faith. We do not yet know what the captains of industry get out of the whole shebang, but it is not something that we can pretend not to really know, is it?

So why the hypocrisy about what we want our government and godmen to get up to? We have subconsciously endorsed the insidious influence of ministers of faith on public policy, whether it is controlling the spread of sexually transmitted infections among school-children, abortion, gay-and-lesbian NGOs, sex education, school uniforms, religious curricula in schools and the like. We have endorsed the godmen's involvement in the shaping of land administration policy, national security and fibre-optic cable investments by telecom companies. 

Let us just set up a Ministry of Political Religion and be done with the hypocrisy. That way the Dynamic Duo don't have to invent excuses to -visit this, that or the other godman and ministers of faith can stop pretending that they have our spiritual lives in mind when they cavil against this, that or the other big-tender public policy. And the national prayer breakfast can be the place where both the godmen and their politicians come to extort funds out of the captains of industry as it should be.

They all fall, eventually

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