Friday, July 31, 2015

A lack of imagination.

Kwame Owino's Institute of Economic Affairs, IEA, argues that alcohol regulation is a health issue and not a law-and-order problem. Setting the provincial administration on the illegal brewers, he argues, misses the point, going for  symbolism instead of effectiveness. He is partly right. Alcohol regulation is not just a law an order matter; it is a standards one, a public health one, a cultural one and, in Kenya, a deeply political one.

Eastern Africa's written history is patchy but we know that alcoholic beverages are a seminal part of the cultures of the peoples of Eastern Africa. With the arrival of the settlers and the colonial government, British sensibilities surrounding alcohol were imported into East Africa - high class and low class varieties; distillation; "modern" brewing; licensed production; offences related to alcohol production, distribution and consumption. These British sensibilities - this British culture - survived Independence because, and I agree with the IEA on this, of a spectacular lack of imagination among Kenya's policy-making classes.

Ironically, it is to a modern imperial power that we are to find our best example of what to do when it comes to our alcohol problem. In 1920 the United States of America ratified the Eighteenth Amendment which imposed a nationwide ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. In 1933 the Twenty-third Amendment revoked the ban. In the intervening fourteen years, the United States had cause to learn many lessons on the pernicious effects of prohibition, the most important being that had it not been for prohibition, the rise of organised criminal syndicates may have been slower and less bloody and the corruption of the offices of state, including the Presidency may have been a bit tempered.

In Kenya there is an unofficial prohibition on the production, distribution, sale and consumption of traditional alcoholic beverages, whether they are distilled, like chang'aa, or brewed, like busaa, despite the repeal of the laws that made their production, distribution, sale and consumption illegal. Together with the traditional traditional alcoholic beverages have been lumped the so-called second-generation alcoholic beverages which are, apparently, alcoholic beverages produced on license after Kenya Breweries Limited's near-monopoly was broken some time in the early 2000s and Kuguru Foods nearly went belly up trying to take on the behemoth.

Our version of prohibition is political in nature; it has nothing to do with law and order or the public health. It is a cudgel to keep one political agent in the ascendancy and not another. It is why the President saw nothing strange in placing responsibility for the anti-illegal drinks drive on the rather dubious shoulders of elected representatives. He miscalculated, though; many of the men and women he gave this responsibility to have benefitted greatly from alcohol, either as distributors of the behemoth or as underground distillers and brewers, one step ahead of the forces of law and order. He set the fox to guard the hen-house.

It is only on the maturity of the political institutions that a relatively simple problem like the production, distribution and sale of alcohol will be regulated with the objectives of protecting consumers, increasing revenues and creating employment. The President is not confident that Kenya's political institutions are mature or that they are on their way to maturity. He is therefore relying on institutions that are tried and tested: a statutory and regulatory framework from the colonial era and a provincial administration built to enforce them.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What a terrible Christian.

I am a terrible Christian.

Let me explain. I lie. A lot. To my barman that Ninarudi saa hii. To Jared that Sina dough leo; mwezi haijakata kona vizuri. To my landlady that I was swamped over lunch hour but for sure I'll make the transfer tomorrow. To my mother that kesho nitakuja supper. Okay, that last one is technically not true. See? I lie a lot. Very, very un-Christian.

I absolutely never, ever turn the other cheek. Instead I fester and stew and get all bilious and shit and exact a cold revenge. I don't care the revenge comes immediately or a decade later; you cross me and I will find a way to make your life harder than it needs to be. Motherfuckers can't fuck with me without consequences.

I definitely don't love my neighbours. I think they are asses. Enough said, I think.

In only one area do I think I am a Christian. It's the least important bit of that Christian thing. It is the only thing that I am capable of. It is the one thing that makes me joyous. I am honest with those who deserve my honesty. That's a pretty small number. The Scientist, the Linguist, the Communicator, the Teacher, the Engineer, the Nurse, the New Lawyer. They are all that matters. 

If you're on the list, thank God. If you ain't, don't take it personally. At least I am not pushing you in front of a speeding Citi Hoppa, am I?

Like Monopoly money.

Kenya's national flag carrier, Kenya Airways (KQ), lost 25.7 billion shillings last financial years. The government bailed out Mumias Sugar (MSC) last month with a billion shillings. The Auditor-General reports that 66 billion shillings cannot be accounted for in the 2013/2014 financial year. A billion here. A billion there. It's Monopoly money when the word "billion" is bandied about with such ease. It's always someone elses money.

We bandy these numbers about without considering what they mean any more. A billion is a very large number to a very large number of Kenyans. The majority, in fact. There is a tiny minority that thinks of a billion as the bare minimum. These are these are the men, and an even tinier number of women, who command attention at the highest levels of government. They receive the right attention from the government.

Yet we remain poor. Poor people behave like poor people behave. Charles Onyango-Obbo has a humourous description of a visiting bigwig and new dresses worn in turn to impress the bigwig. He was writing in the context of the primping up of our city for the visiting United States' President, but he could just have easily been talking about Kenyans who struggle to get by living cheek-to-jowl with other equally struggling Kenyans while a tiny elite dreams up new schemes to line their bulging pockets with billions more.

This is the twenty-first century. Except for lifestyle diseases, and a few devastatingly efficient tropical virus, there is little new in the world of diseases. Mumps, measles and rubella used to wipe out infants until infant vaccination became a mandatory requirement. So too did tetanus, polio, diarrhoea and whooping cough. Vaccines and other therapies made childhood mortality rates to plunge. Modern medicine has all but wiped out polio and small pox from the world. Except in Kenya.

The government will find billions to bail out Kenya Airways, just as it found a spare billion to bail out Mumias Sugar. It will, however, rely on "development partners" to "fight" polio, malaria, and tuberculosis. By and large, the tiny elite and the small-ish middle-class will enjoy a measure of security when it comes to their health. The poor will not. The poor who form the vast majority of Kenyans - and the vast majority of the victims of preventable diseases. Those billions that seem to vanish into thin air will not be recovered, and if they are recovered, they will be dedicated to monuments of the pampered elite: "super" highways; technocities; railways; ports; presidential visits; and the harems that "keep them young."

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why?

If you hate me and you take steps to murder me, I am under absolutely no obligation to love you and ignore your attempts on my life. I am well within my rights to hate you back - and to hit back with equal or greater force. But that is not what Jesus who was the Christ wanted.

The Gospel according to Matthew reminds us that the Christ said in Chapter 5: 38"You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' 39"But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40"If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also."

I am not a good Christian. I do not have the Christ's incredible forbearance. I have no intention of getting murdered without lifting a finger in defence. Because I am a human, a man. I am not a god. Why should I mitigate your hatred because your circumstances are the reason why you would do me harm? Are my circumstances reason enough for you to do me harm?

I will arm myself. I will not sit still while you poke holes in my god-given skin. I will not indulge your lunacy simply because you claim it as a divine obligation. If you strike at me, I shall strike back. When I strike back it shall be to destroy you. We are not friends. For my friends there is the possibility mercy for a betrayal. You are my enemy. For my enemies there is only utter destruction in store. Consider your next act carefully.

Monday, July 27, 2015

It would have been nice.

Someone asked them about homosexuals, and it seems like practice did make perfect because both had their answers down pat. In essence, they agreed to disagree. That is as it should be; it matters not that we still criminalise sexual acts against the order of nature because one day we will stop dying of preventable diseases in large numbers, we will educate our children to the highest standards to the highest level and we will have the luxury to ponder over our own share of First World Problems. That day is not today.

There were many Kenyan reporters who couldn't get over the fact that they saw, with their own eyes, the United States Air Force's VC-25A, or the United States Marine Corps' VH-60Ns and V-22 Ospreys. They were fascinated by the armoured Lincoln limousines, Chevrolet Suburbans and Ford Expeditions. They couldn't get enough of comely and not-so-comely agents of the United States Secret Service, which, apparently is no longer a part of the Department of the Treasury but of the Department of Homeland Security.

Very few of them seemed to have an actual interest in entrepreneurship, generally, or the Global Entrepreneurship Summit that was the reason why the VC-25A landed in Kenya and the V-22s and VH-60Ns were flitting about Nairobi in sinister and menacing fashion. The deals inked between the governments of Kenya and the United States received scant attention compared to the amount of nattering that occurred over the difference a tailor would have on a president's wardrobe.

The President of the United States dwelled on the Big Picture; the specifics were left to his secretaries of commerce and the like and his Special Assistant on National Security Affairs. It is curious that the Kenyan news media chose to largely ignore these questions in favour of aeroplanes, helicopters, limousines and SUVs. The Big Picture still had sufficient detail that had the news media concentrated n that alone,w e wouldn't be left with the feeling that we should know more about the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and whether it will lead to job-creation in Kenya, unemployment reduction, economic growth, political stability, public safety or national security.

Don't get me wrong; I am a guy and guys sure love gadgets. If the gadgets happen to be presidential gadgets, that love remains unrequited but no less passionate and true. But rational people know that there is a time for unrequited pining and a time for hardnosed realpolitik. Kenya's news media is owned by hardnosed businessmen in the business of making money for themselves and their shareholders. The news media houses are populated, by and large, by natterers who resemble small babies, fascinated by shiny toys and incapable of reasoning logically about matters outside the sightlines of shiny things.

For the curious among us, where sober analysis would have been welcome from the minds residing deep in the bowels of the news media houses, we will have to rely on our own faculties to track down every morsel of information from the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, 2015, and attempt to make sense of it all without losing the last of our hair. It would have been nice, though, for the news hacks to pry their snotty noses from the portholes of The Beast in order to tell us what we bought, what we sold, what we gained, what we lost and what it all meant at the end of the day, wouldn't it?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Obama and Pan-Africanism.

Dear Barack,

Welcome home. For a Son of the Soil, you have been a bit too casual with your timetables. It took you seven years to come home? We will cut you some slack if you promise that once you stop that nonsense of being the Leader of the Free World you will buy a small shamba near Nyakach and plant sugarcane or keep a few cows.

That isn't why I am writing. I know many people are curious about what you and Uhuru will have to say to each other, but since Uhuru is a bit secretive, I don't really expect I will ever really know - so I don't care about that. I don't care if you and Ruto shake hands. It's not like I know the guy. I don't even care that your Supreme Court said gays can marry in all fifty States. I know Mark Kariuki and the wingnuts in his crew do, but since most of them are crooks, I don't care what they think either.

I want to talk to you about something more important.

You're going to be out of a job in less than two years. What exactly do you plan o to do after that? Bill has already cornered the market on ex-presidential do-gooding and no one does Bill better than Bill. So that job is out. You weren't exactly the sharpest economic thinker of your generation, so the World Bank and IMF are out. Take a lesson from the Paul Wolfowitz fiasco and let those ones go.

We can't give you the United Nations either. That one has always been Africa's consolation prize, though now that we are getting into bed with the Chinese it might seem like a prudent moment to reconsider the whole kit and caboodle anyway. Climate change is out; that would just make the life of the Secret Service harder for nothing because this one won't get solved in your lifetime. Middle East peace is a presidential thing; what Tony Blair is doing there remains a mystery only he can answer.

There is something that you can do that would immeasurably improve the world. I am not kidding. Pan-Africanism has been delayed for a century and I think if there is someone who can give it a shot at success it is you. Even WEB Dubois thought it could be done. Kwame Nkrumah started well, but then he became as perfidious as the British he had helped to drive out of Africa. Every other pan-Africanist who became a head of state started out well and ended up robbing his people blind. Except idealists like Thomas Sankara who were murdered and Nelson Mandela who never had enough time.

You could do it. You are already an African so no one would question why a Hawaiian is promoting pan-Africanism in his spare time. You have the charisma and the connections and the youthfulness that can get it done. Look at the map of Africa and you wonder how it even manages to get from year to year without some serious calamity stopping it in its tracks. Imagine if you could ride the train from Johannesburg to Cairo without having to worry about visas or bandits, Mombasa to Accra without having to worry about a restive DRC. Power from the Gibe III or the Inga might power the whole continent without the need to build under-used plants all over the place.

All those goals you have for Africa - all those dreams - are coming true only if pan-Africanism is a reality. If you were looking for a post-presidential career, that's the one I would recommend. And then you can be the President of the World we all believed you could be when you upended the politics of the United States forever.

Samson.

P.S. I have seen those helicopters of yours flitting around in Nairobi. A word of caution, though; don't let them land anywhere in Githurai 45. Those people don't play. The scrap metal business is just too lucrative, iwinjo?

#GES2015 and Choices.


It seems like a simple concept, taking responsibility, but the ones that seem to duck it most are the ones with the most responsibility for decisions that affect us all. In March 2013, 11 million of us were given a choice. For the most part, we made the right choice. In some key areas, we made catastrophically wrong choices. Those choices have continued to haunt us ever since.

Barack Obama is landing in a few hours and the consequences of our choices will not be papered over by the number of pale faces attending the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, the acres of grass that will magically materialise along Nairobi's main thoroughfares, the total number of deals that are struck between Kenyans and "global investors" or the positive spin that Air Force One will force everyone to do.

Kenya is not a rural backwater; it hasn't been for a very long time now. Uhuru Kenyatta is not some tribal king presiding over semi-literate subjects. County governors, by and large, are not tribal satraps with a penchant for nubile village girls. We are a modern economy with close ties to the global economy. We are a modern political power attuned to the winds of realpolitik. Yet these facts do not reveal that large swathes of Kenya remain in the tight grip of colonial history - and I am not talking just about the forgotten Northern Frontier, the restive Coastal Strip or the almost always sozzled Mt Kenya Region.

It was a staple of NGOism to take potential donors through Kibera as proof that, as that idiot on the 700 Club repeated, death and disease stalks the land without mercy. Since Baba Moi removed himself from the driwver's seat, things have improved, but Kibera, Korogocho, Mathare valley, Mukuru Kayaba, Mukuru kwa Njenga, Kiambio and Mukuru kwa Reuben still exist and are still growing.

It is almost a mantra these days that "Kenya is insecure" which is total bullshit. Many Kenyans have been murdered by the Shabaab, but the days when Kenyans were getting mugged in the streets for their kabambes or mulika mwizis are over. I am no fan of the security agents, but only the incorrigible jaundice-eyed will refuse to admit that security and public safety have improved. Mandera, Garissa and Wajir are not simply because Kenya's security is corrupted; inter-clan rivalries play an even greater role in in the encouragement of the Shabaab to target Kenyans.

I think Nairobi elected the most tin-eared politician in Kenya and because of him we are going to miss out on great opportunities to cement Nairobi as the heartland of innovation in Africa for a generation. I thin Mombasa has been sold a bill of goods by its government; the temporary Obama-bounce in tourism numbers will not hide the fact that Mombasa county is filthy, without potable water, overcrowded and overrun with drug kingpins and their victims. I think Kisumu has been gifted the most poisonous county executive. This will almost certainly guarantee that Kisumu's legacy as a manufacturing hub will not be seeing a revision any time soon.

We made choices and now the #GES15 will only find the well-heeled and well-connected ready to grab the opportunities on offer. We can't turn back time. But we can change our fate. When Air Force One takes off for Addis Ababa, we must ask ourselves whether we are going to be held back any longer by the choices we made or whether we are going to overcome those choices to make something of ourselves despite those choices.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Optimism.

Kenya is optimistic, isn't it, and Kenyans are the eternal optimists. If you have had the ill fortune of witnessing Uncle Kidero's government at work, you will have noticed that some roads are getting the City Hall Heimlich while Mumias South Road continues to fall apart. Uncle Kidero's optimism is to be seen with his pavements policy; in his fevered mind is the fervent hope that grass will grow in four days. In the middle of a winter. So that Obama can be impressed. By grass.

Kenyans live in eternal hope that their politicians will stop treating them like idiots while Kenya's politicians live in eternal hope that Kenyans will continue to be docile, pliable and gullible, letting long cons and swindles to pass. If Uncle Kidero is a keen Twitterati, he will have noticed that there are very few Kenyans, very few Nairobians, very few anyone really, who isn't taking the piss out of his attempts to spruce up the Green City in the Sun.

We are neither fools nor blind. It is time that Uncle Kidero and his people, and all the rest of them realised this. Not all of us might have PhDs or "global" entrepreneurship experience, but we know when we are getting conned. We may not be frothing at the mouths, pitchforks and flaming torches to hand, baying for the City Fathers' blood, but be under no illusion that we have accepted the sorry state of municipal affairs we have been compelled to suffer under this government. We have chosen to bide our time; at least I have, I don't know about you.

The internet is not the infallible fount of knowledge, but it has enough information that helps us to see whether or not we are the victims of perfidy. The City Fathers' may have kept a very tight lid on how much they are spending to plant weeds along Uhuru Highway and how much they are spending to temporarily cover potholes in the CBD, but in the fullness of time, when they think that they have swaggered off into the sunset in victory, the truth will come out. It is the Information Age and slowly but surely we are developing a knack for empowering ourselves with the freely available information.

Kenya's Big People are deaf and blind; they will not hear what is being said about their perfidy and they will not see the suffering their perfidy wroughts on innocent Kenyans. They are interested in "development" and "networking"; they are not interested in whether the potholes their contractors have left behind will consume ever more billions to fill in afterwards, setting back their much-vaunted "development." Let Obama come. But let us not pretend that what is happening in the City is something to be proud of or something to praise the City fathers for.

Monday, July 20, 2015

We gon' go big.

There will be winners. There will be losers. And then there will be me: a blogger.

When Air Force One, in its blue-and-white motif picked out by Jackie Kennedy, touches down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, taxis to the red carpet, idles while the Beast is rolled to the ramp and the President of the United States emerges, waves and bounds down the stairs, Kenya will definitely have won, Kenyan pessimism, which seems on the rise, will have lost, and I will hopefully have a stable internet connection to blog about it shortly afterwards.

Nairobi will be in the spotlight and regardless of the tin-eared City County Government's best efforts at perfidy, the roads will be clean, the lanes will be straight, and, yes Ms Nitpicker, the grass will grow. I don't know about the flowers, though; some Nairobi men of a certain age tend to take their watering responsibilities a little to zealously and now they are about to be joined by some of the female member of Babu Owino's 84,000 furiously intelligent University of Nairobi student body.

Uhuru Kenyatta, too, will be in the spotlight. He has a gift for oratory; Eric Ng'eno and Manoah Esipisu and the gnomes that shuffle along the corridors of Harambee House better strike the right balance. This is not an opportunity to go all I-hate-Raila that seems to make them gleeful like toddlers. This is a moment to remind the President of the United States that fate is a funny old thing and that Kenya was fated to have a Kenyan in the White House. He should point out that while we squabble with our friends, neighbours and among ourselves, we have managed to rub along rather nicely with everyone because we are not the revanchists Boniface Mwangi and John Githongo would have him believe we are.

He should steer well clear of corruption and if he wants to demonstrate that bonds of political fidelity that bind him to William Ruto are strong, he should make it plainly so without being crass. He should plug the African Union, the East African Community and the Community of Eastern and Southern African States as reliable partners in the growing economic bonds being forged by the US in Africa. Then he should invite Barack Obama to Kiambu for a Mugithi Night - keeping the Penis Envy and Simi Guy as far away from the venue as possible. That man is not right in the head.

Kenya's youth will get a special shout out from POTUS. This is incredibly self-affirming. It won't matter what ones background is - rich, poor, educated, semi-literate, employed, tarmacking - Kenya's youth will be exposed to the Great American Gaze and I have no doubt that they are in a position to gaze back - and throw a little fear in the mighty US. Kenya's young people have already demonstrated that they will thrive whether or not they are supported. But a Barack Obama endorsement might be the dollop of goodwill they need to take on the world - and prevail.

Traffic, obviously, will be a mess. I hope Mrs Nzioka doesn't take this the wrong way, but I am unlikely to make to work on Friday at a reasonable hour. Even Uncle Kidero told us that "certain roads will be closed" and I am very sure on that list she will find Mumias South Road, Jogoo Road, Landhies Road, Race Course Road, Temple Road, Ronald Ngala Street, Moi Avenue and City Hall Way. And that is before I have to wade through the wand-waving cohorts of NYS, APs, National Police Service policemen, GSU, US Secret Service and GSU Recce. I will be surprised if I make it in before ten in the morning.

We are going to make a party of it all. When President Obama goes on to Ethiopia and lands far away, he will leave with ringing in his ears because when Kenya parties, we go big. We don't go home.

Imperial USA

Is the United States an empire?

First, the case against. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the United States has been on the winning side of major wars only twice: World War I and World War II. Korea ended in a stalemate when China supported the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK, and crossed the 38th parallel. The no-man's land between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea remains the most land-mined in the world, rivalled only by Afghanistan.

Vietnam ended humiliatingly. Fifty eight thousand dead US servicemen and the US was compelled to negotiate. The US did not win the Afghanistan war; the Soviet Union lost it. It is the US's adventure in Afghanistan that gave rise to al Qaeda, the Chechen insurrection, and the rise of the hard-to-destroy Taliban.

After decades of sanctions, the US is making a political rapprochement with Cuba and Iran. Russia is newly resurgent. China is set to buy up even more US debt in the coming decade. Even simple police actions seem to flummox the US. Somalia became Blackhawk Down. Libya became "leading from behind." It can't decide whether it hates Syria's Assad enough to side with ISIS or vice versa. By the by, if it hadn't screwed up in Iraq, ISIS would not be the force it is now.

Richard Nixon was in charge when the US abandoned the Gold Standard and 35 years later the Great Recession hit and hit hard. US unemployment skyrocketed. Big banks collapsed. Major manufacturers had to be rescued. The BRICS threatened to rise sooner rather than later. The contagion spread and the seeds planted in the US have reaped a bitter harvest in Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain.

And yet. 

The USA remains a mighty military and economic power. Even when its economy brought it to its knees, it still managed to outspend the ten next pretenders combined. Even when unemployment in the US approached double-digit growth, it still managed to employ more engineers and other professionals than the next five industrialised countries combined.

It remains a cultural powerhouse. The way we speak, talk, walk, act, eat, drink, socialise, educate, innovate, write, pray, love or hate are influenced by the US. There are those still clinging on to the faded dream of Rule Britannia, but they all want greenback and not sterling. We may bitch mightily about ukoloni mambo leo, but like it or not, when we bring out the shiniest silver and give up policing in favour of US Marines' policing us, the US is an empire in all but name.

Think of this way. China may hold the largest chunk of US debt, forgetting the lesson Japan learnt in the lost decade of 1995 to 2005, but the US still commands the greatest chunk of the Special Drawing Rights in the International Monetary Fund. With that alone, never mind the mightiest nuclear arsenal known to history, the US can alter the fortunes of continents. In the past decade alone, it has done so twice. If the hegemon that is the US is not an empire, then what is it?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Only 216 acres?

Hyperbole is not a sound basis for public discourse. Just so you don't think I am unnecessarily unfeeling, I don't care for cruelty, whether it is man against an or man against animal. The reason we subscribe, even with a great deal of hypocrisy, to moral codes to do good and avoid doing bad is so that we are kind to all living beings, whether they "were created in the Image of God" or were created to be our source of food, transport or sport. But at no point does kindness become "the land belongs to animals."

A human being, when it is born, is a helpless weak animal and any number of things could bring its sniveling life to a quick end. Disease, predators, weather, even its parents - all this can cut short the life of a human being at the moment of birth. It cannot communicate except in the most rudimentary manner possible: screaming. It can't walk. It can't use even its nascent instincts to survive - again, except in the most rudimentary form. But because mankind has evolved - a prefrontal cortex, a complex use of symbols and sounds for communication, and a knack for converting nature and things of nature to weapons. It is those weapons that guarantee that we shall always prevail against the beasts of the wild.

The relationship between Kenyans, their government and Kenya's wildlife was always a testy one. Land, quite frequently, had been expropriated from local communities, impoverishing many of their members, and set aside as parks or reserves to which the landless local communities were not welcome and who's benefits were reserve for those who had "invested" in tourism facilities in these parks and reserves. It is no small irony that many of the "investors" were formerly settler communities who had championed the expropriation of the land in the first place. To continue in their perfidy of keeping the "native" population poor, weak and as far away from them as possible, the laws "protecting" wildlife are the most draconian, second only to those on treason.

Now a curious argument is being made, an argument that takes advantage of an apparent disgust with the perfidy that pervades the Standard Gauge Railway project. It is argued that the two hundred and sixteen acres "hived off" from the Nairobi National Park to make way for the railway, and "environmentalists" are livid with the decision. Nairobi National Park is unique for bring in such close proximity to the Central Business District, unheard of in any other country. Twenty years ago when the population of Nairobi, especially that of Kibera, was half of what it is today, that sounded like a good idea. Today, Nairobi is bursting at the seams with over four million residents. A park-in-the-city is an arrogant indulgence.

If it takes the railway project to persuade the government that it is time the wildlife were confined to Amboseli and Tsavo, then so be it. The priority, as mean as it sounds, has always been foreigners. First it was settlers. Then it was their heirs. Now it is investors. The people who have a true claim to that land keep swelling the ranks of the residents of Kibera, the several Mukurus, Korogocho, Mathare Valley, Pipeline, Kangemi, Kawangware, Dandora, Kayole...it is a long list. No tears are being shed for them the way they are being shed for elephants. That is not amoral, but immoral.

Privacy and number plates

I had an exchange with the Rookie Manager yesterday on the nature of privacy and motor vehicle number plates. I think there is a great misunderstanding of what privacy means. Article 31 does much to delineate the line between private and public. The question the Rookie Manager asked was in relation to the information that would be contained on the next-generation number plates, including the owner's name. The Rookie Manager wanted to know whether car owners deserved no privacy?

Privacy is not the right not to be known. Taking the template provided by Article 31, privacy is the right not to be searched, or your home or property searched; it is the right not to have your possessions seized; it is the right not to have information relating to your family or private affairs unnecessarily required or revealed; and it is the right not to have the privacy of your communications infringed.

When you operate a motor vehicle on public roads, it is not a private act. The vehicle might be privately owned, but the act of operating it in a public road is a public act. The public road is not the motorist's private domain; the motorist shares it with other motorists and pedestrians. What one motorist does on the public road affects other road users. It is, of necessity, a public act with private property. It follows, therefore, that if you perform a public act, you cannot hide your identity. However, the manner in which your identity is revealed is intended to protect you from harm too; that, I believe, is why the next-generation number plates will contain bar codes which will contain your identifying information and which will require bar-code readers to divulge that information.

One way to demonstrate that your identity is not a private matter when you operate a motor vehicle on a public road is the manner in which you are facilitated to operate that motor vehicle. To do so, one must comply with various requirements, primarily designed to protect you, the motorist, and other road users. The vehicle must be roadworthy. The vehicle must be insured. The vehicle must be registered. The vehicle must have affixed on it, in the front and the back, number plates. The motorist must possess a valid driving license. 

These requirements are enforced by public institutions such as the National Police Service, the Department of Motor Vehicle Registrations, the Kenya Revenue Authority and the Judiciary. It would be perverse for a policeman to stop a motorist for a suspected traffic offence and the motorist refused to identify himself or refused to confirm whether he owned the motor vehicle in the first place. But unless the policeman suspected that the motor vehicle had been used in the commission of another offence and that there was proof of the offence inside the vehicle, he would have no right to search the vehicle, which remains private property. Therefore, he could not enter the vehicle.

There seems to be a national apprehension that our privacy is being whittled away by the State and its institutions. But for us to debate the matter effectively, we must understand, taking into account Article 31 and Article 24 which limits fundamental freedoms and rights, what privacy is and, crucially, what it is not.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Are you free when you're rich?

Rwanda and Burundi are throwbacks to a bygone era. Pierre Nkurunziza is channeling Robert Mugabe, Hosni Mubarak, Teodore Obiang and the rest of the I-am-here-to-stay Brigade. Paul Kagame is channeling Generalissimo Fransisco Franco, Augusto Pinochet and Lee Kuan Yew and their ilk who were African-style big men with a knack for economic miracles. In their world, a little draconian application of the law, some emasculation of the constitution, limited civil or political rights, were all a small price to pay for money in your pocket and a car in your garage. In Kagame's world, he's offering a little more money - and a cow.

Many Rwandans have bought what Mr Kagame is selling. None seems to have bought whatever it is that Mr Nkurunziza is peddling. It helps that Mr Kagame looks like an ascetic - thin, reedy-voiced, stern visage, forbidding rectitude, personal probity. Mr Nkurunziza, on the other hand, looks like an overgrown playboy with a wandering eye and a taste for the perversely western.

In Africa, there is gaining currency that a Lee Kuan Yew-like discipline is required to get the buses to run on time. In Mr Kagame many have found Mr Lee's spiritual successor; he has enforced a black-and-white interpretation of the rules that has made the Land of Thousand Hills a favoured destination of bring-back-corporal-punishment types. However, just as in Singapore, Rwanda has a near non-existent opposition whose opinions count for little even if principled. So long as those views do not fit within the inspired and disciplined leader's worldview, the are not worth the paper they will be published on.

A consequence of this kind of grip on power is that the people essentially become hostages of the dear leader in a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. They cannot let go of their hostage-taker; after all, he has fed them, clothed them, protected them, and made many of them rich. Some will point out that Rwanda is rapidly making strides in the human development index and a few assassinations here and there are a price we should all be willing to pay for litter-free streets and a cow in the backyard.

That is not the history of mankind. One day, even for tiny Singapore, the bough will break, and the people will not be suppressed for longer. Despite the high standards of living in Singapore, at some point someone will demand an answer for an unanswerable question: why do you believe that being free is the same as being rich? If you think that one day Rwandas will be so rich they won't care they are living in a police state, you have clearly not been paying attention to Rwanda's history. Or the history of man.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hyperbole is not always bias.

If you think that the entire population of young people in Kenya - The Youth - has been demonised by Anyang' Nyong'o in his anti-NYS tirade or by John Githongo in his anti-NYS-as-Interahamwe tirade, please raise your hand? I mean you, Ms Thorne and you too, Ms Waitherero.

The National Youth Service was established by he enactment of the National Youth Service Act in 1963. The functions of the NYS are set out in section 16 of the Act
The functions of the Service shall be the training of young citizens to serve the nation, and the employment of its members in tasks of national importance and otherwise in the service of the nation.
Its motto in this current wave of transformation is "True to self, true to country." I am a firm believer in the NYS. I did not go through the NYS; by the time I was being spat out of my high school with a less than creditworthy grade, the NYS had been hollowed out by Nyayoist kleptocracy. But I have relatives who passed through its training and they are a credit to the institution, captains of industry in their own right. I may have been a child, but the swindle perpetrated by the Nyayo Bus Corporation remains a vivid reminder of what Nyayoism could do - and seems poised to do in the Twenty-first Century.

Mr Githongo is being very casual with his language. Kenya is not Rwanda and the scale of the violence of 2007/2008 pales in significance to what happened in Rwanda in July 1994. This is the language of incitement that is being levelled at the abrasive Moses Kuria with such middle-class feeling. While Mr Githongo has gone overboard with his hyperbole, he and Mr Nyong'o are right to question why the NYS is being lavished with so much money, why it's intake is being expanded so much and why it has become necessary to emphasise its paramilitary training.

Few seem to appreciate the significance of this emphasis. It has always been part of the NYS programme, but more people remember the NYS for the trades training it provided to pre-university students. Now, even with the slum-upgrading programmes (which seem to be carried out in opposition strongholds alone) the emphasis is on paramilitary training. Of more twenty thousand young people. Annually. Up from a peak of four thousand recruits annually.

When Chris Murungaru and his successor John Michuki lavished training and equipment on the Administration Police, few saw anything extraordinarily sinister about it. The APs would sill be the same corrupt askaris the people were used to dealing with. No one foresaw the manner in which the APs would be deployed and employed in the massive rigging that took place during the 2007 general election. Once bitten, twice shy and Mr Nyong'o and Mr Githongo are right to wonder whether this largesse that is being lavished on a massively expanded NYS is in preparation for similar electoral perfidy in the next general election.

The role of the APs in the 2007/2008 crisis was largely because of the secrecy that revolved around the financial dealings of the service. It is this same secrecy that seems to swirl around the NYS and the recent attempts to uncover its financial dealings have resulted in obfuscation, spin-doctoring and accusations of political witch-hunting. Meanwhile, the NYS keeps recruiting 20,000 young people, trains them in, among many other things, paramilitary skills, spends billions in secret and generally behaves like a ministerial army. Why wouldn't Mr Githongo see it as a militia? Why wouldn't Mr Nyong'o worry about the overweening secrecy in its affairs?

Trees and forests.

Uhuru Kenyatta need not "break his silence" on Moses Kuria and his legal troubles. That is the job of Johnson Sakaja, Onyango Oloo and the nawabs of The National Alliance. Mr Kuria is their headache, not Mr Kenyatta's. After all, Mr Sakaja is the party's, and Mr Kuria's, chairman, and Mr Oloo is the Secretary-General. If a decision is to be made on how to proceed with TNA's enfant terrible, it is the chairman and secretary-general who carry water.

While we have been distracted by the antics of the Gatundu South representative, Kenya is hosting Matteo Renzi, the Prime Minister of Italy, and a bunch of billionaires who have jetted in ahead of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit scheduled for the end of the month. Mr Renzi will hold talks with Mr Kenyatta on bilateral issues including anti-terrorism and investment, issues that are at the heart of the Kenyan situation. The billionaires are looking for "investment opportunities" in Kenya; whether those opportunities will lead to greater employment, technology transfer, creation of wealth at home and reduction of poverty are matters that should concern us all.

Yet the most important subject of discussion, grounded on the pettiness of the political scene, are the alleged words of incitement uttered by Mr Kuria and broadcast by Kenya's quisling news media. To my knowledge Mr Kuria is not know for promoting anti-terror, investment, employment, wealth-creation of poverty-reduction policies or legislation in parliament. He is renown for his abrasive and combative nature in the mudpit of TNA v Cord bullshit that keeps his name in lights.

We have gone along, by and large, with this state of affairs. We have focused to an overwhelming degree on the flash-bang of the political arena, living under the delusion that political mudslinging is all that matters. Meanwhile, portentous decisions about our natural resources, our safety and our security are being made behind closed doors with foreign powers without us being involved in the decision-making process. When potentially calamitous legislative proposals are debated in parliament, our minds are engaged in whether a politician attempted to strip naked another one or whether a politician's obsessions run to another politician's penis!

Mr Kuria is important if only to remind us that we must focus our attention on political questions that matter. For instance, no one should object to additional resources being allocated to the National Youth Service as it implements its Five Point Transformation Agenda. The NYS was once a valuable institution in inculcating marketable skills to scores of Kenya's young people. Even with the kleptomania that defined Kenya's second government, it somehow still managed to produce many tradespeople whose skills have been sought after as far afield as South Sudan, Tanzania, Botswana and Malawi.

But just because it was great once, and this government claims that it intends to make it great again, could the additional resources allocated to the NYS have been allocated somewhere else more deserving? The cash transfer programmes initiated by James Nyikal when he was a permanent secretary have proven to have a great positive economic and social impact than the Economic Stimulus Programme of 2008-2011. More elderly persons over the age of sixty have become self-sufficient because of the cash transfers than under ESP.  Could an expansion of that programme have been more beneficial than the allocation of the additional twenty five billion shillings made to the NYS? I don't know. But it would have been an important national debate to have if we hadn't been distracted by Moses Kuria and his pangas. Unless you know the difference between the two, you will never see the forest for the trees.

Not the Great Kenyan Novel.

My lane is a very slow lane. In this lane, slow is smooth and that's just about it. Speed is discouraged. Actively. Avidly. Emphatically. (My thesaurus is running out of alliterative synonyms.) I usually stick to my lane. There is a certain predictability when in it. When I choose to change lanes, the results are frequently quite mixed. I can't tell how exciting that is sometimes.

I am not alone in my lane, most of the time. Ours is a very small carpool situation. We are united in our distinct patois. When we say "No", consider it a well-reasoned "No." We are very rarely brash; they are yet to write odes to our species. We live in the shadows, adjusting the sails for the great ship of state, keeping everything on an even keel. You will never meet us; I would be surprised if you have even noticed that we exist.

The thing is, good people, if we were crap at our jobs, your lives would be immeasurably harder. You can tell when the powers that be have ignored our considered, well-reasoned and wise counsel for the cacophony of the political salon, barroom and gentlemen's club of dubious repute. In those instances private property becomes the target of an unrestrained constabulary backed by an uncontrollable militia. Lives are endangered. Fundamental rights and freedoms are kicked to the curb. Chaos and confusion reigns until we are called in to restore everything to what it was.

There was  time when we were enamoured of complex and complicated sentences; one of our heroes, parlaying his skills in the insurance sector, managed to prepare a clause that ran to three hundred and fifty words. Without a full-stop. We are considerably less verbose these days. We are required, if I am to believe all that BS about inclusive government, to write in a way that all can read and comprehend without engaging at an extortionate price our colleagues in the Bar.

Keeping to the our lane is frustrating for some of our interlocutors who frequently urge us to "innovate" and be "proactive" without considering the malign effects of innovation and pro-action. We are familiar with the oft-repeated mantra "speed kills" and its cousin "haste leads to waste." We are the necessary speed bump before a calamitous decision is taken. We are the voice of reason, unswayed by emotion or rhetoric. If you ignore our counsel, do so only if the counsel you receive is of a superior nature. But that is unlikely. We are the best at what we do. It is why we prevail when the scales of justice are weighed with our counsel on one side and everyone elses on the other.

We are writers, though the Great Kenyan Novel will not emanate from our sometimes quite creative minds (so much for the exhortation to be "innovative" from the ill-informed!). What we write determines how you behave, though we have little control over those that would seek to rewrite or revise what we have set down in black and white. Ours is an exacting species of writing; simple enough to be read even by a child but sufficiently complex to anticipate the future. When we fail, the whole kit and caboodle goes off the rails. When we succeed, not even the chest-thumpers on the podium notice our hand in the success. We keep this mighty ship pointing into the wind. Without us, without our skilled construction of sentences, the jousting that frequently leads to bloodshed would be commonplace.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The budget. Sort of.

Let's try something especially boring this time round.

The national budget is a law. I hope you knew that, because if you didn't we are about to enter horridly uncharted territory. Anyway, the national budget (and the county ones too) is a, as the lazy newspaper reporters tend to call it, piece of legislation called the Finance Bill. When the Finance Bill becomes the Finance Act, and the President signs it into law (i.e., assents to it), then things like taxes and the like can be collected by the national government.

The Finance Act, actually, is not the budget. We call it the budget. But it isn't. In the olden days, those days when we did not have a new Constitution, there were two Bills that were sent to Parliament at the same time. One was the Finance Bill - which usually amended boring laws like the Income Tax Act, the Value Added Tax Act, the Customs and Excise Duty Tax Act, the Banking Act and the Insurance Act. The other was the Appropriations Bill. This one was the Budget. It still is. It says how much each ministry, department or agency will spend in the coming year and on what.

Today the constitutional ground is vastly different from the one of five years ago. The Appropriations Bill (which is also sometimes called "Budget Estimates") is no longer a secret document unleashed on unsuspecting parliamentarians on Budget Day. Back then the Minister of Finance was the only one who had a hand on the budget; these days even the ordinary mwananchi - I am using "ordinary" very, very elastically - has a hand in the budget. The budget requires the active participation of the Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury (he is the lead author of the Appropriations Bill), the Controller of Budget (she decides how much each ministry, department or agency can efficiently and effectively spend), the Auditor-General (he decides whether previous expenditures were efficient or effective), the Parliamentary Budget Office (which tries to square the interests of parliamentarians with those of the national Executive) and the Departmental Committee on Finance, Planning and Trade of the National Assembly which either gives the Appropriations Bill the thumbs up or the kiss of death.

All these characters are guided by a paper prepared by the National Treasury called the Budget Policy Statement which is submitted to Parliament on the day after Valentine's Day. That paper is usually a summary of the Appropriations Bill and the current proposals for the Finance Bill. It is this paper that is debated and haggled over in parliament and published for the ordinary mwananchi to weigh in.

You are all familiar with the Tyranny of Numbers by now. What few know is that the hypothesis only works if the Minority Party (that's what the Constitution calls the opposition)  is too small (not the case here) or it is split (sometimes it is - look at what Chris Wamalwa did to the EACC) or its members spends a large amount of their time twiddling their thumbs, off on crazy junkets to Crete or imagining their futures as governors or something else. Anyway, the Tyranny of Numbers is not the iron rule when the Finance Bill or the Appropriations Bill come for debate, because by that time every parliamentarian and his rather irate uncle knows how much money has been allocated for that borehole in Kimilili and which ministry is responsible for the shortfall.

You know our parliamentarians are good at their parliamentary jobs when they somehow manage to ensure that an extra 20 billion is found for the NYS and a mysterious 15 billion is spent by the Ministry of Agriculture for irrigation when there is a Ministry of Water and Irrigation.

The budget is a law. Because of the Constitution you have a chance to participate in its making. I can't guarantee you will be heard. But you have a chance to participate. Perhaps you should.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Have we lost our universities?

The day I knew we had lost our universities and institutions of high learning was the day I heard a news reader declaim without batting an eyelid (he'd miss something on the teleprompter, see?) the fateful statement, "It will give you psyche." I am not a cultural snob and I know what the statement intends, but I also know that that statement is fit only for the sheng'ed-out environs of the Russia Terraces at the City Stadium. 

This revelation has now been solidified by the supposed letter from the Chairman of the Students' Organisation of Nairobi University to the Ambassador of the United States to Kenya. It says a lot that many are willing to believe that the letter is indeed its author's intended message. If it is confirmed that the letter was indeed authored by Mr Owino, I fear we will have a fair struggle to rescue our universities and institutions of high learning.

All is not lost, though. The Jomo Kenyatta University of Agricultural Technology, JKUAT, since its glory days in the bosom of the Japan International Co-operation Agency, recently announced that it had assembled Kenya's first laptop computer. Small beer, many unfairly remarked, but had they read what Prof Calestous Juma had written in the New African, they would appreciate that JKUAT is pushing its graduates in the right direction: scientific curiosity and exploration, developing new knowledge and skills, and expanding the minds of the scientific and entrepreneurial "leaders of tomorrow."

The Comrade Chairman's letter, full of bombast and base threats, alludes to biological functions unfitting to be addressed to the leader of the free world. I have attempted to justify why a jumped up junior city rabble-rouser would purport to address the most powerful leader in the world and my mind draws a complete blank. The two are not peers. They do not have a diplomatic relationship either. What would posses the Comrade Chairman to beg for an audience between the President of the United States and the Comrade Chairman's eighty four thousand "furiously intelligent" comrades by making threats that evoke pity and sadness rather than fear?

This is the same person who is alleged to have asked the President of Kenya for petrol fuel to set fire to something or the other that had annoyed the President at that time. Is this the leadership that the University of Nairobi is grooming these days, fit only for the ethnicised low politics of the day? Is this why Prof Juma chooses to keep the academic flames burning in bitterly-cold-in-winter Massachusetts, why Ngugi wa Thiong'o only makes occasional forays to Kenya and why when you hear the appellation "PhD" or "MD" after a Kenyan Cabinet Secretary's name, a small voice at the back of you mind whispers, "How much did his doctorate cost him?" because it is almost certain that his research credentials died with the conferment of the round hat and his publications' record has been stifled by the avid brown-nosing of the powers-that-be.

Mr Owino is a symbol of a malaise that we have ignored for far too long. It is reflected in the mule-headed stubbornness about reforming high education in Kenya. It is reflected in high education policies that revolve around mass enrollment, not quality education. It is reflected in this particularly juicy line by the Comrade Chairman, "Also, 31 female students have threatened to urinate on the tree that President Obama planted in 2006 should he not visit the UON. Male students may do worse." Some universities are arming their students with technical skills which they can build on to conquer the world. Other universities are encouraging the basest behaviour displayed by political and other leaders. One or the other will be our legacy.
Also, 31 female students have threatened to urinate on the tree president Obama planted in 2006 should he not visit the UON . Male students may do worse. - See more at: http://news-kenya.com/2015/07/babu-owino-university-nairobi-obama-visit-kenya/#sthash.LmOuQmQ4.dpuf

Ojwang' was one of us.

Yes, I watched and loved Vitimbi. It shaped my ideas of a social conscience when I was a boy. Some of its lessons would only become clear when I left home, crossed an ocean and discovered the world beyond my father's farm. 

I never knew his real name, not for the longest time anyway. I believed his name was McDonald McGregory Mr Ondiek Ojwang' Hatari Sibuor Mang'ang'a Mbrrr and that he had two wives, Mama Kayai and Mama Nyanduse. I don't ever remember laying eyes on Mama Nyanduse. I remember his employees, Maliwaza, Othorong'ong'o and Masanduku. Even after educating myself about television entertainment, I still believed that Ojwang' was his name and the character he inhabited was the one he lived.

I only ever saw him in person once. At the JKIA International Arrivals Terminal. He looked frail. Old and frail. I couldn't believe that the old man who ran his home and hearth with a mix of humour, charm and a certain inexplicable ruthlessness was standing in front of me looking so thin and careworn. I was awestruck. At that moment, I understood better than I ever could the incredible waste that Nyayoism had wrought on our fair land.

I don't know where Benson Wanjau lived when he wasn't being Ojwang'. I heard that has was recently (in 1999, that is) "allocated" a house in Mbotela by Baba Moi's serikali. The cast of Vitimbi have parlayed their skills on the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation's stages for forty years and it took the fake largesse of Kenya's pre-eminent strongman to get a single cast member a "decent" house. In Mbotela. Meanwhile successions of KBC top honchos live it up like Hollywood producers. The late Mr Wanjau's sad little house shames me for not noticing how the Nyayoist rot made slaves of us all.

There are those who will hijack Mr Wanjau's legacy. His cast-mates will live it, of that I have no doubt. But the hyenas rekindling the spirit of Nyayoism will almost certainly pervert what is an invaluable legacy of sacrifice and passion. One already has, mouthing off about Kikuyus and Luos. Maybe I missed it, but even though Ojwang' spoke with what might have passed as a caricature of a Luo accent, only the ethno-jingoist remembers Ojwang' as a Luo. To me and the millions of children who grew up in Nairobi's Eastlands, Ojwang' was always one of us: an Eastlando guy with two wives, one who lives "huko reserve" - wherever that was.

On the IEBC and hubris.

No one seems to get it. The government is supposed to serve the people. It is not supposed to serve itself. Whether it is the executive, parliament, the Judiciary or the plethora of "commissions", the government serves the people. That is how it should be.

But what do you do when the government says one thing and does another? Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that the government does not serve itself sometimes; after all part of the reason it has a monopoly to raise taxes is so that t can finance itself. But the purpose of a government is not just to serve itself. A government exists because the people consent to its existence. It's existence is for the good of the people.

But even when we claim that the government serves itself we mean that it serves an elite few within it. Presidents, prime ministers, ministers, generals, inspectors-general, judges, parliamentarians, principal secretaries, commissioners, and the like. The rank-and-file that execute the diktats of their seniors suffer the same predations as the people for whom they are in service. The elite lives for the power, the money and the prestige their government offices bring. This blinds them to their excesses. It gives rise to hubris. If their hubris remains untempered, the people pay a heavy toll. First as rising taxes and second as a withered, decimated Bill of Rights.

When high government officials have conversations among themselves ostensibly for the benefit of the people without engaging the people in those conversations, you know that hubris guides the decisions they make. Take the question of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission strategic plan. The IEBC claims that it is an "internal working document" meant to guide it in its operations. The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy claims that it is a blueprint for an ongoing fraud. And the ruling Jubilee Alliance sides with the IEBC and accuses Cord of being obsessed with placing Raila Odinga in charge by hook or by crook.

In this dialogue, it is only the high officials of government who are concerned with their powers and privileges. The people, for whom all three claim to be acting, have had no say in the matter. Their views are irrelevant because, as pundit connected to the Jubilee reminds Kenyans, the people "make up their minds on the date when they cast heir ballots." It is an arrogance on the high officials that has been cultivated by the enervation of the political process through the hollowing out of public institutions by corruption and hubris over the past twenty years.

We are a poor nation with a tiny but fabulously wealthy minority calling the shots. Much of that wealth has been generated from the government by high government officials turned entrepreneurs. This was through the kind of conversation revolving around the IEBC strategic plan taking place today: high government officials bargaining over the spoils of government with other high government officials. This is what the late Thomas Sankara caviled against and was murdered for. Lest the deaf-to-the-world high government officials forget, Thomas Sankara's spirit lives on.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Those stems!

I saw it and I knew I was in trouble. It wasn't exactly a malevolent presence but it evoked the same feelings. It was sitting there, lurking in the shadows. It's lines were awe-inspiring. A deeper black than seemed possible. Sitting on eighteen inches, it had all the menace of mafia hitman with the mercy of a sledgehammer. Even before it rumbled to life, it loomed mightily with intent.
 
At that moment, with the blood rushing like the Mighty North Atlantic in the middle of a winter storm, all I could think of was, Why the fuck had I chosen this road? Why had I plaid it this way? Was this a message from the Universe that I had made the wrong choices, that I was destined from those illegitimate poseurs from Japan or Korea? I don't know. But at that moment, all I wanted was to punch the wall I was banging my head against.
 
Those Germans know a thing or two about engineering. Weren't they the ones who sorted out internal combustion? Weren't they ones who understood that it is not enough to go and stop, but that every now and then one had to take a corner at a less than safe velocity? Since the first one rolled off the assembly line in 1964, this is what we were all made to desire.
 
So I stared at it, its malevolence and power, in awe and I almost shat my pants that it was there at all. Instead, I went and found her and spent a piddly amount on battered fish and chips. And a Heineken to remind me that maybe, just maybe, one day taking corners at unsafe velocities will be a fact. Just like the rising of the sun, the blueness of the sky and those stems that seem to go on forever. You know the ones, don't you?
 
 

Friday, July 10, 2015

A bit blue?

You feel a bit blue, don't you?
After that kind of week all you want is Her.
But not everyone gets what they want. Not this week anyway.
You feel blue, don't you?













Look, weeping into your beer won't held.
Instead, find an 18 year old Lagavulin and weep into that.
The price alone should inspire the 
kind of sobbing MCAs somehow manage to engage in.

Seize it all.

So long as you haven't adulterated it with methanol or some similarly potent-but-deadly additive, the worst thing an alcoholic beverage will do is kill you, begging the question: why is booze legal in the first place? I am not sure that I can find the answer. If you can, let me know.

There are two things that we must worry about: the quality of booze being sold and the risk of alcohol abuse by the less stable. On quality, that is not NACADA's job, but that of the Kenya Bureau of Standards, Kebs. Kebs has done a piss-poor job. It is supported by the Anti-Counterfeit Authority because, like we discovered when Kariobangi North came under the harsh spotlight of Nairobi's hoilier-than-thou tabloid press, even "single malts" of rare vintage have found mirrors in Kariobangi North. The District Committees in Mututho's Law deal only with the licensing of producers, distributors and sellers.

NACADA's job is on alcohol abuse. It has tried but it is nowhere near getting it's mandate right. It is not for NACADA to raid manufacturers to inspect the quality of their works. NACADA should be educating the public on the harmful effects of alcohol and alcohol abuse, paying special attention to vulnerable persons.

That is what should happen. It almost never does.

In Kenya it doesn't matter what your mandate ever is; the grass, as far as mandates go, is always way greener on the other side of the eight-foot high, razor-wire, electrified-fence, guard-dogs-running wall. NACADA should be sorting out the logistics of educating Kenyans and setting up alcohol de-addiction programmes. Instead, because that seems like small beer to it, it has decided to play the role that as reserved to the District Committees.

The District Committees' members, going by recent television newsshows, don't like being bureaucrats, granting licenses to the merited. These people have such egregious conflicts of interest that it is a wonder than none of them is a significant shareholder in the half-dozen fly-by-night moonshine stills masquerading as factories. None of them seems to have shied away from opening a bar - ka-local in the local parlance - at which the stringent requirements of Mututho's Law are flouted flagrantly and with impunity.

So the President stepped in and ordered the General Service Unit to go after the dealers in death.  Then the Shabaab murdered fourteen Kenyans in Mandera. But the war on booze was stepped up a notch.

I don't know what world the President lives in; it surely is not the one where we do. Even the mighty GSU will find the slog difficult. They are not dealing with terrorists and the ilk - the types the GSU is trained to tackle in muscular and spectacularly violent fashion. They are dealing with canny and sophisticated scofflaws used to smuggling large volumes of contraband through multiple checkpoints and border control points. These are not people who don't have a plan. Many of them, as the President is discovering, are members of his own government, whether in his office, or Parliament or the affected county assemblies. You don't go after bureaucrats and legislators using the GSU. You send in the taxman.

These people have hidden assets and it is the taxman best equipped to unearth these assets - and then tax the shit out of them. No one likes to lose his wealth; but the loudest squealing comes from those who stole their wealth. Those selling harmful liquor and those who have stolen the future of an entire generation of youth have made hundreds of millions at it. It is only fair that they pay their fair share of the taxes that will be used to take care of this lost generation. Drop lifestyle audits on all of them and where you can tax the hell out of the ill-gotten gains. But sweeter still, seize assets, Mr President. Seize it all.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Time for a purge, boss.

How many families have been destroyed by alcoholism? I do not know. Do you? That seems to be the ostensible reason why the Head of Government summoned Mt Kenya Jubilee MPs to State House and had a frank and open discussion about the alcoholism that is destroying the youth of the House of Mumbi and their cousins. What transpired, bar one or two ill-placed leaks, remains a strongly guarded secret. Innuendo about marching orders remains just that: innuendo.

The aftermath of the State House finger-wagging is that there seems to be a determined zeal among the elected representatives of the Mt Kenya region to "stamp out the vice" as the more serious daily tabloids put it. Factories, backyard chang'aa dens and private homes have been raided and alleged contraband seized and publicly destroyed. There have been injuries, but there seems to be no let up in the raids.

The raids have had unexpected outcomes, though. Representatives of the Office of the President at the grassroots level, notably chiefs, assistant chiefs and policemen, have been "netted" in the raids. Their befuddled visages have been a particular source of mirth for many viewers of the nightly newsshows.

More entertaining has been the spectacle of some of the elected representatives running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. A particularly colourful member of a county assembly was on Sunday to be seen in the very same church the Head of Government was gracing with his pious self, contributing to the frothy condemnation of the Devil's Water. Unbeknownst to his coreligionists-of-the-day, this particular snake in the grass was also a significant investor in the distribution for sale of some of the beverages of death that the Head of Government had decided simply must go. The unmasking of the two-faced legislator was accompanied by much glee from the victims of his earlier zealous execution of the Head of Government's directive.

What has been baffling for many investors has been the criteria used to target established brewers, like Keroche Industries. No one can recall an instance in the past decade when Tabitha Karanjaa's growing enterprise has been accused of manufacturing products that were inherently harmful. Indeed, she has won national, regional and continental gongs for her entrepreneurial chops. Some of the tactics employed by more established players in the Kenyan alcoholic beverages sector betray a jealousy that might explain the mysterious and enthusiastic attention a certain Naivasha legislator has paid to Ms Karanja's factories.

This should be a lesson to the Head of Government. None of us is in doubt that his heart is large and largely in the right place. We will studiously ignore those who claim that his quasi-prohibition drive is led by the fear that Mt Kenya voters might not go to the polls in 2017 because they will be incapacitated by the litres of Devil's Water they will have consumed on the crucial day.  But we must remind him that he is not always surrounded - or egged on - by friends. Some are like hyenas, waiting for the opportunity to snatch food from his hand - or his hand, if it is all the same with him.

These chancers have been responsible for the hit-or-miss record of his government. We know he is not daft; you do not win a presidential election in Kenya simply by pouring billions into the enterprise. But we know that in the maelstrom of executing his powers, he will not sweat the details; that will be left to his Cabinet and the coterie of "special advisers" that has grown around him. It is time he appraised their performance, especially on the political front. The liabilities need to be given the old heave-ho! and shown the door. It is that time of year anyway.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Are you a slaveowner?

In typical Kenyan fashion, we kicked the can down the road. We have now run out of road. In 2013 the process of domesticating parts of the Domestic Workers Convention started in earnest. Among the obvious ones was the setting of a minimum wage for domestic workers. We were almost unanimous in declaring that a minimum wage was unfeasible. I was not one of the naysayers. I think domestic workers deserve more. If you cannot afford the minimum wage, don't hire a domestic worker; do the work your damn self.

I forget who, but someone examined the subsidies that domestic workers involuntarily give their employers. If we paid domestic workers what they were truly worth, few of us would have two-income households, even fewer of us would have the time or the money to complete post-graduate studies. We would have considerably less disposable income to splurge on holidays, cars and sundry luxuries. I would also add that in a world where ayahs were paid what they were worth, baby-making would not be the national sport it seems to be - except for the booze-addled Mt Kenya Region.

The ten thousand and nine hundred shillings that the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Services has gazetted for Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa is high, if it constitutes a significant proportion - say 10% - of your take-home pay. But if you are in the world of six-figure salaries, you should be the last person to bitch on TV about how expensive domestic help is: you are getting a subsidy at that price and you should gladly pay it even if the domestic help lives in your house, eats your food and uses all your other facilities.

You could, of course, do the other thing Kenyans are fond of: disobey the law and pay the domestic help a pittance for their services. If you do that then you are forever barred from ever bitching about grand corruption and the thieving nature of public servants. There is an alternative, but it would cost you even more. You can contract the domestic help to come in on certain days to perform specific duties for a cash-on-delivery kind of deal. Don't live under the illusion that there are hundreds who would kill for the chance to perform menial tasks for you for two hundred shillings. A two-hour engagement to launder your clothes, air them and clean the house should set you back a thousand shillings. The rest of the week you can fend for yourself.

The case for a minimum wage is selfish too? Those images of ayahs torturing their wards are disturbing; that kind of rage must arise from some place and under-appreciation is a powerful motivator. Sure, an ayah may be idle for large parts of the day; but it would be you wiling away the hours while your babe slumbered, wouldn't it? If the home caught on fire, the ayah would be there to rescue the infant. So why would you have her rot her brain on telenovelas just so you could have a career? When she turned on your child, there would be none else to blame but you.

We have reached the end of the road. This is a problem we must find a solution to. Or we could withdraw from the Domestic Workers Convention and simply endorse the Emirati philosophy of slave-ownership.

It is one of those weeks.

It is one of those weeks.

You know you should be happy; your achievements got the monkeys off you back and you have a few hours to relax. But You can't. Your mind isn't wired that way. My mind isn't wired that way. It never has been. Instead, I will stare at my hands. I'll splay my fingers. And I will rub my tired, red eyes. Slowly, with increasing pressure, until stars explode somewhere in the back of my eyeballs.

I can't sleep. I can't sleep properly. I am so tired when I wake up that it takes me an hour to push myself to sit on the edge of the mattress. The phone is way over on the other side of the house. The various alarms - four? five ? - went off hours ago. I should be rushing for the InstaShower. Instead, I scratch my head, my back, my balls - anything than move towards the bathroom. I desperately want sleep. But I didn't apply for leave. What an idiot move. Sodom-and-Gommorah-level idiocy.

I should eat better. But the thought of even burning toast in the toaster feels me with dread and foreboding. I wish there was Java down the street and that it opened at this unholy hour. Then I could just amble down, get the tabloid, order whatever is ready and pray that the day carries on with such ease. Instead I rush through a tasteless, insipid cup of instant coffee. The only bright thing about the whole ordeal are the sentiments on the mug: Smile! Silver Linings. Thanks, babe.

I know if I were a motorist, motoring along on that stretch of Jogoo Road, I would be convicted ten times over on charges of vehicular manslaughter. So instead I hunch over my quickly depreciating cut-rate Tecno as Eastlands flashes by in a Citi Hoppa driven by the possessed headcases from Kayole or D. I know I should empathise with that driver of the Fit whose just been driven into the divider. Or that one in the Sport (Supercharged) who faces an expensive re-paint job. But I just don't care.

Abraham is in charge downstairs today. That asshole is too cheery for my tastes. And he always insists on enthusiastically super-high-fiving me with his G3-hardened palms. I don't feel like it. I force a smile. We high-five. I slink into the lift even more resentful than when I left the house. I stare at the buttons and I hate them, hate them, hate them. Eighth fucking floor. Hate it, hate it, hate it.

I walk into my office. Of course I am the first one in. Work station where I left it. Files where I left them. I crack open the Accreditation Bill and I hate it even more than I did five weeks ago when I saw it for the first time. I stare off into space when the custodial people come in. Another reason to hate this week. They leave water marks all over my nice, neat work station. Now I have to rub away those marks. Why can't they leave the damn surface alone?

It will be hours before I can call it quits. Hours in which I will spend staring off into space, staring into the blank screen of this horrible desktop, hours I will spend on Twitter, hours that I'll pass in resentful, stressed-out, mind-numbing headaches. Then I can shuffle off home. And do it all again.

It's one of those weeks.

Resign? Pull the other one!

It was Uncle Moody who pioneered it.

Who is my accuser? he demanded. I will not resign, he declared. And he never did. Baba Jimmi never demanded his resignation. And in 2007 he lost his Funyula seat. With the loss he kissed his vice-presidency goodbye. Kimunya followed suit.

I will not resign! he declared. You will get my resignation over my dead body, or words to that effect, crowed Kimunya in front of an animated crowd. He did not resign. Until he did. I don't remember if he ever made it back to the Cabinet.

Ann Waiguru said it too. I will not resign. Let the investigations unfold. The CS is not responsible for procurement. I was the one who blew the whistle. How can I resign? It is a matter of fraud. It wasn't me. Many, many excuses and reasons why she should not resign.

No one resigns in Kenya. Until they do and when they do it is never really a resignation. Some never really go away, though. A former Interior Cabinet Secretary is still, if the grapevine is to be believed, on the payroll. A sort of Cabinet Secretary Without Portfolio. His inept Insector-General is now the Chairman of the Board of a parastatal that apparently "smuggled" buses into Kenya, a transaction that seems to have burnt the fingers of the parastatal's former Managing Director and several former senior directors. The directors didn't resign; they were fired.

In Barack Obama's colourful six years as the Most Powerful Man in the World, he has had three Defense Secretaries, two Secretaries of State, three Directors of Central Intelligence, three Directors of the Secret Service and three Chiefs of Staff. One DCI resigned because of a sex scandal. The Secret Service head honchos resigned because of serious lapses in judgment regarding the President's safety. In Uhuru Kenyatta's two years, the Shabaab has claimed over five hundred Kenyans' lives. It is only when the count was nudging four hundred did the President push the hapless Interior Cabinet Secretary and the inept Inspector-General off the field - and into a soft landing elsewhere out of sight.

The language employed by those determined to hold on to their offices by the skin of their teeth of "accounting officers", "checks and balances" and "ministerial tender committees" is the kind of mealy-mouthed self-serving cant that is favoured by criminal defense lawyers. It belies the harsh truth that it is not the best and brightest who get the Cabinet-level job but the loyal-unto-death-and-destruction. If it was the best and brightest who served this nation, resignation would be a matter of course when an attempted swindle was detected - even if the detective happened to be the Cabinet Secretary.

Ask yourself a simple question: if the Cabinet Secretary has nothing to do with procurement because there are accounting officers, ministerial tender committees and password-protected systems, how did she stumble onto the attempted swindle and why was it her responsibility to write to the Director of Criminal Investigations and not the Principal Secretary or the Director-General of the NYS? You are either in charge or you are not. If you are in charge and your people attempt to swindle your department of six hundred million shillings, staying in office is untenable.

Uncle Moody knew us only too well.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Nyayoism and Saba Saba: An Anniversary

When Mwai Kibaki was elected in December 2002 as Kenya's third president, many Kenyans celebrated the demise of Kanu and the Kanu Way. By the time Kenyans were slaughtering each other in December 2007, whatever illusions about the death of the Kanu Way had been exposed for the fiction they were. The Kanu Way and its evil win Nyayoism were alive and thriving. Graft defined the very firmament of the State. As Kenya stares at the shambles of the past thirteen years on this Saba Saba, it can celebrate political freedom and mourn deeply the impunity and graft that seems to have become a permanent part of public life.

In 1990, the most pressing problems were the absolute negation of the civil and political rights of Kenyans and the deeply embedded networks of corruption that had drained the national treasury dry. Twenty five years later, we have resolved the one and elided the other. Corruption has thrived and expanded to areas that are quite surprising.

In 1990, the leadership of the church in Kenya contributed to the discourse on the freedoms of the people. There were Muslims who spoke with passion about the rights of all Kenyans in the political arena. Today a great many of the leaders of the church in Kenya have become as perfidious and avaricious as the political classes who have become a pest. A great number of Muslim clerics have become the praise-singers for the illiberal purveyors of revanchist and unreconstructed tenets of faith. Twenty five years between the two Saba Saba dates and the only difference is that political pluralism is a fact of life.

Life was hard in 1990. For the vast majority of Kenyans, life remains hard in 2015. Poverty stalks a majority of Kenyans. Shockingly, the Ministry of Health announces that it has spent 500 billion shillings fighting an outbreak of cholera but Kenyans keep dying. Mwai Kibaki expanded access to primary education to millions of children, but the quality of education remains a hit-or-miss affair depending on where you are born. We were united, after a fashion, in 1990 when we demanded political change. We were united, in 2002, when we rejected Baba Moi's project. Today we are united, after a fashion, in shock at the depths to which all our leaders - political, faith-based, business, whatever - will sink in order to make a fast shilling at our expense.

Saba Saba is important if only to remind us that the men and women who led the anti-Nyayo protests and suffered the teargas and police rungus of Baba Moi's henchmen have feet of clay and that bar the likes of David Gitari and Timothy Njoya, all of them betrayed us. That betrayal should anger us. The revival of Nyayoism should enrage us. The insidious hollowing out of our Bill of Rights should drive us to action. That we cannot because of the remarkable resilience of the Nyayoist philosophy of tribal vote-bank politics is an indication that Kenya needs a new breed of anti-Nyayo protesters. Kanu, the party, may be a cocktail-circuit punchline. Kanu, the idea, lives. 

The twin evils of 1990 ensure that all the economic blue prints we have published since then have been mockeries because there was never any real intention to implement them. If you doubt this assessment, if you think I am too harsh, if you think that I am just being anti-Kenya, ask yourself why the 500 billion shillings we have spent to fight the cholera outbreak has not been enough and why are Kenyans dying of cholera in the Twenty-first Century. Saba Saba, the idea, remains as relevant today as it was twenty five years ago.

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...