Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Trouble comes knocking


Yeah, Her! Phone calls. Texts. WhatsApp. Twitter DMs. It all feels like a dream, somewhat. I don't choose my words. I say what I feel, I say what I mean. I hope She does too.

There is a simplicity to it all that is so complex. It means something, I feel. It feels...true. That discombobulates, a bit.

It's 9 O'clock. The power is out, so I don't know if this device will hold out a bit longer. But all that is meaningless because all that occupies the mind is the sense of Her. The fact that after all this time there is much to reveal, much to discover fills me with anticipation. Is this what the Prof and the Doc went through? I don't know. They say very little about that.

Panic. That's the word. Panic. One minute I'm staring at a hundred lines of a draft that I have worked on for months, years. The next minute her face, uncharacteristically hiding behind Ray Ban frames (yes, I noticed) was there and I...panicked. Was something wrong? Why was She there?

Purple. I remember purple. But I don't remember what happened next. Did I tell Her that she looked completely bewitching? I don't know. I know that for three and a half minutes, my heart skipped so many beats that my phone's heart-rate monitor thought that it was a coronary incident. Believe you me, my friends, when I tell you that it was the best two hundred and ten seconds of my life. Bar none. (Maybe not Jamhuri Day, but pretty close.)

Now I am in trouble. Mary, Lilly, Olivia and Maureen have all these fancy ideas about what it all means. Spoilsports! I need time to work out through the fact that I panicked. And then promptly wished for a snifter of the Double Black.

Thank God there are only nineteen of you who read this blog and that all of you are remarkably stoic. If you were the chatty commenting type that would be mortifying. I wonder what you make of my musings? Are there some of you who think, "What an idiot?" Probably. I doubt very much you read these musings and rethink your deeply held convictions. Anyway, I'm in trouble now.

There is a chance that I am now in a headspace where everything tends towards the panicky when it comes to Her. What did you do when your life got upended the way mine has? Did you confide in your BFFs? Did the "gang" weigh in on the pros and cons? I don't know. What I do know is that for once I am putting on the kilos simply because I have no reason to think of the what ifs and the what might bes. That is a good thing, right?

So, there she was, looking all svelte and shit and I was thinking, this room is all women. That can't work. So, after the "What are you doing here" panic, I spirited Her away from the door, hurriedly made perfunctory chit chat, got Her in the lift and then went completely nuts for three or four minutes, cooking up sentences in my mind about who She is, what She means to me and why Olivia, Maureen, Lilly and Mary need not concern themselves with Her and why She smiled so prettily at me. I am so in trouble.

Gods and Kings

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. ~ St Paul's First Epistle to the Church in Corinth, 13:11
What did you make of the spectre of grown-assed men and women in the school uniforms of children, ostensibly making the point that the education of children and the protection of the employment rights of teachers were their stock in trade on that particular Wednesday? It would have been believable if the run-up to that display of juvenility had not been marred by the disturbing image of a grown-assed man with a massive red lollipop in his mouth declaiming with gusto something about his mummy, or the smug refusal by a grown-assed woman to accept that the institution of which she is a member is the principal reason why everyone wants a fat cheque from the government every month, teachers included.

It is stated, over and over, by Kenya's political leadership that their leadership is ordained by God Himself. The people who hearken to the blasphemous words of the politicians should remember Samauel's admonition ot the Israelites when they demanded a king for themselves, like other nations.
10 And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king. 11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. 13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. 14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. 15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. 16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. 18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day. ~ 1 Samuel 8
It is for this reason that when our leaders debase themselves in the agora, offer expiation to false gods, lie with impunity, engage in the most licentious behaviour, and do all this without an ounce of shame, that we must ask ourselves whether we have committed an unspeakable sin against the universe for it to shaft us so royally.

The dispute between teachers and their government offered the opportunity for the self-proclaimed God's Anointed Ones to sit down and reason as adults, not engage in the brinkmanship that children engage in when they are discovering themselves. All the parties involved behaved atrociously, some more than others. Neither will bend because neither thinks of the children or the future; all are thinking only of their embarassment. None of them, as St Paul asks, has put away childish things, including their hubris. We will suffer more because of these "kings" and not even all the gods we pray to will intervene.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Iconic KICC? Nahh!

Have you ever visited the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, KICC, or whatever it is that they call it these days. It is rather spiffy for a forty year old building. I am constantly surprised that its lifts still work. I am even more surprised that it hasn't caught on fire yet, even after the no-smoking-in-public-rule became law. It is an iconic building; certainly it has more character than Times Tower, or that hideous edifice the Kenya Commercial Bank Group is erecting in Upper Hill.

The KICC, however, is one of the most hostile public venues to visit in Nairobi these days, and not just because it is cheek-to-jowl with the foreign affairs ministry, Commission House (the home of the Public Service Commission) or a stone's thrown from Harambee House, the President's office when he is slumming it, and the Attorney-General's Chambers, or one fence away from Jogoo House, A and B, or the Supreme Court of Kenya. It is in one of the most sensitive zones: along City Hall Way, it faces City Hall, and across Harambee Avenue, it faces Vigilance House and the National Treasury Building. But all that doesn't make it a hostile building.

If you have been to the District of Columbia, and have had a chance to visit Capitol Hill, you will have experience their version of public safety and building security. Fences, so far as you can tell, serve to protect the people usually when construction is taking place on site. Otherwise, iconic buildings have discreet but effective security processes that allow the people to see, and sometimes touch, iconic building while keeping those who work in them safe from the likes of al Qaeda.

The KICC is iconic, but it is treated like a fragile piece of bone china that the Great Unwashed will shatter thoughtlessly. They must be corralled and controlled because they are, quite likely, a menace. It starts from even before you get to the building itself. Harambee Avenue, for the uninitiated, has become a "security" zone so there are these stupid rope "barriers' strung along the pavements to keep people as far away from fences as possible. Pavements, consequently, are permanently crowded because walking space has been reduced by half.

When you get to either the Harambee Avenue or City Hall Way gates, the same ritual applies. Line up in single file before the metal detectors. Empty your pockets of all, and I mean all, metallic objects. Walk through. Hear the beep. Raise your arms for the perfunctory wanding. Collect all your belongings off of the tray. Then respond to, "Unaenda wapi" by telling them to shove it! Then make your way to the security desk at the main door. This time leave your ID behind, get a visitors pass the proceed to the second metal detector-and-wand ritual and a n x-ray machine for your bomb-laden laptop or whatever. Then go in.

Now, if you are on crutches, pleas stay on the red carpet, even if the waziri is on his way. Stay on the carpet or you will be sorry. If you are blind, please bring your guide with you, or you will never get around. Ever. There are no braille signs and there are very few helpful staff, if any, around. Forget about the lifts if you are blind; you will never figure out how they operate an you will never now whether the right one has arrived for you. And if you are in a wheelchair and you somehow manage to get to your floor, you are still screwed because all floors are split level; you must either go up half a flight or down half a flight to get to the right office. Hopefully you have one of those snazzy wheelchairs that can climb stairs.

If there's ever a fire in that place, I hope the senators still keeping offices there have parachutes because everyone in the tower will die. Disaster preparedness seems to have been handled by the Flintstones. These people seem to have gone out of their way to make it as difficult as possible to move about and access stairwells. Oh, they are all dying in that fire.

The KICC is iconic, but its wonders are to be enjoyed from as far as possible. If you are not a known quantity - politician, really - keep as far away from it as possible, especially if you are a Wanjiku looking to take a few snaps of you and the building. You are just inviting the hostile attentions of the GSU, AP and private security liberally sprinkled all over the damn place.

Dear KQ...

Dear KQ,

Some of us have been raised to expect nothing but the best. Some of us demand it of ourselves. We are unlikely to shower Kenya Airways Ltd with plaudits for the manner it treats us, the travelling public. If I hadn't set foot inside one of the confined, cramped spaces of a JamboJet, Kenya Airways,  would be the worst airline in the world.

Let us review. 

We have no problem with the manner in which the arses of the providers of cattle class subsidies are licked by the factotums of your airline; that's the benefit of forking over the budgets of mid-size ministries for the privilege of lounging in the business or first class lounges at Terminal 1A. But how can KQ simply refuse to sort us out with some of the most essential facilities for fraught scaredy cats awaiting the klaxon summons to board? We need charging ports and free WiFi, dammit!

Your food is nothing to write home about, chef KQ. It feels as if you went to Kya Maiko, bought a tonne of mutura, stuck it in a blender for an hour, stored it for a decade and then unfroze it for the express purpose of giving us diarrhoea. That food, if that is what it is, feels like punishment for not winning a National Youth Service tender. Have mercy on us.


Being Kenyan, you are unlikely to improve. Small, incremental improvements will give you the corporate equivalent of hives and hyperventilation. You are like the Safaricom of the airline industry; dominant with a declining customer experience. Nobody likes you and others just partner with you because there's no one else around. If they had a choice, if it wasn't for the slight Schadenfreude of it all, they would stand around your funeral pyre throwing in more logs just to make sure you stayed dead. I bet someone would thrown in a whole can of lighter fluid too.

But being a Kenyan doesn't mean you have to continue being mediocre. These are not the days when the Jogoo crowed from sunup to sundown. The country has moved on; some bits have moved on to better things, many bits have moved on to ever greater mediocrity. You don't want to be mentioned in the same breath as the Kenya Police or, horror of horrors, Nairobi City County. That would just be the death knell for you. You can do one or two things that show us, the little people, that some things can change.

Keep treating the Business Class and First Class plutocrats with the deference their fat wallets demand, but if you keep treating the Cattle Class denizens as if they are bringing the Ebola virus onto your aircraft, we shall have a problem. And for God's sake, when I'm flying to Kigali, and you make that stupid, penny-inching scheduled stop in Bujumbura, could that lot that cleans the plane please, please take showers. It's bad enough that you make us sit out there on the tarmac for an hour, but smelly, armpit-y cleaners are an affront too far.

But the worst thing is the way you talk to us. You are not like North Korea so stop behaving like North Korea! We are not going to rebel and join Fly540 or JamboJet; they suck. You shouldn't go into a panic every time things go tits up. The going tits up bit is very, very Kenyan. But the Silent-like-the-Sphinx bit is getting old. Come out with the information early and repeat it frequently until everyone knows what's what. Whoever told you that all we are waiting for is to sue you for giving us information is an idiot and you should fire them immediately.

Finally, whoever came up with that hideous polyester blend that you shoehorn your flight attendants into is an idiot. Fire them too. They are the face of the airline. We deal with them more than with the robots that man your desks at T-1A. Get them beautiful cottons for the warm months, wool for the cooler ones. Treat them decently; not all will stay for sure, but they will make our flying experience less hostile. That's all we ask.

If you are still listening to the idiots who brought Project Mawingu and the harebrained desire to buy planes before finding out whether the routes could pay for them, you should ignore this screed. But if you ignore me, well, I won't do anything, but you'll remain a shitty airline and that can't be a pretty place to be.

Usiendelee vivyo hivyo.

The clergy and the presidency.

When Peter Okondo warned Alexander Muge from travelling to Kitale, Kenya turned a corner. Bishop Muge died in a grisly road traffic accident on his way to Kitale in 1990. Mr Okondo never lived down that death, even if it is likely that he had nothing to do with Bishop Muge's death. In 1997, Timothy Njoya was on the receiving end of a police rungu, to stop him from voicing his very strong opinions about Baba Moi's regime. Both Bishop Muge and Reverend Njoya were plain and outspoken, refusing to defer respectfully to Baba Moi or his regime. We are still turning that corner.

Patrick Gathara has caricatured Uhuru Kenyatta and his government for the Nation Media Group for the past few months. His cartoons have drawn ire from some online quarters because they are, in his avowed critics' eyes, grossly disrespectful of the president and the presidency. None other than the Public Editor of the Nation has joined battle against Mr Gathara, calling some of his cartoons an unwarranted attack of the president. Mr Gathara is one of a handful of critics who have occupied the space that used to be the preserve of Bishop Muge, Rev Njoya and their colleagues such as Henry Okullu and David Gitari.

Where the critics of the Moi regime tended to be under a big tent that took in the likes of the Seven Bearded Sisters, senior clergymen, the Law Society and pro-democracy pressure groups such as the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy, FORD, clergymen are distinct by their absence from the critics of the government of today. Instead, quisling-like, they are avowed members of the Respect-the-Government bandwagon, and many of them have gone out of their way to lay hands in prayer on some of the seniormost government leaders, such as the President and Deputy President.

Let no one conflate justified criticism of Mr Kenyatta's government with the puerile lunacy of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy, CORD, especially that of the likes of Johnstone Muthama. What Mr Muthama said on Wednesday at Uhuru Park is a cruel caricature of political opposition was in the 1990s. If Mr Muthama was a US citizen, he would find himself in good company with the doyens of US talk radio, such as Howard Stern. As it is, I believe Mr Muthama would actually make an excellent guest on Kenya's morning FM radio station shows where puerile salaciousness rule the airwaves.

But the cravenness of the clergymen in the face of the political and social upheavals that have made Kenya more divided than at any time in the past. The so-called mainstream churches that were led fearlessly by the likes of Bishop Muge, Davide Gitari, Rev Njoya and Henry Okullu, have chosen to keep their silence in the face of their ill-judged pro-government partisanship in 2007. The space they have vacated has been occupied by the leaders of the charismatic churches that have done so much to expose all that is wrong with organised religion in Kenya today. These are frequently the least intellectually engaged men and women of the cloth in charge of people's spiritual lives. They will do anything to be legitimised in the eyes of the people, and this legitimacy, to their minds, is to be found in the close proximity to the government of the day that they have placed themselves.

The outcome has been the ridiculous calls by "bishops" for the inept political opposition to "respect the presidency" or words to that effect. What they mean is that the likes of Mr Muthama should stop being mean to the president and "his people." This one of the stupidest calls to make in the twenty-first century, the Digital Age, the Information Age. Social media alone is a tiger that we can only ride out our peril; controlling social media is the equivalent of commanding the lunar phases or solar flares to do ones bidding. The "presidency" should be prepared for more mean things from Mr Muthama and the rest of the anti-serikali, anti-Uhuru world. It will not abate. It will get worse.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Law Monopoly

The Law Society of Kenya is the only Bar association for advocates in Kenya. That monopoly has proven to be a bad thing, of late. The Kenya School of Law has a monopoly, though not a statutory monopoly, on the training of lawyers to qualify as advocates. These two institutions have contributed to the sorry state of affairs witnessed at the Annual General Meeting of the Society on Saturday. It is time these monopolies were busted, like the breakup of Standard Oil, US Steel and AT&T or, nearer home, Kenya Posts & Telecommunications Corporation without the incredible rent-seeking that went with that privatisation.

University of Nairobi, Moi University, Kenyatta University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Catholic University of East Africa, Strathmor University and Riara University are just some of the universities that offer a Bachelor of Laws degree. Law graduates from all these universities, and those who graduated from foreign universities such as University of Dar es Salaam, Kampala International University, Delhi University and Cambridge University, among many others, must all undertake the Advocates' Training Programme offered by the Kenya School of Law, and if thy are successful, they must become members of the Law Society of they are to practice as advocates in Kenya. Both institutions have become bywords for vested interests, incompetence, elitism and greed.

There are hundreds of lawyers who refuse to take up the offer to undergo the Advocates' Training Programme. They have seen their seniors on TV spitting words each other in indecorous fashion. They have witnessed their seniors debase themselves for filthy lucre. They have visited the School and almost wept at the swingeing fees levied by the School for no discernible reason other than to reduce the numbers of applicants. The reputation of the profession and of the institutions connected to it, including the Judiciary and the State Law Office, have hit a nadir; the people's confidence in the profession is at an all-time low.

It is time for radical changes. One of them must surely include a consideration of the monopolistic behaviour of the Society and the School. While it makes sense to have a professional body to enforce discipline and uphold standards of the profession, there is no reason - absolutely none - why we should have just the one Society. Why can't we have a Mombasa Law Society, a Nairobi Law Society, a Kisumu Law Society and forty seven other law societies? For the same reason, why can't we have a Law School for every university that offers the Bachelor of  Laws degree?

These monopolies can no longer effectively manage their affairs. The number of advocates unhappy with the management of the Society s growing ever larger; there is dissatisfaction with the power that old, established law firms have on the welfare of all the other members of the Society. This power is being misused to "ram through" an unpalatable desire to build a billion-shilling arbitration centre, which younger advocates feel is an unwarranted grasp at their meagre professional fees.

The School is also facing stiff resistance with some of its policies. It was behind the amendment to the Legal Education Act that requires it to administer a pre-Bar examination to all applicants. This was done without taking into account the feelings or needs of the thousands of Kenyans who will graduate from university this year with law degrees. It is seen as another attempt by the well-heeled to keep out of the "noble" profession the uncivilised and uncivil. But even assuming that the near four thousand graduates passed the examination, the School does not have the capacity or facilities to train them all.

Lawyers and advocates need options. It is no longer tenable that rapidly expanding profession is shackled to hide-bound, out-of-step institutions like the Society and the School. The time for change is now and the monopolies need to be the first casualties.

Small ambitions

Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, the President of the People's Republic of China, and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, has persuaded the Boeing Company to build an aircraft assembly factory in China in exchange for the People's Republic buying 300 planes. Many will concentrate on the part of the story that demonstrates China's global political and economic power that has compelled a true blue US company to send jobs to China, but the more nuanced story of China capable of manufacturing planes will not receive much attention. Kenya should pay attention to that story, however.

Both the President of Kenya and Mr Xi are attending the same United Nations' General Assembly in New York City, yet the way both are treated is instructive.
Among the top 10 PCT (Patent and Co-operation Treaty) filing countries, China (+15.6%), the US (+10.8%) and Sweden (+10.4%) saw double-digit growth in 2013. The US saw its fastest growth rate since 2001. China’s growth rate is similar to the one it registered in 2012. Germany (-4.5%) and the UK (-0.6%) are the only two countries among the top ten with fewer PCT applications in 2013 than in 2012. Following strong growth in 2011 and 2012, Japan saw only modest growth of 0.6% in 2013. ~ US and China Drive International Patent Filing Growth in Record-Setting Year (Source: WIPO, 2014)
There is a reason why Mr Xi visited San Fransisco's Bay Area, the heart of the technology industry, where the innovators and the financiers cohere, and the Everett, Washington, the home of Boeing, and why Mr Kenyatta did not. In 2013, Kenya filed 181 patents under the PCT. There is no earthly reason why Boeing would want - or need - to set up a plane assembly factory in Kenya, or Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital or Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers would first consider investing in startups in Kenya before exhausting opportunities in Shanghai, Bangalore or Mexico City - our tech depth is simply not deep enough. That is why the President is meeting with fellow politicians and political pressure groups while in New York and not Dennis Muilenburg, and if you don't know who that is, I shall rest my case. However...

Mr Kenyatta should take heed that while Mr Kibaki may have laid the foundation for a boom in infrastructure development, there isn't a country that powered ahead on shiny highways and fibre optic cables if i did not have a literate, numerate and innovative population. The United Kingdom has the Oxbridge pair and the London School of Economics; Mr Kibaki is quite familiar with the latter. The United States has the Ivy League and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The latter is a global leader in scientific knowledge and innovation. India has the Indian Institutes of Technology which are the equal of the MIT.

Tianhe-2 or TH-2 is a 33.86-petaflop supercomputer located in National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou. It was developed by a team of 1,300 scientists and engineers. Is there a team of 1,300 scientists and engineers in Kenya that could build the TH-2? The answer to that question should be seen in the light of the teachers' strike that starts its fifth week today.

It was not and it should not have been Mr Kenyatta's policy to double down on Mr Kibaki's highways; those ones, with the right mix of oversight and supervision, should have proceeded without too much trouble. Mr Kenyatta should have focussed overwhelming attention and resources to guaranteeing that Mr Kibaki's free basic education improved on quality. This nonsense with the hit-or-miss success with laptops for schoolchildren should have been shelved. Instead, the manner in which children are taught, what they are taught and how they are evaluated should have occupied centre stage. If one day Kenya is to be a destination for Boeing, Airbus or Brazil's Embraer, the airplane makers must be confident that Kenya can buy its planes, but more importunately, Kenya can build its planes to the same standard as they are built in their home countries.

Kenya is not a world power. It is not an African power. Kenya will be a client state of world powers for as long as it sees itself through the small ambitions of its presidents - roads, harbours, bridges and laptops. It is those of small ambitions who live in the bubble where political pronouncements have weight, and not wealth in the hands of the man on the street. So instead of meeting with deans of faculties of science while in New York, they meet with the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda or the President of Guyana - and call attention to the latter. Small ambitions will be the slow death of us.

What is our canon?

We are becoming more American - meaning, we are more and more like the demented citizens of the United States - and it is none other than Johnstone Muthama who proves this for all the world to see. Mr Muthama, Machakos's senator, made his money in gemstones, running profitable gemstone operations in Kenya and Tanzania. He is nobody's fool. Yet when he opens his mouth, there are many who cringe, look away and pretend that they are in some nightmare.

He has aligned himself to losing presidential campaigns for the past decade, claiming that his has always been a principled stand for the sake of progress on the bread-and-butter issues that are of intimate concern to the Great Unwashed. However, to some, it seems that Mr Muthama is slowly losing his marbles. What he said on the dais at the Uhuru Park about the President of Kenya and the Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning will go down in history as one of the crassest, ill-conceived things ever uttered by one who should be an honourable and respected member of society.

In a pluralistic democratic polity, unanimity is a rare luxury; disenchantment, disaffection and disagreement are frequent bedfellows in political environments where every voice must be heard. This does not mean that the crudest epithets that receive the ululation of the masses equally receive the masses' endorsement. Mr Muthama has overestimated his esteem among the hoi polloi. He will no doubt be deaf to the silent groans of the long suffering; teachers and their charges will not celebrate Mr Muthama's crude innuendo. They will deprecate it, in their own fashion.

The President and the Cabint Secretary may not be your idea of devoted public servants, but it is foolish to take, especially of a symbol such as the president, such liberties as Mr Muthama did. We are not the citizens of the USA, where political, racial and class divides are so deep they can never be bridged. We are Kenya and despite the burden of our tortured and tortuous political past, we have never seen ourselves in the same divisive light, save in the past decade.

Some will point to the land clashes of 1992, the ethnic clashes of 1997 and the post-election violence of 2007 as proof that my rose-hued eye-wear needs adjustment. Bear with me. We sill lived with the idea of Kenya as ours, with the people on one side and the wabenzi on the other. We all knew who the wabenzi were and what they did to become the plutocrat they were; none of it was good. Many descriptions were used to describe them: cowboy contractors; suppliers of air; briefcase companies. These were the elite cliques that fed off the presidential trough, that had been feeding off the presidential trough since 1963, and had no shame about their corrupt, corruptive and corrupting natures.

These were not our people. For that we had Henry Okullu, Alexander Muge, Timothy Njoya, David Gitari, Davida Lamba, Wangari Maathai, Whispers, Maddo, Gitobu Imanyara, Willy Mutunga...Our people were intelligent; they had no need to dip long fingers into the public purse, surreptitiously taking what belonged to us, the long suffering great unwashed. Mr Muthama was never, could never be one of us. The crude language he has adopted since realising that his side will always come a cropper is proof that he was never one of us and still isn't.

It is a canon of mature political systems that the political battle is won or lost depending on whether the belligerents are intelligent and, crucially, have the people on their side. It is never a crude contest between fat wallets. If all Mr Kenyatta needed was a fat wallet to be president, he would have won handily in 2002.  Mr Muthama misses this crucial point. If he cannot see that no matter how mistaken he thinks they were, over six million Kenyans voted for Mr Kenyatta in 2013. They chose him. They did not choose Mr Muthama's champion. And with his crude remarks last week, Mr Muthama has all but guaranteed that they never will.

Not a favourite.

Where do you people get these "vibes" you keep harping on about from? I don't get "vibes." I didn't, anyway, till the last week when I finally understood. Except I must have done it all wrong. I got a pretty negative vibe. It was not fun; even the Mutzin (330 cl of 5.5% vol./vol. alcoholic goodness) couldn't make me squeeze out an ounce of positivity.

I was impressed though. Orderliness like you've only experienced in Frankfurt. Cleanliness like you have only experienced at Garden City. Mild weather - warm enough at night to go about without a sweater, cool enough to need a blanket when you finally run the back of your hand across your lips because the Mutzin is no longer Mutzin-ish.

And yet...that vibe is just not right. The Serena, and some of us swear by the Serena brand, is nice. Well-built. Located on a quiet street. Gorgeous views off its balconies - the hills in the morning are always bathed in this half-light that reminds you of a Micheal Mann film. But that vibe just won't abate.

Maybe it's because I suck at acclimatizing - it takes at least a year for the experience to stop being sheer tedium. Mostly it takes a whole year for the grocery shop I eventually persuade to consider me a customer to know, without asking, that when I turn up all I want is a pint of milk, a loaf of bread, six eggs and a pack of Dunhills. A year when I don't have to say, "Yes, I come from Kenya and I think your city is very beautiful." A year when I can tell the difference in value between this Big Fat Copper Coin and that Big Fat Copper Coin. It is a year of sheer tedium.

I didn't have a year. I had five days. The non-vibe vibe lingered for those five days. Maybe it was the food; how can a whole city not have Kenchick style chips-na-quarter when it has that number of Kenyans running bars? The Chinese-style chicken noodle whatever is bland. The Indian curry has no curry and is bland. I will not even get started on their "continental" breakfast. Bland! Bland! Bland!

Maybe it was the language,. But when I think about that, I managed to enjoy every minute of my stay in the Sub-continent without ever stringing together a coherent sentence in Marathi, Bengali or Kannada. It was very enjoyable experience among what are an incredibly filthy lot.

Maybe it was the order and cleanliness, then.

Now that I am thinking about it, the only impressive thing - other than those seriously clean helmets their boda boda operators give you when you ride with them - was the state of their public sanitation. It is out of this world. It rained on Thursday. A proper East African storm. Drains did not block. Ever. And the water being washed down those drain was clear - you could actually see the bottom of the drain itself! That was impressive because my hotel was five minutes away from the conference centre and I have absolutely no faith in boda boda operators, no matter how clean their helmets are.

That non-vibe vibe still lingers. I can't put my finger on it. I'll go back one day. It is inevitable I shall go back. But I don't think I will be calling it one of my favourite destinations.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A take on test-tube politicians

Ahmednasir Abdullahi, the acerbic proprietor of the Nairobi Law Monthly needs to revisit his thesis on test tube politicians. A substantial cohort of politicians have become more trouble than they are worth. At a million-shillings-plus to keep them ensconced in the unhallowed precincts of the Eleventh Parliament, I feel strongly that the Grand Mullah will agree with me that they are not worth the national treasure appropriated and expended for their every creature comfort.

It has been almost a month and a stalemate between Kenya's public school teachers and their government has not been resolved. Instead, hard stances have been adopted on all side, with the national executive being ineptly supported by test tube politicians, ignorant of the facts, but very vocal about where their bread is buttered. The Minority Party has not covered itself in glory either; it's test tube politicians have distinguished themselves with their obvious weaknesses and paucity of ideas. The victims of the standoff are the fourteen million children out of school or threatened with being out of school, if the High Court permits the Cabinet Secretary for Education to shut down all private schools.

Back in the day, when we had loyal parrots of the President, Kenyans were equal parts horrified and amused by the verbal contortions these men would put themselves to to prove their loyalty to the President and to the Party. Some words were known to be the preserve of the presidential political choirmasters: "tingisa kitole!" and "wapende wasipende" are only the most obvious. Bootlicking has evolved since those pre-digital days.The preferred platforms in the twenty-first century include social media, "prayer rallies" and TV studios with friendly or tame - pretty much the same - interviewers.

There are two senators, one from the Mt Kenya region and the other from the Rift Valley, who have distinguished themselves in a crowded field. Their loyalties are beyond reproach. They have deployed what I shall assume were first-rate academic qualifications in the service of their political masters. They will brook no contradiction of their preferred coattails. They will take any opportunity to rewrite history - lie, we still call it in these parts - and ensure that if there is political mud to be slung, they will be the first to sling it. They are brilliant heirs to the legacies of  "tingisa kitole!" and "wapende wasipende".

Now that the President is away on the official business of the Republic, these men, and their supporting casts, have taken to the airwaves to keep their troops in line and make sure that the Minority Party is politically wrongfooted at every turn. A senator who attempted to disentangle - he used the word "unbundle," I believe - the intricate details of the public wage bill was swiftly rebuked by being branded a mole for the other side. It does not pay to have an independent, critical and self-critical mind in these politically turbulent and uncertain times. The party, that is, the party leader, has pointed to a destination. It is not for you to decide whether that destination is a safe harbour or a den of hungry lions; yours is to march forward without thought.

We face serious problems and we need serious people to solve them. If you have identified serious politicians among the members of the National Assembly, the Senate, the county assemblies, or the parties' machineries, please let us know. If you have encountered a serious thinker on public affairs who does not have an axe too grind, whose proposals have the whiff of intellect about them, let us meet them. I fear that you will search and come up empty. We have serious problems, but I fear that the fifteen minutes of the test-tubers is set to last till the end of time. These problems are not being solved any time soon.


Like they'd ask in the United States, "You and what army?!"

What exactly, do "they" mean by "the President should account for all his overseas visits?" It's not as if the President snuck out of the country like a truant fleeing the oppressive confines of StephJoy for the relative freedom of Kikuyu Town and its muratina dens. There is a ceremony to his departure: bemedalled, portly gentlemen of the securocracy, attended to by flunkies of unknown utility, looked upon by I-can't-believe-I'm-in-charge deputies or ministers, line up before the red carpet while he boards. He whispers into the ears of the seniormost securocrat - no doubt telling him on who to keep an eye and to report back immediately should the securocrat observe anything politically untoward.

The only departure from tradition is that he does not bound up the stairs and into the plane, the way Baba Moi used to. For a geriatric, that old fart was sprightly. Anyway, my President takes the stairs with haste but not too much haste. I always get the sense that he is hurrying to get as far away from the lot at the bottom of the stairs; they have managed to screw up his political and economic agenda that there is almost no hope that it will ever be revived.

Second, the list of his delegations is never secret; it might be controlled, but a little diligent digging and the men and women who coat-tail it to wherever the C-in-C is flying off to is never hard to find. Third, if it is the amount of money that the journey costs, again, a little diligent back-of-the-envelope calculations will give one a near-accurate guesstimate of the cost. To be honest, that day when State House fully complies with the rather naive requirements of Article 35 on access to information will be a Red Banner day; it will not happen. State House, like its mandarins will repeatedly remind you, is a very sensitive area, and they don't mean that its gonads are permanently tender to the slightest of touches.

I can sympathise with the transparency-and-accountability crowd; this happens to be a very secretive State House, but it is no more secretive than previous ones. Information is tightly controlled; when there is a leak, you can almost be sure that the leak is deliberate, a way of gauging the mood of the people before an unpopular decision is taken. In this State House, information control has Orwellian overtones because those are the only overtones State House mandarins know.

These demands for transparency or accountability are all well and good, but they are futile if they cannot be obtained by force. Making the futile demand simply exposes the weakness of the ones demanding access to that information, and reminds the people that despite constitutional progress, Kenya remains a highly, tightly policed country.

This phenomenon extends beyond State House; if you've driven past Harambee House or Parliament in recent months you will notice that a lane has been blocked on Harambee Avenue and Parliament Road. There is no explanation for this. There is no recourse to this unwarranted intrusion on the public commons. The only thing the securocrats will say is that Harambee House or Parliament is a very sensitive place.

Like some wag once asked, "Mta-do?!"

Woo-hoo! and then...

Seems like a simple enough question, but how do you know that I haven't lived? How do you know that I regret my life choices? How do you know that my moodiness is not what gives me the greatest satisfaction? Why do you believe that your life, your life experiences, your life choices, your joie de vivre, is the only measure of a man's life?

There is, I believe, only one thing that matters when one looks back on their life: in the balance, were they happy or were they unhappy? There is nothing that says that happiness and great adventure are synonyms. There are many whom we would consider the dullest of the dull who are truly happy, satisfied with their lots in life, content to live out their lives in routine, with the occasional detour into uncharted territory.

There are those whose version of a life well lived is balls-to-the-walls madness, chaos and upheaval. They are the ones who are likely to arrive at the Pearly Gates, if it exists, shouting "Woo-hoo!", a drink in one hand a fat cigar in the other. But tell me, honestly, do you really see yourself as the woo-hoo! type? Few of us are and fewer still take kindly to the exhortations to inject a dose of madness in our lives.

I say this knowing full well that few of us live an even-keeled life; over the course of a lifetime, choices are made and these choices have impacts greater than we could anticipate. It is selfish for someone to look at someone else's life, when that other person is at a particular point in life, and conclude that their life is empty, devoid of life, colour or excitement. The Christian bible says in the First Epistle of St Paul to the Church in Corinth, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." Different stages in life demand different temperaments and different choices.

When that day comes.

One wall of the Parliament of Rwanda, all the way to the top, is still pockmarked with bullet holes. Some of the holes look like mortar rounds. It set me thinking: the 100 days of the Rwanda genocide were a nation destroying itself. That Rwanda recovered and rebuilt is testimony to twenty years of patience and commitment to peace at all costs. 

Kenya didn't come even close to the Rwanda situation. And yet we behave as if the post-general election violence of 2007 was Kenya seeking to destroy itself. Almost a million people died in Rwanda in 1994. In Kenya, the number barely broke through 1,500. I am not downplaying the impact that the dead of 2007/2008 had on Kenya's psyche; but can you imagine the psychological trauma of losing a million fellow citizens?

Rwanda coalesced around a a strong national desire to atone for the dead. It took a civil war to get them there, but no one doubts that Rwanda wants to succeed at all costs, to remain united, to remain at peace. You don't even get the sense of desperation or anxiety now that there are moves to do constitutionally do away with term limits so that Paul Kagame can serve another term. He is not exactly revered in Rwanda - not the way some autocratically-minded politicians in Kenya revere him - but he is respected, in large measure because he doesn't live like a Roman potentate, surrounded by flunkies, arse-lickers or tenderpreneurs.

Kenya emerged from the post-2007 situation with even more baggage. Inequities between the haves and have-nots have gotten worse. The disparities between our constitutional ambitions and our political realities are glaring. One of the strangest things about post-2007 is the manner in which we have attempted to rewrite the history of the events themselves. Moses Kuria and the leading vocalists of the Jubilee choir are only the latest manifestations of this phenomenon.

Two Commissions of Inquiry enquired into the events; their reports are public documents for those that would wish to refresh their memories. The manner in which Mwai Kibaki's administration dealt with the investigations into the allegations raised by the commissions is linked directly to who was and who wasn't indicted at the International Criminal Court.

The violence was unique for the fact that many of the people shot dead were shot dead by the security forces, unlike in Rwanda, where the Parliament bears the proof of that dark time. Kenyans preferred a more personal way to despatch the near-1,500 to their makers: fire, mob violence, bows and arrows, simis and rungus. What many of the perpetrators of the violence really wanted was land: and they got it all. The displaced have never returned to their lands, whether they were rich or not. They were all "resettled". It is for this reason that Kenya cannot turn up its nose at Rwanda; we have not solved the reason why we fought in 2007. We have simply postponed the day of reckoning and new constitutions, devolution and all that jazz won't be worth a bucket of warm piss when that day comes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The downside of the rule of law.

One of the downsides of a rule of law system is that you cannot simply disobey an order of the court that you disagree with. The difficulties in enforcing the order of the court is not a good enough reason to disobey it. The Employment and Labour Court heard the Teachers' Service Commission, the Kenya National Union of Teachers, the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the National Treasury and made a determination that, at the end of the day, means that teachers in the public service would be awarded increments of between 50% and 60% of their salaries.

This is an order that will be very difficult to implement; for that reason the Teachers Service Commission has appealed to the Court of Appeal against the order of the employment court. The National Treasury and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission have warned that if the award is enforced, the public wage bill shall become unsustainable and that the national economy would be imperilled. No less than the President of the Republic has stated that the national government cannot and, therefore, will not pay the award. The teachers' unions have gone on strike, and for the past three weeks their members have not attended work.

The order is surely a watershed in the annals of the conflicts between the teachers and the national government. Previous arrangements between the two have not had the backing of Kenya's judiciary. This one does, and it is opposed by all official agencies of the national government, including the TSC, the National Treasury, the education ministry, the SRC and the President.

It is an unenforceable order, if the national government is to be believed. However, when it comes to ambitions of being a rule of law country, the national government has no choice but to implement the award of the court, bar a reversal by the Court of the Appeal which must be affirmed by the Supreme Court. That is what it means to be bound by the rule of law; whether one agrees with the determinations of the courts, one has no choice but to abide by them.

The stance taken by the TSC, the National Treasury, the education ministry, the SRC and the President endangers the fragile gains made in the inculcation of a culture of constitutionalism and a respect for the rule of law. If the national government and its agencies are unhappy with the outcome of their legal contest with the teachers' unions, it has a simple enough option: change the law. That can only happen in Parliament, which has abdicated its duty all along in this sorry saga.

When the Speaker of the National Assembly refuses to reconvene his legislative chamber to address the crisis, he plays into the hands of the teachers' unions. Kenya already has a precedent of dealing with knotty political problems using the blunt instrument of statutory amendment: when the Electoral Commission of Kenya bungled the 2007 general election, in the aftermath of the crisis that it engendered, Parliament amended the Constitution to disband the commission. Granted that there was a broad consensus that the Commission could not live, this is a precedent that can be applied to the extant case.

The reason, I suspect, why this road is not being explored is because the national government and Parliament have both pooh-poohed all efforts at austerity, appropriating for their seniormost functionaries salaries and allowances that are quite abhorrent in the face of the straitened national finances. These institutions do not have the moral authority to deny the genuine demands of teachers and they know it, and that is why the battle against the award is being prosecuted in court, the airwaves, newspaper editorial and commentary pages and in the blogosphere. The national government is trying to rally public sentiment to its side. I fear it will not succeed, especially now that it is piling on the pressure on the public by closing public schools and attempting to shut down private ones.

I hope the Court of Appeal reverses the order of the employment court and that the Supreme Courts supports that determination. However, that should not be the end of the matter. All belligerent parties must negotiate in good faith. If they do not, another version of this crisis will blow up at another inconvenient juncture in the future. Of that there is no doubt.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Slow, but not an idiot.

Do you believe that the man who declared, "Hii pesa si ya mama yako!" has the intellectual surefootedness to lob zingers such as, "his unique talent for wallowing in the most preposterous inanities," or "his pitiful American-English tweng' generously burdened with layers of his native Kamba tongue exposes his wannabe underbelly?" I think not. Unfair as it might seem, the author of the misogyny surrounding public monies is the intellectual equivalent of a .22 calibre in .45 calibre world and anyone who believes he authored the latter zingers needs only go over footage of parliamentary proceedings when that worthy is declaiming before his honourable colleagues.

Propaganda is a wonderful political tool, but it must be deployed with intelligence if not wit. There is no doubt that the "mama yako" fellow is nobody's fool; he has somehow managed to survive in the murky world of Kenyan politics without getting embroiled in long-protracted investigations about his sources of wealth. But after the "mama yako fiasco" there is little doubt left in the minds of many that the good man has the ability to deploy such pithy gems as "virulent magma" or that this deployment was his idea to begin with.

There must be fear, in some quarters of note, that he is becoming the laughingstock of the political arena, and that it is not a good idea for a man of his station to be lampooned on a regular basis by a Kenyan of no fixed abode with a chip the size of Mt Rushmore on his shoulder. These quarters must have said, "Enough is enough! Basta!" and summoned the thick-skinned politician ordered him to take action. Ghost-writing is an honourable thing; it spares us the embarassment of knowing what one knows and it spares them the embarassment of letting us know what they know. But ghosting has rules; the first and most important never make it obvious that it is a ghosted work. Retain just enough elements of who you are that we know you had a large hand in its making.

The author of "virulent magma" is quite the writer; he knows just how to needle the object of his poisoned quill with snark that it is quite a pleasure to read and reread the diatribe. When he calls his target a "balloon of vanity" you can see that it has a large measure of truth.  His tweng', too, is quite atrocious; how is it that the man has lived among the walami for nigh on twenty years and still retained that thick Kamba tongue? I am not positing that he should have polished away all his rough edges; but if he was going to do so, he should have done a damn better job of it.

The author of the "mama yako" jibe is not. It shows in his public statements. It shows in the language he deploys in support of his betters. It is demonstrated every single day he stands in the agora and make his case for one political act or the other. It is demonstrated every time he plays the hatchet man, when his tongue runs faster than his patience and "mama yako" outbursts pour forth. No one, save for the most generously sycophantic. thinks that he is finally coming into his own, and taking on the merchants of punditry and snark on their on level. Kenyans are slow, frequently; we are not idiots.

Where to, waziri?

What does it mean that the people in charge of making policy do not make policy? Those in charge of overseeing the implementation of policies, do not conduct any oversight; and those in charge of resolving disputes between those who make policies and those who implement policies, and between or among those who implement policies, or between the people and everyone else, do not do a good job of it.

The government must evolve, whether it is the executive, the legislatures or the judiciary. The  constitutional commissions, never mind what they believe their mandates to be, are not makers of policy, neither are they implementers of policy, except in a very limited way. They, and the independent offices, are the checks and balances that we know will not be found among the traditional arms of government.

The vexed subject of teachers' salaries is a thorny enough subject to warrant a clarification of the mandates of the arms of government and their agencies. The executive, through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and through the Teachers' Service Commission, is responsible for making policies for the education sector, and together with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, for the wage policy in the educations sector. The Ministry makes the policy on education, generally. The TSC hires and manages teachers, generally. The SRC recommends a wage policy for teachers (but not for the education sector), but the TSC implements it, with tweaks here and there. This is the complex system that the Constitution has established.

The former Constitution was simpler; the President was an imperial one and all decisions were his decisions, all policies were his policies. The TSC was a rubber stamp for his whims and desires. The judiciary was of no consequence. Teachers think that they pushed the president to the wall in 1997; they didn't. He had already made up his mind on an exit strategy; one of the elements of this strategy was to keep his successor's government busily putting out political and fiscal fires he would never have time to go after him for his twenty four years. It worked brilliantly. Mwai Kibaki couldn't solve the teachers' salaries dispute. Nor will Uhuru Kenyatta if he is not careful.

Kenya is famous for making good policies, so the legend goes. It is a legend because the last well-conceived policy made by the national executive is the one that gave birth to Vision 2030. Since then, successive ministries have published ever ridiculous draft policies that never see the light of day. If the Ministry of Education has a policy for the education sector in Kenya, it is not sharing. It is more than likely that it does not. If the TSC has a policy on the management of teachers, it is not sharing. It is likely that it does have a policy, most commissions tend to, but it is unsure about how the policy will be interpreted by "outsiders" so it is limiting access to it out of fear that the policy might, after all, be bad.

What is clear is that the implementation of policies has been slipshod for a decade and a half, now, and the Ministry of Education is only the most obvious of the inept. Successive ministers have presided over the deterioration in the sector, using their offices for political reasons and not much else. 

The Cabinet Secretary is treading a well-trodden path; he will not be the man to shine light on the system, prescribe solutions for its ailments, or successfully publish an education policy that makes sense. He is unable to answer a simple question: what is his mandate? He is unable to separate his mandate from that of the Commission and he fundamentally misunderstands the place of the SRC in all this. If drawing up a simple organogram defeats him, I do not see how he will be able to oversee the making and implementation of a policy that should seek to make improvements - significant improvements - in the education sector, including on what teacher deserve and what they can get.

The tongue has only one use, sir.

Pull your tongue out of my arsehole, Gary. Dogs do that. You're not a dog, are ya, Gary? ~ Bricktop, Snatch
Guy Ritchie has a way with dialogue in his films and in Snatch, he was in fine form. A tale about gangsters, diamond heists, and unlicensed boxing matches, it is the language and the way it is deployed in the service of the story that captures the imagination and makes for an enjoyable hour and a half. Bricktop is the homicidal gangster who has no time for anyone, including his sycophants, and Gary, he of the "pull yer tongue out of me arsehole, Gary", is fed to Bricktop's pigs.

I wonder what will happen to Jubilee's and CORD's sycophants. We have had great fun deriding their sycophancy. They have defied the laws of logic, good taste and sanity. They have deployed remarkable powers of rhetoric without considering that in Kenya, there are no permanent political enemies. One day, their utility will end and they may yet find themselves fed to the pigs.

The president, last night, laid down the law, as he saw it: there is no money; the economy cannot support it; therefore, the national government, through the Teachers' Service Commission, can't pay and won't pay teachers what they claim and what they have been awarded by the Employment and Labour Court. The teachers have been on strike since the start of the third term and they show no signs of yielding. The national government has ordered the closure of all schools, public and private, primary and secondary, for as long as the teachers stay away from work, for the safety of the children. Parents are not happy; the cost of tending to their children is high, or so they argue.

What makes this situation farcical are the sycophantic noises emanating from both sides of the debate. Pro-government voices, taking their cue long before the president made his views known, are adamant that there is no money, and that the teachers are being very, very unpatriotic. Anti-government voices, led by the doyen of oppositional agita, is equally adamant that if twenty five billion shillings can be found for the NYS and 250 billion stashed overseas, there is definitely money for the teachers, a paltry seventeen billion. The sycophants, though, don't care for the facts and figures unless they are in favour of the positions they have taken. What they really care about is to be seen to be vocally, stridently in favour of the position their leaderships have taken.

Talking heads in the morning talk shows have being reinforcing their leaderships' positions, cherry-picking where they can, facts and figures that have absolutely no relation to the situation at hand, that is, that a court made an award, that the award has not been paid, that teachers are on strike, that children are out of school, that everyone has taken a hard stance, and that the solution is no longer about the law or the budget, but about politics. Those with their tongues up their leaderships' arseholes should take a beat and consider this: Kenyans are not blind and no matter the benefits of sycophancy in the short run, eventually Kenyans will treat you with contempt if you mistake arse-licking for loyalty. One is mindless and blind; the other is reasoned and pragmatic. Knowing the difference is the difference between respect and scorn.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The kids still lose.

If you thought he deserved it, you would sympathise with Jacob Kaimenyi. Do you think he deserves sympathy? I don't. He has a remarkable tone-deafness that defies all logic. It has been three years and if he is still trying to find out whether his ministry will be effective partners in his relations with one of the largest chunks of the public service, teachers of primary and secondary schools, this year alone should have disabused him finally of this notion. If he thought the Teachers' Service Commission would do so too, again, this year should have dashed those hopes on the rocks of the harsh reality of the incompetence of the TSC.

According to the Economic Survey of 2015 published by the Kenya national Bureau of Statistics, the number of primary and secondary school teachers is almost 280,000. This a a very, very large number. This a number so large that to fire them all and replace them with another 280,000 at the terms of the ones who were fired will bankrupt the State. Mr Kaimenyi, his Ministry and the TSC are blowing smoke up our arses regarding the fiction that teachers will be fired for going on strike.

This is a crisis that has been passed on from Moi to Kibaki and now to Uhuru. 1997 to 2015 is a long time to keep the public school teachers guessing. The Kenya National Union of Teachers and its brother hooligan, the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers, have not covered themselves in glory. They have proven to be pliable tools of the politicians, swaying from one extreme to the other, depending on what political crisis of the week the politicians want their help with. The Mudzo Nzili-Wilson Sossion pair, though, have taken their show to ridiculous heights.

This crisis was bound to escalate; the teachers feel that with basic constitutional protections on their side and a reckless labour court agreeing mostly with their wild demands, while the Cabinet Secretary, his Ministry and the TSC were never going to cave in come hell or high water. I am surprised the phrase "over my dead body" was not uttered by the CS, his PS or the TSC chairman. And now the strike enters the fourth week, the Ministry has decided to close both private and public primary and secondary schools indefinitely. This raises a new headache for the can't pay, won't pay brigade.

Private schools have been steadily stealing a match in the exam sweepstakes on the public sector. That seems to be the only reason that Mr Kaimenyi, in his infinite wisdom, has ordered them to be closed when the public sector was out of commission. The three weeks head start they have should be sufficient for now. Another court battle looms and I fear Mr Kaimenyi will lose. There is absolutely no reason why private schools should be shut simply because Mr Kaimenyi has completely failed to properly deal with his public sector. He will not find friends in the High Court.

Mr Kaimenyi's and Mr Kenyatta's are political problems, and what they need are political solutions. I fear that they have infrastructures that are incapable of looking for solutions, merely victories, of which even if they find one here, it will be Pyrrhic: children will still have been out of school, their exam prospect will have been jeopardised, their parents will blame all parties involved, ad Mr Kaimenyi will carry on as before. Without a political a solution that has a whiff of permanence about it, this thing will not end well.

Flashback Friday, #FBF

This is Bridge Street, in Sydney. It's where the New South Wales buses come to park when the demand is low. It is a long, orderly line of buses. It is very quiet. Save for the two Aborigines with didgeridoos near the Opera House, there is very little noise. Even when the train comes in or the ferries go out, there is very little noise. I miss the calmness of the Circular Quay. "Dox," as emblazoned on the foul, loud fourteen-seat matatus, in Mombasa is not calm. It is not quiet or orderly.

That's the Swan River in the left, the Swan River Bell Tower dead ahead. It is not infested by motorcycles, the bike path. It is smooth. It is clean. It is surprisingly full of joggers, though one can't tell on a Sunday afternoon. The fish and chips are rather quite good. Do you see anyone doing something similar with the Nyando, the Chania, the Athi or the Tana?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The thin-skinned of the Eleventh.

There is the technical definition of politics. There's the legal definition. But these mean little in Kenya; politics infuses anything and everything touching on the reputation of those in power, those close to them and those that wish they were in power. In our country today even the most mundane of matters has been "politicised' to put it in the parlance of the punditocracy.

In recent weeks there have been claims that a Cabinet Secretary is being protected in regards to financial scams at her ministry. Whether this is true or not, the matter has attracted the attention, and acerbic tongue, of the doyen of opposition politics, Raila Odinga. As is common when such allegations are levelled against a senior government official, there have emerged two camps: for and against the Cabinet Secretary. Pretty soon enough the lawyers will get involved, but I digress.

What should concern us is the way we have completely elided the loss of hundreds of millions of shillings. Without a doubt, the Cabinet Secretary has comported herself with dignity in this whole saga. Those for or against her have not acquitted themselves well. When she discovered that there were unusual goings on at her ministry she did not sit on her hands. She informed the authorities she believed were best set up to investigate the matter. She informed the Director of Criminal Investigations of her suspicions and invited his agency to investigate. The investigation has uncovered malfeasance, according to the DCI, and scores of suspects.

I do not hold brief for the embattled Cabinet Secretary nor for her beleaguered supporters. Nor do I take the extremist position of her worst detractors. I am, however, curious about what makes the comfortably neutral to declare, "Don't politicise the investigations." In Kenya, when it involves a Cabinet Secretary, it is impossible not to politicise it. This Cabinet Secretary, especially, has proven to be possessed of political instincts that have raised hackles in certain quarters. He apparent close working relationship ith the President has helped; but her overlordship of one of the largest public departments, the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, dealing with such disparate matters as economic planning and the National Youth Service means that she is quite possibly second to the President in her scope of responsibilities, and that gives her enormous political clout.

In Kenya it is inevitable that everything will be politicised. That is just the nature of things. Instead of whinging piteously, perhaps it is time we found ways of making this politicisation work for us. There are those, for example, in the Senate who still live in a world where a mjumbe was a man of portentous clout. Some have been whining, in the Senate Chamber no less, about how the Governor of Machakos "disrespected" their Speaker while at a rally-cum-funeral. These men are living in the past. These men have about as much political clout as a passing cumulonimbus. They are in dire need of lessons in the politicisation of things without coming across as crybabies.

When we politicise things, blood frequently flows on the streets, because our style of politicisation is a winner-takes-all, balls-to-the-wall, shoot-'em-all-let-god-sort-it-out kind of thing. It displays very little nuance. It is championed by the least politically literate among us. If we could somehow elevate the level of political debate among the political classes, sifting the illiterate chaff from the erudite wheat, perhaps we may yet restore politics to its rightful place as one of the pillars of national unity. If not, I fear, there will be more whinging from the growing ranks of the thin-skinned swanning around in their wounded pride in the Eleventh.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Cars. Sigh.

I am NOT anti-car!

Let's back up. I don't think I have ever experienced automotive nirvana than when I experienced the full 500bhp of the five-litre V-8 E55 AMG. The green gods forgive me, but there is nothing as wonderful as conquering some steep bits in Simla in the cocoon-ish comforts of a fully loaded six-litre V-12 Tuareg. And I think if I was to live the automotive life that my father has lived, I would definitely put money down for the same DS9 and the Renault 4 he did; in different periods and for different reasons, they were pretty awesome rides. No...I am most certainly not anti-car.

I am, however, pro-pedestrian. That is what an urban setting means: more time in our hands. We are not driving cattle to the river. We are not racing the dawn so as to begin the harrowing, the weeding, the whatchmacallit with jembes or combine harvesters. We are definitely not being harangued by a factory foreman if we indeed are headed for the suburbs or the central business district. If we drive anywhere, the intervening hours between that drive and the drive back will be spent, hog-tied to a terminal, ears sutured to a landline, eye superglued to a Dell 15" screen, fingers furiously attempting to justify mobile-number-length bank balances.

The cars, engines having cooled down, cool as cucumbers, will slumber undisturbed (if you have underground or fenced-in parking) or will suffer the snot-nosed, grimy attentions of the glue-sniffing unemployed, quite possibly unemployable, ranks of the street families that supply much of our "parking assistants" these days. (Not the crutch-borne ones opposite the dead-as-a-dodo Kenya Cinema, though. Those ones are a class act.) Anyway, these four-wheeled phallic-replacements just sit there, not making money, taking up much needed perambulating real estate.

City centres are only attractive if they are relatively quiet, relatively smog-free (actually, a lot smog-free), pedestrian friendly and filled with massive numbers of benches where I can polish off the overpriced espresso or munch in utter confusion through another online lecture on the wonders of green-coloured edible Victoria's Secret's panties. What we have in the CBD, Westlands, Hurlingham, Yaya Centre, Eastleigh, Buru Buru, Baricho Road and South B - a rough area where pedestrians should be kings or queens or both - is the utter and wrongheaded domination of the automobile. No wonder we all look so harried when we finally make it back to our overpriced hovels. Being cooped up for hours on end, every day, in those tin cans can't be good, even if they bear three stars, four rings, blue-and-white propellers or leaping felines.

The main reason is that there are entirely too many buses on the roads, though a large number of them are not really buses - more like highly mobile modern day Caligula's palaces of orgiastic iniquities. And they behave in very odd ways. I think Kwame Owino needs to write a small monograph on this: why is a public service vehicle behaving like, to use a Ugandan phrase beloved of the slightly well-heeled - a special hire? Commuter buses should not operate like point-to-point taxi-cabs; they should be in constant motion, adjusting fares based on the all the variables that makes economic sense. 

When they take over Ronald Ngala Street between the Tom Mboya Street junction and Nyama Kima for all hours of the day, their engines idling all the while, they not only rob us of a peaceable business environment, they contribute a massive amount of impure air, narrow the space for the walking masses, and cost us billions every year in revenue, man-hours and motor insurance claims. Until we can make them true commuter vehicles, where they do not convert busy thoroughfares into termini, Nairobi will never be comfortable for the pedestrian or for the motorist.

I am not anti-car. I am pro-pedestrian.

What is going on over there?

Think on it: in how many nations have you seen the spectacle of men and women refusing to retire from their police jobs? Where in the world do you find policemen holding on to their public service offices with the tenacity of an anaconda wrapped around a fatted calf? 

When it was the vetting and its unsavory revelations, I figured that these people simply didn't want to have to really work for a living. But with the kaa ngumu move by the Deputy Inspector-General over her "redeployment" to the diplomatic corps, you have to wonder: who in their right minds want to remain a cop beyond all reason? And why?

Maybe I should think on it from the other end: why is there a spirited movement to move DI-G Grace Kaindi from her perch in the Kenya Police? Where is there an equally determined counter-movement to ensure that she stays put? If it has anything to do with procurement in the police service, you have to ask: just how much money is sloshing around the Kenya Police?

In India, in the 1990s, if you wanted a plum police assignment, you paid a bribe to be transferred. In Kenya, in 2014, if you wanted to be a cop, you bribed to be recruited. One desperate father sold his land for pretty penny, and paid the necessary bribes. He got stiffed because some other father paid a bigger bribe. He had a heart attack from the shock of it all and died. He couldn't believe that policemen could be so dishonest. The irony completely escaped him.

We must ask hard questions. Is Ms Kaindi eligible for retirement? If yes, then she has no choice but to pack it in. If no, why is the rumour being broadcast  that she is ready for retirement? Second, are her troubles connected with the procurement of police equipment, rumoured to be worth twelve billion shillings? If yes, is it from the suppliers' side where someone would like to deliver sub-standard equipment, or would like to deliver less than the procured amount? If no, why is the police re-equipment being played up in the newsmedia? 

Third, why does the President have special advisors if all they can do when it comes to the police is to drop him in it each and every time. They botched the defy-the-High-Court thing at the beginning of the year over the suspended police recruitment. They dumped him in the poo over the police housing scheme and police insurance plan. Now they have dragged him into this saga over Ms Kaindi. Who is advising The Boss over the police?

Whatever is going on, Ms Kaindi has become the centrepiece in yet another embarrassing moment for the Commander-in-Chief. When your Commander-in-Chief commands you to do something, never mind the blandishments that other lesser authorities may have offered you, you obey. You follow orders. You redeploy, even if redeployment is to man your kitchen for the rest of time. You do not defy your Commander-in -Chief and demand "a letter of deployment." This is getting out of hand. The Boss is becoming a laughing stock.

This is not the first time things are going all pear-shaped. His own Parliamentary Party, not the alliance Parliamentary Party, but his own, defied him and went to town about how unfair it was that they had to pay taxes on all their pay and allowances. They bitched so loudly that they got their way: they got a pay rise to cover the difference. Then he went to them and asked them to give him a new Secretary to his Cabinet. They shit on the poor girl because she wrote them a mean letter. Then he asked them to stop fucking around with the EACC. They ignored him and not only shit all over the Commissioners, they decided to take a collective dump over its secretariat too. Now he is being defied by an uppity policeman! When will it end?

One list.

Men make lists. Some men work their lists down. Some men wish they could work their lists down. But all men make lists. Then there is me and the likes of me. Who make and unmake lists all the time. Schizophrenic in our desires, we live for the opportunity to revise, amend, alter, change, modify, improve - we love the thesaurus - our lists. Constantly. Attentively. With great concentration. Because in our heart of hearts, mine really, procrastination is elevated to an art form, sublime in its application, effective in its tawdry indolence. Except when we don't. 

Then all hell breaks lose and because a few among us take the brooding silence thing seriously - introverts, they call us - our minds are much quicker than our tongues and we cannot celebrate our outbreaks. Our lists. Things of beauty. Detailed where need be (things, etc.) and seductively vague where necessary (She, doesn't need certain details).

This is one list.

Three Days of the Condor.

Without context. Without a running, ruinous commentary. Just a list. Make of it what you must. Ignore it. Let it fester. Masticate in rumination. It's short. Monastic, even. But it is the result of years of refinement, teasing out the magic ingredients. You don't have to accept it. You don't have to like it. But you can't help but acknowledge it. A list. Not the list. Just one list.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Maybe we shouldn't privatise.

But should we?

Hardcore free-marketeers will urge on us the "logic" of the market. How it will match needs with resources and that it is the best possible argument for the delivery of bot public and private goods and services. Letting the "market" decide seems like a very good idea, at first blush.

It is good. Over There! Not here. The infirmities in this market are too serious to simply elide them. One of the bedrocks of free-market theories is information. In Kenya, the asymmetry in information - knowledge - is profound. More Kenyans know less about their "free" market than do. Those who do know combine their knowledge with a particularly colonial mindset: restrict access to market knowledge; share that knowledge with select insiders; combine that knowledge with conflicts of interest and, Hey presto! a free market superstar is born.

This is not hyperbole. Take the rise of John Njoroge Michuki from the darkest recesses of the colonial askari army to the Bard of Directors of the Kenya Commercial Bank. His fabulous wealth was acquired with insider knowledge shared with a select few. Few Kenyans of his generation had access to information or credit like he did. His biographers will, Kenyan-style, extol his work ethic. They will most definitely elide the whiff of cronyism that assured him his material comforts.

That system that benefitted the few at the expense of the many has not been dismantled. In fact, it seems to have metastasized. The metronome of insider knowledge and conflicts of interest at the expense of the vast majority of Kenyans keeps repeating itself: Goldenberg, Anglo-Leasing, Triton, and now, SGR.

That is the surest argument against privatising the public sector, only leaving it to deal with public safety, national security, diplomacy and oversight. The first three will provide opportunities for procurement fraud; that has somewhat become a public sector specialty. But it is in oversight that rent-seeking will doom the project of private sector provision of public goods and services. The signs have been there for twenty years. Only the pigeon-like will forget when parliamentarians accepted as little as two thousand shillings to ask questions in Parliament.

If we privatise, it will be up to the national Executive to enforce rules and regulations made by Parliament for the purpose of ensuring quality goods and services to the people who pay the taxes that keep the army or regulators and legislators employed. And Parliament would oversee the enforcement of the national Executive. If a private-sector supplier of a public service - say education - failed to meet the standard, the national Executive would penalise him, or deny him the opportunity to participate in that market. If the national Executive failed to do that, Parliament would step in and sanction the national Executive. That is the theory.

The reality is that for forty five years Kenya has built a culture that empowers those in the national Executive ad Parliament to use their offices not for the good of the people but to line their pockets. When you see a Parliamentarian wailing in front of the President about railways tenders, he is not saying that he would like to see the tender cancelled; he is saying that the shadowy figures who sponsored him to Parliament want their cut. There is no way privatisation - even with a zero-tax regime for the PAYE-army - will work when the rule-makers and rule-enforcers are in bed with the ones who are supposed to play by the rules.

We could privatise. I don't think we should. We should keep the hybrid demonseed we have now, work on improving it, and try to crack the challenge of keeping public servants honest enough to crack down on the hyenas in the private sector.

Let the market decide.

National defence. Public safety. Diplomacy. Oversight. That's it. Privatise public services. Reduce taxes. Let the market you love so much decide. Let the public service you revere so much do what it is designed to do: collect taxes; engage in foreign relations; fight wars; keep people safe; make laws and regulations; oversee the private sector.

The public service is a mess. Teachers, doctors, nurses and policemen have been given the short end of the stick for dogs' years. Teachers have won award after award in the law courts and the national Executive has balked at paying them their dues. Teachers' unions believe that "this time it will be different." I don't know what fantasy Mr Sossion and his colleagues in the union leadership are living in, but if they believe that by going on strike they will force Henry Rotich, Jacob Kaimenyi or Lydia Nzomo to unearth a secret seventeen billion shilling cache, they'd better bottle whatever they're drinking; they'd make a killing.

The public service, after the World Bank/International Monetary Fund prescription of Structural Adjustment Programmes in the 1980s and 1990s is in no position to effectively deliver public services. It has been hollowed out. With the finite resources at its command, it can do very few things well. Hence, public safety, national defence, diplomacy and oversight. No more, no less.

Private providers of education have beat the public sector in the only area that matters: the final score at national examinations. Since Mwai Kibaki's laudable free basic education programme, it is now plain to see that the public sector cannot cope with the very large pupil population. It cannot build the infrastructure required to the standard needed to properly educate the large number of pupils enrolled in the public school system. Worse, it cannot engage the required number of teachers at a fair wage to educate these children.
The honeymoon is over. The gravy train has left the station; few of us are on board. There are no more free lunches. It is time we accepted that we are not living in boom times, that the pernicious legacy of the SAPs is here for the foreseeable future, and that unless we are will to fundamentally restructure the public service, there is little need for the public service we have. Let these services that are ineffectively and inefficiently provided by the public sector be offloaded onto the private sector and the world of public benefit organisations and let the public sector concentrate on things only it can do.

The corruption that has made the public sector such an ineffective deliverer of services might persist for a short while, but with the public sector no longer awarding tenders except in the public safety and national security areas, but it will pass. The risk that the private sector will live only for the bottom line might not be a bad thing: for private sector players to survive, they will have to train the best, pay them the best, in order to remain the best. The public sector will make the rules by which they will play and crack down - hard - when they do not.

Utopian? Maybe. Devolution, for example, has had very mixed results. The scale of dysfunction in the health sector was there before devolution and seems to have gotten worse under devolution. Public sector health workers are not necessarily bad at their jobs; the management of the sector by the national and devolved governments has proven to be greatly ineffective. Perhaps it is time to adopt a more buccaneering model: let the medics sell their services to the highest bidder; let the ministry keep an eye on quality; for the moment, let the National Treasury subsidise those who meet certain poverty criteria. Carrying on as we are is simply throwing good money after bad.

Some bosses lead, some bosses blame

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