Thursday, October 29, 2015

A $1.84b lesson

The CEO of the Volkswagen Group resigned recently after it was demonstrably proven that his company had lied for years about the emissions' tests of the company's cars. Then Volkwagen began a process of recalling cars from North America, Europe and other key markets such as India, Japan and Brazil that had been sold on the basis of those emissions' tests. That may be as many as 11 million cars recalled by the car maker. It is no surprise that it lost 1.84 billion dollars in its third financial quarter.

We still need to know how and why a venerable German manufacturer lied and cheated on something that would eventually be discovered. But once the scandal was exposed, even if he was pushed, the CEO resigned in disgrace. If he had any designs on a career in the public service or politics, he can kiss that career goodbye. I do not recall Angela Merkel or members of her Cabinet intervening in the affair, though they will be definitely interested in the outcome of the investigations and whether or not the Volkswagen Group will be paying billions of dollars in fines.

In Kenya, to say the least, things are less stringent. Two banks have been placed under supervision by the Central Bank of Kenya in the last one year. Not one CEO has resigned. No one is talking about mega-fines for the manner in which the banks have played with depositors' funds. The opacity behind the banks' supervision does not engender trust that we will ever know the truth about our so-called second tier banks. Ever. Or why they collapse. Speculation, on the other hand which is our stock in trade, will keep us intrigued, shifting focus away from the sclerotic institutions meant to keep our funds safe when we place them in the custody of banks.

But that is not even the worst thing about the sclerosis in regulatory institutions. Do you recall the last time there was a small flood in South C that stranded children - and their driver - in a school bus all night? That happened to be one of the few schools with a serviceable school bus. The vast majority of school buses are death traps. These vehicles are not built with the safety of schoolchildren in mind; they are built with an eye to gouge an extra few shillings from parents. What stands out is that the rapacious National Transport and Safety Authority, the Government of Nairobi City County and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology are in see-no-evil-hear-no-evil mode and these death traps are still on the road.

I will be shocked if the Cabinet Secretary, His Principal Secretary, the Director-General of the NTSA, the Ministry's head of children's safety (if there is one) and the inspectors meant to keep an eye on things resign. No one resigns in Kenya. No one expects anyone to resign in Kenya. The VW scandal may be vastly larger compared to the scandal of child safety on our roads, but I submit to you that the lives of children are vastly more valuable than the $1.84 billion that VW lost this quarter. Therefore, CS Kaimenyi, PS Kipsang', D-G Meja and their colleagues best get their asses in gear if they will not resign. It's the least they can do.

Guns

The USA is already talking about guns. It is always talking about guns. Remember this from Boston Public?

Harry Senate: Anyone I suppose could contribute to a shelter or help the needy, but it takes a true American to dedicate himself to firearms. And you know what? We need people like you. Our country's getting a bad rep just because we kill each other. Well, that's manly... shooting people. United States, this is were men live. Australia — all their stupid bragging about how tough they are in the outback. They get about... 15 gun homicides a year. What the hell is that? We get ten thousand. The Japanese are even more pathetic. In 1999, for kids between 15 and 19, they didn't have one handgun murder, not one! We had over five thousand! Our teenagers are tough, but it can't happen unless we get the guns out there into their hands. And for that we need committed, good people like all of you. Look at these idiots in Washington who think it's wrong for teenagers to have assault rifles. And the stupid Democrats think we should have ten-day waiting periods. What happens if you need to kill somebody today? Next thing the government will try to crack down on incest and we won't be able to breed future NRA members. I mean, we are talking about the toothless illiterates that make this country great. This is America. Get a gun!

~ Season 1, Episode 7

Help them decompress

If your father is a thug, young man, you have no excuse of being the pussy in your family that wants to preach the word of god. If your mother makes a living shaking her moneymaker some place near Mtwapa, young man, wiggle it till the randy Germans make it rain. That, good people, is the sum and substance of being led by example. In Swahili, I believe, it is restated as mtoto wa nyoka ni nyoka. And it is utter horseshit.

There was two-week period recently when about a thousand of Kenya's parents lived a nightmare. Their sprogs had gotten themselves in a bit of a pickle with the odious forces of law and order, carousing, merrymaking, fornicating and intoxicating with a licentiousness that stirred even Kenya's blase news-media to reporting the events as news. I think it was a nightmare for the parents because it was broadcast for all the world to see, not because their kids were in the middle of Caligulan excesses. Few "modern" parents give two shits that their kids carouse, merrymake, fornicate and intoxicate; indeed, many parents actively encourage these things on their teen and pre-teen munsters.

Oh, don't you dare deny it! I have seen you with my naked eyes dragging you impressionable sprogs to restaurants that seem to serve very little food, encourage the consumption of copious quantities of intoxicating libations, and are patronised by the most hedonistically unrestrained members of the fat wallet classes you can find. No...no...the playpens with the bouncy castles and the disinterested bar-nannies do not count as places for nurturing the "spirit of play" in your little ones.

I am not a prude. Far from it. But I cannot for the life of me understand why people are freaking out over what are the modern equivalent of high jinks by our children. The pressure we put them under is immense. They must be perfect at all time. Their perfection must surpass the perfection we have lied to them that we had. They must reach Jesus levels of perfection. Whether it is in school, out in the field of play, the accents they adopt, the cloths they must keep clean and unruffled, the TV shows they must watch and enjoy, the novels they must read, the popularity they must calculate among their peers, the innate shit they must know better than anyone else...the pressure is enormous.

Basement-bars where sex, loud music, drugs and alcohol can be had far from the judgmental eyes of parents, teachers, older siblings, pastors and goody-tow-shoes friends are their pressure release-valves. So a few of them impregnate a few of their friends. So what? Teen pregnancies are as old as the bible. So a few of them spread among each other diseases that are best left unmentioned. So what? STDs and STIs are as old as sex. Don't you dare use the idiot-phrase, "In my day..." because this is your day now and these are your children today.

I am not going to tell you not to demand perfection of the fruit of your loins. I will not even tell you not to lie to them about how perfect you were, back in the day. If that's what floats your boat, so be it. But you really must find ways for these children to decompress that reduce the potential for harm significantly. That pressure will one day kill more of them than we are prepared to cope with. Help them decompress safely or be prepared for basement-bars of carousing, merrymaking, fornication and intoxication.

Diplomatic BS

Kenya has signed and ratified the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 1963. As an emerging power, as we believe we are, Kenya has diplomatic relations with many countries and international organisations, such as the United Nations and the World Bank Group, and these two conventions standardise the rules under which Kenya's diplomats will operate when representing Kenya abroad. It is Kenya's diplomats who are primarily involved in advancing Kenya's interests abroad, and the privileges and immunities extended to them under these conventions are crucial towards achieving Kenya's interests.

Every now and then, a person who is not a member of the diplomatic service of Kenya is called upon to perform a service for Kenya in its relations with a foreign power. That person is usually granted diplomatic status so that the service he is performing for Kenya in its relations with that foreign power are privileged - and protected. For the duration of his service to Kenya, that person is a diplomat and he will be protected by the provisions of the two Vienna conventions.

Which brings us to the demand by parliamentarians that their spouses be issued with diplomatic passports. What it implies is that parliamentarians are routinely issued with diplomatic passports. What it also implies is that parliamentarians routinely undertake diplomatic services for Kenya and, therefore, they require diplomatic privileges or immunities. This raises certain questions about Kenya's foreign policy and diplomatic service.

Kenyans remain in the dark about their government's foreign policy and it's diplomatic service. Every now and then we get to know of fissures in the service when a diplomat refuses to be recalled from her post or where she refuses to take a new posting in another country. The biggest scandal so far involving the diplomatic service is the sale of Kenya's embassy (or was it purchase) in  Tokyo, Japan. What we do not know is whether Kenya's parliamentarians (and their spouses) contribute anything to Kenya's foreign relations when they travel abroad.

There are risks to including Kenya's parliamentarians and their spouses in the diplomatic service of Kenya. In Kenya, parliamentarians and their spouses behave like demigods, expecting privileges for their elevated status. They usually attempt to impose their will on ordinary civil servants without a care for the consequences of their actions. They commandeer a disproportionate share of public resources for their comfort. If they are granted diplomatic status, they are likely to carry this egregious behaviour abroad, not only putting a strain on the facilities available to Kenya's diplomatic missions, but also the spectre of bulls-in-china-shops moments when these people invariably run afoul of the law in foreign countries. I shudder to imagine the image parliamentarians and their spouses cut when they visit Tel Aviv, Vienna, Copenhagen, Karachi, Abu Dhabi, Pretoria, Lima or L Paz, because it is almost certain to be exactly the same with the image they cut right here at hoe, which is nothing to write home about.

There would be a case to be made for diplomatic passports for parliamentarians' spouses if Kenya's foreign policy also encompassed diplomatic duties for spouses of parliamentarians. But an examination of the draft policy does not highlight this. The benefits of such an indulgence - for it is a indulgence - are far outweighed by the inherent risks of extending even more privileges to those people. Sadly, in an environment where the political classes always get what thy want, the national Executive is unlikely to push back and this parasitic class is set to add one more privilege to a very long list.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Law-maker, what dost thou do?

I am a lazy man, but I am not Bill Gates's ideal lazy man because if given a task I don't like, I will not find the most efficient short-cut to get it done. I will simply not do it at all. Or that at least is what I think I am. I may be wrong. But in my line of work, I do come across the truly lazy; those who will not do their jobs simply because they think that someone else should do it for them. I don't really know what they do with their time.

The latest proof of this laziness is this rather startling declaration by a senator: "It would be prudent to withdrawal the Bills and only return them to Parliament when they have been harmonised with the views of all those affected." She is writing in the context of proposed legislation over community land. I will refrain from attacking her remarkable grammar; I will instead focus on her demand that Bills be withdrawn from Parliament until those Bills are harmonised with the views of affected Kenyans, mainly Kenyans who have a legitimate claim to community land.

Parliamentarians, who include senators, have three broad jobs: representation of their constituents, whatever that means; oversight over the government, another catchall phrase; and law-making. Law-making, good people, is not the job of judges, though they sometimes do that, or the president and his cabinet, though they frequently do that. Law-making is the job of parliamentarians and if this senator does not understand this, almost three years since she was nominated to sit in the senate, you have to wonder how many members of her august chamber live under this delusion too.

The Executive and the Judiciary, as well as constitutional commissions, independent offices, state corporations and parastatals, can recommend the making of particular laws and with the advice of the Attorney-General, have done so on very numerous occasions. But that is not the making of law; it is the making of a proposal which Parliament can accept or reject. The decision to accept or reject is not in the hands of the Speakers of  the Houses of Parliament but in that of the members of both chambers. It is called parliamentary debate.

I am sure you too have waited patiently for this senator to take an active role in parliamentary debate and this far into her parliamentary term you must be wondering what assets landed her a senate nomination. For the life of me I cannot recall a single senate debate in which she has made an informed, impassioned contribution especially on this, she claims, her pet subject of community land. It must be that the-people-owe-me attitude she and her colleagues labour delusionally under where they get to trouser millions every year in salaries an remunerations while the little people do the heavy lifting. She is, ironically, an apposite example of why the Senate of Kenya is of absolutely no use to the people of Kenya.

Law-making is not easy, and the instinct to pass the buck to the Attorney-General, the Kenya Law Reform Commission, the National Land Commissions or the CIC is strong. But the constitutional arrangement will not change overnight: it is Parliament that makes law. This senator should get off her high horse and do what she was nominated to do and for which she receives the equivalent of a queen's ransom. Kenya's political parties did not nominate Barbie dolls. It's time nominated parliamentarians stopped acting like Barbie dolls.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What a sight

The fallacy is simple: there are men and women in Kenya who wish to serve in the public service for the good of the nation and the people. The fallacy is promoted by the President and key members of his government, including the Chief Justice and the Inspector-General of Police. The fallacy is promoted by the unofficial head of the opposition and key members of his coterie. In the history of Kenya, from when it became the plaything in the pre-colonial game to date, not even the most committed clergyman has had the good of the nation or the people in mind when they did what they did.

The idea that someone becomes a civil servant because of his love of country is swiftly dispelled by the lazy attitude towards the president's anti-corruption tirades. There are myriad forms of corruption in Kenya. It is not just the simple extortion of the police, or that of the headmaster, admitting nurse or the oily unctuousness of the one with his hand out for a handout, it is the expected payoff for doing ones job whether or not the job is actually done well or even done at all.

We live in a world where big numbers are bandied about every day: hundreds of millions and billions and trillions are mentioned as if they were abstract concepts of no import. Did your hear, we whisper conspiratorially; they lost 791 million! They lost 200 billion! These numbers mean nothing. Even reducing them to things that makes sense will still not make them make sense. "1.2 billion can build you a one-hundred room hotel in Nairobi" means nothing to the twenty one million Kenyans who don't have access to piped water and have to take a shit in the bush because they don't have land in which to dig a pit latrine.

Kenya is no different from Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Russian Federation or Egypt; service in its government is one of the surest way to great wealth and power. It is what service in the post-colonial regimes meant. Alternatively, doing business with the government, or doing business with money loaned to you by the government, were ways that one could avoid the stink of being a civil servant yet still make a killing in the market. These are not men and women who joined the public service to serve; the became civil servants to become rich. And they did. Fabulously so.

It might seem odd that an election petition will drag on for four years, doesn't it? Yet it must because the petitioner and the respondent want their lips suckling firmly at the tit of the government, suckling like their lives depended on it for it very well does. Our hypocrisies about duty and servant leadership must make whatever gods we worship a little exasperated: if you are going to behave like a god - greedy, grasping, selfish, unforgiving and coldhearted - you don't have to be hypocritical about it.

This is the scheme we have: every Kenyan, alive and yet to be born, pays taxes. Those taxes are collected in the name of the people. Those taxes go towards the comforts of the public service. What little is left is shared between people who win tenders and the people. The people frequently get breadcrumbs. And when the whinging gets particularly piteous the people are given an opportunity to shuffle the deck: some people get reelected; some people become civil service nawabs; some become "successful" entrepreneurs. The people are mollified. The game continues. The fallacy remains untroubled by analysis. It is quite a sight.

The weight and lessons of history

Only the truly naive believe that the President is a hostage of cartels. Either they underestimate the considerable powers of the presidency or they overestimate the powers of the cartels. These would be corruption cartels, by the by. The President is not a hostage of any cartel; the President is hostage to history. He needs to break free.

If you truly believe that there is a cartel powerful enough to keep the President from achieving any of his political promises, then there is little to be done except to advise you that when the Little Green Men come, tin-foil hats have been known to deflect their mind-control rays, and be done with you. The power of the presidency is not what is prescribed by law; its power is as it is exercised by the President to achieve ends that he feels must be achieved.

Uhuru Kenyatta came to power with the weight of expectations bearing down on him, a son of a founding president and the protege of the founding president's successor. He was expected to have his father's steel in addition to his obvious charisma and the wilyness of his father's successor. He was never, ever seen as his own ma and this has contributed greatly to his own mixed-messaging. If he is to rule effectively, he must shake off the ghosts from his fathers rule and chase away the shadows from Baba Moi's, which have cast a shade that has proven immutable to the bright light of day.

You can tell that vestiges of Kenya's first two presidents' regimes are nipping at his heels every time he has to take an unpopular decision, or when he justifies some unfortunate matter. He is not free to declare his feelings on the matter, and no matter how many pet reporters drop hints about his work ethic or disciplinarian streak, he is seen as a son of one and a protege of another. Keeping artifacts from those two regimes around him only reinforces this fact.

Jomo had a Kalenjin deputy; so does Uhuru. Moi had a very vocal chorus section; so does Uhuru. Jomo was ultimately betrayed by his Ministers; it is only a matter of time before Uhuru's betray him. Moi tried to buy the loyalty of his electorate by making incompetents ministers and parastatal chiefs; this is the same road that Uhuru is walking. What the President does not seem to have is the fear of the people, something that Jomo and Moi exploited to the full, keeping their enemies discombobulated and the people in line. Both Jomo and Moi had the Special Branch for political crimes; Uhuru seems to have delegated the investigation and handling of political crimes to novices in his party.

Both Jomo and, eventually Moi, were unrivaled in their power and their resolve. It is difficult to say the same about our President. The speculation has engendered a certain lack of respect for both him and his office and it is why people are comfortable asserting that he is the hostage of cartels. Being president, at the end of the day, is not neat or pretty. If he wants to be President then he must be prepared to be hated by all his friends and feared by all his enemies. His friends must be prepared to hear "No!" and often. His enemies must face the full force of his wrath for crossing him. But first he must identify his friends and his enemies.

That well into his third year we do not have answers to these two questions is troubling. His government has come under great scrutiny and his friends and enemies are both rejoicing; his friends because they are safe from him and his enemies because they too are safe from him. Both conspire to sabotage his economic and political plans. Both conspire to reduce him to reaction every time something bad happens. He is not, it seems, the master of his fate. It is not cartels that have him in a age; it is the weight of his own history. Those who do not learn the proper lessons of history are doomed. I hope he escapes that fate.

Monday, October 26, 2015

How the cookie crumbles

On 20 January 1942, Reinhard Heidrich held a conference at a villa in Wansee at which the Final Solution to the Jewish Question was discussed. The horror unleashed on European Jews by the Nazi High Command has come to be known as the Holocaust. What is striking is that the Germans, methodical and detail-oriented as always, wrote down everything they ever did, ever evil they ever committed. It is their attention to detail that guaranteed that when the remain Nazi leaders were put on trial in Nuremberg, they would all be convicted.

This is the Information Age, where the digital tools at our disposal guarantee that no information is ever far from the public domain. The National Youth Service has lost close to eight hundred million shillings. That is the amount that is known to have been lost. This is not the sophisticated crime its authors intended. It is the IFMIS' (Integrated Financial Management Information System) equivalent of the classic smash-and-grab. It is emblematic of the problems that the public procurement environment in Kenya suffers from.

In Kenya, our desire to save face is the guiding principle of the public service. There is no one in the entire public service willing to admit that they might be wrong, that the Government might be wrong. It is this obsessive desire to save face that opens so many doors to the digital smash-and-grab crowd. In our zeal to keep the egg off the faces of the moving and shaking personages of the upper echelons of the public service, the nefarious-minded take advantage of every loophole in the books, no matter how small or obscure, to conduct swindles of such simplicity it must drive the Head of Government apoplectic with rage - except that he seems to be a member of this do-not-embarass-me brigade too.

One of the particularly insidious features of our system is that things are not written down unless they absolutely must and even the, the number of civil servants willing to put their signature ion those documents is frighteningly small and grows smaller the high up the hierarchy you go. For sure Cabinet Secretaries and Principle Secretaries avoid as much as possible signing anything that pays out money to anyone; it is how everyone and his cat who was not the CS or the PS in the NYS saga got the short end of the CID stick recently. No matter how much Alfred Keter screams, the Devolution and Planning bigwigs will not be facing the ruinous attentions of the National Assembly or the EACC - their fingerprints, quite literally, are nowhere to be found in the saga. If it really gets out of hand, all bets are off that it is the D-G who gets it in the neck.

However, just because there are no fingerprints doesn't mean there are no records. Even with our notorious secrecy, John Githongo pioneered the collection of proof by unconventional means. The truth may not come out today, but it is almost certain that it will come out and all the secrecy and obfuscation in the world won't be able to disguise the true authors of the scam. To be honest, I don't think the CS or the PS had anything to do with it, though the PS should have known better. The NYS is one of the darlings of the perfidious KANU Era and anyone who though new uniforms and five-point strategies were all that were needed to sweep out its Augean stables has simply not been paying attention. The CS s capable enough, but the NYS is even older than her and she will need much more than her strength and determination to get it on an even footing. That's just how the cookie crumbles.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I wonder.

I wonder where they all went, what they are doing, who they have become, and whether the smiles we shared that chilly morning six years ago remain as bright and as hopeful. I wonder.

Friday, October 23, 2015

She's my gal.

Whenever the caveat "You need to know him/her" is employed, the same thoughts run through our minds: "Do I really need to know this person, have hem know me?" But when it comes to her, you really need to know her because she is the one of the few women in the world for which it is a privilege to love and love completely.

She is quite the stunner, allow me a bit of pride. If it wasn't for her advanced years, she'd be my date to every single important event in my life - except my wedding. She was the one woman of whom there were no doubts about where her loyalties lay: with me. She's been joined by her in that regard by Her, and I must say that from my perch, I have the best of many, many worlds.

I don't know which is the earliest memories I have of me and her, but my clearest must be when she whupped my ass. I think that day she wanted to literally smack the black off of me. It was one of her lessons that I am unlikely to forget: treat all of God's creatures with kindness and love, even when you think they do not deserve it, because if you don't, the world will treat in exactly the same way.

She isn't prone to self-doubt, and she has instilled, or tried to, the same philosophy in me. She will not second-guess herself; she will simply make a decision and see it through, come hell or high water. More often than not, she is the hell and the high water, and I love her to death for that. One day, if I ever hit the four score and fifteen that she has, I hope to have her certitude about things, because that simplifies things greatly.

On Mashujaa Day, we went to see her. She doesn't keep track of these "official" holidays any more; she spends her days in what I hope is satisfied somnambulent repose, taking the sun as it comes, or the chit-chat of the little ones when they deign to visit. So, of course, we found her wrapped up tight, sitting out in the sun, listening to her Sony shortwave at whatever it is she was listening to, looking particularly resplendent in her myriad of shukas and her favourite headdress.

As always, given my infrequent visits, I wasn't sure she'd do the "Na wewe ni nani?" routine and I hesitated before I approached her domain. But she lit up when she saw me. She ignored the Prof, the Doc or the Musician and focussed her startlingly direct gaze at me and declared, "Kwa nini umechelewa?" How she knew I was coming and that I had taken the three with me as camouflage I do not know. But I am glad that the bond she and I share is still strong enough that she knows when I am going to come see her. If that doesn't make her my favourite gal, then I don't know what does.

She still chews her own meat, reads without bifocals and can be quite sprightly if she suspects that you have the temerity to go stomping through her lounge in your filthy, filthy shoes. Take off you damn shoes, idiot! Stopping tracking God-knows-what all over her super-clean floors, godammit! It was one of the few days in the week when no matter what burdens I was carrying, I knew it was going to be alright. Lord help me, but that woman is the light of my life.

I feel a bit bad that I am not the robber-baron she hoped I'd be by now (she and I leave that to Peter and the rest of them), because I can't come and see her all the time. She needs company, other than Monica, the niece who's nearest, or Maria, who is the only woman alive who can put up with her sharp tongue. And my gal has a razor sharp tongue. When she turns her sarcasm in your direction, lord help you if a hot flush of embarassment doesn't colour your cheeks even if you are the colour of obsidian. It is one of her few traits that I am most afraid of, yet can't help but admire.

I miss her, every day I don't see her. She misses me too, I know it, and it is a cruel twist of fate that we come from such radically different generations that there is no way I can fit in comfortably in her world or she in mine. But what little we can take, we will take and we will snuffle down the mbuzi and the chapati and quaff down the Sprite (our secret favourite soft drink) and sit in silence, or argue vehemently about when I will bring Her to see her again. I love that woman. I hope she knows how much.

Monday, October 19, 2015

I'll see you soon.

When you say it out loud it sounds unreal, surreal. How can it have been two years? It can't have been. I just spoke to you the other day. We just saw you! But when you think on it, let the issue fester, you'll see how it could be that for two years we have trod separate paths, and yes, we haven't seen each other for that long. 

How? For one, we both grew up. Second, we both grew up to be responsible men, taking care of most, if not all, of our responsibilities. And we became damn busy. That we haven't quit each other completely is telling; if things had drifted too much we would have looked at our contact lists and hit the delete buttons some time ago. But be not mistaken, it is my fault that it has been two years.


 I'll make it up to all of you. Soon. In the next few months. Honest!

Pray in the closet!

There is little hope and no promise for Kenyans as things stand today, unless we turn to serious national prayer that God may redeem us from the precipice on the edge of which we are dangerously tottering. ~ http://standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000180059/here-s-why-we-need-to-pray-for-our-country/
This is the constitutional structure of the Government of Kenya: national Executive, Parliament, Judiciary, County Government, independent offices and constitutional commissions. That's it. The supremacy of "Almighty God" is acknowledged in the preamble, but read through the remaining 87,000+ words looking for "Almighty God" and you'll be shocked at "Almighty God's" shy nature. "Almighty God" knows well enough not to embroil Him/Herself in the constitutional affairs of man.

 There is a very good reason for this. Whatever beliefs we may hold about deities and their powers, we the people have gone out of our way to set down in writing how we want to govern ourselves. Among all those constitutional institutions are shared powers and functions designed to provide for our well-being, security ad safety. We have not assigned any powers or functions to "Almighty God" in the Constitution of Kenya.

For a tabloid of the Standard's stature to suggest that our problems with the governance of Kenya, and the associated challenges those problems have brought, will be solved if we "pray" to "Almighty God" is nothing new. That is what those who lack imagination will eventually suggest when things go wrong. But for it to become government policy, as it is in Zambia following the collapse of the kwacha against world currencies, is taking wishful thinking too far. It has no place in the government.

We are asked to pray to "Almighty God" for solutions to strikes, the economy, sexual offences and extortion, as well as our imperfect democracy, negative ethnicity and corrupt politics. This is an admission that what we set down in writing in our constitution is meaningless; they are just words that mean absolutely nothing, that say nothing of any importance, that the institutions we have created are mere artifacts of our hypocrisy. What we really want is "Gold Almighty" to come down from the heavens and take over the governance of this country once and for all. We are being asked to look for a dictator to reign over us. And we find nothing alarming about that suggestion.

Do you know what the essential characteristic of the "Christian God" is? He must be obeyed at all times without question. Or he will kill you. The only thing he promises you in return for your blind obedience is everlasting life. He does not promise good governance, democratic government (unlikely when He is the government), or positive ethnicity. He only promises you will live under his thumb forever.

Because no god has ever revealed himself to modern man, we have substituted this god with a human replacement, a god-man. That is what the Standard wishes us to do. We must create a god-man of our own who will save us from ourselves, remove from us the onerous and confusing task of governing ourselves. He will rule us and give us long life. We will obey him or suffer the consequences.

Have we struggled for fifty years only to admit that we are incapable of governing ourselves? I don't think so. We are not small children, and it is time the Standard and its ilk recognised that. We neither need nor want a god-man. What we must do is something we have known for fifty years: we must think for ourselves and avoid the cop-out of allowing "leaders" to think for us. I don't need a god-man to solve my nation's problems and if I choose to pray to "Almighty God", I will do it as His son exhorts me to do according to the Gospel according to St Matthew: in my closet!

Mocking God.


12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for [so] I am.
14 If I then, [your] Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. ~ The Gospel according to St John, Chapter 13
When the Christ washed the feet of His disciples, and exhorted them to wash each others' feet, He did it to set an example for them and, hopefully, for them to set an example for all Christians. Of course, the disciples might not have had to anticipate the lawyers of the twenty first century like me, who hearken to St Paul's First Epistle to Timothy in which he declares
But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;
Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine...
Therefore, we are prepared to see the sinister parts of the Christ's commission to His disciples. Our Earthly "masters" and "lords" have not washed our feet; they have instead, vomitted all over our shoes and exhorted us to wipe ourselves clean. They have taken St Paul's message to Timothy to heart, interpreting it as a lawyer would: the law is good, if a man uses it lawfully. They have not used it lawfully, and the law is no longer good. That law, to them, is made for any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.

It is why you will not see them wash our feet, metaphorically speaking. They have become the Pharisees and Sadducees who tormented the Christ, making up laws as they go along that pump up their stature and debase ours. They forget the Christ's instructions as recorded in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St Matthew:
“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”
They shall ask, but I do not know if it shall be given. If they ask for bread, perhaps, they might actually get stone. They have stomped on the graves of the dead, they have done so with cruel disregard. Their public displays of piety are a great insult to the blood of the innocent that was spilled. The truth might never be known of who was or who wasn't responsible, but their debasement of the word of the Christian God might one day come to haunt them.

We might be a hypocritical people, but I don't think we have gone too far down that road that we do not have a twinge of regret about what happened to 700,000 of our fellowmen. Many of us regret the death, violence, rape, destruction, mayhem. Our hypocrisies prevent us from actively doing anything about them. But we resent being reminded of our hypocrisies, and we have ways of making the guilty feel our disapproval. To those publicly on their knees mocking God, that day may come sooner than they think.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Republic lives like a whimper.

I

Ours, as the Constitution isn't shy to declare, is a Republic. A republic, as we have been reminded, from time to time, is representative government. To form that representative government, we have the other important descriptor of our Republic: a multiparty democracy. Democracy, as Abraham Lincoln bequeathed on the world, is government of the people, for the people, and by the people. For that government to come into being, the peoples' representatives will be elected at regular intervals, five years in our case.

Kenya is a multiparty democratic republic. Taking up after the "great" western democracies, Kenya has for itself a free press, also known as "the media." A free press is the Fourth Estate, after the three traditional estates of the crown, parliament and the judiciary. It is the institution that has taken upon itself the onerous task of keeping a watchful eye on the three arms of government, the aforementioned executive, parliament and judiciary. In the United States, the press has been responsible for uncovering great corruption in the executive, the Houses of Congress and the judiciary, including in the Supreme Court of the United States.

It has recorded the abuses of power by the powerful and revealed the privations of the impoverished. It has witnessed war and peace, and it has written about the cost of both. It celebrates itself with awards such as the Pulitzer and it prides itself as being the envy of the world. Where once people were held hostage to the flattened vowels of the BBC World Service, we are now captured in the culture of the twenty four hour news "cycle" promoted around the world by the likes of CNN.

II

Our Republic has nothing in common with the United States; it was not forged by a revolution. It has not enslaved a people using the bible as its justification. It has not made, lost and remade great fortunes for the greatest number of its citizens. But it is in the area of the press that the United States has much to teach us - and much to warn us.

You would read the newspapers of the day and believe that the press in Kenya, the media as they remind us, continues to keep a watch on the government and its officials. Revelations of great corruption have been alleged; yet, when you read the news stories, and watch and listen to them on the radio and on TV, you are left with more questions than answers. There are many allegations about the abuse of power, yet these allegations are supported by innuendo and rumour. Very few facts are shared with the people, for whom, we are assured, the great enterprise of Kenya's free press speaks. Time and again the law is cited as the reason why names are not named (unless the names are those of minor government functionaries out of favour for the day).

III

Our Republic has a population of over forty million citizens true. Of these many millions, there are a few thousand who are the Republic: the President and his Cabinet; the Chief Justice and his judges and magistrates; the Speakers of the National Assembly and Senate and their fellow members; the Governors and their executive committees; and the Speakers of the County Assemblies and their members. These few thousands, and the hundreds of thousands of civil servants ho serve them, are the Republic. What they do, matters. What they say is important. Whom they do what they do with, and what they say and to whom they say it to, is consequential. Yet what they do, how they do it, whom they do it with, what they say, where they say it, how they say it, and what it means, remain mysteries for which the citizens have no capacity to decipher because they have been let down by the one institution that is supposed to be motivated by the truth and the truth of things: the press.

The Prime Minister of Malaysia, an East Asian Tiger, has been accused of pocketing seven hundred million dollars. The matter has been highlighted in the Malaysian press for months. His government is in crisis. It is almost certain that he will not resign. The Director of the United States Secret Service, the agency of the United States' Federal Government charged with the safety of the President of the United States, resigned after a series of lapses regarding the security of the president, after the issues were highlighted in the press. 

The National Youth Service has been swindled of many hundreds of millions of shillings. The police say the money is missing. The Director of Public Prosecutions says that the sacrificial lambs he has been handed cannot be prosecuted because the evidence submitted by the police is insufficient. The Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning, her Planning Principal Secretary and the Director-General of the National Youth Service have refused to resign. In their words, their consciences are clear. They have done nothing wrong. All this we know from our press. But unlike in the Watergate Scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Milhouse Nixon, we have hundreds of column inches on the NYS Scandal, but very little information of value.

IV

In Kenya, the press, just like all other institutions, have little in common with their counterparts in the United States. The more obvious similarities are their commerce-oriented focus on profit. They are organised as "media companies"' offering political news coverage, local news coverage, entertainment and advertisement. But the Kenyan press, despite a few fillips here and there, are not revolutionary. Their fate is tied to the fortunes of the government of the day; it is their biggest source of news and their biggest source of revenue. Not unlike a significant number of local manufacturing companies. They will not be bringing down the government in the near future. They will pretend to be a free press; but they will never be the tail wagging the dog.

It is, therefore, surprising that the press would talk of their freedom being threatened by the government. The press has played up the amendments to the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act that the press argues will curtail "media freedom." You get a feeling that this is a great distraction, away from the missing hundreds of millions from the NYS kitty. That might sound very conspiratorial, but when the press works so hard to say so little, you cannot help but wonder whether the greatest long con is being played on the citizens. You can discern the tendrils of the conspiracy from the manner in which a story just peters out.

V

Do you remember Kamotho Waiganjo, the imposter policeman? His prosecution has proceeded apace with bits and pieces of it being reported every now and then. But do you know who was protecting him when he was active? Did he get paid a salary? If so, from whence did the funds come? Was he issued with a uniform, firearms and the other accouterments of a policeman? If so, by who and and on whose authority? Did he ever receive fitness reviews? If so, by who and did he pass? How many citizens did he violate their rights when he was active? A simple story, as told by the press, but so many unanswered questions.

We have the opportunity to build for ourselves a republic that is our own, a democratic government that represents our ambitions, values and morals. We have an opportunity to build great institutions of state that reflect what we are and what we could be. That opportunity comes alive with a truly free press. Until the day we get that free press there is little that we will accomplish as a people, as a republic or as a nation. We will only have the shadow of a promise, the whiff of ambition, the what-ifs of regret. Mores the pity, don't you think?

Could corruption be good?

Corrupt. Adj. 1. willing to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain. ~ Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th Ed.
“corruption” means—
(a) an offence under any of the provisions of sections 39 to 44, 46 and 47;
(b) bribery;
(c) fraud;
(d) embezzlement or misappropriation of public funds;
(e) abuse of office;
(f) breach of trust; or
(g) an offence involving dishonesty—
     (i) in connection with any tax, rate or impost levied under any Act; or
    (ii) under any written law relating to the elections of persons to public office. ~ section 2, Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act, 2003.
I

Those two are the popular definitions for "corrupt" and "corruption." But do they cover more than they reveal? Is there a hidden benefit to society from corrupt acts or in the corruption of a government? I do not know. That lack of knowledge might be a handicap; after all, if I am unable to see the argument for corruption or corrupt acts, how can I honestly say that corruption is wrong or the corrupt act wrongfully?

Kenya has had statutes against corruption for as long as it has had the Penal Code, but corruption has defined every single government since the Colonial Secretary appointed the first Governor of the Colony in 1922. The corruption of the colonial government is yet to be detailed in full, but the racial segregationist policies pursued for the establishment of a home for the settler community will surely be a highlight of that dossier. The less said of the corruption of the post-Independence governments, the better.

However, the effects of the corruption of all of Kenya's governments on the peoples of Kenya cannot be wished away. Death, environmental degradation, impoverishment, unlawful expropriation of property, mass industrial actions, human rights abuses...the list of things that corruption has done to Kenya and Kenyans is profound. If there was any benefit derived from all this, perhaps, it would be possible to say that a little bit of corruption never hurt anyone.

It is possible that there might be short term benefits. For example, if local hospitals lose their allocation of essential medicines because they have been expropriated by the hospital staff for private sale, the residents living near that hospital might choose to live healthier lifestyles or buy medical insurance for them and their families. These benefits, however, can only last for so long. If the corruption in the hospital supply chain persists, not only will the people lose faith in the public healthcare system, but they will see nothing wrong in they themselves engaging in fast practices regarding the health facilities available to them, whether public or private, increasing the schisms among the people, fostering mistrust and eventually greater disregard for the rule of law.

II

There is a temptation to compare Kenya today with Singapore in the 1970s or the United States in the 1870s. The comparisons usually fail to account for the inherent corruption of those nations at those periods in history. Take the United States as an example. The US constitution might have been amended for the fourteenth time in 1868, but the inherently racist policies of both the federal and state governments would contrive to deny Black Americans the vote until the Lyndon Johnson administration enacted the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s. The United States economy may have profited from the disenfranchisement of its Black population due to the suppression of wages engendered by the civil rights violations, but no one should deny that this disenfranchisement was inherently wrong, or corrupt.

Kenya's economy has not benefitted too much from the corrupt acts of those in and out of government. It has not had a corruption dividend the way the US or the Tiger Economies have. In fact, over the past three years, industrial production has had an uneven performance. Steel and cement production has gone up; but manufacturers of some consumer goods have either shut shop and moved away or have been forced to change the products they manufacture because of the unfair competition they face from corrupt manufacturers or importers of the goods they produce.

What is notable is that despite a decade of economic growth, during which time we have been sold a happy tale of great performance, unemployment among the youth aged 18 to 35 has stagnated and labour unrest in the public sector has gotten worse.  The political turmoil witnessed over the past ten years has also been because of the corruption in the government to a great extent. When the political elite have disagreed on the sharing of the spoils, there have been political crises for which few solutions have been found. The paralysis in the national Executive after 2005 and the violence after the 2007 general election have largely been a reflection of the consequences of not addressing the corruption in the government.

Look at Singapore. A quasi-dictatorship in which the benevolent dictator rode roughshod over the people has bequeathed on the city state an economy that is the envy of the world. This is the rare case where corruption did not sink the state. Singaporeans are no more free today than they were twenty five years ago, but many of them are wealthier than they were twenty five years ago. The unseen parts of Singapore still suffer great privation; the poor are the dirty little secret of the Great Singapore Miracle. Kenya does not have the wealth nor the tools to hide its poor; they are simply too many poor people to hide from the eyes of the world.

III

Before we can hold a rational discussion about the possible benefits if corruption for Kenya, we must acknowledge that corruption exists and that it has metastasized throughout the firmament of government. It is not enough to snigger at the base desires of the county government leadership; these are but a confirmation that the public service we have is not the public service we deserve. When critical-care patients die because they cannot be admitted to hospitals because the funds for expansion have been spent on boondoggles of little value, that cannot in any way be described as a benefit even if one of its outcomes is that private entrepreneurs will now offer critical care for the same patients at a price that the people can afford. That price is a second tax on the people for they have already paid taxes for the provision of those same services.

The pernicious effects of corruption are a loosening of the values and morals of the people.  A simple thought experiment should suffice. A public hospital in an ideal situation should provide basic care for the people living around the hospital. It must be served by a doctor, a nurse, pharmacist and other healthcare workers. The doctor and his staff should have undergone training to the highest standards possible under the circumstances. The facilities should be in good repair and, based on the statistical analysis of the Ministry of Health, should be adequate for the population around the hospital. The public health policy near the hospital when implemented properly should ensure that the population avoids risks that would endanger their health and practice things that would enhance their health, thereby leaving the hospital facilities for those in need.

In a corrupt environment, the chances of the healthcare workers in the hospital would not be trained to the highest standards, the public policy implementation would not de-escalate health risks, the facilities would be in poor repair, and the funds for expanding the services with the growth in the population would be missing. The health problems in the population would spike and the public hospital would be unable to cope, engendering misery and a deep mistrust for the government. Bribes, for example, would see to it that some patients are treated and many are not. Extrapolate this throughout the public service and things get more and more dire. Rich/poor schisms will widen and support for public policies will remain low. Political instability will be built into the political system. The outcome is likely what we are experiencing today: poverty, unemployment, violent crime, despondency.

By all means, let us have a debate on the pros and cons of corruption, but that debate must acknowledge first that corruption is inherently bad and two, that any positive effects are short-lived and only for the few, never for the many.

Forked tongues.

Talk, good people, is not cheap. I couldn't believe that for the impending floods, there is a government in Kenya that set aside thirty seven thousand shillings for soap. Soap! But then again another government spent one hundred and nine thousand shillings on a wheelbarrow. The highest officials of the government have declared war on corruption. That, my friends, is not cheap talk. It is thirty seven thousand shillings worth per bar of soap and a hundred and nine thousand shillings per wheelbarrow.

When you see the rich profiting off of our taxes, the first instinct these days is to ask how one can land a big government tender. This is the state of things today; we are all looking for the chance to profit from the government, making millions and billions off of the taxes that we all pay. This is both an indictment of our government and of our private sector.

When Barack Obama finally deigned to visit Kenya, hundreds of millions of shillings were spent to spruce up the place. We were all astounded that fifty million shillings was spent on flowers along highways and roads that Barack Obama eventually did not see. Months later, the flowers are nowhere to be seen. The Pope is coming; I wonder how many hundreds of millions will be spent.

The government has set aside billions to prepare for El Nino. The short rains have been predicted to be especially intense and floods, mudslides and land;slides are expected. So it boggles the mind to discover that twenty million will go towards "civic education" and, here we go again, thirty seven thousand shillings apiece on bars of soap.

There is no shame nowadays in demanding a piece of the public pie. Sunny Bindra quoted those fateful words, the death knell of civilised society: everyone does it. And in Kenya, today, it seems as if everyone with an angle, an in, is in on the let us swindle the government for all its got. The irony is that those with the loudest whinges about the state of the government, the state of infrastructure, the state of public services, the public wage bill or corruption running rife are the ones with the strongest urge to dip long fingers in the public till.

It is hypocrisy, plain and simple, and it is eating us alive. We have all given up. We don't care any more. We are in it for us and our own. In the fullness of time, no matter how much we try and paper over things, even our children will know that we are forked-tongued, speaking out both sides of our mouths, lying to each other and lying to ourselves.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Friends who were there then.

These are the ones who were there in the beginning. Carl had a knack for sketching the image of the Christ but he couldn't colour worth a damn. That was my job. He remains my earliest memory of a friend and when they moved away, I was never the same again, friendships were never the same again. Not with Richard. Not with Victor. Not with Maxwell. That all changed when I sat next to the Saudi.

Fakhry is without a doubt the most extraordinary man I know - apart from the Soldier and the Professor. Why we became friends is less important as how we became friends. We have nothing in common, absolutely nothing. Even his appreciation of Bob Marley is tempered; it is not like mine: obsessive, nerdy, a bit unhinged. He is the epitome of charisma and good taste and when you meet his son you will understand why. His self-confidence and poise makes the ladies swoon - and they actually swoon and flap their manicured, bejewelled, long-nailed fingers in front of their faces whenever they encounter him. If I didn't love him as much as I did, I would drop him into one of those active Japanese volcanoes, though I have a feeling the volcano would disagree with me and consume me instead.

But we sat along the same line as Eric and Baddie. Eric is the soldier-pilot.  He flies combat helicopters. He is not - NOT! - a bus driver. He flies helicopters that have machine guns and require a great deal of precision flying when you are shooting at bad people with RPGs and MANPADS. He has the hard stare of a man who knows his shit, and the carriage of an officer in these defence forces. In his flight suit, man does he make Tom Cruise look less Tom Cruise-y.

Baddie, on the other hand, is the surprise. The best point guard our year ever had. That guy could place that basketball where he wanted it without even looking. He knew the court and the team on the court by some sort of alchemist instinct. When he shot from the three-point line, sometimes I think he kept his eyes open so that he didn't freak out the opposition. He was - is - that good. I wonder how he finds Mombasa these days. I wonder if he still plays basketball.

They were all there when I asked Schola to dance with me. It did not turn out to be the disaster I feared - until years later when she gave birth and got married. But on that day when I single-handedly kicked Mumbuni's butt on the debate floor, she had eyes only for me and, thanks to Tet and his art supplies, she kept them on me for the rest of the year. I always wonder what could have been if I hadn't gone into exile for six or seven years thirteen thousand kilometres away.

There was Newton who was a brilliant accountant, Tom who had a mzungu last name, was a brilliant accountant and mathematician, played football, basketball and table tennis with panache, and who was remarkably neat, Reuben who played the flute and had penpals all over the world, Joseph who was tall and thin and played football with elan but had atrocious penmanship, Mark, my namesake, who recently took over things after his dad died, who lent me cash to skip school so long as I shared with him my mum's chapatis, and who still remains as big as he was when we were there, and the other Joseph who played basketball and table tennis and was a cop and looked like he wished he had attended Saints. Jack was the glue that kept our motley crew together; he had access to the dispensary where we kept, and quaffed, the Smirnoff.

They were there, they were generous. I discovered words from them that I now regret knowing, after a fashion. They must have been as shocked as I was when it didn't all turn to shit - because I did everything in my power to screw it up. Now here I am, wondering where they are, what they are doing, how their families are, their carers, their achievements. Maybe we'll one day do an Old Boys' thing. Maybe.

Weak, incompetent and useless

I return to my Pet Peeve of the Year yet again after a woman with the promise of youth is killed because Evans Kidero's government is weak, incompetent and useless. Mwiki SACCO's matatus do not operation in a regulatory vacuum; they operate with impunity because the County Government of Nairobi City is weak, incompetent and useless. It's weakness, incompetence and uselessness is demonstrated in the small indignities it imposes on the commuting public - and the risks it places on pedestrians because of its weakness, incompetence and uselessness.

Take Tom Mboya Street, for example. Between Luthuli Avenue and the Fire Station, Tom Mboya Street seems to have become a bus terminus and a tax rank and a hawkers' paradise and a pickpocket's wet dream all rolled into one. We can blame John Michuki, when he was transport minister, for the mess he created when he abolished the Kenya Bus Service's monopoly on the Central Business District, but that was a decade ago. We have a City County Government. It has done little to improve things. It is weak, incompetent and useless.

The consequences of this County Government's weakness, incompetence and uselessness are varied and plain to see: the street is a mess for non-PSV traffic; the vehicular emissions have poisoned the air and blackened the must-be-painted walls of all the establishments that operate along the street; the human traffic is constrained and crammed to too little a space for its size; death, while not common, is usually a heartbeat away from the rising cases of injuries. The Governor has been proud of his street lights and his traffic camera; they ave done little to ameliorate the extremely chaotic conditions on Tom Mboya Street.

But the proof of the Governor's  weakness, incompetence and uselessness is to be seen away from the chaos of Tom Mboya Street and on the most serikali of the serikali part of the CBD, Harambee Avenue. Pedestrians are treated with hostility. Non-serikali drivers are treated with hostility. The traffic jams, once common only during evening rush hour as motorists tried to get onto Uhuru Highway are now a common sight all day long between Parliament Road and Moi Avenue.  How he hopes to turn Nairobi City into a world class city without standing up for the things that make a world city remains a mystery only he can solve.

The Governor is working on grand transport plans for the City, that involve road construction and railway construction and mass transit buses. These plans have one key element that every Governor in Kenya loves - a massive government tender worth hundreds of millions of dollars. We need new roads. We need an urban commuter rail system. We need mass transit buses. But until we get them, we must deal with the mess Michuki and his successors gave this City: the matatu industry on drugs and on our streets. 

Hard decisions must be made and none harder than banning the idling of these monstrosities on our streets. If those Mwiki SACCO buses hadn't been stationary and if their drivers hadn't felt the need to squeeze together so that more buses could park, that young woman would probably be alive today. If this county government hadn't been weak, incompetent and useless, she would be alive today. If this county government doesn't know or understand this, then we are really in trouble.

The danger with purity.

You can never win against a fanatic. It is quite useless to try when the fanatic is intelligent, well-read, erudite and completely without doubt as to the superiority of their ideas and the place of those ideas in the intellectual discourses of the day. It is foolhardy to attempt to engage with them when they have determined that you are beneath them. Yet, to admit this is to admit that discourse, reasonable or not, is quite dead.

With the fanatic there is only one way: theirs. Alternatives are for the unsure, the idiots. When the choice is between their solution and a compromise of lesser rigidity or certainty, there is no choice. This makes for a one-sided conversation, between you and a wall. Walls don't hear. Walls keep things out and keep things in, simultaneously. The impermeability of walls is what calls for doors and windows.

Take yesterday's Twitter hashtag, #NoBraDay. Annually, 13 October is dedicated to breast cancer awareness. On Twitter, this is memorialized by #NoBraDay. It being Twitter, of course, idiots will attempt to hijack the hashtag for licentious and salacious satisfaction, but the objective still remains true: to highlight, for those on Twitter, that breast cancer is a crisis and that, especially though not exclusively, women should get tested for breast cancer. Infantile it might seem to the fanatic, but #NoBraDay has a place in the panoply of campaigns to sensitise everyone on a crucial health matter. After all, many young people today spend a substantial amount of their time online on Twitter and other social media platforms and it would be foolish not to try and reach them in a form that they understand and appreciate.

But to the purists, those who live for the traditional ivory tower discourse, Twitter, Instagram and the other social media platforms are the signs of the collapse of civilisation and civilised discourse. Hashtags and similar devices are proof that we are no longer critical thinkers but mindless drones pre-programmed to only think of ourselves and our bubbles. Rarely will the anti-hashtag brigade supply data to prove their hypothesis; instead they will point to the limited intellectual content of the hashtag by pointing out that it fails to take into account other social problems, like how there are still many adolescent girls without access to underwear or sanitary pads. Perhaps there is a link between breast cancer, underwear and sanitary pads, but the fanatic refuses to find it - or even look for it.

Traditional forms of problem-solving have not solved all our problems. In some cases, tradition has compounded our problems. Trying out non-traditional means of civic education is not an admission that tradition is an unmitigated failure, but that tradition must evolve and may benefit from being complemented by other things. The focus of a hashtag-for-a-day on a particular subject is not because the other problems do not matter but because, for one day, a large number of peoples' minds will be focussed on a single problem in the hopes that possible solutions will be considered.

No one can focus on all social problems all of the time. That is a futile act. In fact, that is one of the ways that all those problems will not find solutions. It might be low-brow, but the hashtag campaign is not necessarily a bad idea; it is just one other tool in the toolbox. Use it or ignore it, but don't live in the bubble of purity when purity ahsn't solved al our problems yet and might not.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Look at the chaos.

Right now, I stink.

Let me explain. It's been a while since I did anything sensible, like buy underarm deodorant or write a legislative sentence that made sense. You can tell that with the latter there are certain quarters that are rethinking everything they thought they knew about public law, because I am the guy they get sent to that they don't really want to see. I don't speak legalese but only because the little Latin they drilled into me at Shivaji U has been defenestrated by a decade of cheap hooch.

It is getting harder and harder to care about The Law these days, not that I am old or jaded. But it is getting harder. It used to be when you drafted a Universities' Act, you had a pretty good idea what it was intended to do. It was not intended to create offenders where none existed. It was supposed to tell you simple things, really, like who was in charge, what they could do, what you could do, what they couldn't do, what you couldn't do and similar shit. But read the new one and if it makes sense then you are one of the people who makes the law such a terrible, terrible burden on the ignorant and the innocent.

The law is now a weapon, wielded with malice and pettiness against the weak and the defenseless by prosecutors and lawyers alike caring little for things like social cohesion or integration. Everyone and their uncle is a lawyer - or they have a lawyer on retainer whose sole job, it seems, is to raise litigation hell every single day without a care for the consequences. It's pretty damn exhausting, specially when you are responsible for putting the statutory equivalent of an AK-47 in the hands of scarcely-grown jurist juveniles with the self-control of five-year olds with ADHD.

Watch how much havoc they wreak.

Look at the chaos that reigns in the education sector. In a few months time, when that Kaimenyi fella is reading out the results of the KCPE and the KCSE, the consequences of the law and their lawyers who wield it like AKs will be plain to see. Then more lawyers will get in on the act pretending to clear up the mess but in reality lining their pockets like their brethren who created the mess in the first place. Or fingerprints, learned colleagues, are all over the scenes of crime. It is time we confessed our crimes and begged for mercy. I fear we won't. Look at the chaos.

About that underarm deodorant: only She gets to decide. So back off!

Friends. What a funny old world.

Now that I am set on this path, there are a few more who should have known better than to befriend me. There's Linah. I always wondered about that name. She's  mum now, and her sons look so much like her. I wonder if they have her smile. She smiled a lot. I thought it was unnatural for someone to be that happy. Until I met her future husband. Then it all fell into place. She owes me a Steers' burger. And a novel. In that order.

Is Sylvia still in Germany? I don't know. She travels widely. She is the singular most aggressively ambitious person I know. She is part-owner of a fine-dining establishment - she's want me to say that - and she knows more about the law than is healthy for someone with her unbridled ambition. She is honest to a fault and that worries me sometimes because honest, ambitious people who go to Germany are simply part of that horrendous brain drain that leaves us with morons in charge. I have a feeling she will one day run Kenya.

I wonder how the other Lilian - the one with the dreadlocks - finds public service. Sure it's the DPP's office, which many of us are envious about, but still the public service. I have a suspicion she is already in charge of her district; she won't admit it, of course, but she must be in charge. I used to think she was too thin. Then she wore that grey skirt-suit number and I am now fully on board with grey skirt-suits. I just hope the DPP doesn't assign her to one of those prosecutions that seem to end up with the prosecutor having to explain sudden lifestyle changes or having to dodge 7.62mm cartridges travelling at high velocity.

I haven't seen William who deftly handled 7.62mm cartridges once for quite a while. He got married on Valentine's Day some time ago. Cliche, you say? Not really. It seemed fitting. Especially when I remember his mysteriously slicked back hair and the missing eyeglasses. John, Hiram, Paul -I haven't told you about Paul yet - were all there. He's an IP genius nowadays. One day, perhaps, he'll let me in on what IP is.

Paul is my brother-in-arms. He's ODM. I'm ODM. At least that's what we pretend. I don't even know how that nickname came to be our nickname. No...I do. It was that wild-eyed lawyer when we were still in Law School who almost wept when we told her that Agwambo would win the election but would never be president and that the US would elect a Luo president before Kenya did. I think we must have hit a nerve because, I swear,, she must have shed a litre of tears that afternoon. Anyway, Paul is the one who seems to have to volumes: loud and loud cranked up to eleventeen. Sometimes I hide from him, because it is almost impossible to disagree with him without looking like a complete heel.

There's Salim about whom everything is a mystery. His present chubby-cheekedness is a mystery. He is a brilliant lawyer. He's a brilliant drummer. He is a remarkably reckless driver, that is, he seems to get to places in speeds that defy the laws of physics. And all in one piece and the car in working nick. Another mystery that will remain unsolved. He has these wonderful tall tales that have just enough kernels of truthiness to sound totally plausible. If he lived in Antarctica, he'd have the leading refrigeration business in the area. He's that good. And loyal too. And for a chubby fellow, quite the athlete too. I wonder if his SL500's wheels have fallen off yet. Knowing him, DT Dobie probably gave him a lifetime deal on replacements.

I only found out that her name is Rose the other day. That's not what we called her. She smiles entirely too much. Another happy, happy soul. How do I know so many happy people, anyway? She got married too, the other day. He smiles too. And he wants to steal my tree. And no! I'm not jealous. Or anything. I don' see her as much, these days. I tend to leave the house at unreasonably early hours these days. Those drafts won't write themselves. She always said "Hi" when I slunk past her gate at 9am looking like I had been hit by a sofa-sized Black Label ice-cube.

Maybe tomorrow I'll have more memories of the fond kind about the kind people who saw fit not to shrink in horror when they first met me. Not even my first landlord did. Instead he and his family had me over for lunch every Sunday. It's a funny old world, isn't it?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Friends, how I love them.

I have tried to say this for the longest time. I always lose the words somewhere between my latent narcissism and my acute shyness. It is impossible to say what needs saying without losing myself in the various moments when something happened, then something else happened, then we smiled or some such shit. Anyway, let me give it one more try.

I remember when I first made an ass of myself with John. He told me, in that casual way of his, that his dad was indeed that Judge. That was after I had told him I thought the Judge needed to work on his judgments. They did not float my boat; not like that disgraced former anticorruption czar. Well anyway, we became firm friends. He's a dad now, twice over, and I must say, daddy-ness suits him. But then again, if you knew John, you'd see that this too was something that was meant to be in the way it should be. I am proud to call him my friend, though I am less a friend than an almighty headache.

Hiram is a whole other kettle of fish. He's a dad too, but that was years before when we were still trying to figure out what the School was supposed to be all about. He has a wicked sense of humour, sometimes a little too much on the risque side. But, like the ones in Texas say, different strokes for different folks. He is a legal eagle of no mean repute - if you are ever in the crosshairs of those pesky speed traps along Naivasha-Nairobi road, Hiram's your guy. He takes a perverse pleasure - yes! I said it! - a perverse pleasure in making fools of Boinnet's boys. I don't think they like him enough, but he's motor vehicle club thinks he's the bees' knees. So do I.

I'm still trying to work out when I even spoke to Leo and Maureen. Was it before they became Leo and Maureen? I don't know. It is definitely after that night that I spent longer than was normal on one of those really comfy stools at the invisible end of that place we like so much with the Three Barrels. They are one of the reasons why it seems as if men and women were meant to be men and women. They are sunshine and ice-cold beers. Thank God they don't think I am an idiot. That would just be awful. Awful! No...I haven't had them over for lunch yet. I don't have a house made for entertaining, though She doesn't think so, bless Her heart.

Jennifer and Liz were the first people I saw when I reported on the Eighth Floor. That first month was quite harrowing; I had no clue what I was supposed to do, or what I was supposed to say. They were remarkably caring and helpful. Funny too; you have to have a sense of humour to put up with my thousand-and-one inane questions about legislative sentences and whatnot. They've moved on, but they keep me in their orbit and that is a testament to the value they place on their friends. I wish I could do more, be more. Maybe this is the beginning.

Marion is the sweetest woman you will meet. You get a sense that she is ready to listen to your secrets without judgment or preconceptions. She is the glue that keeps the whole office together. Without her, I have a feeling we would be at sixes and sevens all the time. When she smiles, you know that the world is right side up. You have to meet her at least once in your life; it's the only way you will know that life is full of endless possibilities.

Tom is full of bombast, but not in a bad way. He is full of ideas and they always seem to end with him taking over the world, though he doesn't say so. He is the level-headed chief of the whole floor. He knows more about out line of work than anyone else I know. A bit scary when you are trying to get a word in edgewise, but an excellent counsellor when you need one. He is the Uber role model. He can write. He can argue. And he can negotiate the wings off a fly.

This inadequate post will not reveal the blessed feeling I get waking up in the morning because of them. I haven't said anything about Her, but you know why. She wouldn't appreciate that, much. Especially as I can't say much without digressing to matters to do with The Wiggle, which is a sight to behold. It doesn't bounce, my friends. It Wiggles. It needs a chapter all to itself. Enough, or She will use That Tone when she says "Oh Wow!" and then I will be in trouble. All you need know, for now, is that She just IS.

Our soul is dead.

Bob Marley, it is attributed by some, said that money can't buy you life. Politicians seem it can buy everything else, including honour. I can't seem to find in Kenya a credible argument against that presumption because I am watching things play out that would have been anathema even ten years ago, the go-go days of the Kibaki Era.

Seven years ago very bad things happened in Kenya because of a presidential election count that went awry, to put it very, very kindly. The reverberations of those bad things are still being felt today. The line between the bad, bad things and the Money-buys-Everything-but-Life philosophy goes through the International Criminal Court, where Kenya's soul went to die. You would thnk that the deaths of thousands of Kenyans because of a election would have killed Kenya's soul. You would be wrong.

You would think that when hundreds of Kenyans are mutilated, maimed, disfigured and gang raped, that when hundreds of thousands are pushed from their homes in the dead of night, dispossessed even of their underpants, watching as the last living thing on their farms is set on fire, including the bedbugs and the cockroaches - you would think all this would have killed Kenya's soul. You would be absolutely, tragically wrong.

It is, I am sad to report, the small, obscure indignities in faraway places that killed the soul of our nation. There was no fanfare to it. There was little publicity. Indeed, there are some who would deny that our soul is dead. They either are responsible for this murder - or they do not know where to look for proof.

I do not care whether the Ocampo Six were guilty or not. I do not care whether Ruto & Sang are guilty or not. I care very much that tens of thousands of Kenyans were violently dispossessed of their properties and essentially forbidden, including by their very own government, from ever reclaiming their property. The ones who did the dispossessing never saw the inside of a jail cell, let alone a criminal court room. There are tens of thousands of the mutilated, the maimed, the disfigured and the gang raped who must confront their attackers in silence because these are well-respected men and women of good standing in their communities. We have accepted, we have moved on. The "two communities" are at peace with each other.

But in that faraway court, Kenyans who bled, Kenyans who dies, Kenyans who lost everything, must watch as the big powers and the small powers play games while at home tokens - a billion here, a billion there - are strewn at their feet with casual take-it-or-leave-it arrogance. The faraway court made promises. It has kept none. It will keep none. Our soul is dead. It is not getting resurrected if the recent goings on are any indication.

It isn't enough to erase the victims from view. It isn't enough to erase the crimes against them from view. Now we are rewriting history. They say that the victor writes the story. That is surely truer and truer every day that it becomes a question of who fixed who and for how many pieces of silver. Our memories are scoffed at for their feebleness. The written record is sneered at as a fabrication. The video is one of River Road's finest productions - which isn't saying much. All those intelligence officers on the public payroll were on one side or the other of a political disagreement and they did not hear, they did not record what they purported to have heard or recorded. They are all lies!

How do we know all this? The man of God, the preacher with the silky-smooth voice, the casual misogyny, the sleek look and even sleeker Mercedes, the "congregation in America" and the mistress in Dubai - because this man and his brothers have said so. And if they have said so, so has Almighty God. And if Almighty God has said so, then your memories, your written records, your videos and your audio recordings are Satan's Lies. Yes! Our soul is dead!

The SME conundrum

The logic is unimpeachable: if you should happen to read through a strategic plan, it should at the very least provide a goal and a work plan to achieve that goal. I find no flaw in the Nitpicker's logic. Save for one tiny, inconsequential, little detail: the maker of a strategic plan wants you to know what his goals are and what he intends to do to make sure those goals are achieved. In the public sector, that is sometimes a costly assumption.

The last true truly strategic plan was the Vision 2030 blueprint, on which every public sector institution was to base its plans. Even with the fingerprints of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank all over it, it was quite remarkable. It covered every major base and it did so with sufficient detail to persuade even the most tightfisted banker that this time around, the Government of Kenya was serious about the economy, politics, the education of its children and its workforce, the environment, manufacturing and public sector reforms. Even the European Union was impressed; Free Primary Education was dead in the water without its largesse.

Twenty-four years of KANUism, Nyayoism, Moism, should have taught us better. In Kenya, history tells us, the skinning of cats has led to innovations that would make the Renaissance Period feel like the psychedelic 1960s. Peter Anyang' Nyong'o and the planning boffins who set down our national ambitions in Vision 2030 must look at the past eight years in despair; their ideas have been debased, hijacked by KANUist special interests, leaving the principal makers of policy to flail in confusion in the dark as a generation of experienced boffins flee for the comforts of the private sector.

Take small and medium enterprises, SMEs, for example. Not the exporters or potential manufactures' exporters that the Nitpicker has in mind but the for-the-domestic-market jua kali "artisans" to be found in Kamukunji. These are entrepreneurs of incredible resilience and innovation. That bit of Kamukunji jua kali between City Stadium and the Retail Market at the intersection of Landhies Road and Haile Selassie Avenue is a sight to see. Manufactures from this zone include those mabati sandukus every mono brings to Form 1 come February every year, wheelbarrows, poultry feeders, chips fryers, water tanks, door-frames, roof gutters, and dozens more.

The zone is crowded, dirty, noisy and very, very dangerous. I do not believe that the relationship between the "artisans" and their governments, both national and county, is cordial. It is why I am surprised that the Nitpicker is surprised that there is no information about the kind of information an SME entrepreneur would need in order to export to Uganda or Rwanda. If she remembers those business prayer breakfasts held at the Safari Park every year, she will see the "true" Kenyan manufacturer: Vimal Shah, Manu Chandaria, Chris Kirubi and their polished, IMF-/World Bank-/IFC-friendly ilk. She will never have seen Lawi of Lawi Metal Works who still operates, thirty years after he started, out of somebody's back yard in Buru Buru Phase Three, or Martin, who got shoved out of the NCCK "garage" along Rabai Road, Makadara, to make way for The Point, another real estate development and now repairs cars along the side of Kangundo Road.

Kamukunji is a hotbed of innovation. The workarounds these manufacturers have found for poor sanitation, erratic power supply, irregular water availability, limited interior road networks of notoriously bad quality, a spectacular lack of public hygiene facilities coupled to a hostile City Hall and an indifferent Industrialisation and Enterprise Development Ministry are the stuff of legend. You wouldn't know it because we aand our governent have been mesmerised by the Steve Jobses. Jack Welches, Richard Bransons and Bill Gateses of this world - after they became billionaires, and not the Henry Fordses or Jamsetji Tatas of the past - before they became billionaires.

There is a reason why the SME sector is treated as a red-headed stepchild: not even Adan Mohammed is confident that it has what it takes to take Kenya to the next level. Not like the "billions in pledges" the President secured when he visited New York last month. Not like the "billions pledged" by Barack Obama the month before that. Our national strategy for the moment seems to be to borrow billions of dollars in order to attract billions of dollars from foreigners to extract billions of dollars of our natural resources while paying very little if no tax and exporting the profits overseas while the government sucks out every cent in credit from the market, guaranteeing that Lawi Metal Works remains an SME in perpetuity.

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...