Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Believers

Sunny Bindra asks,
How else to to explain the fact that these folks often have large security details (God’s protection is evidently insufficient); or that they wear more bling than rappers (the humility of the real prophets is evidently no example); or that they milk their congregations for obscene contributions to their personal wealth? And their unlettered, unthinking followers lap it all up.
It is this line that gives me pause: And their unlettered, unthinking followers lap it all up. It gives me pause because it looks and feels right, doesn't it? I am not so sure that we should be so condescending of the acolytes of Rolls-Royce-riding pastors and other men of the cloth.

The "traditional" or "mainstream" churches, including venerable institutions like the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church. the Presbyterian Church, and the Pentecostal Church, have taken solemnity to heights that would warm the cockles of the ever-serious. Their leaders eschew ostentatious displays such as high end SUVs and palatial mansions. More often than not, they are managed, especially their finances, with a degree of openness and transparency that makes the congregations feel like they are part of some solemn, united undertaking as members of the Church of Christ.

The more evangelical strains of the Christian religion embrace the finery of the Prosperity Gospel: believe in God and plant the "seed", and you will live in the lap of luxury. To show the congregation that there is indeed prosperity in the life of the evangelical church, "bishops" swan around in Rolls-Royces, live in hundred-million-shilling mansions, holiday in South Africa, shepherd "branches" in California or Texas, feature in the "society" pages of the newspapers and host TV talkshows in which they discuss everything from the Christian view of sexual intercourse to real estate investment with "Christian values".

There are many things that differentiate the "traditional" gospel from the "prosperity" gospel but only one that defines both: faith. "Faith" as my King James tells me in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews is
"the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
There is nothing as unseeable as the Hand of God in our lives. No matter what faith you profess, few of you have ever seen your gods but millions of you have an unshakeable faith that your god has done wonders for you, shaped your lives, favoured you with success and material wealth and punished you with death and pestilence for your sins. Your faith renews your trust in your co-religionists every day and forms a large part of the moral and ethical codes you believe you live by. When you call upon your god, he, she or it, answers, no matter if the answer is "Yes", "No" or "Wait".

But your faith, no matter how you slice the analysis, did not emerge spontaneously; you were taught to believe, you were inculcated with the faith. Your teachers might have been your parents, siblings, friends, school teachers or even, yes, politicians, but your most important teachers of faith, indoctrinators of belief, were your faith-leaders, whom you believe have been called by your god to lead your faith. One man or woman or a couple taught you the key tenets of your faith and instructed you on how to believe. If they taught you that you had to give and give and give, and not ask questions about what your giving has done, how would you know that you shouldn't give blindly, that you shouldn't question the preacher's Rolls-Royce?

I neither pity nor praise the blind believers of a Rolls-Royce-riding preacher because, in our own way, we are all blind believers of a Rolls-Royce-riding preacher because the preacher doesn't have to hold a book of faith to snooker us. He could be the "investment guru" who promises securities' market success to the "wise"; the star "professor" who promises intellectual superiority to the academically precocious; the "civil-rights icon" who promises political liberation for the courageous; the "inventor" who promises the solution to the world's intractable problems; the "corporate governance doyen" who promises to unlock value held in the corporation by matching skills with ambitions, profit with ethical values. Faith (and the gossip that inevitably accompanies it) is the only thing that unites all humankind. No sir, they are not unlettered or unthinking; they are simply, believers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Saving face, come hell or high water

What does healthcare in Kenya entail? If you go by the rhetoric, two things: salaries and wages, and equipment and their billions of shilling worth of tenders. And it seems that the latter prevails over the former. Every time.

When the Government of Kenya, through the Presidency and the Ministry of Health, entered into a medical equipment supply agreement with who knows who, for thirty-eight billion shillings, the greatest whinge from devolved government wasn't that the equipment had been acquired without their input or consent (they hadn't) but that the terms of the tender had been negotiated exclusively by the national government, leaving the counties out of the party. They weren't unhappy that they were saddled with debts they couldn't service; they were unhappy that when contracts were being negotiated (and the backhanders that go with such "negotiations") senior county government bigshots never got the chance to ride the gravy train.

What remained unresolved, almost a decade since the process commenced, was the state of the health policy, its implementation, emerging challenges in the light of new constitutional imperatives, and the comprehensive bargaining agreement between public healthcare workers and their government. It isn't that difficult to understand why this is so.

If you have ever been to the National Treasury building, you will notice there are two banks of lifts. One is marked "VIP" and another is marked "Senior Staff". These two are set apart from the remaining four, and are reserved for the Cabinet Secretary and his Principal Secretaries (VIP) and the other, as you've surmised, the "senior staff", whoever they happen to be. The former have restricted access, access being controlled by keys. That isn't what makes them remarkable; what makes them remarkable is that they are gold-plated. The remaining lifts which seemed to have last been serviced when Mwai Kibaki was Minister for Finance, retain what looks like the original paintwork they had when they were installed.

The reason why healthcare workers receive short shrift from their employers despite CBAs and the like is that 99.99% of them are not fit, in the strange hierarchy of the Kenyan public service, to access gold-plated lifts like the ones at the National Treasury. For sure, almost all Kenyans who are not "VIPs" or "senior staff", never mind how much they pay in NHIF and NSSF contributions, do not deserve gold-plated anything, only the appearance of something.

"Face", as the Chinese have demonstrated through so many kung-fu films, is sometimes more important than anything else. To save "face", the Government pretended to offer Kenyans better healthcare by committing thirty-eight billion shillings to purchase medical equipment and a goodly sum to market the achievement in the media. It is why Machakos District Hospital has witnessed the "launching" of equipment that was delivered in 2014 at least three times in the last three years. It doesn't matter that the real equipment delivered to Machakos at great cost finds no technical or medical experts to operate them; all that matters is that the right people look good when the photojournalists come with their cameras.

Healthcare is a complex subject, made more complicated in an environment bereft of a coherent up-to-date policy or substantial public investment or resources. Kenya isn't Cuba where one of the last communist countries has managed to control the health of its citizens in ways that we would chafe at. It isn't the United Kingdom, whose cradle-to-the-grave taxpayer-financed National Health Service, warts and all, is a model that is the envy of the world. This is Kenya where the gold-plated-lift riders demonstrate their faith in Kenya's healthcare infrastructure, both public and private, by flying out to foreign medical facilities, even for minor injuries.

What we pay attention to, almost to the total exclusion of anything else, is face. And because the President cannot be seen to lose face, no matter how long the doctors stay on strike or how many Kenyans die in agony because of it, neither the President nor his government will bend an inch. At some point, something will have to give.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Is it worth the money?

Of what use is the Administration Police? Why do we still have a paramilitary police force when it is no longer under the command of chiefs, sub-chiefs, DCs or DOs?

Clause 17 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution reads thus,
Within five years after the effective date, the national government shall restructure the system of administration commonly known as the provincial administration to accord with and respect the system of devolved government established under the Constitution.
The provincial administration was not established by law; it simply came into being during the colonial era as the colonial government set out to administer the territory it formally proclaimed as Kenya when it became a colony. Among the offices the colonial government established were the District Commissioner and the District Officer which almost exclusively occupied by Caucasian British settlers or representatives of the colonial government seconded from London.

DCs and DOs were assisted by chiefs, assistant chiefs and village headmen to administer the territories under their jurisdiction. This administrative system made it easier to collect revenue (which was their principal job) and adjudicate disputes (which is how so many chiefs came to be unofficial magistrates after Independence). To enforce the colonial government’s law, these administrators were backed up by the Home Guard and, especially after 1963, the Administration Police Force which had formally came into being through the Administration Police Act, enacted in 1958 in the dying months of the Mau Mau rebellion.

Kenya had, therefore, two police forces: the Kenya Police Force, also known as the “regular” police and the Administration Police. (Within the Kenya Police were to be found Special Branch, which gathered “political” intelligence; the General Service Unit, a highly trained paramilitary force that acted as the President’s bodyguard among other sensitive assignments, the Anti-Stock Theft Unit, another paramilitary force tasked with policing cattle rustling among Kenya’s nomadic communities, and the Kenya Police Reserves, armed civilians who enforced the law in areas where it was uneconomical to deploy the regular police or, as in the case of Patrick Shaw, who acted as laws-unto-themselves in keeping the stayed-behind British settlers safe against Black violent robbers.)

The provincial administration, and the Administration Police, together with the Special Branch became the principal tools in the suppression of anti-party activities, especially after 1969. During President Moi’s reign, the provincial administration was a key provider of anti-party and anti-government intelligence while it was the Special Branch that was used to suppress sedition and punish pro-democracy zealots such as the so-called Seven Bearded Sisters (Abuya Abuya, James Orengo, Chelagat Mutai, Chebule wa Tsuma, Mwashengu wa Mwachofu, Lawrence Sifuna and Koigi Wamwere), many of whom were harassed, tortured, detained without trial and exiled from Kenya.

In the ratification of the Harmonised Draft Constitution in 2010, Kenyans had evinced a strong desire to strike at the heart of the provincial administration by cutting the Administration Police down to size. In the period between Mwai Kibaki’s 2002 presidential election victory and the 2007/2008 political crisis, the Administration Police thrived. It rivalled the regular police in equipment and funding, and in certain respects, it matched the power of the regular police. Its essential nature had not changed; it remained the President’s principal tool to suppress all political opposition. Indeed it had had become so powerful that during the deliberations of the Committee of Experts, it made it known that it would continue to exist as part of the national security apparatus. The CoE was inclined to fight it tooth and nail; the political classes were not, hence the anodyne and wishy-washy clause 17 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution. Kenyans, as always, got the short end of the stick.

The provincial administration and the Administration Police are some of the longest surviving relics of the colonial era. Even the manner of the recruitment of the Administration Police officers is redolent with the detritus of a colonist’s mindset that emphasised blind loyalty and obedience regardless of the cost. APs remain a key tool in the terrorisation of Kenyans in non-urban areas though, with the placing of the APs under the same command as the regular police, their malign presence is now to be felt in urban centres too. The ill-judged and ill-timed police reforms task force headed did not do much to shake the APs loose from their pre-Independence malevolent nature.

In recent years it has become apparent that letting loose the dogs of war wasn’t such a smart idea. There was a wave between 2005 and 2007 when APs, charged with escorting cash consignments from and between banks, colluded with robbers to rob the Cash-in-Transit vans of their loot. It was also the same period in which many AP officers were implicated in some of the most gruesome acts of extra-judicial killings by the police highlighted by a UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston. (The position of UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings, ironically, was formerly held by Kenya’s Attorney-General at the time, Amos Wako, who had proven difficult to work with during the investigation by Mr Alston.)

Today, the APs face an increasing number of cases in which AP officers turn their weapons on their superiors or commit suicide or both. Especially after 2002, the APs would always be an anachronism but because Kenya’s presidents have traditionally been extremely paranoid, they have always gone along with the idea that APs should never ever be abandoned. In an increasingly complex world in which trade defines many relationships, the continued existence of the APs as other than a border security force defies logic. It is time Kenyans asked whether it is worth the money to keep an armed, forty-thousand-man-strong paramilitary force with a record of murder.

(This post was originally published in maundutown.wordpress.com)

234 days of paranoia

mis·in·for·ma·tionfalse or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.
Is it a crime to lie in public? Is it a crime to “misinform the nation” or “mislead the people” about your political opponent’s achievements, undertakings or intentions? This is the question that has agitated the ruling alliance over the past three months. No matter how many times the ruling alliance has attempted to set the record straight on its achievements since Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as Kenya’s fourth president, the public commons has been awash with what the ruling alliance’s leading lights, such as the Leader of the Majority Party in Parliament and the Deputy President, have characterised as “lies”. There is now a Jubilee Parliamentary Party legislative proposal to criminalise “lying to the public” or, as one aspiring political candidate has termed it, “spreading misinformation harmful to the nation”.

Article 33(2) and Article 24 of the Constitution prescribe the constitutional limits of free speech. While Article 24 prescribes in general terms under what circumstances a right or fundamental freedom could be limited (by the State), Article 33(2) prescribes what free speech is not: propaganda for war, incitement to violence, hate speech, advocacy of hatred that constitutes ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm or advocacy of hatred that is based on any ground of discrimination specified or contemplated in Article 27(4). Article 33(3), meanwhile, isn’t so much a restriction on the freedom of speech as an obligation that in speaking freely, one must not disrespect the rights or reputations of others.

Two things are readily apparent. First, “misinformation” or “lies”, in and of themselves, are not reasonable grounds for placing any limitations on Kenyans’ freedom of speech in accordance with Article 24. Second, the intention of the Bill of Rights in Chapter Four of the Constitution wasn’t intended to create new offences for which citizens could be prosecuted for by the State; it was intended to restrict the State when it sought (or seeks) to restrict Kenyan’s rights and fundamental freedoms.

One thing seems to characterise the ruling alliance: acute political paranoia. Despite a fairly broad political mandate as evinced by its numbers in both the National Assembly and the Senate, its control of almost half the county governments in Kenya, its implementation of flagship projects (including the much-derided laptops-for-children) and justified successes in diplomacy and foreign relations, the ruling alliance has continued to operate like a minority opposition party, unsure of its parliamentary strength, hobbled by infighting and beset by enervating setbacks related to backhanders, kickbacks and tender-price-inflating nitwits. Despite its command and control of the national airwaves through its administrative and political oversight of the Communications Authority, the ruling alliance has been incapable of a coherent propaganda strategy to counter the Jubilee-is-the-most-corrupt-regime-ever narrative persuasively advanced by a member of the Minority Party, Raila Odinga.

The ruling alliance has had many successes but all have been overshadowed by revelations of what David Ndii, one of Kenya’s best thought-leaders, and John Githongo, Mwai Kibaki’s teller of uncomfortable truths, have called looting. “Looting”, they explain, goes beyond petty or grand corruption;corruption is simply the venal act of a few people who are in the right place with the opportunity to rip off the taxpayer. Looting, on the other hand, is the systemic and parasitic programme, sanctioned at the highest levels of the Government, to rob the taxpayer blind. Mr Odinga might not have the glib tongue that many in the ruling alliance seem to possess (the Deputy President and the Majority Leader in the National Assembly come readily to mind), but he has an uncomfortable knack of making them look daft every time they try to hide proof of perfidy in high places. For that reason, if for no other, more and more members of the ruling alliance consider Mr Odinga the most dangerous man in Kenya and the stratagem they are trying out for size is to classify his actions in the florid language of the “crime of misinformation”.

No one now doubts that the political campaigning for the 2017 general election is well underway and that a few members of the ruling alliance are not confident about the chances of their flag-bearer, President Uhuru Kenyatta. That he, too, entertains the suggestion that political speech should be restricted to protect Kenya and its citizens from Mr Odinga’s misinformation and lies lends credence to the notion that the ruling alliance is no longer confident of its chances at the hustings in August 2017. In a continent whose politics is rapidly changing, perhaps the members of the ruling alliance fear that despite Mr Odinga’s frequent malapropisms, his accusations may yet find purchase among the political hoi polloi, put paid to a repeat command performance by the ruling alliance at the next general elections, embolden constitutional commissions and independent offices to go fishing with dynamite, and motivate the minority party, civil society windbags and foreign powers to challenge the ruling alliance’s political hegemony.

The tool that the intellectual dwarfs of the ruling alliance have chosen for this particular task will not work. It is likely to be welcomed with open arms by the securocracy whose existence is almost entirely predicated on keeping the Commander-in-Chief in power, through thick and thin, good times and bad, as opposed to protecting the citizens’ rights or fundamental freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights. They quickly forget that what was wielded against their political opponents in the past will be wielded against them in the future. After all, the past is prologue. Should they manage to imprison Mr Odinga (or fatally end his political career), they should be prepared to hold onto the levers of political and governmental power by force if necessary because, as Baba Moi came to discover, even twenty-four years is not forever. Sooner or later the music will stop and it is they who will be without seats.

In Ghana, John Dramani Mahama turned out to be a one-term president as did Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria. In the Gambia, strongman Yahyah Jammeh lost to Adama Barrow (though he seems hellbent on staying put despite having initially conceded defeat) while in Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos has promised to step down before the next general elections in 2017, the same year Kenya will be going to the polls. In the United States, Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in what many called a “shock” defeat (though I don’t know what’s so shocking for a war-mongering wife of a serial philanderer and liar to lose an election to an electoral neophyte) while in the United Kingdom and Italy, prime ministers resigned their offices after losing referenda, the UK on the European Union and Italy on constitutional reforms. Both Africa and the rest of the world have recently demonstrated that incumbency is no guarantee of political longevity or victory any more.

Perhaps members of the ruling alliance have finally discovered that a partnership that is consecrated with looting is not the winning recipe they need for the 2017 general election and, in their panic, rather than right their ship, have decided to charge the doyen of the opposition with charges akin to treason. If it is a strategy to curry sympathy for the 2017 elections, I cannot see it. What is readily apparent is that Jubilee Party apparatchiks have panicked and in their panic are acting recklessly. It is their recklessness, not their looting inclinations per se, that is likely to be their undoing but only time will tell and it will be a long two hundred and thirty four days.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The magic ingredient

My dear Kenyans, the only guarantee against another descent into anarchy is not sterile calls for love, peace, and unity, but a just election with a credible outcome. — Macharia Gaitho, the Daily Nation
There are many ways to skin a cat, so the saying goes and Kenya's political leaders, elected representatives and presidents have proven it time and again over the past fifty-three years. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Toroitich Moi spent between them forty years proving that an iron fist without the velvet glove was necessary to keep the lid on a volatile, boiling cauldron. President Kenyatta waged a secret and not-so-secret war on the Shiftas that continues to rage almost forty years since he died in office.

President Moi oversaw a police state that spied on its citizens, detained thousands of them without the due process of the law, shat all over the human rights of its citizens and waged a secret war against pro-democracy campaigners that included assassinations, forced disappearances, kangaroo judicial processes and exiles to faraway lands. Only the uncharitable will claim that Kenya wasn't at peace even if it wasn't at peace with itself.

Mwai Kibaki tried a different tack; it didn't last. President Kibaki will never wash the stain of the murder, rape, rapine, pillaging and mass displacements of 2007/2008. He was the greedy president in charge; the death, pain, suffering and loss of faith are his cross to bear.

Kenyans don't need a just election with a credible outcome to guarantee that it will not descend into anarchy. Kenya needs a massive dose of respect: rep sect for the Constitution and the law; respect for the institutions of the State, Government and of the people; respect for one another regardless of ethnicity, culture, colour, creed, faith, occupation, sex, sexual orientation, class, education status, academic credentials, political persuasions, whatever. For now, Kenyans are almost united in the depths of their disrespect.

Ironically, the Constitution is the starkest example of our disrespect for ourselves and the laws of our land. Article 24 is a detailed clause that describes how rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution can be limited and to what extent. It is an indictment of our respect for one other because it acknowledges that our fraught history has always led to grave acts of disrespect and so the limits of official, statutory disrespect are now set down in the supreme law of the land in the form of Article 24.

We focus on general and presidential elections to the exclusion of almost everything else. Some more recent developments have completely escaped our eyes. Few of us have any idea how much debt our children or grandchildren will bear long after maggots have gotten at our innards. Few of us have any idea how much national treasure has been expended on fertilizer manufacturing factories that were never built or paper manufacturing plants that have not run for twenty-five years. Few of us have any idea why certain Kenyans are permitted to starve to death while certain national granaries are bursting at the seams.

By all means, elect the right men and women. If you truly want to make things better, open your eyes and focus on all of it. How your government functions and what it does. But above all, if you can respect each other, truly respect each other, you will go a long way in respecting our laws and institutions and ensuring that they are respected and respectable in equal measure. Respect is the magic ingredient for your free, fair and credible elections.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Good luck to him

I deploy hyperbole - the kind I accuse others of - regularly and ham-fistedly. I don't, however, invite the rest of the world to join me on Fantasy Island. I have had occasion to say that the National Police Service is corrupt. I now realise that that rhetorical device, used by many others, is having comical and potentially risky effects. Fore sure there are individual police officers who are as bent as a two-shilling note, but to insist that the institution - the Service - is corrupt is to fundamentally misunderstand our relationship with our Government and its institutions.

A driver and his passenger are driving up Parliament Road and encounter another motorist going down on the wrong side of the same road. A policeman is directing traffic at the roundabout at Harambee Avenue and Parliament Road. The passenger in the vehicle on the correct side of the road alights and confronts the other motorist whom he believes is in the wrong. Someone records the confrontation using a cellphone. The other motorist compelled to reverse while the passenger reminds him loudly that his age should ensure that he understands and upholds the provisions of the law. It is later discovered that the other motorist is a parliamentarian. The video is uploaded and shared numerous times.

There are a few striking features in the video. The other motorist is clearly on the wrong side of the road. It can be surmised, too, that the police officer directing traffic must have permitted the driver to drive as he was driving or, at the very least, didn't consider the traffic offence sufficiently important to warrant his abandonment of traffic-directing duties to deal with.  It is also clear that the offended passenger believes that the only way to deal with the offender is to confront him directly rather than to appeal to the police officer to do his duty as he eventually does when he seems to direct the other driver to reverse out of the way of oncoming traffic. It can be surmised that the offended passenger believes that an offence has been committed and that his solution to the offence is to confront the offender with as much passion as he can muster.

The offended passenger behaves like a vigilante, a "member of a self-appointed group of citizens who undertake law enforcement in their community without legal authority, typically because the legal agencies are thought to be inadequate." He has determined, based on a superficial observation, that a traffic offence has been committed, that the traffic policeman nearby is inadequate and that he will, without any authority, enforce the traffic laws to set things right. There are two possible outcomes to this kid of confrontation.

The first is that the confrontation might escalate. Where, for instance, an offence is committed in the presence of a policeman, it is prudent to ask oneself whether the offender's brazenness is a factor to consider before confronting them. Cases of similar confrontations escalating to assaults with weapons are on the rise; there are many road users who have been physically assaulted, stabbed or shot when these kinds of confrontations escalated out of control.

The second is that the offending motorist may have been expressly directed by the police officer to use that side of the road. Section 52(1)(a) of the Traffic States that "The driver of a vehicle shall at all times...obey any directions given, whether verbally or by signal, by a police officer in uniform, in the execution of his duty" while section 103 of the National Police Service Act, 2011, states that "Any person who...assaults, resists or willfully obstructs a police officer in the due execution of the police officer’s duties...commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding one million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or to both.
It is possible that the angry passenger could have committed an offence in confronting the other motorist without knowing it to be true that the other motorist had committed or was committing a traffic offence. The angry passenger's intervention hinges on an assumption that an offence has been committed and that the police are either too inept or corrupt to deal with it. That the angry passenger is a politician seeking an electoral victory in next year's general election must be taken into account while trying to explain his apparent wildly out of proportion reaction: Kenyan politicians are known to go to extreme ends to get the publicity they need, especially if they wanted to be painted as law-abiding fighters for the common mwananchi.

This particular politician has demonstrated a penchant for vigilante-like behaviour and has loudly proclaimed the corrupt venality of the very institution he wishes to be elected into. He is merely the latest politician to promise to remain untarnished by the trappings of power that elected office seems to confer on all parliamentarians. But if his latest moral crusade is anything to go by, he will be right at home among the waheshimiwa: loud, confrontational, apparently uncompromising, upholder of strict moral values, publicity-hungry and confident in the righteousness of ones cause. Good luck to him.



Monday, December 05, 2016

I am my own king

If you believe that Jesus who was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the Son of Man, Emmanuel, the One Who Died for Our Sins, the one whose blood covers us, the one who saved us...I'm getting distracted...if you believe that Jesus Christ is on your side in your political quarrel, stop reading now. If you believe that Jesus Christ has directed you to enter elective politics, please stop reading now. If you are a man of the cloth and believe that Jesus Christ is on your political side and that He has called you to serve Him in political office, please take whatever device you're using to read these blasphemous words to the senior-most man of the cloth you can find and ask him or her to cleanse it and to sanctify it in the name of Jesus Christ.

The First Book of Samuel, at chapter 8, describes how the children of Israel, despondent at how Samuel's sons had disgraced their offices, went to Samuel and begged him to give them a king to judge them as the other nations were judged. Samuel prayed to God who told him that the children of Israel hadn't rejected Samuel but had rejected God Himself. God sent Samuel to warn the people about what a king would be like,
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.
I have seen the most remarkable post about a bishop of the church who wishes to be elected as Kiambu's second governor. The substance of the utterance attributed to the bishop isn't important; it is the usual anti-Raila screed that finds purchase among the political leadership of Kiambu. What I find important is the arrogance of a class that we were (at least those of us who are confessing Christians were) warned about by God Himself purporting to warn us about other kings!

This Kiambu bishop will not be the first man of the cloth to want to lord it over us; Moses Akaranga in Vihiga county has beaten him to the punch as has Mutava Musyimi who represents Mbeere South in the National Assembly. Mr Akaranga has already disgraced himself with his inability to oversee a halfway honest government; Mr Musyimi will forever be remembered for his robust defence of Charity Ngilu, when she was water minister, of accusations that she was corrupt. But it is the arrogance of this bishop to purport to know who among the politicians is to be trusted that takes the biscuit.

I have tried to remind my readers that political action is not a passive activity. If you wish to improve the quality of public services, it is immaterial whether or not you trust your elected representatives; what is material is whether you treat them like the kings they believe themselves to be. So far in our experiment in self-governance, we have treated our Black and coloured elected representatives like kings, fawning and scraping at their feet like servile serfs, grateful for whatever scraps of public service they deign to give us. They exist to be served; we exist to vote and genuflect every time one of them breaks wind.

Our political education will remain incomplete so long as we see elected representatives, especially the ones who cover themselves in the cloth of faith-leaders, as more knowledgeable of our rights, our needs and our desires than we ever could be. As the governed, we have always been told by the ones we elected what we needed whether we needed it or not. It is how we ended up with an airline that we can't run or afford; a cement factory that we can't run or afford; sugar factories that we can't run or afford; publicly-funded banks that we can't run or afford; large dams of doubtful economic or industrial value; and so on and so forth. We have now been told that we need nuclear energy and a standard-gauge railway.  It is our political miseducation that holds us hostage to outdated notions of fealty to tribal and religious kingpins.

Bob Marley sings, "None but ourselves can free our minds" and our mental liberation begins with questioning the reason for the existence of our modern-day kings. I don't mean that shit about servant-leadership that flowered briefly in 2012 and got snuffed out in inane arguments about madimoni. It is about the sovereignty of the people, individually and collectively, to decide their fate without fear or favour. I will be damned if the camouflage offered by the church that was built by the blood of Jesus will enshroud my mind and blind me to the awful truth: God doesn't want me to have a king for I am my own king.

Mr Njoroge's three-box tango

"Monetary policy is the macroeconomic policy laid down by the central bank. It involves management of money supply and interest rate and is the demand side economic policy used by the government of a country to achieve macroeconomic objectives like inflation, consumption, growth and liquidity."
Honestly, I have no idea what all that means. What I do know is that it is part of the mandate of the Central Bank of Kenya as set out in section 4 of the Central bank of Kenya Act, chapter 491 of the laws of Kenya. But to be honest, do you really care what "monetary policy" really means? Do you care how many billions or trillions of shillings are in circulation in the market at any one time? Your answer is most probably, "No" and so you don't understand why Patrick Njoroge, the governor of the Central Bank is being hounded left, right and centre by unseen forces (also known as "cartels" in the political patois of the year).

Mr Njoroge is in these forces' crosshairs for taking the role of the Central Bank to "foster the liquidity, solvency and proper functioning of a stable market-based financial system" set out in sections 4(2) and 38 of the Central Bank of Kenya Act seriously. These sections give the Central Bank the power to take over the management of commercial banks if those banks become a threat to the liquidity, solvency or proper functioning of the financial system. But some commercial banks are sacred cows, protected from on political high and these are the forces that are believed to be striking back at Mr Njoroge.

I have another theory: Mr Njoroge, in the absence of a fully constituted board of directors, hasn't necessarily been a bull in a china shop as much as a stick-in-the-mud stickler for statutory and regulatory procedure in the awarding of tenders and the like. One of my not-so-obvious obsessive compulsions is the need, whenever I deal in currency, to keep brand new bills in my billfold and if you're like me, you will have noticed that since Mr Njoroge was appointed as governor, there are fewer and fewer brand new bills in circulations. In fact it was only last month that new bills were injected into the financial system and I can't help but wonder if it was because Mr Njoroge and his fidelity to statutory and regulatory provisions wouldn't grant a tender for the printing of new currency.

Kenya's currency can only be issued with the authority of the Central Bank; it is not up to De La Rue, the manufacturers of our currency, who can determine when and in what quantities currency shall be printed. That is the exclusive preserve of the Central Bank (section 22 of the Central Bank of Kenya Act), which not the President, the Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury or parliamentarians can interfere in if the governor turns out to be a man with a backbone made of sufficiently stiffer material than the usual minestrone. Mr Njoroge has proven to be just such a governor and my phobias may have received a jolt from his refusal to kow-tow to the so-called whims and demands of the "cartels".

For ten years, the question of awarding De La Rue a new contract to print currency has been hanging fire. This new contract has been challenged and even became the subject of a Parliamentary Accounts Committee inquiry in which the then Finance Minister and former governor were adversely mentioned. It is now Mr Njoroge's turn in the hot seat. While the reason for his discomfiture might publicly be the closure of three banks, I think that it is the currency-printing contract that has invited faceless cartels to target him with accusations of abuse of office and similar things.

De La Rue's facilities in Ruaraka are classified as a protected area and all that the phrase entails including classification of all information relating to the facilities such as the currency-printing contract. This invites the traditional Kenyan rent-seeking in anything "security-related" which the currency contract will be made to fall under. This also means restricted tendering or single-sourcing of contractors. Mr Njoroge is likely the stumbling block when it comes to this contract. The closed banks are just the smokescreen; the cartels' true bugbear is the currency contract. As is the case with every dodgy deal since Goldenberg, sooner or later, the information will leak and the cartels' fronts will no longer be secret. Whether Mr Njoroge survives will be up to him and his surefootedness. He should bear this adage in mind, "To dance with the devil, one must know the steps."

They won't give up their gold-standard

State officers include the President, Deputy President, Governor, Deputy Governor, Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary, Attorney-General, Director of Public Prosecutions, members of constitutional commissions and holders of independent offices, parliamentarians, members of county assemblies, and judges and magistrates. Their status affords them many privileges including insurance policies designed to cover almost all medical emergencies or care. 
 
When faced with medial emergencies, State officers do not have to worry about queuing in sub-standard public health facilities for care; almost all of them have the option of being treated in private health facilities in any part of the world. Just recently, the Governor of Bomet was struck in the face by a teargas canister and was flown to South Africa for "emergency treatment" at a private health facility. In the same week, the parents of conjoined twins witnessed the medical skills of surgeons at the Kenyatta National Hospital when the twins underwent surgery to separate them. By all accounts the children are recuperating well and are expected to make a full recovery from their surgery. Though it hasn't been reported as such, I believe the parents of the twins are not State officers nor do they enjoy the same kind of health security that the Governor of Bomet does.

There is a cohort of vocal Kenyans who are demanding that State officers should be compelled to accept medical care from the health system they are responsible for. They argue that Kenya has world class surgeons who have demonstrated their surgical skills numerous times and that it isn't necessary for State officers to seek medical care outside Kenya. As an example, they argue that the Governor of Bomet should have sought the more affordable emergency treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital rather than further endangering his life in a five-hour aeroplane journey to an unknown and untested South African health facility. I agree with this cohort. But I am also a pragmatist; no State officer is going to accept the demand.

State officers are not like you or I. They are special. Their needs are special. Anything that affects them also affects the functioning of the State itself. Nothing affects them as much as their fragile health for which the public facilities are ill-equipped to handle. The moment they ascended to their seats of power and influence, they underwent a physiological metamorphosis that heightened their medical needs to critical proportions. They cannot live among us anymore; their medical constitutions have become too weak to cope with dust, noise, and impure and uncertain water supplies. Placing their medical needs in the hands of health workers who come into contact with the rest of us simply endangers their lives and, by extension, the stability of the State. If a Kenyan surgeon attempted the same kind of complicated surgery that separated those cute conjoined twins, it would end in catastrophic failure leading to the fall of the Government and the utter destruction of the State as we know it.

For the sake of political and national stability, State officers must continue to access iffy healthcare in foreign lands at the hands of unknown medical personnel. It is a security measure too. These foreigners, the more foreign the better, are unlikely to have any tribal affiliations with the enemies of the people (i.e. the enemies of the State). Therefore, State officers need those gold-standard medical insurance policies that can be relied on to find doctors and hospitals to take care of band-aids in faraway lands. No, the law will not be changed if the law is likely to lead to anarchy and what could be more anarchic than the Governor of Bomet, who spent almost a billion shillings on healthcare in 2014/2015, being asked to have his little boo-boo taken care of by a clinician in a health facility that likely has no running water while it could be dealt with by a surgeon in South Africa while the Governor stares at the Table Mountains?

Re-examine public health assumptions

"The functions and powers of the county are...county health services, including, in particular county health facilities and pharmacies...promotion of primary health care..." Part 2 of the Fourth Schedule, Constitution of Kenya
Sections 23 and 28 of Part 1 of the Fourth Schedule list the functions and powers of the national government in relation to health as "national referral health facilities" and "health policy". 

So far as I can tell, the health sector is not mentioned anywhere else in the Constitution of Kenya, except tangentially in reference to the right to life (Art. 26), the prohibition of discrimination (Art. 27), environmental rights (Art. 42), economic and social rights (Art. 43), consumer rights (Art. 46), the rights of children (Art. 53), affirmative action for minorities and marginalised groups (Art. 56), the regulation of land use or property (Art. 66), a conflict of laws between national legislation and county legislation (Art. 191), and in relation to the Equalisation Fund (Art. 204). But it is the Fourth Schedule that is the sum and substance of the relationship between the national government and counties in relation to the health sector.

Any public policy made in relation to the health sector must account for these constitutional provisions, especially the delineation of functions and powers in the Fourth Schedule: national government has power over national referral health facilities and health policy, and counties have power over and perform functions related to county health services, including, in particular county health facilities and pharmacies and promotion of primary health care.

The promulgation of the Constitution should have triggered a complete reform of the management of the health sector in accordance with the provisions of the Fifth Schedule which was the timetable for the enactment of primary legislation to give force to the provisions of the Constitution. The deadline for legislation for the management of the health sector was five years, 27th August 2015. This deadline would have been met if the policy had been agreed upon after 27th August 2010. The legislation is yet to be enacted, though the Health Bill is wending its way through the Byzantine bowels of Parliament, and the health policy is yet to be settled, especially in regards to the place of the national government in the management of the health sector.

There is no health sector without doctors, nurses, dentists or allied healthcare workers such as clinicians, anaesthisologists, radiologists, pharmacists, veterinary doctors, pharmaceutical manufacturers, medical devices manufacturers, medial training institutions and health sector regulatory bodies. The health sector cannot function effectively without a coherent policy or a coherent public finance infrastructure.

The demands by doctors and other healthcare workers are just part of the demands of the entire healthcare system. We have, so far, dealt with these demands in a piecemeal fashion, robbing Peter to pay Paul, engendering confusion, frustration and unrest. The political gamesmanship between the national and county governments has made what was already a complex and complicated system even more dysfunctional. The costs have been high in both national treasure and lives. The solutions will not be easy or simple, but they must all take into account that the public health system in place before 2010 is no longer constitutionally tenable.

Kenya is notorious for establishing expensive talking shops that more often than not do not achieve much, but nothing can be done if decisions are made and implemented unilaterally. What we need for the health sector is the appointment of a joint commission that brings together public health and finance health professionals from both the national and county governments with a view to drafting a comprehensive health policy for adoption and implementation. It should have a short mandate - not longer than one year - and its recommendations must be binding. It must re-examine all known assumptions about the health sector including the constitutional wisdom of devolving healthcare. Nothing should be off the table. It is the only sensible start that I can think of.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Matiang'i, Kenya's Magufuli

Fred Matiang'i (Education, Science and Technology), Joe Mucheru (Information, Communications and Technology), Joseph Nkaiserry (Interior and Co-ordination of National Government) and George Magoha (Kenya National Examinations Council) have collaborated over a period of months and have been credited with overseeing an examinations season that had the lowest incidences of cheating and other irregularities in a very long time. Many credit this positive development to the personal leadership of the education minister and he is praised for being the rare dedicated, determined and professional public officer who delivers on his mandate. 

He is nicknamed "Magufuli" after the hard-charging President of the United Republic of Tanzania and compared favourably to the frighteningly efficient John Njoroge Michuki, the late former transport minister who brought the matatu industry to heel. President Magufuli makes impromptu visits to public offices, shining a spotlight on the sclerosis that seems to have paralysed his government and determined to inject vim and vigour in the system. Kenyans can recall that both the late Emmanuel Karisa Maitha (former local government minister) and John Michuki had a penchant for the out-of-the-blue meeting, striking the fear of the lord in lazy civil servants. 

This style management by ministerial fear-mongering seems to have served Mr Matiang'i well because the results for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Examination have been released to much fanfare ahead of when they usually are released (usually, some time after Christmas). I have no doubt that Mr Matiang'i encountered a ministerial bureaucracy that had simply resisted all attempts to enter the twenty-first century and he had no choice but to adopt a Magufuli persona. It seems to be the only way in which ministers can effect positive change in the ministries they head and to deny that Mr Matiang'i has been effective is to be grossly uncharitable. But, as with the reins of terror of Messrs Maitha and Michuki, it remains to be seen whether Mr Matiang'i has engendered an institutional transformation or whether things will go back to the way they were as soon as he is shoved out of the Cabinet.

Mr Maitha tragically died too early in hi tenure for us to know whether he would have institutionalised the changes he wanted in the Ministry of Local Government, the ministry charged with overseeing the operations of local authorities nationwide. Bastions of sloth and corruption, not even their conversion into county governments has reversed their tendency for great corruption and incredible sloth. 

We had the opportunity to test the Michuki Way in three separate ministries: transport, internal security and environment. In all three, Mr Michuki is remembered as a hard taskmaster and a stickler for rules and procedures, perhaps a throwback to his days as a colonial-era provincial administrator. At every ministry he headed, visible change was overseen by him, guided by his firm hand. And when he left that ministry, true to form, things fell apart because he didn't institutionalise the changes. The matatu sector is back to its derring-do days; internal security continues to attract the most corrupt public officials in all of the land; and the environment ministry has once again become a backwater of mendacity and rent-seeking. (The jury is still out on whether President Magufuli will reform the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania in his image or not.)

So far Mr Matiang'i has operated in secret and his plans remain largely unknown. He enjoys quite a positive press right now and he should capitalise on it. He should publish the details of the reforms he proposes or is implementing in the education sector and invite stakeholders and the general public to buy in. No matter the outcome, on the basis of the positive results of the 2016 KCPE, Mr Matiang'i has friends and he probably always will. But if he carries on in Lone Ranger fashion, it is almost certain that his reforms will have the very short staying power of the Michuki Rules.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Mr Bindra's fifty books

Sunny Bindra once wrote that it was possible to read fifty books in one year. It is. If you love reading for the freedom it bestows on your mind, fifty books in a year is not only doable, it is an immensely pleasurable exercise. I will not have read fifty books by the time the New Year rings in; I will probably never read fifty books until I am in a place where reading can occupy a whole or a greater portion of my day. Thanks to Mr Bindra I now understand that this is entirely a good thing. His target is fifty; mine might be a shifting one, anywhere between one and a hundred.

I am not a Millennial; I am, not literally mind you, Mtoto wa Nyayo. I watched as communications technologies moved from rotary phones to touch-tone phones to pagers to brick-sized mobiles to the one-inch-screen mobiles to the explosion in internet penetration to smart phones. I watched technology move from typewriters to electric typewrites to MSDos-based word-processors  to the euphoria of Windows-95 PCs to the triumphal return of Apple with the iMac to netbooks to the game-changing iPad to the two-in-one tablet-laptop devices just gaining in popularity. I watched entertainment evolve from the Kenya Film Commission's outdoor movie projectors to VCRs to laserdisk players to VCD players to DVD players to PVRs and DVRs to online streaming or downloads.

The same can be said about how information is accessed these days. I fear that I will never do what my father can: quote, from memory, entire acts from Shakespeare, whole poems by T.S. Elliot, entire speeches in their original Latin by Cicero or recite with feeling and emotion the sublime romantic turns of phrase in the Song of Solomon. But I can quote, almost verbatim when the spirit is upon me, the opening monologue in 1972's Francis Ford Copolla's The Godfather, the McGuffin scene in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, evoke the bathos in the Gettysburg scene in Boaz Yakin's Remember the Titans. I can also situate Bob Marley's and Peter Tosh's revolutionary ideals in their music, the romanticisation of struggle in that of Jimmy Cliff, the evolution of the concept of greed from the way in which genge seems to have forgotten the wisdom of the late 1990s when Hardstone's Uhiki was revolutionary and today, when he is all but a faded memory. In short, I access information and, perhaps, knowledge from multiple sources and multiple contexts and my precious books are just one piece of my massive multi-media puzzle.

I am old enough, fortunately, to know that not even a sage like Mr Bindra has all the answers and young enough, I hope, to be able to see what he sees when he writes about disruption, evolution and foresight. I will always work towards the day when I will have more time on my hands to switch off the world, take up a new tome, crack its spine and turn to the first page with the same excitement I did with the first Jeffrey Archer I read when I was in standard four (A Matter of Honour) which I didn't put down for eight straight hours, earning my mother's wrath because I forgot to take the muthokoi from the jiko when the water ran out. (Scrubbing a clay pot of the black remains of solidified muthokoi is a technique for which you and I need an evening of wine and music to cover in detail.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Accept nothing but the best

The Rookie Manager (@RookieKE) and the Kenyan Pundit (@kenyanpundit) abhor mediocrity and, so far as I can tell, would not trust the fate of their daughters to quacks, no matter how well-meant the quacks were. They are harbingers of what a society dedicated to the pursuit of excellence should be; they demand the best and they will reward the best when the services are on offer are indeed, the best. But the attitude, their attitude, that we should all emulate is that of demanding excellence, the very best, without apology, especially if that demand is made to a class that consumes so much national treasure and shows so little for it: the public service.

The online edition of the Daily Nation is following up on a story of a man masquerading as a doctor who participated or conducted at least eight surgeries before he was found out by the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board. He is currently being prosecuted though the charges laid against him remain difficult to discern from the coverage of the case because, as it usually is in Kenya, the sensational trumps the informative. We now know that the man scored a mean grade of C - (Minus) when he took his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education and that though he had been admitted to the University of Nairobi, he did not graduate with a degree in medicine. We also know that he has managed to survive for so long and endanger the lives of members of the public with great impunity because few public officials were willing or able to perform their public duties to the highest standard called for by the public trust.

Over the past fifteen years, Kenya has come to learn certain uncomfortable facts about itself, each one more devastating than the last. The first was that some of the heroes of the Second Liberation were not interested in the respect for the rule of law per se; when they challenged Daniel Moi's and KANU's hegemony, they didn't do so believing that his removal from power would usher in a new era of fidelity to the rule of law but their chance at the trough. When they were given a chance to forestall the outcomes of the Anglo-Leasing contracts, they not only doubled down on them, but they expanded them in ways that not even the Moi kleptocracy had anticipated. A hard lesson was learned: even heroes have feet of clay.

The second was that Kenyans' respect for each other, as peoples and as humans, only extended so far. If you were poor and your people were considered generally poor, you received short shrift when it came to public policy, public largesse and public services. The odious Kenyatta-era policy of promoting high potential areas at the expense of the rest of the country was retained; today, it manifests itself in the decision to build a dry port in Naivasha, a town that is not known for major industrial activity but for its flower industry, flamingos and tourist attractions.

The third was the most devastating revelation of all: excellence is notable by its absence in the public service. A hint was given when the University of Nairobi was first mentioned as among the best in Africa. In 2016, it is ranked at 14th position. Yet, by every measure, fewer and fewer enlightened parents wish to send their children to the University of Nairobi, an institution where the likes of Babu Owino have become almost like academic oligarchs, immune to the rules of fair play and incapable of leaving academia to those who wish to read instead using it as a stepping stone to political infamy. The tragedy is how many of our political leaders have encouraged the rise of the likes of Babu Owino and ensured that the spirit that was once responsible for novelists and intellectuals like Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Micere Mugo, Grace Ogot, Phoebe Asiyo, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, Okot P'Bitek, Ali Mazrui, Taban Loliyong, Wahome Mutahi and Wangari Maathai continues to be stifled and harrassed. 

The Kenyan academy is not the only institution that has come to embrace mediocrity in its every facet. The Kenya Armed Forces, long before they became the Kenya Defence Forces, had always been proud of their record of discipline especially when deployed in Blue Helmet operations for the United Nations. (This is not to say that the deployment of the army in operations in Kenya could be viewed in the same light; Wagalla, West Pokot and Mt Elgon will forever remain blemishes for which no amount of whit-washing will absolve the army.) But ever since the halcyon days of Operation: Linda Nchi, the only thing we now know the KDF for is the same mendacious kleptomania that has thoroughly infected the National Police Service, from the bribes being collected during army recruitment to the dodgy business operations of the top brass while on deployment in South Sudan and Somalia.

This rot has now infected the Kenyan medical profession. How many of you now trust the healthcare system sufficiently to risk being treated by a Kenyan doctor or a doctor who obtained their credentials in Kenya? Some of you can now link the exodus of the ailing high and mighty to the United States (cancer treatment), the United Kingdom (orthopeadic therapies), India (renal surgery) or South Africa (minor maxillofacial surgery) because of the knowledge that the doctors we train here are, in fact, untrained and are likely to cause greater harm than good should they attempt to treat anyone. Now that this mediocrity has been devolved to the counties with the devolution of the art of buck-passing as well, I shudder to think how many academic rejects have managed to obtain the precious post-nominal letters "M.D." when they have neither the intellectual nor academic capacity to even diagnose the common cold.

We demand the best in our homes and, usually, from our spouses, children, parents, siblings and friends. But we don't seem to care when the men and women for whom our taxes have become monopoly money engage in the most egregiously wanton acts of mediocrity and mendacity. We usually laugh it off and declare fatalistically that, "This is Kenya." We must get rid of this attitude. We cannot keep waiting for the Messiah of Excellence to save us from ourselves. In Bob Marley's words, "None but ourselves can free our minds" and it is time we unshackled our minds from the enslaving mindset that our problems are someone elses problems. The time to keep suffering the mediocre should end and we are the only ones who can end it by settling for nothing less than the best. You can start by doing the best for yourself.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pomade, narcissism and intellectual waste

The key differences between Larry Madowo's #TheTrend and Jeff Koinange's #JKL are that Mr Madowo is partial to spectacularly colourful socks and Mr Koinange seems hell-bent on keeping the manufacturers of Hair-Glo in business till the end of time. Their similarities, however, are quite striking: both have the most vacuous guests on their shows; both perform some sort of public celebration of "celebrity"; and both eschew anything that has "intelligent", "informed" or "educational" in its profile. While Mr Madowo once celebrated his show's low-brow intentions, Mr Koinange still painfully labours under the delusion that #JKL is a "serious" show. 

The recently leaked footage on Mr Koinange's show's set in which one male gubernatorial candidate dismisses his opponent using the crudest sexism and misogyny known to us (while Mr Koinange and his crew snigger like high school boys) cements the impression that the only serious thing about #JKL is the curiosity about how much Mr Koinange really spends on pomade.

Uduak Amimo, Muchiri Wahome and John Sibi Okumu remain the most talented political interviewers this country has ever produced. Ms Amimo is the last one standing and if she bows out before a replacement is found, Kenya will be left with the likes of the as-useful-as-a-bucket-of-spit #JKL. We should be very, very afraid that the equivalent of Jerry Springer is the talk of the town for the "political" guests he has on his show, never mind that most of what they say is fatuous, vacuous, self-serving bullshit to rival all the political bullshit generated over the ages. That it is often overwhelmingly male should go without saying though it should be said often and loudly.

Mr Koinange and his show are proof positive that we are slowly erasing whatever standards of political discourse we ever had. Beginning with the shutting down of the Weekly Review, the hounding out of business of Finance Magazine and the ill-executed resurrection of the Nairobi Law Monthly, political discourse is poorly served these days. We have only shows like Cheche Live to look forward to and even then, because it is broadcast at 8 in the morning, few of us have the chance to benefit fully from the discourse moderated by Ms Amimo. On TV, radio or in print, Kenya is being fed a steady diet of salacious and scandalous gossip masquerading as "current events" and discourse that is defined by its obsession with sex and sexual innuendo, often at the expense of women or female guests.

I understand; sex sells and the more salacious and sensationalist the innuendo, the higher the TV ratings and the more the station can charge for ads and whatnot. But it is time to stop pretending that shows like #JKL add value to our lives; it is time to remind ourselves that when we demean and denigrate women, when we stand by and snigger as they or their worth is diminished, as we defend those who humiliate them in the name of "political warfare" as one woman put it, we destroy our national soul just a little, we fill our national institutions with just a bit more hostility, we raise our children to be abusers and victims. Mr Koinange's show is a pox on our home and we need a great dose of penicillin to cure us of our attraction to pomade, narcissism and intellectual wastelands.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Ndegwa Commission was wrong

The Ndegwa Commission was wrong; civil servants should not run private businesses nor trade with any government ministry, department or agency. The Salaries and Remuneration Commission is useless; staff rationalisation should have been completed a long, long time ago and the size of the public payroll curbed at a manageable number. These two reforms are crucial to tackling official corruption.

Two cases come to mind. Philip Kinisu was a shareholder and director of a company that did business with the National Youth Service, and was paid millions of shillings in tenders that had been challenged by the Auditor-General for their authenticity. Mr Kinisu denied any wrongdoing even though the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission, which he chaired, was in the middle of an investigation of the tenders awarded by the NYS.

In another case, a company connected to the relatives of the President has been embroiled in a scandal regarding the irregular awarding of tenders and irregular payments made to the company. Now it might be that Mr Kinisu's company and this other company have operated within the strict confines of the law, have broken none of the rules or regulations of public procurement and are otherwise operating at the highest levels of integrity. That is no longer enough. Kenyans believe, rightly or wrongly, that civil servants are rent-seeking quick-fingered crooks, using their offices to benefit themselves at the expense of their fellow Kenyans, their government and their country's interests.

Civil servants are too many and too many of them run businesses that are inherently in conflict with the interests of their ministries, departments or agencies. The Salaries and Remuneration Commission tied itself in knots trying to justify the continued Ndegwa-Commission-era sanctioning of civil servants engaged in private businesses. Coupled with its failure to persuade the national and county governments to take the unpopular decision of firing redundant civil servants has meant that graft will not begin to be tackled with the seriousness it deserves.

Corruption has become a runaway problem. There too many civil servants and too few officers tasked with policing their behaviour to prevent acts of corruption among them. Therefore, if the staff rationalisation programme commenced by the SRC is complete, it should be implemented quickly and humanely. A reduction in the size of the public service coupled with the use of digital human resource tools such as the the payroll management software used by the national public service will go a long way in keeping track of what public officers get up to in their duties.

The more critical reform will be the reversal of the Ndegwa Commission's recommendation that civil servants should be allowed to run businesses. Public officers, their immediate relatives (parents, siblings, spouses, children) shouldn't do business with the Government. The businesses "associated" with public officers and their immediate relatives shouldn't do business with the Government. The development of rules to determine the degree of "association" between public officers, their immediate relatives and businesses should sharpen blunt edges of this broadsword ban. In this way, mealy-mouthed and lawyerly explanations about directorships and shareholdings will be reduced significantly.

As it is, because of the Ndegwa Commission's recommendations, too many public officers suffer great conflicts of interest that are difficult to determine simply because of the truly lax implementation of the rules. How Mr Kinisu believed that he did not suffer any conflict of interest when the NYS investigation was unfolding beggars belief. How a company associated with the president's close relatives won a tender that has come into question and the more obvious conflict-of-interest questions not been asked is telling in and of itself. I am sorry; you may have a right to do business, but the government doesn't have to do business with you, especially if it will continue to compromise the integrity of the public service.

It is time that public officers, their immediate relatives and businesses (including corporations) were banned from doing business with the Government. If a public officer is so obviously talented as to make millions of shillings as a businessman trading with the Government, he is equally talented to make the same millions trading with the private sector. If he desires to continue in a business relationship with the Government, he can do so as a private citizen, competing on an equal footing with the rest of the private sector. The reversal of the Ndegwa Commission's recommendation in regard to civil servants doing business with the Government is the first step towards sorting out the corruption mess we find ourselves in.

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...