Sunday, January 31, 2016

The voice of the irrational minority

Religious wars are fraught with dangers that only time will reveal. For the past decade or so, Kenyans have inexorably been pushed into a religious war by both faith-leaders and terror organisations like al Shabaab. So far, to the credit of political leaders, Kenyans have not been persuaded that there is indeed a religious war to be fought. It might be that we all dream of becoming tenderpreneurs and all the billions that such a title commands and as such are not interested in a war for which there is nothing but confusion at best and civil war at worst.

Faith leaders, on the other hand, have been less than sanguine. For example, in the Standard on Sunday, David Oginde, the Presiding Bishop at Christ Is The Answer Ministries, seems to stoke the fires of religious war with this astonishing statement: "Therefore, though the government may have to safeguard and protect the interests of its Muslim citizens, it may be hard put justified our being part of "the collective voice of the Muslim world."" He justifies this by stating that "Some would assume that the separation of state and religion is a key principle enshrined in the Kenya constitution."

Mr Oginde writes in response to a proposal by the National Treasury of Kenya joining the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation. (Let us think twice before joining the OIC.) First, does the Kenya constitution separate religion and the state? This is going to be a vexed question. Article 8 of the Constitution states that there shall be no state religion. This, I argue, is not a clear-cut separation of the state and religion. In light, especially, of the allusion to "Almighty God" in the Preamble to the Constitution, it could be argued that the State recognises the place of religion even in governance, and that the only way to safeguard the interests of all Kenyans is not to favour one religion over others. It is why the State has legislated the registration of religious societies and the licensing of ministers of religion to officiate at marriages on behalf of the Registrar of Marriages.

Second, would joining the OIC be an instance of fusing the state and religion? I don't believe it would be, even if one of the stated objectives of the OIC is to be "the collective voice of the Muslim world." Henry Rotich, the Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury, states that the reason why Kenya wishes to join the OIC is for economic and financial purposes, not religious ones. Mr Rotich has no role, if any, to play in the role the national government plays in its interaction with religious organisations and has never had such a role. His is to safeguard the economic and financial interests of Kenya.

Mr Oginde attempts to connect the membership of the OIC with Kenya's diplomatic relations with the Jewish State of Israel, especially in light of the OIC's politics regarding Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Kenya has always remained neutral to the politics of Palestine and has always pursued its interests, just like Israel and members of the OIC do. It will join the OIC with its interests in mind, and if on the balance, the benefits outweigh the risks, Mr Rotich should not be held back simply because of a concern for the politics of Palestine that have bedevilled the world since 1947 without resolution.

Kenya's interests will not be served by bending to the whims of amateur constitutionalists or amateur diplomats, but by a rational consideration of its interests. It is time Kenya diversified its global financial and economic interests; the World Bank and the IMF are all well and good, as are the deepening entanglements with China and India. But at the end of the day, we cannot simply reject out of hand the OIC plan simply because some religious fanatics have a visceral suspicion of Muslims and are not shy about peddling half-truths about Islamic organisations such as the OIC. If our national treasury is to benefit from joining the OIC, Mr Oginde's should firmly remain the voice of the irrational minority.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Unclench your jaw - and your fist

What do our taxes pay for? Foreign loans? Domestic loans? Roads? Doctors? Let me put it this way: for every shilling that the Government of Kenya collects from me (takes from me), how many of the cents that is collected (taken) spent on something useful? The same can be asked of the Government of Nairobi City County.

The Fourth Schedule to the Constitution is entitled: Distribution of Functions between the National Government and the County Governments. Whatever else these governments do, our taxes go to pay for those forty eight functions. If I were a libertarian, like someone claimed to be on Twitter yesterday in the middle of a long twitter conversation, I would work assiduously to reduce the forty eight functions to a smaller number, perhaps twenty, and with that a shrinkage in the total tax levied upon me by both my governments. I would do so because, as a libertarian, I couldn't abide by the idea that a government could collect money from me in order to build a badly-run, badly-staffed school. Instead, I would tutor my children at home, fill them with the ideas I believed they needed to have.

If I were a libertarian, regardless of the benefits of herd immunity, I would make the decision on whether or no to immunize my children without taking into account the whingeing by the public heath authorities. If this seems like an extremist position for a Kenyan to take, rest assured that it is. There are many "western" ideas that we have adopted, none more so than that of a republican democratic government. It seems that with the liberalisation of the airwaves, there are many new political ideas that have permeated the country and we must debate their purchase, coherence and usefulness. Of these libertarianism offers an opportunity to examine public policy from several perspectives.

Let us use the idea of a light rail system for Nairobi as an example. For it to be built and used, the most important question, obviously, is how it will be paid for. The National Government has pioneered the penchant for foreign loans for large infrastructure projects, pushing up the national debt to unprecedented heights. Can Nairobi afford a light railway? Another obviously important question is whether or not the light railway is a county priority or a white elephant for which every government is guilty. Finally, from a constitutional perspective, especially at Article 201(c) on the inter-generational burden-sharing when it comes to public borrowing.

A libertarian would reject the light rail if it was to be paid for by additional taxes. A libertarian would favour dealing with the structural flaws in the present public transport infrastructure, dominated as it is by privately-owned cars and privately operated public service vehicles. A libertarian would not favour any more borrowing for public infrastructure expansion, such as more pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths. From an inter-generational equity perspective, reducing the debt burden for future generations is admirable, but it is a somewhat unsound reasoning. More of that later.

Without a doubt Nairobi's population is expanding. The current pace of public infrastructure development is discouraging, especially when it comes to the crucial questions of housing and transport infrastructure. Without exact figures I can only speculate but the vast majority of Nairobi's population is poor or lower middle class for whom the largest share of their incomes go to food  (including cooking fuel) and shelter; the balance goes to healthcare and transport (primarily public transport). I do not what proportion they represent, but there are vast armies of Nairobians from Kawangware, Kangemi, Kairobangi, Dandora, Kayole, Pipeline, Mathare Valley, Jericho, Kaloleni, Pumwani, Majengo and the various Mukurus, who cannot afford pubic transport, even at ten shillings a trip, who walk vast distances in search of casual employment. These people frequently fall outside the libertarian's calculus, they are an economic anomaly.

About that inter-generational equity, unless we are prepared to accept that Kenya, and Nairobi, will never get richer, a debt burden for future generations need not be debilitating. A future richer Kenya could theoretically pay the debts incurred by the present generations on public infrastructure, like a light rail. Now while many major cities are witnessing a decline in the use of public transport, especially metro rails and light rails, the global trend is towards urbanisation and, consequently, public transport rather than private transport. This should, ideally, temper the no-new-taxes cabal's penchant of obstructionism and foster greater informed debate abut the future of the Nairobi metropolis.

An insufficient appreciation of the rigidities of "western" political ideas, especially over the past decade, informs the paucity of informed political debate in Kenya today, the the difficulties in forging consensus on matters of public importance. However, a fundamental misapprehension of politics has rendered it almost impossible to even open up public debate to non-traditional ideas.  It is one thing to declare libertarianism to be ones guiding principle; it is quite another to labour under the delusion that it is the only legitimate way to live.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ukubwa-ness

I once dealt with Doris at a meeting. Not Doris from HR, but the other Doris. You know, our senior? Doris from HR is kindly and smiles, just like a proper HR boss should. She's like a baby version of Madam Faith. Anyway, back to the other Doris, who wears her ukubwa like it were a suit of armour. I'm not saying that she hasn't earned her ukubwa; she has. But she doesn't have to lord it over the little people as if we were nuisances, pits in her Jimmy Choos.

You remember Marion, don't you? My kindly, motherly, all-smiles colleague? Anyway, being the Marion she is, she is plenty busy helping folks so she spends a considerable amount of her professional time outside the office. So this random Thursday when she was out pulling some other State officer's bacon out of the fire, she asked me to sit in on one of her meetings and report back what was decided. That was when I encountered Doris, who couldn't hide her disdain for me. I could see it in her eyes: How dare I poison her air with my inexperienced ass? Being the patient fella I am, I explained where Marion was and what I was doing there. She would not have it.

It's not as if it were her meeting to begin with. She was just one other body from a department we all despise representing her boss too. If it wasn't for Mrs Muia simply acknowledging my misplaced ass and moving on to the agenda, I have a feeling that Doris, like akina would Olivia put it, would have caught feelings. I can't figure it out, this sniffy attitude some senior public officers have towards their juniors. We may not have the decade-plus that some of you have in service, but we are not exactly dimwits out to muck up your resumes.

Catherine calls it the Ukubwa Syndrome, where the higher you climb in the service, the more sniffy you get because of your rank towards "junior staff." You will not hobnob with them; you will only acknowledge their presence when you are about to issue commands. They are beneath you, and you stare down your nose at them from your high perch. They are to be seen, never heard, dedicated to doing your bidding. And so you take umbrage when your peers second some junior officer to sit in in a meeting that you can't get out of because of the offending presence of junior staff.

This, to me, seems like a die-hard vestige of the colonial service, where hierarchical divisions were enforced punitively. If you deigned to breath the same air as your betters, there would be hell to pay. Whether or not you were good at your shit didn't matter; if you fraternised with someone from the wrong rank or, worse, the wrong cadre, your career would hang in the balance and your peers or seniors would never treat you the same again. Doris would have made an excellent colonial era DO (Blacks would never have been made DCs). She has the ukubwa-ness necessary to thrive in an institution that values hierarchical rules and saving face. I just hope that now her whole division has been spun off, that I never have to deal with her again. I don't need that kind of poison in my life.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Matatu madness

By law, the laws of the Government of Nairobi City County that is, matatu culture is banished from all streets on the wrong side of Moi Avenue. What you are likely to find that come close to approximating the illogicality of matatu culture are owner-operators of the Kenya Taxi Cabs Association. The ones who call Harambee Avenue their bailiwick have an illogical arrangement that sees them occupy an ill-defined share of the parking slots outside Jogoo House "A" (or is it "B"?) and, every now and then, they perform a pantomime which I guess ensures that the right taxi cab is at the front of the line.

Matatu culture and all that is associated with it is to be found in the less office-building-y bits of Nairobi: Moi Avenue, Tom Mboya Street, Ronald Ngala Street and those almost-forgotten parts (did you see how surprised your governor looked when he found out that Luthuli Street still exists?) of the Business District that are definitely not part of the Central Business District. Ronald Ngala especially offers a glimpse of what matatu culture means: chaos, heat, danger, noise, dust, traffic jams - massive traffic jams.

If you want to test your urinary tract's fortitude, here's a simple experiment. Consume a larger-than-normal volume of liquid libations as close to five in the afternoon as you can, then board any of the buses bound for Jogoo Road from the Ambassadeur Hotel. The stretch between the Ronald Ngala and Moi Avenue junction and Nyama Kima will put your urinary bladder to the test, because at that hour, God Almighty turns his attention away for a moment and Lucifer and all his helpers take over traffic management on Ronald Ngala. He seems especially eager to interfere with the mental faculties f of the crews of the Thika Superhighway-bound Paradisos and Virginia Coaches that have turned the stretch between "Tusker" and Nyama Kima into their permanent terminus, stationary, idling, belching immeasurable quantities of diesel and sulphur, baring their horns every seventeen and  a half seconds and generally scaring the bejeesus out of the commuting and non-commuting public. At five, whatever business you had along that stretch of Nairobi traffic is best handled on foot; leave your motor vehicle in the relatively safe zones on the other side of Moi Avenue.

On Ronald Ngala is to be seen the true manifestation of matatu culture: chaotic, violent, inconsiderate, loud, dirty and dangerous. What the defenders of matatu culture are attempting to camouflage with their hagiography of matatu graffiti will not wash with the armies of commuters and road users who are daily inconvenienced by the often violent chaos exhibited by the unrestrained owner-operators of matatus. The scenes on Ronald Ngala Street are replicated on dozens of streets in the Business District and sometimes they result in grave tragedies. Matatu graffiti may be a part of the culture of this vibrant city but it should not be used as a figleaf to hide the naked violence and chaos that that matatu industry exhibits.

Not peculiar at all

We have hit so many nadirs that one more doesn't seem to make a difference. What do you know about the Eurobond? The answer, it seems, depends on whom you like: Raila or Uhuru. The answer, it further seems, doesn't rely on whether documents proffered by either side of the matter are genuine or not. This is a new low: no one believe anyone anymore. Not the presidency. Not the opposition. Not the Director of Public Prosecuions, the Central Bank, the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (though the EACC was never believable to begin with) and most certainly not the politicians shouting themselves hoarse that (a) the Eurobond is above-board or (b) the Eurobond is not above-board.

This isn't as peculiar as one might think. It has been a long time coming, but Jomo Kenyatta ensured that today's distrust and scepticism of the government and its institutions would be the default position of most adult Kenyans. The viciousness with which colonial policies were enforced after Independence, the brutality with which dissenting voices were suppressed, and the greed with which public property was stolen from the people guaranteed that when Kenyans demanded proof that the Eurobond was above-board and the proof was tabled, it would be disbelieved and rejected out of hand.

Kenyans became truly cynical about public institutions when men (and women) of the cloth started robbing congregations blind, investing in the preachers' personal, material lives at the expense of the faithful. When pastors started swanning around town in Mercedes-Benzes and Ranger Rovers, Kenyans suddenly found out that the refuge they had taken under the Blood of Jesus was a fiction, a cruel lie meant to keep them docile and to separate them from their hard-earned money. What Jomo Kenyatta had initiated was cemented when the "liberalised" airwaves were inundated by the televangelists with the gift of the gab, the morals of alley cats and the consciences of hammerhead sharks.

Therefore it is not inconsistent that Raila Odinga will demand bank records related to the Eurobond, Henry Rotich will supply those records, and Kenyans will yawn, shrug their shoulders, accuse both of lying, and move on to the next entertaining political controversy. Mwai Kibaki, despite his DNA-deep love for the Independence Party, had a brief window of opportunity to begin to turn Kenyans away from the insidious grip of Mammon. His debilitating stroke and his incomplete , imperfect recovery set the country on the path to bigger and grander scams. Uhuru Kenyatta is not our corruption Messiah. Neither is Raila Odinga.

Neither John Githongo, Transparency International, Kenya Human Rights Commission, the Third Way, Uzalendo Watch, Dennis Galava or the scores of messiahs waiting in the wings can save us from ourselves if we have given up on the dream of nationhood, honour and patriotism. When children see nothing wrong in venerating "mummy" and "daddy" Kiuna or the next carpetbagger with a silver tongue and a fistful of dollars, we have subconsciously admitted to ourselves that we no longer care.

Steers is dead to me

It is surprisingly filthy, infested by cockroaches and a consistently bad paint job. It's been a minute since it had those pack-'em-in offers on Wednesday that filled the joint with college kids out looking for a bargain on fast food. You can tell that the place is definitely over the hill - the hot waitresses that used to lure in the aforementioned college types (and their dads) are long gone, lured to KFC and Pizza Hut. What was once a rather nice burger joint that sometimes served really nice fried chicken is now a pale shadow of its former glory, infested by roaches and a staff that looks like it wishes it were working at KFC. Or Pizza Hut. Or Java.

Steers Wabera Street used to pack them in. No more. On an average day, you question the wisdom of keeping the upstairs section; the place is never packed. The fare, Jesoh! It's as if someone sucked the soul out of the kitchen staff and replaced it with the menacing, dark-hearted malevolence of Voldemort. Or Severus Snape. Or both.

One thing fast food joints have going for them is consistency. Once that goes, there go the customers. We are pretty easy to satisfy: just serve us the same heart-attack inducing oversalted bitts of beef, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes stuck between two buns and we are good. So long as the burger tastes exactly as it did last week we won't be thinking of looking to some pricey alternative like Java (whose burgers are nothing to write home about). But once your quality starts to slide, once we get the feeling that the beef patty might have been at risk of going all mouldy and shit, we are done. Roaches are just the final sign that Beelzebub has taken the wheel and your establishment is fast careening towards a cliff.

I am not going back. This will probably break Lulu's heart more than mine; after all, she's in college, broke and knows that I am the only reliable soft-touch should she wish to avoid the predictable consistency of Sonford Fish and Chips. Steers Wabera Street is no longer a place you should ever bother visiting. If your still crave a King Steers Burger, try Steers Kenyatta Avenue or Steers Muindi Mbingu Street; they are slightly cleaner, and the Steers consistency hasn't been snuffed out yet.

Nyayo Era redux

Two events in the space of a month are worth noting: the Chief Justice, in an interview with a Dutch newspaper, declares that Kenya's is a "bandit economy" where graft assails the public service, from the lowliest public servant to the highest state officer; and a judge of the Supreme Court is accused of being at the heart of an elaborate conspiracy to defeat the ends of a justice and in which he has been the recipient of a $2 million bribe. Taken together, one must ask if the Judiciary can ever be trusted.

There are few events as harrowing as being an accused person in a court of law in Kenya, or on the losing end of a civil claim. Your fate is in the hands of the court, a magistrate or a judge. You trust that the judicial officers are impartial, that they are not influenced by your station in life but by the facts before them and the proper interpretation of the law. You trust that the proof that is adduced before the judicial officer has been honestly obtained, that witnesses have spoken the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. You believe that when a judgment or a ruling is handed down from the Bench, that it has not been influenced by a briefcase full of United States dollars.

The Chief Justice declares your faith as woefully misplaced. The accusation against a judge of the Supreme Court seems to confirm the Chief Justice's declaration. Do you even appreciate the implications of this state of affairs? Justice, my friend, is for sale. For a fistful of dollars, you will either get away with murder or you will win a civil claim. Or, as it is alleged, you will secure political office.

The Chief Justice is the head of the judiciary, the president of the Supreme Court and the chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission. Even interviews in foreign newspaper have great import in Kenya. His words are not to be taken lightly. When he declares that we have a "bandit economy" he must mean it. He would not otherwise declare it. If he shows a hint of doubt about his own judiciary, we have a right to be worried. Very worried. The one institution that showed promise in ending a culture of corrupt impunity has proven impervious to the ministrations of a few good men and women.

We are not in uncharted waters. In the 1980s it was not uncommon for judicial officers to sit in the dead of night and hand down convictions to "enemies of the state" at the behest of powerful men. In the 1990s, grand schemes to swindle the national government would never be resolved in the courts of justice because briefcases of money were the determinants of truth. Our judiciary has an odious history and to pretend that simply because the Constitution declares that "judicial authority is derived from the people" is the magic wand that will change its odious culture is to be naive. What we need is a revolution. That revolution did not and shall not come at the hands of the members of the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board.

Once Kenyans allowed the reforms of their government to be hijacked by the political class, Kenyans lost the revolution and shall be consumed by it. The Chief Justice no longer has faith in the revolution. If he has lost faith, then we are truly doomed. We might as well be living in the Nyayo Era all over again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Matatu culture or matatu graffiti?

Some time last year, in response to complaints of harassment by matatu crews, Uhuru Kenyatta, at an impromptu meet-the-people tour of Nairobi, directed that his agencies, including the National Police and the National Transport and Safety Authority, NTSA, lay off matatu graffiti. Lee Kinyanjui, the chairman of the NTSA, seems to have forgotten the presidential directive, insisting that the regulations drawn up by the NTSA will be enforced. To. The. Letter. 

He is right, of course, but he is being churlish and foolish. The NTSA, despite what it claims, is not a law enforcement agency. Its principal mandate is the safety of Kenya's transport sector, including by drafting and enforcing sensible regulations that enhance traffic (and road) safety. What graffiti, and loud exhaust, systems in matatus have to do with either remains known only to the Mr Kinyanjui and the NTSA staff.

President Kenyatta was right to ask for a sensible enforcement of the regulations. I can see why even he is confused about the Michukian assault on matatu graffiti. Matatu graffiti has nothing to do with passenger, road or transport safety. Indeed, whether the holier-than-thou wish to admit it or not, matatu graffiti has been part of the urban landscape since the 1990s. It is as distinctive as the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, auto-rikshaws in New Delhi, Times Square in New York, Trafalgar Square in London, the Louvre in Paris and Filipino jeepneys. The graffiti is a source of employment for scores of young Kenyans for whom the formal job market has been particularly unkind. Mr Kinyanjui's NTSA is a threat to the livelihoods of thousands and their families' well-being.

The reasons why transport in Kenya is unsafe are not so difficult to discern. The enforcement of the Traffic Act is erratic at best, and malicious at worst. An examination of a large swathe of the public service vehicle sector operating in Kenya reveals that a staggering number are patently unsafe, are driven at unsafe speeds, and their operators impudently ignore even the basic provisions of the High Code. The relationship between the matatu sector and the forces of law and order contribute greatly to the poor safety record on our roads. 

What has pejoratively been described as matatu culture has now been adopted by private motorists, who flout as many traffic rules as they can and ape, to a disturbing degree, the chaos visited on our roads by the matatu sector. In the evolution of matatu culture from PSVs to private motorists, more and more private motorists are becoming more and more reckless and endangering further and further all attempts to rein in the poor safety record of our roads. What Mr Kinyanjui and the NTSA betray is a lack of imagination to improve the record on our roads.

It is time we admitted that we need matatus in Kenya, more so in Nairobi. What we must crack is the code that will ensure that they are safe, reliable and affordable. Banning their graffiti - works of art, really - will not do any of those things. If Mr Kinyanjui and Francis Meja, the NTSA boss, don't know this, it is time we asked them to take their talents to the national Police Service where the enforcement of irrelevant laws seems to be a favourite pastime.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Of City Girl, Dennis Galava, El Adde and Eurobond

Fat women. "Socialites." Gold-diggers. Blue Subaru motorists. Watu wa Eastlands. Women who wear hair weaves. Women who smoke shisha. Bloggers. The list of the classes of people that Njoki Chege has offended grows by the newspaper column inch by the week. She pens a column for the Nation Media Group in the Saturday Nation called City Girl and it is a hot topic every time she is published and says something inflammatory. She has her fans and she has her detractors. Their wars of words on Twitter are becoming legendary. The pro-free speech side declares her freedom of expression as sacrosanct. The pro-good manners side wants her column cancelled.

On January 2, an editor, Dennis Galava, at the Nation Media Group wrote a hard-hitting Op-Ed charging the President of Kenya with grave offences. He was suspended, then fired. He did not say anything that was fundamentally wrong or untrue. He was accused by his own bosses of having violated the editorial policy of the newspaper. From a political perspective, Mr Galava's Op-Ed was important, raising questions about the political direction Kenya has taken since Uhuru Kenyatta was ;elected as the Fourth President in 2013. From a socio-cultural perspective, City Girl appeals to the vain and the ill-read. It ranks up there with pornography for the value it adds to our lives. Yet Mr Galava is out of a job and City Girl purrs along.

We are a democratic republic, and it is our elected representatives who make decisions that affect our lives even to the minutest degree. Political decisions made by our elected representatives have great impacts on our lives. Mr Galava attempted to address the political decision-making in Kenya and he was fired for his trouble. City Girl does not even attempt to address what makes Kenya socio-cultural development fraught with risk. It panders to base instincts of a small section of the population and makes a hash for it. Ms Chege will continue to pen her column for as long as it fattens the bottom line of the Nation Media Group.

In the past week alone, online commentators have attempted to address the El Adde attack where Kenyan soldiers died in an al Shabaab attack and have been arrested for their online posts. These are men and women who have attempted to place the Kenyan involvement in Somalia in the proper perspective. Even the Nation Media Group has drank the Kool-Aid that "we do not question the army" when it is in the field of battle. Few seem to realise that Kenya is walking the same path that the United States walked in Vietnam.

We have been successfully trolled by the likes of City Girl. Our war in Somalia will become our Vietnam. But that is not all. The Eurobond questions refuse to die down. These are important questions about how financial and economic decisions are made by the National Treasury and the Cebntral Bank. But all the online Kenyan community can talk about is the latest outrage on the pages of the Saturday Nation by City Girl. Whether or not a massive fraud was perpetrated by the National Treasury remains unknown. Whether or not Kenya's mission in Somalia is a failure remains a mystery. Whether or not press freedom is being expanded or narrowed hangs in the balance. But the hurt feelings of bloggers, taken on by City Girl, remain the subject pf much mirth and online angst.

Think on that for a minute. We don't know how many Kenyan soldiers died in Somalia. We do not know how much money was made or lost in the Eurobond. We do not know why the Nation Media Group fired Dennis Galava. The only topic of discussion is whether City Girl is important.

Kenya v al Shabaab: to what end?

Is Kenya at war in Somalia? If so, who is Kenya at war with? Is the African Union at war in Somalia? If so, who is the African Union at war with? 

Between 1945 and 1990, the world was in the grip of the Cold War, an "existential" war between the capitalist "West" and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics' "communism." After the co-ordinated attacks by al Qaeda in September 2001, the United States declared a Global War on Terror, and the world's powers were asked to pick a side. You were either with the United States or you were with "the terrorists." Kenya joined that war much earlier, in 1998, with the co-ordinated al Qaeda attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, but it went all in with Operation: Linda Nchi in 2011 when it sent the Kenya Defence Forces to Somalia "in hot pursuit" of al Shabaab, which had waged a war of terror along the Kenyan border with Somalia and, later, attacks in Nairobi and Garissa.

Using the same rhetoric as the United States government, the Government of Kenya has declared on several occasions that the war with al Shabaab is an existential war and that Kenya must defeat al Shabaab or Kenya will cease to exist as a viable state, for that is the meaning of an existential war. During the Cold War, a potential war between the United States'-led capitalist West and the USSR would have led to the total destruction of not just the United States and the Soviet Union, but of the whole world because both sides possessed stockpiles of advanced weapons and weapons' delivery systems. 

Al Shabaab does not possess weapons of mass destruction. It does not have a standing army. It does not command the absolute loyalty of the people for whom it claims to fight. Its ideology does not command the loyalty of the people, save for fanatics. While the Government of Kenya commands the loyalty of the people and its ideology, such as it is, commands the loyalty of the people, it does not possess weapons of mass destruction. The war between Kenya and al Shabaab is not an existential war. It never was. The war between al Qaeda, and now ISIS, and the United States'-led coalition of the willing is not an existential war, though by the time it is over, millions will have died.

Between 1964 and 1972, the United States waged a war of attrition in Vietnam because of the Cold War. The logic of it all was that if North Vietnam fell to the communists, it would have a domino effect, and the falling dominoes would move the whole of South East Asia into the communist side, affecting the national interest of the United States. After September 2001, the United States has argued that if terrorist organisations "win" they will affect the security of every nation on Earth. This logic informs the Government of Kenya's decision to wage war in Somalia as part of AMISOM to defeat al Shabaab.

The Vietnam war ended with the defeat of the United States. After the deaths of 58,000 soldiers, the United States was forced to capitulate and negotiate with the belligerents, the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong. Unified Vietnam still ended up as a communist state. The United States' Global war on Terror has not been won. The United States has waged war against al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS. Despite massive losses on the field of battle, the terrorists continue to wage guerrilla war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and on mainland Europe in the United Kingdom, Spain and France. Boots on the ground, aerial bombardment and drones in the air will not win the United States this war. AMISOM, too, will not defeat al Shabaab on the ground or in the air.

A war ends when both sides declare it to be over. ISIS or al Shabaab will never capitulate, they will never declare the war over. Their ideology will never allow it. Kill all their top echelon leaders, and new ones will step into the bridge. The United States killed or captured the top commanders of al Qaeda, yet it still morphed into ISIS. Top al Shabaab commanders have been killed or captured over the past five years, yet it still finds new commanders to step into the breach. This war will never be won. That is not its ideology.

This brings us back to this: why is Kenya in Somalia? Why is AMISOM in Somalia? What we know is that al Shabaab committed grave atrocities in Kenya, affecting its financial markets and raising the cost of both public safety and national security. The Kenyan war in Somalia has not lowered these costs, and it has not prevented attacks on the homeland, the most notable being over the past three years: Westgate, Lamu, Mandera and Garissa. We know very little of the political and military goals in Somalia. We do not debate these issues, instead being exhorted to "support our troops" even though we know nothing of their mission. The United States was forced to capitulate in Vietnam after the costs of war became too much for the civilian population to bear. Kenya has lost men and women in the ground in Somalia, the latest being at El Adde. At some point we must ask, how many fighting men and women are we prepared to lose before we admit that we will never prevail against al Shabaab?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Kenya's faux militarism

Kenya doesn't have a history of militarism (that is, the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests) as a national culture like the United States, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, India, the People's Republic of China, a broad swathe of South America or Nigeria do. Therefore, while on multiple public polls the people have indicated a fondness for the Kenya Defence Forces, few of them have a firm ideology on the place of the military in the public sphere. This is important when discussing whether or not Kenyans may or may not publish photographs of Kenyan fighting men and women killed in combat or otherwise in the line of duty.

In the United States and in the United Kigdom, where militarism is high, the military is frequently embedded with the civilian population in a variety of ways. Especially in the United States, military bases grow into military towns, and the military-industrial complex is a vital part of the local economy. Norfolk, Virginia, in the United States is vibrant because of the naval base, and the Brecon Beacons in the South Wales thrive economically not only because of the national park but because the  UK military's training programmes in the area, including by the dreaded SAS.

Kenyans have a vague appreciation of Kahawa and Langata Barracks, Lanet Air Force Base, or the Isiolo home of the 78 Tank Battalion. We are more familiar with the British Army Training Unit-Kenya, based in Nanyuki, but only because it is the British Army training in Kenya and all the race-based problems that it entails. Our familiarity with our military is largely restricted to march-pasts on national holidays and carefully curated news stories about the military while on peacekeeping missions for the UN or in combat in Somalia. Few Kenyans are familiar with the military formations, what military equipment they command, their total strength, or the rigours of their training as they are with the details of the US Marines or the Russian Spetsnaz.

Crucially, though, Kenyans cannot lawfully fly the Kenyan flag from their homes in solidarity with their military, as US citizens can and do. Kenya's military is highly respected by foreign powers who have seen it in action, but closer home it has a mixed reputation, to say the least. It has been properly lauded for its exploits in Somalia, especially during the early days of Operation: Linda Nchi, but it is loathed and feared because of its brutality against the civilian population in massacres at Wagalla, West Pokot and Mt Elgon. It is therefore, awkward for calls to is hagiography when so little about it is known, or for calls to be "patriotic" and "loyal" by not publishing disturbing photographs of fallen fighting men and women.

Kenyans remain heavily policed, both by their police forces and their military. The rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights are yet to be embraced by the State int he spirit that they are intended to be celebrated. If Kenyans cannot be free to fly their flag it will be difficult for many of them to celebrate their military's successes or mourn its losses when much about it is secret and secretive, known to a select few? It is the secrets and secrecy that feed the morale-crushing instincts to circulate photographs of the fallen. Unless the no-photos brigade understands and appreciates this, Kenyans will always have a complicated relationship with their military. It will not end well.

Privileged extremists

“It is important to note that we are still under threat of terrorism and all vehicles, whether GK or parastatals, must go through a thorough search at points of entry into offices, buildings and malls.”
This apparently a directive by the Inspector-General of Police. It is notable for the unspoken observation: government vehicles are not trusted, least of all by the National Police, in the fight against terrorism. I want you to consider that non-admission. When Kenyan soldiers are deployed in theatre, the points of entry into Kenya remain on high alert, the people are on tenterhooks about the next calamity, and the President, for the umpteenth time, declares that "security begins with you and me," the integrity of the public officers with access to government vehicles cannot be guaranteed. This is the admission of the National Police Service and, presumably, of the national Executive.

It isn't that strange that this non-admission is now being made. The national security apparatus has not covered itself in glory since the day Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as Kenya's fourth president. First there was that bizarre incident with the presidential limo that was, or was not, part of the presidential motorcade. Then there was the devastating Westgate siege that exposed the Kenya Defence Forces as a lootocracy. Then there were the twin Lamu attacks and twin Mandera attacks that exposed the paucity of actionable intelligence. Then there was the Garissa University College massacre that exposed the National Police to ridicule because the seniormost police pilots had a tendency to use police aircraft for personal jaunts to Mombasa (for which, by the by, no one has been sacked).

These are but the most egregious. Remember that Pangani traffic policeman who engaged in a common traffic police habit of effectively hijacking motorists to police stations and extorting money from them before "releasing" the cars and their owners? Turned out that he had hijacked a couple of jihadists who detonated their cor bomb in the entrance to the Pangani Police Station. How about that other massive car bomb that remained parked at a police station for a week before it was "detected?" We will never know who its intended target was. Then there are the farcical reports of police lorries being used to ferry, variously, poached sandalwood or undocumented Ethiopians, passing through check-points without any query. Inspector-General Boinnet is right to suspect all government vehicles.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that those with access to certain government-financed privileges have a habit of abusing the privileges. This is not just limited to the minions on their masters' service; a broad swathe of members of the 48 legislative bodies and judiciary abuse the privileges granted them by the peoples of Kenya. Some have taken this abuse to extremes and it seems that the Inspector-General is now alive to the risks posed by these privileged mandarins and apparats. I wonder if his Commander-in-Chief appreciates the enormity of this admission.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Militarising freedom

Bullshit! I say again, BULLSHIT!

In the principles of national security, enumerated in excruciatingly dull detail, you will not find the phrase "safeguard our freedoms" in Article 238. The Kenya Defence Forces, KDF< are responsible for the defence and protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic. No, not for the freedom of the people according to Article 241 either. So stop with the fairy tales.

The men and women in uniform, when they die, do indeed sacrifice for the greater common good. The Kenya Defence Forces, part of AMISOM, are deployed in Somalia so that al Shabaab does not wage war in the homeland. In the initial stages of the deployment, the KDF were examples to us all of professionalism. But there is an iron law of military engagements: the longer you are deployed, the more likely indiscipline and other challenges to discipline will occur. Westgate offered a clue; the rumours of charcoal dealing still more.

It is important that while we celebrate the professionalism of the KDF that we do not deify them. The problems of cults of personality are well-documented. We must support our fighting men and women when they are deployed in the theatres of war, but we must not avert our eyes to the few who would take advantage of our adulation to commit crimes. It is unlikely, though not unheard of, that the rank and file would commit crimes will in uniform; it is more likely that, because of their discipline and the rigors of the military chain of command, they will follow orders without knowing for what the orders are made. It is how, despite attempts to obfuscate the matter, there are senior commanders who live in the lap of luxury while servicemen and women live in bare-bones barracks.

We are not children any more. Something profound is happening in Kenya and the KDF are part of that profound change. Whether history will judge its role as that of a villain or hero depends entirely on how honest we are about our defence forces and how they are commanded. So far we have been hashtagged into silence by vested interests about what the AMISOM deployment means, to the core discipline of our defence forces and the wallets of the commanders, whether at Defence HQ or in theatre.

I mourn with the families of our fallen fighting men and women. But let us not be carried away: al Shabaab is not a threat to our freedom, or our existence. Ours is not an apocalyptic war to end all wars with al Shabaab. That is the rhetoric of the mad men in the United States and the radical madrassas of Afghanistan and Iraq. Our towns and cities are at risk, for sure, but al Shabaab will not  destroy Kenya. That day will never come so long as we are a democratic republic, where the Constitution is our lode stone and the freedoms that we enjoy because of the Constitution are protected by one and all. We don't need to militarise our freedom; we never did.

So, enough with the bullshit.

The limitation of Art 32

It takes a clever man to subvert the law while scrupulously observing the letter of the Constitution. When Reinhard Heydrich convened the conference in the dead of winter at a villa in Wannsee in 1942, with the aim of ensuring the co-operation of administrative leaders of various government departments in the implementation of the final solution to the Jewish question, whereby most of the Jews of German-occupied Europe would be deported to Poland and murdered, the conference dwelled in the minutiae of the Nuremberg Laws, enacted to purge the German population of Jews. In the twisted minds of the Nazi high command, the Final Solution was executed in accordance with the laws of the Third Reich.

This is the blueprint for subverting the law of the land without straying from the letter of the Constitution. It is a blueprint that the neo-conservatives of the United States employed in the devastating aftermath of 9/11, ramming through the USA-PATRIOT Act, and relying on a dubiously worded congressional Authority to Use Military Force to not only invade Afghanistan and Iraq, but to wage unrelenting war in the skies over Yemen and Pakistan using the menacing-sounding Reapers and Predators. Kenyans are not so subtle. The art of the deft touch escapes many of them.

It is why when it comes to the pet peeves of the Government, pet peeves that happen to be rights and fundamental freedoms, the Government and its boosters have proven not-so-curiously leaden-footed. On the propaganda front, it is amusing how the Government has been outmaneuvered and and outflanked by some of the most hideous political players, like the Reverend Julius Nyerere who, according to The Star,
He said he personally coordinated Jubillee and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaigns in Mwingi to help them win the 2013 general election, and "If MPs and MCAs will not defend the Church, then they should know that in 2017, the Church will take action" 
which led to quiet murmurs that the proposed regulations by the Communications Authority and the Attorney-General will, after all, not be published. I don't think there is anything as humiliating as to be forced to climb down from a pet project by a group that includes the likes of Rev Nyerere and his Kitui County Bishops, Apostles and Pastors’ forum. The signs of this leaden-footedness could be seen from the fiasco that was the Security Laws (Amendments) Bill, 2014, where constitutional concerns were jettisoned on the ridiculous altar of the Tyranny of Numbers. The Nazis were legitimately elected to power; that didn't prevent the victorious allies from prosecuting and hanging senior Nazis after the War.

Kenya does not have the liberal constitution that you think it does. The Bill of Rights is 31 Articles long, but the only Article that matters is Article 24 on the limitation of rights and fundamental freedoms. It states, in part,
A right or fundamental freedom in the Bill of Rights shall not be limited except by law, and then only to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom...
The only rights or fundamental freedoms that cannot be limited are Privacy; Freedom of association; Assembly, demonstration, picketing and petition; Labour relations; Economic and social rights; and Rights of arrested persons. In case you were not paying attention, the freedom of conscience, religion, belief and opinion can be limited, and the proposed regulations by the Communications Authority and the Attorney-General need not assume such dark overtones as those of the Third Reich because the Constitution already provides for the limitation of the freedom of conscience, religion, belief and opinion. 

Rev Nyerere and his fellow-travellers would be best advised to find a way to amend the Constitution to protect their precious Article 32. So long as the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society and it is based on human dignity, equality and freedom, it will pass constitutional and judicial muster!

How to honour our troops

My friend Eric is a combat helicopter pilot. I don't fear for his safety; he is rather good at flying in combat situations. I won't dishonour him or his fighting family by starting a hashtag in their honour. I am incapable of demonstrating that I stand by them without actually donning the uniform and standing post with his comrades. He has chosen to serve in the defence forces and I wish him, as I have always, blue skies and clear horizons and when they are unavailable, a steely resolve and precise fire.

I don't have a problem with Eric flying combat missions in Somalia, whether as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, or not. He will follow all lawful orders handed down the chain of command without question; that is the oath he has taken. I will not call him names when there is collateral damage; there is no situation during combat where innocents are spared. (For context, look no further than what the USA and the UK did to Dresden during the Second World War. In four raids between 13 and 15 February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force and 527 of the United States Army Air Forces dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city. The bombing and the resulting firestorm destroyed over 1,600 acres of the city centre. An estimated 22,700 to 25,000 people were killed.)
 
But I am not blind to the allegations made against the high command of the defence forces, nor am I unconcerned about the continued presence of the defence forces in Somalia. The Kenya Defence Forces have a solid reputation when deployed on UN peacekeeping missions of professionalism and courage. They have a less stellar reputation when deployed against the civilian population; Wagalla and Mt Elgon remain blemishes against their reputation. Now that they have been in theatre since 2011, it is time to ask whether their continued deployment continues to serve the national interest or not. Jingoistic responses to this question serve no one.

When al Shabaab escalated its attacks in Kenya by abducting and murdering foreign tourists, Kenya had to respond. Operation: Linda Nchi was the response. When it wound down and Kenya joined a multi-state AMISOM, few Kenyans understood why or questioned the rationale. Kenya's defence forces deployment in AMISOM did not prevent the four-day Westgate Siege, the Mpeketoni Attacks, the Marsabit Massacres or the Garissa University College Massacre by al Shabaab. There are indications that the National Police Service has foiled many more al Shabaab attacks in the homeland. 
 
The recent attack on a Kenya Defence Forces forward operating base in Somalia at El Adde and the killing of Kenyan troops raises questions about Kenya's deployment as part of AMISOM in Somalia. Asking questions about this deployment is not being disloyal to honourable Kenyans who have given their lives while serving in uniform. It is not necessary for Kenyans to lose their lives in combat to prove their loyalty, but once they do, it is our patriotic duty to ask whether they lost their lives in vain. There are those who do not see this distinction and it is their blindness that truly dishonours our men and women under arms.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Presidential hatin'

Gathara and Githongo are entitled to their own opinions however warped they may be, but they are not entitled to hate speech and images at the expense of others’ reputation and good standing in society.
There should be hell to pay for Gathara’s Frankenstein’s monster and other nefarious portrayals of Uhuru in the Star.
Too many of their images and words about the President border on defamation
These are the words of Njeri Thorne. I have highlighted "hate speech and images at the expense of others' reputation and good standing in society" and "defamation." First things first; there is no such thing as "hate speech and images at the expense of others' reputation and good standing in society" but assuming the first part of the accusation, "hate speech," is the main point of the remarkable diatribe, its definition according to section 13(1) of the National Cohesion and Integration Act, 2008, is
A person who...publishes or distributes written material...which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior commits an offence if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up.
The intention of the "hate speech" clause of the National Cohesion and Integration Act, 2008, is to prevent the stirring up of "ethnic hatred." An examination of Mr Gathara's cartoons and Mr Githongo's Op-Eds does not reveal an intention to stir up ethnic hatred, unless President Kenyatta has become an ethnicity of one. Messrs. Gathara and Githongo are simply not very impressed by President Kenyatta and they have exercised their Article 33 rights to prove their point. They are not the only ones either.

Ms Thorne is on firmer ground when she alleges defamation against President Kenyatta. On this I quote one of my seniors when he states,
Those public officials who have gone to court, or will go to court, seeking damages for defamation where they feel their characters have been adversely affected must contend with at least three things that find basis in our Constitution and in principles in a democracy: the constitutional freedom of the individual to express himself or herself, the right of the public to impart or receive information (especially in the public interest), and the individual’s own right not to be defamed (see Article 33 of the Constitution).
Two cases that have been referred to in many jurisdictions when it comes to defamation of a public figure (although they are not binding to courts in Kenya but are merely persuasive): THE NEW YORK TIMES v. SULLIVAN 376 U.S 254 (1964) and REYNOLDS v. TIMES NEWSPAPER LIMITED (2001) 2 A.C. 127.
In the SULLIVAN CASE, it was observed that “The Constitutional privilege extended to the press and to any public medium requires a differentiation between private individuals on the one hand, and public officials and figures on the other. Statements made about public officials and public figures especially when made by a public medium generally relate to matters of general public interest and are made about people that have substantial influence and impact on the lives of other people. Moreover, public officials and public figures generally have some access to public medium for answering disparaging falsehoods whereas private individuals do not have ready access to a medium reaching the recipients of private defamatory communications. The category of public officials includes not only those who are commonly classified as public officers but also public employees who exercise any substantial governmental power.”
According to the Sullivan decision, a public figure who files suit on defamation must prove express malice before he or succeeds. The rationale is that public figures should not hide under the law of defamation to stifle people from expressing freely on matters of public importance.
President Kenyatta is not a powerless babe-in-the woods. He has the wherewithal and the facilities to respond to Mr Gathara's cartoons and Mr Githongo's Op-Eds. Which is why when Ms Thorne demands, "There should be hell to pay for Gathara’s Frankenstein’s monster and other nefarious portrayals of Uhuru in the Star" we must be worried. In the absence of a constitutional prohibition on being mean to the President and the availability of an opportunity for the President to respond, does Ms Thorne suggest some alternative form of redress or punishment?

There is a sizable constituency that disagrees with both the tenor of Mr Githongo's anti-Uhuru cartoons and the one-note obsessiveness of the Githongo Op-Eds; they have been given ample opportunity, as was Ms Thorne in the Right of Reply by The Star, to respond to both Messrs. Gathara and Githongo. In a democracy, that is as it should be. President Kenyatta is not a private citizen; if he had wanted not to be caricatured as a Frankenstein's monster, he should never have entered elective politics. Ms Thorne is described by The Star as a "political communications analyst." I hope she understands that calling for extra-legal sanctions for presidential mockery is what the thin-skinned East European despots are known for. The Kenya of the post-2010 Referendum is not Vladimir Putin's I-will-kill-you-with-polonium-if-you-mock-me Russia.

Naked weapon

More often than not, the superstitious among us will be of limited education, and I don't just mean formal education, but education of all forms. Kenya is largely superstitious despite the proliferation of all manner of faiths,  faith-based organisations and faith systems. It is why some still live in fear that an old woman's nakedness is a curse. It never occurs to them that the physiology of an old woman and that of a young woman are the same and that therefore, a naked young woman should be able to curse too.

Just so I am not to be understood to be mocking the system of curses that naked old-woman flesh might be responsible for because I am enamoured of faith systems, let us agree that even faith-based superstitions are ripe to be mocked and mocked mercilessly. It is why superstition has not place in law enforcement. But if you wish to deploy superstition in order to prevail in a private argument, please go ahead, though you will invariably invite mockery and ridicule.

Apparently a motorist and a matatu driver were involved in a minor road traffic accident and the two failed to reach a settlement. The motorist called the police, the matatu driver called the owner of the matatu, who turned out to be a woman of mature years. She offered to settle the dispute with the motorist, but the cops were having none of that since they had been called to the scene of the accident. She stripped in protest and, according to some of the supporters of this type of woman power, as a curse on what are presumed to have been male policemen. This recalls somewhat the mothers of political prisoners who stripped naked at freedom corner, as a curse on Baba Moi's government and the policemen who enforced his diktats. (It might be important to note that Baba Moi did eventually set them free, but that his government survived an extra thirteen years before he peacefully left State House and retreated to Kabarak.)

If I were one of the policemen being threatened by a naked woman in broad daylight, I would not only have charged the matatu driver with a traffic offence, but I would have scoured the Penal Code so that I could charge the naked woman with the offence of being idle and disorderly. This is the twenty first century and to imagine that dispute resolution requires superstitious assistance is a sign that your degree of education and edification still accepts the existence of Father Christmas as the arbiter of goodness and badness among juveniles!

We are a nation of laws. We may not always observe them faithfully, but that is the bargain we made to ourselves when we declared Kenya to be a rule-of-law nation. Nakedness-based curses are not to be found in the Traffic Act or the Penal Code, unless I have been reading from the wrong sections of th Laws of Kenya. Now don't take this as knocking Willy Mutunga's call to rely on witchdoctors in alternative dispute resolution; the Chief Justice doesn't say that witchcraft has a place in dispute resolution, but that witchdoctors,who are frequently both feared and respected, can contribute to dispute resolution. 
What we must reject is the idea that superstition should be the basis for the enforcement of the law, or that it should be accepted widely among a people with, at the last count, sixty five universities at their disposal. Institutions of high learning are supposed to liberalise our minds from the shackles of superstition, such as the idea that naked old women can put a curse on a policeman doing his job.

The Most Powerful Luo Man in the World

In 2007, my friends and I were just about to sit for our Bar Exams as Kenya prepared for the general election and Barack Obama marched inexorably towards the presidency of the United States. Mr Obama, a Senator from Illinois, had visited Kenya in 2006 and made statements about governance and corruption that had driven leading lights in Mwai Kibaki's government livid because, in the words of some of them, "Some juniour senator didn't have the authority to lecture Kenyans about domestic issues." My friends and I didn't really care, one way or the other, and especially Paul and I were alive to the peculiarities of Kenya's politicians and their ways.

Paul and I had a joke that drove the more ardent Kibaki fanbase at the Law School up the wall. In our estimation, the United States would elect a Luo president before Kenya ever did. To ram the point further down their throats, we declared with our characteristic lawyerly air of authority that Raila Odinga would win the 2007 presidential election, but he would never be sworn in. One of our classmates did not take kindly to our assertions and engaged us in an irate debate about the merits of the Party of National Unity lineup, the iniquity of the Tinga candidacy, and the total repudiation of the Barack Obama victory. She was so livid one time, it literally brought tears to her eyes.

In our estimation, Paul and I, we were spot on in our predictions. Barack Obama did indeed become the most powerful Luo man in the world and Raila Odinga probably won the 2007 election, though even the Kriegler Commission couldn't prove this to be true. What was surprising at that time, at least to Paul and I, was the over-emotional reaction to what was a joke. It never occurred to those we annoyed that Barack Obama might claim Luo ancestry, but he is most definitely a US citizen first and his Luo ancestry is no more than a curious artifact of his remarkable life story. He probably didn't see himself as the first Luo president or the most powerful Luo in the world. But you wouldn't know this from the passion demonstrated by those who would challenge the substance of the joke.

The same can be seen today in the way many react to jokes about Kenya or Kenyan political leaders. There is a tendency to ignore the basis for the joke or observation, and to question the motives behind them. Passions are being stirred and it is just a matter of time before things get out of hand. If Paul and I had the chance to do it all over, I bet we would do the same thing again. It was just too delightful to watch serious lawyers lose their shit simply by saying shit everyone knew to be in jest but just as true.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

You are not God's choice

There are many things that give me pleasure. A good book and a nice cup of tea. An ice-cold glass of Indian Pale Ale and a Dunhill Red Master Blend. White sand and a warm sun. The Wiggle and the stems that make it so delectable. All these give me pleasure, some more than others.

Public service does not give me pleasure, though I am honour-bound to do my duty to the best of my ability. The opportunity for self-serving self-aggrandisement has presented itself countless times, but as Fred, my senior points out, government, as the Twelve Tribes demanded, is as organised in God's name. Despite my loyalty and fealty, I have no desire to stand in the agora and declaim with authority that I am without blemish. That, Fred reminds me, is up to the Almighty Himself when he reads from the Book of Life. So I have little inclination to listen to you, sir, as you thump your arrogant chest, declaiming with great hubris, I am clean!

In fat, sir, I don't think I will be casting my vote for you, or any of your friends for that matter, come August 2017. I would, quite literally, be sick to my stomach to cast my vote for you. I know that you don't get it, sir. But I would definitely be nauseated if I even contemplated building up you ego any greater than it is now by a vote cast in your favour. It is such an unpalatable thought that the thought of driving a rusty nail through my foot seems like the equivalent of a shiatsu massage.

You must be curious as to why an otherwise dedicated civil servant should express himself so about you. It isn't that difficult. Do you remember when doctors got so fed up about their terms and conditions of service that they abandoned their patients to die? Do you remember when nurses did so too? How many of my fellow citizens died because you would not bend? Do you remember that three years ago 64 Kenyans were murdered in cold blood and all that you did was make more promises you  never had any intention of keeping? Do remember last year when 147 fellow-citizens were murdered and one of your colleagues promised to expose the networks that were accomplices in that mass murder and that you did nothing to make him tell the truth? You are a man of words—millions of words—that you don't mean and never will.

You have perfected the art of the forked tongue, like a serpent, and the manner you slither into situations is akin to that of a slithering serpent. You have no shame, the one device that we deploy to demonstrate that a thing is good or not. You even put the harlot to shame, the way you splay yourself for the pleasure of another. I doubt you have a conscience, for there are many Kenyans who have died because of you and your millions of words.

I will keep my head down. I will earn my keep. By the grace of God I shall retire to a rest that is untroubled. I will however, never, ever listen to you. I will not endorse your bestial ways. I would rather slather myself in lard, wear sackloth, douse myself in jet fuel, drive a rusty nail through both my feet, contort myself into a car-tyre, set myself on fire and then roll myself off a cliff. That would be preferable to voting for you and accepting that your odious claim that God has endorsed your leadership. He hasn't. Stop saying that He has.

Eurobonditis

Raila Odinga should never, ever become President and Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces because if he ever does, my life will become immeasurably boring. He is in his element when he is tilting at windmills. I had overestimated the spine that Cabinet Secretary Rotich had and underestimated just how much fun Agwambo is having—until he commandeered the Serena Hotel and name-dropped like crazy this morning. Now you useless shits can keep saying that he is not "presidential material", whatever that shit means, but you can't deny that the next two to four weeks will be spent by those who have been named by Tinga—and those who imagine they have been named by Tinga—defending their debatable white-as-snow reputations.

Jakom has a penchant for just upending things at inconvenient moments, upending them with a relish that is a little disturbing to those on the receiving end. Since he decided that he had self-actualised and he had nothing to lose really, he has been a pain in the neck of men—and a few women—who simply refused to admit that they had something to lose, that they had yet to reach self-actualisation. At some point I thought the former Devolution CS would arouse a twinge of sympathy in me because f how she was hounded out of office, until she decided to pen and Op-Ed in response to a genius economist and followed it up with a tone-deaf interview on Sunday prime time TV with this stupid phrase, "Nothing special, nothing to write home about" regarding her 160 million shillings in assets and 80 million shillings in debts. Now I am glad that the Raila Odinga steamroller flattened her ministerial career.

This Eurobond affair is not that complex. The Central Bank is the Government's banker. It is the one that does the borrowing for the Government, that is, when the Government borrows, the Central Bank does the borrowing for it. The borrowed funds are not the Central Bank's; the borrowed funds are managed by the National Treasury on behalf of the Government. The instructions to the Central Bank are given by the National Treasury. Everyone else, from the Auditor-General to the Controller of Budget to the Chairman of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee to the Chairman of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to the Director of Public Prosecutions is either an accessory after the fact or a witness—they are not principals in the Eurobond story. It is no longer a technico-legal headche; it is now a political headache.

The erstwhile Devolution CS was the proverbial blue-eyed girl, in charge of a massive department with a massive budget and she had the ear of the President. Everyone said she was powerful and untouchable. She would be around until Jubilee was done with this place, they said. A friend once told me that the Government has no honour and no friends; if you become an enemy of the Government (by fiddling with its money, for example) the Government will come after you and it will prevail. The erstwhile Devolution CS is now the former Devolution CS and the Op-Eds and TV interviews will not hide the fact that bar the President (maybe), she is now an enemy of the Governmentand the cause of all her problems is Raila Odinga.

Agwambo doesn't really need to be President; in his unique place in Kenyan politics, he keeps shaping and reshaping Government. Now that he has made the Eurobond the object of his political interests, let us see how long National Treasury CS Rotich lasts before he too decides that his health has been adversely affected by Eurobonditis. He doesn't have to be guilty of any wrongdoing, but by digging in his heels and refusing to meet Tinga halfway, he has more or less guaranteed that the next two to four weeks will be spent trying to figure out what to say, how to say it, when to say it so that the people who matter don't think he is a thief. On the psychological effects of being the target of Agwambo's attentions, he should look no further than to the travails of the former Devolution CS and learn the proper lessons.

As by law established

The members of my profession, the ones with a pompous sense of importance, tend to use phrases whose value has diminished greatly since the ...