Thursday, July 28, 2016

Who will stand up to Mr Mutua?

We wish to bring to the attention of the members of the public that this lesbian hook-up party has been banned by the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) and will therefore not take place. Any breach will be met with the full force of the law.
The owners of the premises have denied ever organizing the event or generating the poster being circulated online. The Board has reported the matter to the police for further investigation. The owners of the premises are fully cooperative.
Bearing one of the variations of the Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT), the so called colours of pride, the notice suggests that attendees will be lesbians. The use of "Girls Only" further implies that that the party will be an orgy of lesbians. Like in the case of the foiled Project X, the Board is privy to information that there will be filming of pornograhic content during the orgy.
The Constitution of Kenya 2010, Article 45 outlaws and criminalizes homosexuality. Section 181 of the Penal Code prohibits the distribution and exhibition of indecent content.
In light of the foregoing and in order to uphold the law, public decency and morality, the Board has banned the party.—Ezekiel Mutua, CEO, Kenya Film Classification Board
There are certain disturbing implications from this post on Facebook by the chief executive of the Kenya Film Classification Board. The first is his insistence that beyond its mandate of classifying films, it is now charged, by law no less, to police public decency and morality, that it has the capacity to identify acts of public indecency or immorality, that it is empowered to determine where, when and why people may peaceably assemble and associate with one another, or that it has the power to decide for what purpose persons are meeting, declare those purposes to be unlawful and to intervene in force to prevent that meeting.

The proprietor of the venue where the meeting was to take place have been accosted by law enforcement officials and coerced to admit or deny that they intended to host a sex party on their premises. Their business, I fear, may have been adversely affected by the salaciousness of the situation and the association with immorality that the events of the past few hours have engendered.

It is important to remind Mr Mutua, the aforementioned chief executive, that though his agency is tasked with the classification of films to ensure that they are wholesome and not injurious to vulnerable persons such as children, he and his agency are skating pretty close to the line where Kenyans used to be hounded by agents of the State on charges of sedition and treason. Many of them were tortured for their alleged crimes. Some of them were murdered.

The Bill of Rights in our Constitution is robust. There is a reason why we require a referendum to amend even a punctuation mark in the Bill of Rights. Vigilant Kenyans will not permit Mr Mutua or his acolytes to amend the Bill of Rights by the backdoor. So far, because of the political environment in the country, few Kenyans have challenged Mr Mutua's overreach, either in the media or in the courts of law. One day soon, someone will challenge Mr Mutua's interpretation of the Films and Stage Plays Act and I fear that Mr Mutua will come out the poorer in that contest.

Kenya's identity is changing and there are those who are deathly afraid of the change. So what if some Kenyans do not wish to conform to a moral or "traditional" idea of sexual morality that has been left behind by teh sands of time? It is not the business of the State or State agents like Mr Mutua to tell them whom they can love and how they can love them. If their love is no danger to children or the mentally unstable, Mr Mutua should not purport to intervene. Kenya faces far more dangerous foes than the rainbow brigade. Who will stand up to Mr Mutua's incessant bullying?

Godspeed, Njeri

My friend Njeri wants to be Nairobi City County's next Woman Representative. If she does so merely to represent the interests of women voters, I shall disown her. If she does so merely to acquire the post-nominal letters "MP" after her name, I shall disown her. If she does so merely so that she can get a fat salary, even fatter allowances and the chance to wangle an uji tender out of the Ministry of Education, I shall disown her. In fact, if she behaves in any way like the current Woman Representative of Nairobi City County, I shall disown her.

But she assures me that she has a programme that will be of benefit to the voters of Nairobi City County. Her focus will, obviously, be on woman empowerment and I hope that her focus will not just be for the upliftment of women but also that such upliftment will lead to an overall improvement in the quality of life for the residents of Nairobi City.

Since the promulgation of the constitution and the election of the Jubilee government, there have been a few incidents that have given us pause. Woman police officers are discriminated against by their superiors. When one recalls how Grace Kaindi, the seniormost woman police officer, was hounded out of office to how Linda Okello became the subject of disciplinary proceedings and salacious gossip because of her officially-provided tight-fitting uniform to that unfortunate woman police officer who was assaulted by the Deputy President's helicopter pilot, the question of the place of women in this man's government is plain for all to see. Let us also recall that the Jubilee government did the bare minimum when it come to the representation of women in the national Cabinet.

We recall, too, the remarkable judgment on appeal of a court in Mombasa where the female victim of a sexual offence was blamed for enticing her attacker. The reasoning of the male judge in favour of the male offender paint  picture of a system that simply doesn't recognise the worth of women in Kenya. We must surely recall the murder of a thirteen year old girl, in the dead of night, by armed police who attempted to cover up their crimes. Despite the progress made int he education of the girl child and the empowerment of women in society, we have a long way to go and perhaps, Njeri may offer her services to this worthy cause.

Njeri must be careful, though, and not lose her way. Our Parliament has a very long and unenviable history of taking intelligent and honourable parliamentarians and turning them into caricatured gargoyles hellbent on robbing the poor taxpayer blind. She must never forget that we do not owe her anything; she came to us, she sought out our vote, she campaigned for the office. If she is elected, so be it. But if she is elected, she must never forget that we are her voters and her constituency, not her serfs or indentured servants to be talked down to and condescended to. If she adopts the same attitude that the current Woman Representative has, she will be no better than the charlatans who have promised the moon but instead delivered chaff.

A word of caution, however. The office of Woman Representative is not an office for the representation of the interests of women but an office established ion order to raise the participation of women in Parliament. If it is seen as an office for the exclusive representation of women's issues, it will never amount to much. Those elected to that office could, of course, focus on women's issues but that would merely expose them for the uncritical thinkers they are. Woman Representatives represent the entire county in Parliament just as do senators, but they do so in the National Assembly, a vastly more important House of Parliament than the Senate. Woman representatives have an opportunity to influence the national Executive in important ways through their participation in the budget-making process. That so far they have failed to do so is an indictment of their paucity of ideas and their tendency to behave like socialites or flower girls of the current crop of woman representatives. I hope Njeri doesn't fall into this trap when she is elected.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Do the simple stuff first

This may be the time to introduce quotas in our traffic department. Each traffic officer is given a target to raise a certain amount of money in the form of penalties from dangerous driving...—Carol Musyoka, The Nitpicker
The continuous catastrophic loss of life on our roads has yet to be acknowledged by the powers-that-be to be the epidemic that it is. They have only gone so far as to admit that there is a crisis. The solutions they have implemented have been solutions that have taken on a life of their own since Mwai Kibaki was the resident of the house on the hill: establish new agencies, enhance penalties, install speed and traffic cameras, et cetera, ad infinitum.

The causes of the epidemic are not that difficult to fathom, and corrupt police are not the principle reason why road fatalities refuse to go down. Among others are poor road design and construction, poor driver training, poor road maintenance and, ironically, extortionate statutory penalties, but I believe that it is poor road design that contributes the greatest share to the causes of road accidents and fatalities.

Our highways, which contribute a large share of death and injuries, are poorly designed even though their workmanship is of the highest quality. The shoulders are inadequate for vehicles in distress to safely pull off the road. Actual road width is too narrow, reducing the space available for motorists to use if they are in trouble. Pedestrians are hardly catered for and road drainage is rudimentary sometimes. The effect has been to narrow the margin of error by all road users, placing a premium on precision road use for many road users incapable of much precision.

Poor road design wouldn't be too great a problem if driver training were better. I remember an episode of the eponymous BBC Topgear where the hosts visited Finland, a nation with some of the most stringent driver requirements in the world. If I recall correctly, it takes two years for a probationary driver to get their full driver's licence. In that period a driver is constantly assessed to ensure that they do not pose a risk to other road users. Finland epitomises my philosophy: driving is not a right; it is a privilege that can and should be taken away from dangerous motorists.

One of the most dangerous accomplices to poor road design and construction is poor road maintenance. It isn't enough to fill in potholes when they form, but lane markings, road signs, traffic lights, street lights, entry/exit ramps, speed bumps and similar facilities must be well-maintained. Especially when it comes to lane markings, if they are not well-maintained, the risk factors inherent in poor road design and poor driver training are significantly heightened.

Finally, enhanced penalties have long been a double-edged sword in Kenya. In the selfsame Finland, traffic fines are linked to ones annual income. The complex points' system means that the higher one earns and the nature of the offence means that the traffic fine in Finland could be as high as $200,000! If we imposed such a fine in Kenya, perhaps in due time we would see the first police billionaire! 

When it comes to the law enforcement side of the equation, Kenya is in an abyss with almost no hope of rescue. Simply enhancing penalties will not solve the underlying challenges in the integrity of the police. Solve those and perhaps, we may yet enforce the law with impartiality and fairness. But for now, quotas and stiffer penalties will simply create policemen with billion-shillings Mpesa transactions. It is the small stuff that we need to do in order for the big stuff to work.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Bitter bile

Earning a living is easy; earning an honest living is not. If you doubt this, my first and only exhibit is the lengths the government of the county of Nairobi City will go to in order to prevent you from earning an honest living. If it is not the plethora of meaningless, yet extortionate, rules it is the overzealous interpretation of the very same petty rules and their enforcement in the most cruel manner possible. At the top of this cruel and inhumane edifice is the Governor of Nairobi, a man whose promises now give rise to bitter bile in the oesophagus.

In the past ten days, the residents of Nairobi have been reminded why their faith in the Governor or his government were singularly misplaced. First was the 14th Session of the UN Conference of Trade and Development that took place right across the road from City Hall. It fast became clear that the County Government of Nairobi City, having squandered three and a half years wasting time and money, does not yet have a plan for hosting hundreds of foreign officials and other dignitaries in comfort and safety beyond the cordoning off of "red zones" and the eviction of street families from the CBD. It is the hardworking office drones of the city who paid the price; either they were hours early to work or they were hours late.

But it is the manner in which hawkers and other informal or itinerant traders have been treated that the inhumanity of the system is apparent. On this very Monday, a video is doing the rounds on social media showing a woman, in fear for her safety and perhaps her life, cowering under matatu, hiding from the County Government's Inspectors (known as kanjo) for the offence of hawking onions on the streets without a permit. That she knew that an arrest would not end well for her, than a risky gambit was preferable to an arrest, is an indictment of devolution in the city of Nairobi. Nairobi is proof positive that devolution has been an abject failure. Nairobi is the cautionary tale.

The county government needs revenue in order to provide the services that the city needs. This revenue is quite easily raised from the sale of licenses and permits to all manner of traders, including hawkers and other itinerant traders. If the trade rules were administered fairly, trade offences would be few and far between and would most likely be by organised criminal syndicates and the inherently incorrigible. But trade rules are not enforced fairly in Nairobi. They never have. They remain colonial in their application and colonial in their enforcement.This county government and its governor know of no other way of raising city revenue that doesn't involve women hawkers quivering under matatus in fear of the odiously and malevolently violent kanjo.

Yet it need not be that way. The lies about new markets must end, of course. But the market that do exist need to be restored to the true users of those markets and not uptown real estate developers building apartments for Russian mafiosi and Chinese import/export businessmen with a focus on animal trophies. It is not OK to deny them an organised space with stalls and public amenities only to turn on them when they descend on our pavements in a disorganised manner to sell onions off of the ground in unsanitary and dangerous situations. Check out the stretch between Wakulima Market and the KPCU factory on Haile Selassie Avenue to get my meaning. If you think that the situation is normal, you deserve the government you have and the lunacy it brings to our lives in small and humiliating ways.

A pox on both of them.

Yesterday, in a fit of sheer madness, I spent eight hours waiting for Kenya Airways, the Pride of Africa, to shift my unhealthy mass from one of the East African Community to another, the lovely Dar es Salaam. It is with great feeling that I say this: if the management of the national flag carrier were ever to be infested with fleas, lice or ticks, I would not feel bad. Not for eight hours, any way. And I would hope, fervently so, that the ticks, lice and fleas would infest them for eight hours in creatively violent ways that years later these men and women would jerk awake in their slumber having experienced nightmares of that terror in the dead of night.

In the twenty first century, when the world is devising new and exciting ways to communicate, it is astounding that an airline that aspires to greatness is run like an office in Nyayo House, where secrecy, obfuscation, cant and sloth define how it communicates pertinent information to its paying passengers.

We are not gargoyles, incapable of accepting bad news and forever stuck in rictus grins over bad news. So it pisses me off that when KQ discovered that, for operational reasons, its flight KQ484 would be delayed to Dar es Salaam, it waited until the penultimate minute before it informed us that the flight would be delayed and that "further information would be provided after thirty minutes." Thirty minutes turned out to be more like an hour and a half. The apology was perfunctory and impersonal: the flight would be delayed for a further three hours. (May those fleas, lice and ticks feast with great vigour on their flesh.)

Terminal 1A at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is a fine place but only if you aren't going to miss your flight or there are no delays. For the two hours after you check in, it is just fine. Any longer and its deficiencies are glaring. T-1A is KQ's base of operations for all intents and purposes, but it is quite clear that the KQ partnership with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority is in name only and some of the decrepit facilities at T-1A are only the most obvious.

First, the PA system is shit. The echoes and the hubbub in the terminal ensure that many announcements by KQ staff are garbled and inaudible. When we were first informed of the thirty minute delay, few heard the message clearly and the confusion was writ large especially on this group of elderly travellers who struggled to keep up with the Swahili and English announcements.

Second, the whoever updates the touch-screen terminal's data took his sweet time. (I especially hope he gets a visit from fire ants too in addition to the lice, fleas and ticks.) Some of us are usually quite sanguine about things; what will be will be and information paucity is not a big deal. But unless you are used to the Kenyan Way, a common effect of it is panic which is usually magnified by many orders of magnitude when you try, alternatively, to seek clarification from a service provider, like KQ, or a government official, like KCAA's yellow-jacketted drones. Neither encounter will leave you with joy-joy feelings. They probably leave you enraged.

Third, power points are falling apart. I saw exposed sockets that seemed to have been that way for months. I saw non-functioning sockets where no matter how much you wiggled your plugs, your device remained stubbornly without juice.

Fourth, and most egregious, is the price-gouging that is the airport WiFi. I can just about accept the Sarova Stanley charging me swingeing fees for use of their WiFi whenever I accidentally find myself detouring through the Exchange Bar, but when I am being held hostage by both the airport's operator and the national flag carrier, free WiFi doesn't seem like too much to ask. But as KQ and KCAA blithely squeeze the last cent out of me while keenly ignoring the things that make air travel bearable, they shouldn't be surprised that when they do screw up, there will be little understanding for their indolence and malafide incompetence.

Kama kawaida, the only people who think that KQ is a fine, fine airline and T-1A is wonderfu, just wonderful airport terminal are people whose experiences do not involve queues or personal service. They have a bevy of flunkies to schlep for them. That is not ninety percent of the flying public. Say it with me, good people: I hope, fervently so, that ticks, lice and fleas would infest KQ's and KCAA's managements in creatively violent ways.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A better police?

In keeping with the spirit of constructive criticism that I have adopted, I wish to turn my attention to the small matter of national security which Article 238 defines as "the protection against internal and external threats to Kenya's territorial integrity and sovereignty, its people, their rights, freedoms, property, peace, stability and prosperity, and other national interests." Anything that undermines "national security" is bad. This past Thursday highlighted one of those bad things.

As you very well know, the National Police Service is a national security organ (Art. 239(1)(c) and therefore, it must uphold the principles of national security found in Art. 238, and perform to the best of its capacities its functions, including "train staff to the highest possible standards of competence and integrity". In Kapenguria, on Thursday, the National Police Service failed to live up to its objects or perform its functions.

From what we have been permitted to know, a police officer who was one year out of training at Kiganjo arrived at the Kapenguria police station with the intention of securing the release of a "terror suspect." His superiors, according to unnamed sources, had been concerned with his behaviour and had done nothing. (I think this assertion is unsupported; it might be that his posting to Kapenguria was in the time-honoured tradition of the National Police Service: as a hardship posting meant to compel him to rethink his life choices while in service.)

In any case, on this fateful Thursday, the policeman walked into a police station with the intention of securing the release from police custody of a man suspected of radicalising pupils at a Kapenguria primary school. His efforts were in vain. He grabbed a weapon and murdered the station commander and several of his erstwhile colleagues. Reinforcements were sent from other stations but he repulsed them, using the ammunition from the policemen he had slain. An elite commando unit was sent in from Nairobi. It prevailed, eleven hours after the the first shot was fired. One of the commandos was killed and another was seriously wounded.

A few things emerge from this tragic event. How we recruit policemen, train, manage and deploy them still permits a few rotten potatoes to get through. This risk can be mitigated to a great extent if the recruitment of policemen is not compromised by what has become commonplace: bribes. How we will achieve a corruption-free police recruitment drive in the future remains one of our most difficult challenges.

Second, police training might include the relevant finer points of criminology, criminalistics, criminal law, criminal investigations and criminal prosecutions as well as theoretical units on human rights and fundamental freedoms, but it focuses overwhelmingly on instilling discipline (through parade drilling) and firearms training, especially the use of assault rifles such as the AK-47, the G-3 and the US-made AR-15. To my knowledge, psychometric and psychological screening does not seem to take place at any stage between recruitment and deployment, and this seems to have contributed to increased cases of indiscipline in the ranks and violent acts among policemen or against their superior officers. Psychological and psychiatric care needs to be made part and parcel of the police welfare system.

Third, firearms in the hands of well-trained offenders can be tragically deadly and when the offender is a policeman, the consequences are catastrophic. There are pockets of Kenya where policing must be backed up by an armed force, but the increasing incidents of misuse of firearms by policemen, either against fellow police or civilians must drive us to rethink arming most of the police we interact with. An armed police service that is trained more like a paramilitary army than a law enforcement agency, for which psychological or psychiatric services are unavailable and in which risk assessment before recruitment is still rudimentary at best and which is faced with increasing cases of indiscipline in which firearms are used is not best-suited to deploy armed men in the field in large numbers.

We have copied the iron-fist approach to policing of the United States, India and Israel without the resources to make it work effectively. It is time we rethought the strategy. I am not saying that we should abandon it altogether but that we should tweak it to make it work for us. For one, against whom the police is deployed must be determined with greater clarity in order to arrive at a decision of how many arms will be put into the field at any one time. The other is whether it makes sense to have a armed response for every incident. If we are to look at the police, not in fear, but in appreciation, the police can't feel or be seen as an occupying army.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Five-point transformations and other parables

I am a downer. I find all that you find good in the world and dump on it. Big. Massively big. No more. I am now in the psychological space needed to offer constructive advice. I am emotionally stable and I want to help. Really.

Today I shall offer my well-meaning though unsolicited advice to the boyishly charming Inspector-General and the ramrod straight Cabinet Secretary for the Interior and Co-ordination of National Government. I want to help them restore the glorious National Police Force to its former respected self. After all no one wants more stories of police murdering civilians, do they?

First, obviously, is the preparation and publishing of a Five Point Transformation Strategic Plan. (I know a very, very good consultant who can help; he has operations in eighteen countries and finds twelve-and-a-half million shillings a pittance that he can wire back to serikali coffers on a whim.) This strategic plan should cover all the bases: re-branding, new uniforms, new titles, community outreach, tenders!, expanded recruitment and enhanced budgetary allocation to cover all that plus the consultant's very, very reasonable fees. (If he charges twenty five million for a one day publicity stunt, swallow your pride and cough up the dough.)

Second, equally obviously, scapegoat the scapegoat-able. Underlings with crooked teeth? Check. Minions with a "bad attitude"? Check. (Anyone who thinks "Baba deserves a chance" definitely has a bad attitude.) Shapely officers of the not-gentle-anymore genders who refuse to share and share alike? Ditto! Hound them without mercy in all the courts of the land.

Third, not so obviously, find an eloquent, English-speaking man-candy to handle the public communications. That Owino guy is good, but it doesn't help that he looks so obviously like an old-school karao. You need the cop equivalent of that Mutua guy (not the wedding videos Mutua; the other one with the navy blue suits and million watts smile).

Fourth, and rather crucial, revise history. Extensively. In detail. Finesse is preferred but not necessary. For example, look at how we view Daniel Toroitich arap Moi today as the benevolent father of the nation and a retired president running successful land-buying companies without bating an eyelid. Kenyans have short memories and in the Digital Age all the media tools are at your disposal in rewriting the history of policing n Kenya in which your shit don't smell. At all. Ever.

Finally, pull a Houdini. Give the people something to focus their anti-corruption, human rights animus on. al Shabaab will do in a pinch, but you are better off reminding the people that "civil society" rhymes rather neatly and niftily with "evil society." A catchy slogan is a beautiful way to focus the attention of a people with the attention span of a pigeon, which your target community is. Every time one of your guys foolishly shoots dead another Kenyan in broad daylight you can just trot out the "evil society" slogan as the bogeyman Kenyans ought to fear and, Hey presto! no more police-are-bad stories.

See? I can be helpful sometimes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

An occupying army

We see the police and we are automatically apprehensive. It matters not that many of us are blameless of any malevolent act or intent, if we see uniformed police we run quickly in our minds over all our acts upto that moment and mentally tally up the contents of our pockets, wallets and Mpesa accounts. None of us is immune, save for the men and women with the political, social and financial heft to command the obedience of the police. We have all been on the other end of the attentions of the police and those experiences are not the stuff of legend but the boring wallpaper of otherwise unremarkable lives.

No less than the Ghai Commission and the Committee of Experts agreed that something had to be done because both the Kenya Police Force and the Administration Police Force had become laws unto themselves, seemingly answerable only to their Commander-in-Chief and to no one else. For most of Kenya's history the police forces, including specialised units such as the General Service Unit, the Special Branch (the forerunner of the National Intelligence Service), the Anti-Stock Theft Unit, the Flying Squad, the Criminal Investigation Department (now renamed the Directorate of Criminal Investigations) and mysterious ones such as the Kwe Kwe Squad were the iron fist in the Commander-in-Chief's iron glove, used to smash all opposition to the Commander-in-Chief's remit, imagined and real, to smithereens. Often it is hard-suffering Kenyans with no interest in political power who were the victims of police abuse of power.

When the Committee of Experts attempted to tackle policing (and national security) in the harmonised draft constitution in 2009/2010, the securocracy, from the presidency on down, did everything in its considerable power to water down the proposals that had been endorsed by many Kenyans through years of agitation and discussion. Reading through Chapter Fourteen of the Constitution, it is clear to me that all public mention of "police reforms" is the height of hypocrisy; the Constitution does nothing to reform the police as it existed before August 2010 beyond the changing of names. It is only after you read carefully the functions and objects of the National Police Service in Article 244 of the Constitution that it becomes plain that reforms were never on the cards for the police forces of Kenya. The glaring absence of "public safety" from the mandate of the police forces should have been a very big clue.

Thus it should not have come as a surprise that policemen continue to murder Kenyans with impunity or that the entire securocracy is not interested in justice for the victims of the police; the police are not founded or trained with their principal mandate being the safety of the people or private property. Their mandate, as part of the national security infrastructure, is the "protection against internal and external threats to Kenya's territorial integrity and sovereignty;" the rest of the highfalutin words in Article 238 are neither psychologically nor philosophically inculcated in the securocracy. Kenya's territorial integrity and sovereignty, as much as it shocks to say it, is not what it means; it is the safety and perpetuation of the presidency against all risks. All. Even imaginary ones. The safety of the people or their property is an afterthought, if it is thought of at all.

Kenya is not Israel or the United States or Pakistan; save for the restful peoples of the former Northern Frontier and of the North Rift, many Kenyans and foreigners do not have an axe to grind with the Government of Kenya or the peoples of Kenya. For this reason Kenya does not need an armed national police army. It never has. An armed police army is not a tool of public safety but that of an occupying army. An armed police army is a very public praetorian guard for the protection of the presidency at all costs. This is at the heart of the unending cases of police abuse of power and use of excessive or deadly force against the civilian population. It is the only explanation for the senseless murder of the Mavoko Three and the foot-dragging in the investigation of the case. Unless we know the problem we will never solve it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A better picture, please.

Kenya's property market is in a bubble. The bubble is still inflating, and if it doesn't get deflated gently, it will burst very painfully. Real estate prices are almost totally unmoored from their true values, and what's keeping them up there is hope, greed and fear (and a generous helping of dishonest money). Everyone's a property speculator and dealer. All power to them, but when the music stops, there'll be plenty of people left without chairs. When the tide goes out, you'll realise how many people were swimming commando. Take your pick of trite metaphor, but don't say you weren't warned.Wallace Kantai
According to Hass Consult, a construction company, "15,000 units were released into the market in 2013" in Nairobi. According to Hass Consult, Nairobi alone needs 200,000 units per year to satisfy the demand for housing across all segments. Taken together with Mr Kantai's assertion of a housing bubble and the reasons for the housing bubble, a few questions come to mind.

First, are banks at risk if the bubble bursts? Among the findings of the analysis of Imperial Bank's books was that a great deal of the insider trading was for the purpose of real estate investment/speculation both in and outside Kenya. Though no proof has been advance, it is alleged that much that is driving county real estate development is not credit advanced by financial institutions but hundreds of millions looted from county coffers. If the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Asset Recovery Agency are to be believed, a significant proportion of the missing NYS billions will be found in high end real estate. So, how much of the real estate bubble is financed by the banking sector?

Second, if the banks are not exposed, are they complicit in turning black money white as the driven snow? It is now a statutory requirement that all transactions in real estate (that includes housing, too) must take place through registered financial institutions. Most of it takes place through banks. The Dubai Bank debacle exposed a seamy side to bank supervision: it is almost non-existent. Say someone manages to "obtain" a hundred million from somewhere and wishes to clean it swiftly, a bank would be a natural agency. (I'm reasonably informed that on an "investment" of five million, a hundred million could be "obtained" relatively easily.) A bank could use its accounting system to obscure the source of the hundred million, take its agency fees and arrange the purchase of real estate and quietly close the client account with the CBK's bank supervisors being none the wiser (or richer by a couple of million).

Third, how much of the speculation in Kenya's, especially Nairobi's real estate, is by foreigners or non-resident Kenyans? Of those foreigners, what proportion are laundering black money and do they care if they take a fifty percent haircut on their real estate investments? Again, given the need for these transactions to flow through registered banks, is it possible that we are incapable of keeping track financial inflows/outflows or unable to enforce statutory (and basic) KYC protocols in our financial sector? Whatever the answers are, there is much of the financial infrastructure that seems insulated from regulatory oversight and that has become the preferred conduit feeding air into the real estate bubble.

Fourth, how much of the bubble has been derivativised? Again, the hundred million shilling real estate "investment." Once the real estate has been bought and registered, it becomes available as collateral for other advances of credit which can either be used to invest in other real properties or, as is becoming increasingly popular, assets with a decidedly impermanent character such as Range Rovers, Jaguars, Ferraris, Porsches or Bentleys. If for whatever reason the hundred million is recovered from whence it was obtained, the hundred million investment is unlikely to be liquidated for that amount; more likely it will be between 50 million and 25 million shillings less. And that is the optimistic assessment if the 2007/08 US housing crash is any guide.

Finally, what happens when the crash comes? Will serikali middle class types suddenly flock en masse to Kitisuru, Westlands, Kilimani, Milimani, Upper Hill or Runda? I don't think so. The pain will be felt all over and more so in the civil service where, for sure, a painful round of austerity will ensue (that is, allowances will be pared down to the bone without mercy for the rank and file). "Asset managers" will find themselves without clients; only well-invested funds and "old" money are likely to survive the collapse. RMA might yet go the way of CMC. Will Nairobi come to resemble Sydney or Las Vegas, with rows upon rows of unoccupied, high end real estate attracting vandals and squatters? I wish someone had a better picture.

An unsavoury truth

By now a horrifying thought must be going through your mind. If you are a little like me, even a little bit, you must surely know that Father Christmas is a mythical figure that children revel in even though deep down they must know he doesn't really exist. If your child still believes in Father Christmas at ten, I have to question your emotional and psychological maturity. In the same vein, if it hasn't occurred to you that the last of our national heroes are about to expose their feet of clay, then you really haven't been paying attention.

I hope it is clear to many of you that a great number of our Olympics and IAAF world-beating gold medalists are police and military officers. In light of the revelations about both institutions in recent years, it is almost impossible to continue to believe that the scourge of corruption has not infested either the police or the defence forces and that this corruption has not been manifested in the increasingly loud allegations of doping.

Kenya has an enviable record of world beating track and field athletic achievements. Legends have been created in the rarefied air of Iten's "high altitude" training grounds. When everything else was crashing and burning around our ears, we had our iconic athletes who were purer than the driven snow, more golden than the famed fleece. When they stood tall on top of those podiums and received their medals, wreaths and bouquets of victory, we stood with them. When our national anthem reminded the rest of the world that on the tracks Kenya was a world power, our hearts swelled with pride. No more.

Things have not been the same since the allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of female athletes were exposed and the male-dominated Athletics Kenya did the equivalent of a shoulder shrug. Scrutiny of the athletics system continues to expose graft on a scale hitherto unknown. With new accusations of doping being levelled against elite athletes and their trainers, we are now at a place where national heroes no longer exist. It really shouldn't come as a surprise; the police service is not known for its integrity after all and the defence forces are increasingly being tarred with the same brush the longer its operations in Somalia remain shrouded in mystery. The recent fiasco around the Anti-Doping Act, 2016, has not helped matters at all.
 
Our elite athletes have remained untainted by any association with their parent services for the longest time because we all believed that when they trained for the marathon or the 10,000 metres races, the Iten air is what gave them that extra "kick" in the final hundred metres of the race. It is this belief that has attracted even elite Ethiopian athletes to come to Iten to train. If it turns out that the extra kick came from dope, then there is no hope for us.

We are no longer children, you and I. We are mature enough to look the horrible truth in the eye. If it turns out that most of our national athletics silverware is the product of chemical-induced greatness, we must face this unsavoury truth with the stoicism we have faced the crumbling of all our other national institutions. One thing is for sure, if doping is the order of the day, first we shall blame the "foreign" trainers, the foreign environment in which our athletes sometimes compete in, the foreign this, that or the other. We will blame the rest of the world rather than admit that the corruption that we have allowed to metastasize in our public institutions has finally infected our last bastion of all that is good with the world. It is only a matter of time before this cancer consumes us all.

Monday, July 04, 2016

The Mavoko Three and Police Reforms

When we were children, growing up in the 1980s or coming of age in the 1990s, our parents taught us certain immutable truths: the Government was always listening; the police were to be feared; politicians were never to be trusted. Of course as we grew older and came into our own, we tempered these lessons with our own life experiences especially because many of us went to university or graduate school and got our first jobs long after it became apparent that, truly, "Yote yawezekana bila Moi." With the abduction, torture, murder and crude disposal of Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri, I am not so sure that we should have tempered the message of our parents rather than heeded its inimitable truth.

What we knowor think that we knowis that Josephat Mwenda was unlawfully shot by a policeman belonging to the Administration Police Force. He filed a criminal complaint against the policeman and the case was being heard at the Mavoko Law Courts. Willie Kimani, who worked for the International Justice Ministry, was his lawyer, advising Mr Mwenda of his rights. Mr Mwenda's criminal complaint resulted in a campaign of harassment and intimidation by officers of the Administration Police Force, including multiple traffic offence charges and criminal allegations of drug-dealing or drugs trafficking. On the fateful day, Mr Mwenda and Mr Kimani contacted Mr Muiruri, a taxi operator, to drive them to the Mavoko Law Courts, wait for them as they concluded their business in court and then drive them back to Nairobi.

We don't know what happened after Mr Mwenda and Mr Kimani left court that day and met up with Mr Muiruri. Mr Kimani's widow received a phonecall from a stranger informing her that three men who were being held at the Mavoko Administration Police Force Camp had scribbled a note on toilet paper and hurled it out of one of its cells asking her to be informed of their whereabouts and that they feared for their lives. That is the last known contact by the three men. A week later the remains, suspected to be of Mr Mwenda and Mr Kimani, were recovered in a river. They had been tortured, had their hands bound behind their backs and drowned in the river. The Law Society of Kenya and large swathes of the population strongly suspect that the men were tortured, murdered and their bodies disposed of by officers of the Administration Police Force. The Inspector-General of Police and the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Co-ordination of National Government speculate without providing proof that the three may have been done in by hired hitmen.

For the past six years, Kenyans have waited for policing in Kenya to be reformed. It is time we admitted to ourselves that reforms are not forthcoming and, perhaps, they were never coming. We have watched, bemused, as senior police officials have contorted themselves in incredible ways to explain sources of wealth or academic credentials as they undergo "vetting" before the National Police Service Commission. We should not have been so sanguine about the incredible state of affairs in the National Police Service. With the murders of the three men and the circumstances that led to their murders, perhaps it is time to begin an honest national conversation of the kind of police we have and the kind that we deserve.

In the same week that the remains of the three men were discovered, there was yet another ambush of buses travelling from Mandera town. The bus was in a convoy of three and was being guarded by Kenya Police Reservists. Four passengers and a police reservist died. In the previous week, another bus, that time escorted by Kenya Police Force officers, was attacked. Four police died. The police refused to escort any more buses until they were provided with reinforcements and the right kind of transport. At the beginning of the month, as Kenya celebrated Madaraka Day, it is rumoured that the police who marched past the presidential dais in Nakuru were not paid their allowances by their seniors and went on "strike" until the allowances were settled. Early in the year, the sorry state of police patrolling the Boni Forest in Lamu, was broadcast on TV. The police who spoke to reporters were punished for insubordination, dereliction of duty and painting the National Police Service in a bad light.

What emerges is that rank and file policemen are brutalised by their superiors and they, in turn, brutalise the civilian population. The Mavoko Three are not the only victims of the police. There are countless others in the years since we promulgated the constitution, including those who have been "renditioned" outside Kenya on "terrorism" charges and those who have been executed extra-judicially for "terrorist" links or sympathies. These events echo the brutal tactics employed by the police and sanctioned by the late John Michuki when he was the Minister of Internal Security and Provincial Administration when scores of Mungiki adherents and sympathisers were executed extra-judicially. Paul Muite, Senior Counsel, estimates that there were 8,000 such executions.

The United Nations Special Rapportuer on Extra-judicial Killings noted that the police forces of Kenya were not designed, equipped or trained to ensure the safety or security of the civilian population but for the control of civilians. If there was safety or security to be had, it would be the safety and security of the State, the Presidency and the ruling elite. This is the internal security infrastructure that was established by the colonial government, perpetuated by the post-Independence governments of Presidents Kenyatta and Moi, and inherited by the post-multi-party elections' governments of Presidents Kibaki and Kenyatta the Younger. Reforms, as executed after the Ransley Reprt, haven't reordered the relationship of the State and police with the people; they have merely dressed it up in fancy clothes and titles. The police remains a violent tool for the control and subjugation of the civilian population. The Mavoko Three are unlikely to be the last victims of the police.

Despite the threat against the civilian population by terrorist organisations and armed brigands, a national, armed police service is abnormal. It is expensive to equip and difficult to regulate. If we are serious about reforming the National police Service, we must begin by disarming it in its entirety. Where armed response is required, a scaled down General Service Unit shall suffice. Secondly, the police force must be broken up and decentralised completely. Policing must be placed under the authority of governors. Except for the armed General Service Unit, police do not require a national command-and-control system. This will freak out the securocracy and its boosters but if we are to change the way in which we are policed and how the police operate among civilians, it is the only radical step that will convert it into a true police organisation and not a rogue army occupying our streets.

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...