Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Accept nothing but the best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pomade, narcissism and intellectual waste

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Ndegwa Commission was wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sex and reading the tea leaves

Drain the swamp It means originally “to get rid of the malaria-carrying mosquitoes by draining the swamp. Figuratively, 'drain the swamp' means 'to exterminate something that is harmful; or anything that most of the people hate such as corruption or government waste. (oxfordeagle.com)
I have written of Miguna Miguna on this blog on previous occasions, and I find myself doing so again in the wake of a very short video of Mr Miguna, Esther Passaris and Jeff Koinange on the set of Mr Koinange's eponymous TV show in which Mr Miguna makes very misogynistic and sexist statements as Mr Koinange and his TV crew snigger like schoolboys. Mr Miguna is filmed saying,
 "You [garbled] me? Everybody is raping Esther. Esther is so beautiful, everyone wants to rape her. Esther, I'm not one of these men that you can chase around. Chase around, chase around. Chasing men all over, Esther, nobody wants you to! You're too old. Who wants you? Who want you? Esther, nobody wants you! You think you're beautiful; you are not. It's just colour, Esther it's just colour! Without your colour, you're nothing. It's not racist. I'm telling you the truth. You're absolutely zero! You are zero. You're not beautiful, you have nothing going for you. "They" think you're beautiful, the cartels. The cartels think you're beautiful, they sent you here."
In a previous appearance on Mr Koinange's TV show, Mr Miguna behaved with the same degree of chauvinism, sexism and misogyny against Ms Passaris and Margaret Wanjiru, the former MP for Kamukunji. I called him out on it and his "team" let me know exactly what they thought before he came in for the intellectual coup de grâce, pointing out my cartel credentials and my biases against the only principled gubernatorial campaign in Kenya. Suffice to say, even then, Mr Miguna did not see anything wrong with the violent language he had employed against Ms Wanjiru or Ms Passaris.

In this case, Mr Miguna states with obvious satisfaction, "Everybody is raping Esther. Esther is so beautiful, everyone wants to rape her." I wonder why Mr Miguna would imply that beauty in women invites everyone to rape them, and why? In one sentence, Mr Miguna dismisses Ms Passaris's gubernatorial candidature and reduces it to a sexualised dismissal. At that moment, he doesn't see her as a political equal; he sees her as the object of sexual violence unworthy to be in his presence. By his own words he reminds millions of Kenyans that women are not to be taken seriously; their only worth is their beauty and their only use is as sex objects, fit only to be raped.

Mr Miguna is not the only Kenyan politician who has dismissed women in such a sexist and misogynistically cavalier manner. Kenya's second Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Kiraitu Murungi, in response to the US and EU governments' insistence on anti-corruption credentials for Kibaki's first government, likened the western governments' insistence to "raping a woman who is already willing." Mr Murungi later apologised for his choice of words but it reminded millions of Kenyans that very many Kenyan men do not understand the concept of "no" when it comes to sex. This was reinforced in the debate on the Sexual Offences Bill in which many male parliamentarians deliberately refused to recognise that rape in marriage required a separate provision of its own; to their minds, a married man could never possibly rape his wife.

Mr Miguna's victory is now being foretold along the lines of Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential elections. Mr Miguna is being likened to Mr Trump for his no-apologies, tell-'em-like-it-is, blunt-talk, no-bullshit, I-am-your-saviour style of politicking. His sexism and misogyny is being whitewashed as the feeble attempts of unnamed cartels and faceless cartel agents to derail his principled campaign for Nairobi's highest political office. While Mr Trump may have won in the United States, Kenya need not join the bandwagon of nation-states that need to feel the warm, disapproving embrace of sexual monsters who will save us from our weaknesses, mistakes and stupidity. We must show the world, just as our world-beating marathon champions have shown, that sexism and misogyny have no place in our politics.

Mr Miguna could say what he said to Ms Passaris because he was comfortable in his surroundings: an almost all-male TV, other male guests, a male host with a history of sexual-offence allegations, and a permissive Nairobi that seems to have accepted the anything-goes-to-get-ahead mantra being peddled by thieves, murderers, rapists, conmen and wife-beaters. I doubt whether Ms Passaris will be a good governor; I am sure that she will make a better one than Mr Miguna. If the choice were between him and her, the choice would be very, very easy. In the video clip, Mr Koinange is heard sayiing, "Drain the swamp." I think the swamp of Nairobi politics would benefit from removing Mr Miguna's odious and malignant spectre from it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Are you a muthamaki?

One of the things that remains unexamined, in Kenya at least, is the role political organising at the grassroots played a key role in Donald Trump's election and the retention by the GOP of its majority in Congress. US citizens, including partisans, can trace the origins of their political parties and strains of political and ideological thought to seminal moments in US history. Even independent voters and candidates in the US espouse specific ideologies, though they are difficult to pigeon-hole in US tribal politics. Few Kenyans, if any, can do the same.

Kenya's oldest party is the Kenya African National Union, Kanu, a decrepit, corrupt and moribund political institution captured by a declining tribal cabal that has failed to read the writing on the wall since the fiasco of Kenya's last mlolongo party elections in 1988. Having become a vehicle for the centralisation and personalisation of State power over the reigns of two autocrats, it lost all legitimacy when it became the de jure ruling party and acquired a malign reputation as the vehicle for the corruption of the institutions of government, the aggrandisement of the well-connected few and the basis for the political excommunication of Kenya's nascent progressives, liberals and socialists. It's defeat in December 2002 should have signalled the re-emergence of liberal political thought. It didn't. Instead, Kenya is paying the price for the hollowing out of the institutions of Government and the State-political capture of civil society.

While US citizens can find and fight over ideological points, points they use to organise one another, Kenyans are not. The recent revelations regarding the banking sector and the theft of hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions, of shillings from the coffers of the National Youth Service demonstrate that even on a matter that should unite all Kenyans, the condemnation of graft, Kenyans (or, at least, their political and religious leaders) do not have an ideological unity. Those that self-identify as members of the political opposition do not come to the anti-graft table with clean hands, the putrid nature of their dealings when they were in positions of political power befouling the air and obscuring facts that should be brought to light in order for Kenyans to engage robustly in a debate of what it means to hold political power in Government. The only argument that seems to prevail in dealing with the corruption of the State is whether or not one is a muthamaki, or its equivalent; his or her culpability in the theft of billions of shillings is neither here nor there.

May US citizens are wringing their hands over the capture of the Republican Party by Donald Trump and his insurgents; in Kenya, however, the "purchase" of political parties, for their use as vehicles for the acquisition of political power, is greeted with pomp and celebration. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, in the wake of their indictments at the International Criminal Court, demonstrated the benefits to be gained from the purchase and personalisation of political vehicles in the wake of the experimentation of 2005/2006 by Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka in their tussle over the Orange Democratic Movement Party of Kenya (long since renamed the Wiper Democratic Movement). 

Political vehicles in Kenya are identified by the politicians who "own" them: Mr Musyoka "owns" Wiper, Mr Odinga "owns" ODM, Musalia Mudavadi "owns" Amani National Congress, Alfred Mutua "owns" Maendeleo Chap Chap and Martha Karua "owns" Narc-Kenya. Noe of these parties, despite their party constitutions and political manifestos, have a true ideology or following. They are empty vessels and like all debes, they have perfected the art of making very loud noises when elections are imminent. 

The next nine months will witness political mobilisation on an unprecedented scale and great political noise; what will not occur is a robust discussion of ideological political issues that affect the majority of Kenyans, those who live in or hovering near poverty. Politicians will paint each other in bad light and mobilise Kenyan voters to ram home their personal attacks on one another. But on the successes or failures of Government and the immiseration of millions because of difficult political and economic choices, there will nary be a peep.

Those Kenyans bemoaning Hillary Clinton's defeat at the hands of Donald Trump do themselves or their causes a great disservice if they fail to examine where Kenya's political party evolution is headed. They imagine that the highly partisan divisions in the US have a mirror in Kenya because of the decade-long contest between the Uhuru-Ruto alliance against the Raila Odinga phenom. Unless we reckon with the enervation of political institutions through the personalisation of the institutions of the State, we shall be unable to participate meaningfully in the political process in Kenya.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Gender Principle and patriarchy


noun a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line; a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it; a society or community organized on patriarchal lines.
All three meanings of "patriarchy" apply to Kenya, by and large. To deny it is to deny that water is wet, i.e., futile. Knowing it and acknowledging it, however, are difficult things for Kenyan males because it would mean accepting the unfairness of it all and the need for cultural reforms for which many Kenyan men are wholly unprepared.

We made a creditable start in 2010 by endorsing at a referendum a very progressive constitution that decreed the equality of the sexes in marriage, childcare, property, employment and political office. Well, on the latter two, it attempted a deft balancing act and fell between two stools in shame and disappointment.

Known as the Two-thirds Gender Principle, the public service (and the private sector, according to a keener interpretation of Articles 2(4), 3(1), 10(2)(b), 19(2), 19(3(a), 20(2), 21(1) and 27) have an obligation to ensure that not more than two-thirds of the members of any elective or appointive position belong to the same gender. In Kenya, as in many nations, the physical manifestation of patriarchy is in the positions of authority that are held by men, which many women either do not, cannot or are discouraged from holding. Political offices and the corner suites of corporations are just the most obvious. Other insidious prohibitions are those that say women should not own land, should not inherit land from their parents, or the cultural, hetero-normative rules that declare that women are the ones primarily responsible for the care of infants and small children, that their exclusive domain is the kitchen or that their sexual agency is by the sufferance of the fathers, brothers, husbands or sons.

The Two-thirds Gender Principle was endorsed by a majority of voters; however, this is not the whole story. Had Kenyans been invited to vote, clause by clause, would the Two-thirds Gender Principle have survived? I am not so sure because despite its endorsement, together with the other bits and bobs of the Bill of Rights, Kenyans, in 2013, did not elect a single woman as a governor of a county and few raised their voices that the principle was being watered down in the appointment of Cabinet Secretaries or Principle Secretaries. Indeed, it is only in one county that a woman was elected as the Speaker (Nakuru). In appointments, while the governing bodies of state corporations attempted to implement the principle, the vast majority of chairpersons and CEOs remain men, appointed for political expediency more often than not.

We already know what needs to be done in order to contribute to the obliteration of patriarchy in both public and private spheres. Among the things that we must be do is to signal the seriousness with which we take affirmative action by appointing more women into more visible political and administrative positions in government and political parties and to ensure that more women are able to compete effectively against men for political offices. Some will call it tokenism, but sometimes tokenism has a way of overcoming its shortcomings and surprising us all. We've already made a step with the ratification of our constitution in 2010; we should deepen and strengthen its principles and widen the pool of women who should be elected or appointed to high office. More and more women need to be persuaded that it is OK to seek political and social power, that power is not just the preserve of their fathers, brothers, husbands or sons.

Some would rather vote for a dead gorilla

Many, including myself, were dumbfounded by the fact that so many Kenyans could deliberately choose candidates who might have participated in the slaughter and mass displacement of fellow Kenyans, and who had yet to clear their names of these charges. Rasna Warah, The Daily Nation
Few Kenyans truly have an intimate relationship with their elected representatives, whether serving in the Executive branch or legislative branch of Government. But many have a transactional relationship with them — do some thing for me and I will vote for you. Very rarely is this transactional relationship coloured by questions of ethics or morality; after all, the provision of public goods or services such as water services, healthcare services, bridges, roads, electricity supply or good schools and teachers has very little to do with whether your elected representative is a good man or a bad man. All that matters to you is whether he can bring home the bacon or if you believe that he can bring home the bacon.

In 2013, when Kenyans went to the polls to elect a new government under its still shiny-new constitution, they were faced with the choice of whether or not to elect two men who had been indicted at the International Criminal Court for their alleged role in the 2007/2008 post-election violence that led to the deaths of scores of Kenyans, the displacement of hundreds of thousands, the destruction of billions of shillings in property, the sexual violation of hundreds of thousands and the deep ethnic polarisation of the country papered over by an alliance between the aforementioned ICC indictees. A majority of voters, by a slim margin, ignored the allegations against the two men and today, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, are President and Deputy President of Kenya.

At the beginning of this month, the United States chose to elect a thrice-married misogynist, sexist, racist petit Caligula accused of sexually assaulting at least a dozen women, whose business is being tried for defrauding thousands of US citizens and who bragged, at one time, of how smart he was for using the US Tax Code, which he thought was a bad thing, to not pay twenty years of US federal income tax.

In Kenya, as in the USA, few people actually worried that much about the morals of their elected representatives; the only question that seemed to matter, beyond the popular media trope of the ethnicisation of Kenyan elections, was whether the elected representatives could bring home the bacon. What I find surprising is that the evidence that had been used to indict Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto had not been tested in the cauldron of a criminal trial; they were, so far as any supporters of the rule of law would have it, innocent of the charges. They had a right, as much as any other Kenyan, to offer themselves for election despite the grave accusations against them or the horror expressed by those who opposed them, including members of the Fourth Estate and the civil society.

Secondly, it is impossible to square the declaration of a free society if that freedom is subject to the dictatorship of the moral minority who determine, without public debate or sanction, who is and who isn't morally eligible to stand for election. We have been litigating the 2013 election since Raila Odinga lost and one of the key elements of that litigation is the ICC indictment against Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto. We are either free to choose whom we wish to elect or we are not; there is no middle ground.

Thirdly, we ignore the dictatorship of the moral minority at our peril. Do not get me wrong; I did not vote for Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto in 2013. I believed they were unqualified to hold the reins of power. But I didn't agree with the unexamined declaration that Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka were Kenya's saviours. This narrative had gained currency on the vocal endorsements by civil society stalwarts, members of the donor classes, foreign diplomatic missions and liberal intelligentsia, which decreed that the ICC indictees were beyond the pale and that their election would have adverse consequences on Kenya. This liturgy decreed that the sins of Messrs Odinga and Musyoka were irrelevant; the only sins that mattered were those of Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto, an illiberal thought if there ever was one.

One of the elements that seems to link the 2013 Kenyan election and the 2016 US one is the rebellion against one liberal narrative that was consecrated one presidential campaign as legitimate and the other as not. Few Kenyans, or US citizens for that matter, want to be told whom to elect and when they remain unpersuaded, few Kenyans or US citizens will respond kindly when they are collectively indicted as stupid, insane, lazy, brainwashed, sexist, misogynist, supporters of rape culture or any of the vile adjectives liberals are fond of using against those who disagree with their liturgy. This rebellion sometimes leads to the election of men or women we personally find repellent.

If there is one lesson to be drawn from both the elections of UhuRuto and Donald J Trump, it is that if you want to lose an election for your favourite candidate, label all those who disagree with your pet ideas as stupid, insane, lazy, brainwashed, sexist, misogynist, supporters of rape culture and similar vile terms. It is almost guaranteed that if those people go to the polls, they will not vote for your candidate. Some would rather vote even for dead animals as 11,000 voters did in the US by voting for a dead gorilla.

Friday, November 11, 2016

I can't empathise

When Barack Obama was elected for the first time in 2008, I was over the moon. I couldn't wait for the day he would take the oath of office. When he was re-elected a second time, I dared to dream that the United States was coming to terms with its past once and for all. But the 2016 presidential race in the United States produced no such candidates as would inspire as Barack Obama managed to do twice in the past decade. We got an entitled insider and a race-baiter, instead. It was a tragic end to Mr Obama's presidency.

I don't sympathise with the millions of Clintonian supporters; their "devastation" doesn't leave me feeling angry, afraid or sad. I wish I could say I empathise with them, but I don't. Hillary Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate with a very long record in public service, a record that inevitably sunk her chances at the presidency. One of the most tragic legacies of her husband's presidency in the 1990s was what was known as the crime bill and the most important soundbite was when she called young, Black teenage boys in conflict with the law "superpredators", a term that has endured long after it has been demonstrated by science and statistics that young, Black men are not predestined to lives of criminality.

I don't doubt that she believed that there was a vast right-wing conspiracy against her and her husband, but it does not explain the overweening secrecy they cultivated about everything to do with their public lives, including their relations with high-ranking officials of the Democratic Party. The revelations that last two successive chairwomen of the Democratic National Convention manipulated the system in order to guarantee Mrs Clinton victory, first during her primary campaign against Bernie Sanders and second, during the televised presidential debates against Donald Trump, paint a sordid picture about what she imagines "fair play" means.

But it is her war-mongering stances that place her beyond the pale for many of us. If it was not for her full-throated support for "humanitarian" intervention in Libya, the Islamic State would not e filling in the vacuum left behind after a NATO aerial campaign allowed enough jihadis to topple Muammar Gaddafi's regime and murder him in cold blood. My continent has been rendered more unsafe by the creation of a safe haven in Libya for murderous, suicidal religious zealots because of a policy of intervention that has been shown, again and again, to be deeply flawed. (Before you point out that Muammar Gaddafi was an evil dictator, I ask you to consider how, as Secretary of State, Mrs Clinton was unable to turn her jaundiced eye towards the patron royal family of evil doers, the al Sauds, and the billions of dollars they have invested in spreading Wahabbism all around the world and jihadis that their strand of Islam and money inspires and supports.)

During her campaign, she had the gall to make sweeping condescending remarks about Donald Trump's supporters while being portrayed as high-minded and having taken the high road, as Mrs Obama would have us believe. Labelling Mr Trump's supporters as being in a basket of deplorables she seemed incapable of even contemplating that quite possibly half the voters who hated her had legitimate reasons for doing so and that not all of them were motivated by misogyny, self-loathing, racism or sexism.

She found it impossible to empathise with them, she found their grievances inauthentic and she underestimated just how much "middle" America was suffering even after Barack Obama's valiant efforts to right the economy. She forgot a cast-iron rule of presidential politics: don't leave any vote unturned. Instead of fighting to persuade these voters of the justness of her candidacy, she dismissed them, much as they had been dismissed by "mainstream" media, Hollywood and liberal-progressive activists, as semi-literate, Luddite, sex-starved misogynistic serial sexual predators being stupidly led by the nose by Breitbart, Fox News and Ted Nugent.

No, I don't sympathise or empathise. She has no one to blame but herself. She is responsible for her loss. It says something that almost half the eligible voters did not go to the polls and that Donald Trump won the presidency with about a quarter of the eligible voters. If she had been an honourable, half-way honest, half-way decent candidate, she would be doing her victory lap today. She isn't and she won't.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Buyer's remorse

Buyer's remorse. The moment you pull money out of your wallet and hand it over to the cashier, regret sets in. It doesn't matter of the payment was a matter of life or death, regret is inevitable for that species of man that lives pay-cheque to pay-cheque, is laden down with myriad responsibilities, and considers even life-saving goods and services as being tools of the devil sent to Earth to impoverish him.

But I don't know anyone who could possibly suffer buyer's remorse if they emptied out their bank accounts, sold all their worldly belongings (except their clean underwear; never underestimate the allure of clean undies), took early retirement and took their entire pension in cash, borrowed from friends and family, and robbed the neighbourhood Equity to buy this...

...or this...

...or this...

Even if it bankrupted their family to the third and fourth generations, some men would definitely consider buying any one of those or this...

I probably would too, acute indigestion bordering on a cardiac event induced by buyer's remorse notwithstanding.

All men are trash

I am selfish, unforgiving, judgmental and mean. I hoard so that others lack. I lie and I cheat. When I steal, I pray (the irony of it doesn't escape me) that someone else carries water for it. I am not all these things all the time; I am some of them some of the time. I am also kind to old ladies. I don't kick small animals or children in order to feel superior. I empathise with the weak and vulnerable and, every now and then, I perform acts of kindness in penance for my sins. I am not all these things all the time, or even some of them some of the time. And I am not a contradiction in terms. I am human and my humanity is often summed up in my many, many flaws.

A man I have never met has taken on an assignment for a company whose products I enjoy. He comes up with a unique way to promote the company: he invites men and women who wish to partake of the company's products to send him stories of their overcoming adverse situations. (This man writes for a living and does so rather well. He writes so well that many people celebrate his writing.) So many people send him their stories, he edits them and publishes them on social media platforms. A young woman sends him her story. It is a harrowing story. And he publishes it. And then the shit hits the fan.

Certain facts are agreed between the man and the man's lynch mob: a young woman has been raped three times. She says that she has forgiven her rapists and that she is in a friendship with two of them. She says that she suffers from a brain disorder but that she manages it with medication, exercise and prayer. She sent this man her story and he published it. The story offended many people so much so they took to the online social media platforms to point out the wrongness of publishing the story. The man removed the story from its online home. Those facts are the basis for a robust debate but a debate on what remains murky.

Did the man celebrate "rape culture" by publishing the woman's story? Did the company the man was working for take advantage of a vulnerable woman to sell its products? Should the man have first considered finding psycho-social counsellors for the woman instead of taking her story and used it to sell stuff for a faceless corporation? Should the man have published the story knowing that the woman blamed herself for being raped? In the heat of online verbal outrage and combat, it is clear that many think the man shouldn't have published the story and should have gotten the woman some kind of help. Many also see nothing wrong in publishing the story in the way that it was published.

I am a man and so I am unlikely to know how traumatised a woman who has been raped will be, how long she will take to recover (if she recovers at all), how stigmatised she will be because she was raped, or how weak (or strong) she will be after the ordeal. I cannot tell you how rape culture affects women because I am not a woman. I cannot tell you that I have the language skills to discern when what I would think of as conversation is in actual fact the celebration of rape culture.

But as a man, I am supposed to take responsibility for the evil doings of all men. Where women have been the victims of a masculine culture, I must be self-aware, penitent and pro-active in erasing that culture. As a man, I am privileged simply because I am a man and I must take that into consideration every single time any woman suffers injury or violence at the hands of a man. Male privilege is wrong and I must apologise for it every single time it is responsible for pain to a woman. It doesn't matter whether or not I am a decent man; all that matters is that I am a man and all men are trash.

This writer has been reminded of this truism. He cannot escape its consequences and consequently he must be reminded that his acts, innocent or not, were a celebration of patriarchy and rape culture and that they were unforgivable. He is solely responsible for re-traumatising that woman. It matters not how many future good works he does, his position on rape culture is now known and immutable and he is among the worst offenders. He will never be able to apologise enough to be forgiven. Ever. Whether that is true or not is immaterial; it is now known that indeed, all men are trash.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Our foreign policy muddle

Kenya has been the principal voice in two key regional peace initiatives whose effects are acutely felt in Nairobi. These are in relation to the Sudan peace process and the Somalia peace process. While the war between the Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan may be over, South Sudan is in the middle of a civil war that shows no signs of abating and has frustrated the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the United Nations and the African Union. The Somalia civil war, raging since 1992, also shows no signs of ending and now that it has sucked in al Qaeda land the Islamic State, might never end.

Kenya's foreign policy over the past eight years has focussed almost exclusively on the International Criminal Court; while Kenya should have taken a lead in stabilising the peace in South Sudan and keeping foreign fighters from making a home in Somalia's badlands, it has spent more time rallying the African Union against the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute that established it. Victory is in sight with the intended withdrawal of South Africa from the treaty, though if Jacob Zuma loses a vote of confidence, the South African government may yet heed Botswana's advise and stay in.

Kenya has troops in South Sudan and Somalia, the former as part of a United Nations peace-keeping force and the latter as an African Union stabilisation force charged with supporting the Somalia federal government. Neither mission is going well. The United Nations' Secretary-General, after an enquiry into the military response to deadly attacks in July on a U.N. compound housing 27,000 displaced people, fired the Kenyan mission commander because “a lack of leadership on the part of key senior mission personnel culminated in a chaotic and ineffective response to the violence” as reported in international newspapers. 

Kenya reacted poorly, to say the least. The President announced that Kenya was pulling its troops out of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and that it would no longer support the South Sudan peace process. We must ask, in relation to Kenya's near-abroad, what is Kenya's foreign policy? The Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) projects were supposed to connect Kenya's new port in Lamu with South Sudan, Ethiopia and Northern Uganda. However, the Government seemed to prioritise the controversial Standard Gauge Railway projects, took its focus of the escalating instability in South Sudan that persuaded Uganda and Ethiopia to push ahead with alternative projects; Uganda went ahead with plans for a pipeline to Tanzania's Port of Tanga and Ethiopia went ahead with its railway to Djibouti.

South Sudan's continued instability is a threat to the stability of the whole of Northern Kenya, especially now that Ethiopian troops are withdrawing from Somalia and Burundi has threatened to withdraw too. The flow of small arms, fuelling the resource-based conflicts in Kenya's northern frontiers, has increased. Meanwhile, because of the stretched-thin non-capacity of Kenya's intelligence and security forces, more and more al Shabaab attacks are taking place against the civilian population further undermining the business and economic links between Kenya and its neighbours and preventing full-scale domestic development programmes from being implemented effectively.

No doubt the ICC Question was important at the start of the current government's tenure; its resolution would stabilise the domestic power-play between the ruling alliance and the opposition coalition. But the focus that it drew away from South Sudan, Somalia, southern Ethiopia and Northern Uganda has fuelled domestic crises of its own for the residents of Kenya's north. With Kenya's withdrawal from South Sudan, its insistence on the deportation of refugees back to Somalia and its continued military losses in Somalia point to an incoherent foreign policy, especially when Kenyan businesses are losing money due to the instability on those countries. Our policy must be clarified. Whether it will depends on whether or not the Cabinet Secretary waddles off to the African Union Commission.

Ego over ambition. Again.

If you live in Kenya, that would be a very mediocre question to ask, especially on twitter where the whole world reads you.@EAukot
I do not have a postgraduate degree in anything except bullshit, but even I know about ad hominem attacks. I believe, in short, that the fallacy means that you dismiss someone's argument by dismissing the person for their personal failures but not for the failures in their logical arguments. In the above caustic response, my interlocutor responds to a simple question: "What illegal acts of govt (sic) was @JBoinnet serving [when he arrested Boniface Mwangi and his colleagues from Freedom Corner]?" The answer is, in effect, that as a Kenyan I should know better and that I should do so because the whole world will read my stupidity from my mediocre question.

This isn't the first time that a putative candidate for elective office has adopted a dismissive tone when engaging with the online rabble. Miguna Miguna, after a brief flirtation with radical honesty, couldn't maintain a civil keyboard when confronted with his pie-in-the-sky dreams. He is a serial Twitter blocker who, before he consigns one to the cold shoulder world of the blocked, calls one names and generally reminds one that Miguna Miguna is smarter and more honest that one.

Ekuru Aukot served the Committee of Experts with distinction, I believe. He is also a constitutional lawyer of note. He has declared an interest in elective office in 2017 and is floating the Third Way Alliance as his political vehicle of choice. Mr Aukot is one among many and despite his many accomplishments, one other colourless novice politician among dozens who have cut their political teeth in many political campaigns. He forgets the first rule of politics: don't leave any vote unturned and you don't do that by being condescending towards the slow-witted, no matter how justified you feel. It is easy to make enemies in politics (permanent or not) but not so easy to make friends or form alliances.

Mr Aukot styles himself as a staunch anti-corruption crusader, yet, other than ensuring that the draft harmonised constitution was passed at a referendum largely intact, he doesn't seem to have done much on the anti-corruption front in Kenya bar a few TV appearances and numerous anti-corruption tweets. Boniface Mwangi has had his head bashed in by policemen whenever he has led demonstrations against MPigs; Mr Aukot only tweets about it. Another anti-corruption campaigner, Okiya Omtata, has sued those whom he accuses of corruption; Mr Aukot has analysed those suits without offering much that is new.

If we elected political leaders on the basis of their academic smarts, Mr Aukot would be a shoo-in. However, things are never that simple in Kenya. Smart is all well and good but if you have not brought home the bacon, of what use are you to us? He styles himself as an anti-corruption crusader but he has no record in the war on corruption. Had he stuck to his excellent qualifications as a constitutional lawyer, he could point to his achievements as the Executive Director of the Committee of Experts. But now that he seems to be throwing bricks at those curious about his putative candidacy — what office he seeks remains murky — it is likely that he is going to be one other brainiac whose political ambitions couldn't overcome his enormous ego.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

An absurd complaint

Being an insider is intoxicating. You are privy to secrets no one else is privy to. You get to know stuff before others do. You get to know things others will never know. It gives one a warm feeling when they are superior in one respect or another. You have code words and special language. You're part of a clique that is recognised and protected by its special character. Sometimes, you get to wear special, identifying things, like wrist-bands.

Everyone wants to feel special. It doesn't matter how accomplished one is, if one doesn't derive special attention from ones accomplishments, few are likely to be happy with that state of affairs. It doesn't matter whether one is in an official position or a private one, one mostly wants to be recognised as special, both within and outside ones organisation.

Joe Mucheru, the Cabinet Secretary for Information, Communications and Technology, must feel really special. He was written to the Media Council of Kenya arguing, among other things, that the Nation Media Group, through its Business Daily newspaper, has defamed the Government of Kenya by reporting on the interim audit report of the Ministry of Health and by characterising some of the ministry's officials as corrupt and thieves. Mr Mucheru, in the name of the Government, wants an apology. What a stupid idea!

It is not unreasonable to suggest that some Ministry of Health officials are corrupt or thieves. If any of them thinks that they have been unfairly characterised by a newspaper, they can demand satisfaction from the Media Council or from the courts. It is not the business of the Cabinet Secretary for ICT to carry water for government officials who think they have been defamed or have had libelous or slanderous statements made about them.

No less than the Auditor-General reports that on average, one-third of the appropriations made to the government are "lost". His last estimate of "lost" national treasure came to about three-hundred billion shillings. It is possible that out of that three hundred billion, five billion "disappeared" from the Ministry of Health and that the Ministry's Principal Secretary had a hand in the "disappearance" as the ministry's accounting officer. If the PS believes that his internal auditor, whoever leaked the interim audit report, the Auditor-General or the Business Daily have defamed him, he should retain the services of a white-shoe lawyer and sue all the parties concerned.

If the Business Daily has deliberately slanted or skewed its stories to paint the government as corrupt and full of thieves, the government can only blame itself; it doesn't amount to "outright defamation and character assassination" when the president himself admits that his anti-corruption officials have failed him in the war in graft, as he did during the Governance and Accountability Summit held at State House and televised by, among others, Nation Media's NTV. (We call it estoppel; once you admit something and it is used against you, you can't bitch about it.)

I bet that when Mr Mucheru was penning his three-page diatribe to the Media Council it never occurred to him to write to the Attorney-General and ask for his legal advice; after all, the A-G is the principal legal advisor of the Government, including ambitious insiders like Mr Mucheru. The A-G would have reminded him that governments never complain about their portrayals in the media; if they are good, they will be defended. If they are incompetent, their incompetence will be plain for all to see.

Mr Mucheru is now an insider and pretty soon he will be an insider par excellence. He is engaged in a war that he cannot win. It is possible that the milquetoast Media Council will go along with his asinine complaint but if he is foolish enough to pursue his complaint through the courts of law, he will have bitten off more than he can chew. Official corruption and thievery is a presidentially admitted fact. Will he ask the head of his government to apologise too? Absurd, right? So is his complaint.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

It's time

When you read the words "national disaster", you think of devastation on a massive scale, whose immediacy, speed, destructive power and catastrophic consequences overwhelm conventional emergency services such as municipal fire, police or ambulance services. More often than not, national disasters tend to be natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or erupting volcanoes. 

Not all disasters have the immediacy of, say, earthquakes of floods; they may take months or even years before their devastation is realised. Think of HIV/AIDS which sometimes demonstrates a sloth-like pace before suddenly the healthcare system is overwhelmed by thousands of patients who become a drain on its facilities, doctors, diagnostic services and palliative care systems. The HIV/AIDS pandemic's effects reflect the same devastation on the body politic as corruption. So it is not so far-fetched to describe corruption as a national disaster.

In recent months, not a week has passed without some revelation of mendacity and malfeasance in the financial affairs of the State. Both the national and county governments have been revealed to be riddled with men and women willing to bend or break the law in their selfish pursuit of private gains from public treasure. That they are responsible for the immiseration of millions of Kenyans seems not to have pricked their consciences leading some of us to conclude that these men and women must have a measure of sociopathy in their psychological profiles.

The corruption of the financial affairs of the State is so widespread that Kenyans instinctively believe every wild rumour about financial impropriety regardless of its provenance. But that doesn't obscure that corruption has so infested the State's official and unofficial organs that not even technological barriers have prevented the unlawful expropriation of billions of shillings meant for the common good. The much-vaunted Integrated Financial Management Information System, designed to assign responsibility and power to key public servants during the procurement of goods and services by the public service has proven to be no barrier to the corruption that continues to bedevil public procurement.

It is time we admitted to ourselves that corruption has enervated every level of the government, hollowed out many policing authorities, overwhelmed the public prosecutor's office as well as the judiciary such that it cannot be tackled without concerted national attention. A declaration of national disaster might be the only way to focus national attention on all the sectors that require action, including investigations and judicial procedures.  The time has come for all Kenyans to take part in the war on graft, to shame the thieves and to punish them without mercy. Sitting on fences and passing of bucks will no longer cut it.

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 ...