Friday, January 13, 2017

A Trumpite in Obama clothing.

Any comparison between a Kenyan politician and Barack Obama, the forty-fourth president of the United States is laughable. Kenyan politicians are likely to be comparable to Donald J Trump, the recently elected Tangerine Caligula, than Barack Obama, a politician of great political talents. (There is no woman politician in Kenya who compares with Hillary Clinton or the sharp-as-a-tack Senator Elizabeth Warren; only Martha Karua managed to demonstrate steely resolve and political chops to be comparable to Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady.)

Mr Obama has suffered the worst eight year run of any two-term president of the United States. Mitch McConnell, the United States' Senates' Majority Leader promised to make Mr Obama a one-term president and failed. But that didn't stop him and the members of his party from stymieing Mr Obama at every turn, accuse him of the most petty of things, challenge his citizenship and many other dishonourable things. What sets Mr Obama apart from many other politicians is that despite the needling, lying and destructive tendencies of the Republican Party directed at him, he remained gracious and, on the face of it at least, honourable to the end. The Republicans, on the other hand, simply lived up to its odious character by embracing Donald Trump and his carnival barker act.

Kenyan politicians don't have the deft touch displayed by Mr Obama since 2004 when he gave that speech at the Democratic National Convention. Few of them have demonstrated the acute intellectual curiosity necessary to propose and implement complicated and comprehensive policies for the benefit of the people. None of them certainly as the sense of history their offices afford and are more interested in the banal, the pedestrian, the juvenile or the salaciously scandalous. More of them are undisciplined and reckless than is safe for a functional democracy.

We are going to miss Mr Obama, if for nothing else than to show that even when ordering the assassinations of US citizens or the bombing of wedding parties, politicians have a responsibility to think of their people first. Hard decisions are the hallmark of any political office; how those hard decisions are  implemented are the reason why some politicians are celebrated, like Mr Obama will be for generations, and why some are vilified till the end of time, like Pol Pot, Stalin or Ceaușescu. No, good people, Kenya doesn't have an Obama or a Clinton. It has putative Pol Pots, instead.

It is a genuine pleasure to listen to Mr Obama speak. He knows his place in history and he has a sense of duty that, even in his wonkiest remarks, is apparent and true. Listening to Kenyan politicians is exhausting. They have as much depth as a puddle of spit. They spend more time celebrating their petty differences than anything else. They are self-conscious, gauche, crass, uncivilised, often incoherent, bearing massive chips on their shoulders and mendacious. They are the reason we are a nation in name only. They make one want to to weep into his whiskey.

If you doubt me, watch how they have reacted to the #LipaKamaTender movement. No, no, there are no Obamas in Kenya. Even the Kenyan who is an Obama is actually a Trumpite in Obama clothing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Stethoscopes and bad outcomes

They are not simple affairs and to suggest otherwise is to do a great disservice to the people.

Doctors have set down their stethoscopes, set aside the Hippocratic Oath, set upon the national government, and refused to see or treat the patients in their care. They demand the implementation of a comprehensive bargaining agreement, CBA, signed between them and the government in 2013. Few, if any of us, have seen a draft of the CBA and fewer still, if any, have a firm grasp of the terms of the CBA, including whether its implementation will be for the benefit of the people.

Few in the Government, whether it be the national or county government, has the moral authority to declare that what the doctors have done is immoral. Whenever the State officers in the national and county governments fall ill, serious or not, they jet off to foreign lands for their treatment. Needless to say, this comes at great public expense. The majority of the people they govern have access only to shambolic public facilities and expensive private facilities. Few have access to the gold-plated medical insurance policies that enable deputy governors to have casts put on their broken legs, governors to have Elastoplast removed from their faces, presidential nieces from having their stage 1 cancer treated overseas or cabinet ministers from having their stage 3 cancer treated by the best oncologists in the world.

The vast majority of Kenyans self-diagnose and self-medicate, often with tragic consequences. The vast majority of Kenyans have access to health facilities with no water, no electricity, no medicine drugs and few qualified healthcare workers. Regardless of the national government's promise to keep costs down, most Kenyans must pay for many services offered in public hospitals. It used to be called "cost-sharing" and it is an admission that the healthcare "system" that Kenyans have access to is a system only in name.

Whether doctors are remunerated fairly or not is part of the grand conversation regarding the cost of the entire public service, a vast undertaking employing hundreds of thousands of men and women, the vast majority of whom face the same dire healthcare challenges that the Kenyans they help govern face every day. Teachers and university dons have gone on strike in the past to enforce the terms of CBAs that the Government had attempted to set aside. The last time teachers held the Government over the barrel not even High Court orders brought them back to the table until their demands were met. What makes the teachers' strike strikingly different from the doctors' strike today and the nurses' strike in 2015 is that no one died because they hadn't been coached on their KCSE or KCPE.

I don't know if patients have died in the previous month because they didn't have doctors to treat them. This is a remarkable admission in and of itself because patients routinely die in public health facilities because of, quite often, preventable causes. One of the most striking images from the doctors strike were the facilities available to doctors in some hospitals for sterilisation before going to perform surgeries.  They are grossly inadequate and explain why, even when surgeries have been successfully completed, patients still seem to die.

The solutions to this particular strike are not impossible to achieve but they are harrowingly difficult. It is time to admit that the devolution of healthcare has been cocked up six way to hell. The devolved government has proven woefully inept, tribalising the county public services, nepotising public office and corrupting the public procurement system and thereby sowing discord, confusion and suffering, and creating village millionaires overnight. The national government has not covered itself in glory either. It has actively sabotaged the devolution of healthcare, interfered with the lucrative procurement of medical equipment, mucked about with the financial accounting for healthcare funds and studiously refused to even contemplate the completion of a comprehensive healthcare policy that will put to rest the lingering questions on the persistent challenges of the healthcare "system" in Kenya.

#LipaKamaTender is a catchy hashtag that captures the zeitgeist of the banditry that is tenderpreneurship of the kind practiced with the National Youth Service or the Ministry of Health's "mobile clinics", which aren't mobile or clinics. But it glosses over the fact that without the full and unqualified buy-in by the national government in the finalisation and implementation of a comprehensive healthcare policy, even if the doctors get their pay-rise, in the long term, the people will suffer ever more greatly. Without a comprehensive policy, it is impossible to argue that a pay-rise, the employment of more healthcare workers and the acquisition of new medical equipment will ensure that the healthcare of Kenyans is the best.

By all means, healthcare workers have every right to campaign for better terms of service. But if that is all that the strike is aiming to achieve, we shall have done a great disservice to ourselves. I scoffed at the idea that we could compel State officers and members of their immediate family to only use public facilities. I thought it was cruel to subject innocent Kenyans to the vagaries of policy choices made by their spouses, siblings or parents. I am no longer so sure I was right. In fact, I think I was absolutely wrong. State officers have made countless policy decisions that have affected millions of Kenyans. It is time these same State officers faced the results of their choices. They should be compelled to use the same facilities their policies have run down. They should face the same doctors, nurses and teachers that millions of Kenyans face. Perhaps it is the only way that we will make and implement proper policies for the benefit of all Kenyans, and not just a privileged few.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Love Java, loath Serena Beach Hotel

2016 gave me its fair share of customer-care standout moments. I will try and erase my experiences in Arusha and Dar es Salaam Tanzanians' passive-aggression is still not my cup of tea and I don't care how much you lot think that Tanzanians are totally, absolutely so much better than Kenyans. None of the hotels in Arusha or Dar es Salaam that I stayed in can hold a candle to the Kenyan ones I patronised in 2016, including the hotel that gave me the worst customer-care experience the Serena Beach Hotel in Mombasa.

I had been invited to a conference which would take place on the 12th and 13th August. I arrived on the 12th, at around 11:30 am. I had been forced to take a taxi to the hotel because the hotel's airport transfer vehicle had already left and the driver was unwilling to return for another passenger. I let that one go; after all, my attendance at the conference was organised at the last minute. When I arrived, there were three other clients I could see being attended to, so I waited my turn. It took five minutes for whoever were at reception to notice. I introduced myself and was informed that because the hotel was fully booked, I would be put up at another hotel. Again, I had no problem with that because everything was done at the last minute. I am grateful that I was given access to a room to wash up and change. That was the last bit of courtesy received. 

I wasn't told where I would be put up, whether it would be for both the nights I was to be in Mombasa, whether any or all of my meals would be catered for, or whether I would be picked up from this other hotel in order to make it for my conference. I changed and attended my workshop hoping that someone would provide the information later on. 

Lunch was nothing to write home about; the Serena Beach chef sure loves his oil. When our conference ended for the day, I asked whether or not a vacancy had occurred and whether or not I would be staying the night at the hotel. I was informed that I would not. I asked for my bags to be brought from the room I'd been given access to, which they were but which also raised the question: if the hotel was fully booked, what were my bags still doing in that room? This is when the apathy and disinterest of the hotel staff became apparent. 

First they wouldn't or couldn't tell me what I was required to do in order to check out even though I hadn't checked in at all. I managed to figure out what I needed to do in order to get that exit ticket hotels seem to issue these days from the rude cashiers. It took them ten minutes to find the guy who was supposed to let me know which hotel I would be put up in which he didn't. But worst of all was I had to insist that the hotel find me a taxi to drop me off at this other hotel (turned out to be The Shaza). 

Even as I was checking in into the Shaza, I had no idea that I was only supposed to spend one night there. Our conference had concluded a day early so I had no reason to come back to the Serena. What I didn't know was that other members of my delegation were informed by the Serena that they would only spend one night at the Shaza and that rooms were now available. I wasn't. When I checked out on Sunday, I was confronted with a demand to pay for the extra night I'd spent there. I refused. I stood my ground and they let it go. I don't know what they did to square my extra night at their hotel. I did not enjoy the experience. I will never arrange to stay at the Serena again and cause it the inconvenience I obviously did last time.

But, as always, the other side of the coin is a thing of wonder. As the Serena proves, chains and franchises tend to lose on quality the more branches they open. I fear that when it comes to Java, they have fallen victim to this phenomenon. But not at their Embassy House branch, one reason I have an expanding waistline.

I don't know any of the names of their members of staff I don't want to be accused of being a creep by checking out their bosoms every time I pretend that I forgot their names, see. What they are, though, is polite, quick-witted, very accommodating of my penchant for extra chillies and delightful. I love having my lunch there, even when their WiFi is iffy at best. Even when it is overrun by a lunchtime crowd made up of entitled crybabies from "Parliament Square", they are unfailingly professional in their service. And just so you know, their salads have never, ever been adulterated by snails or similar slimy things.

I wonder what 2017 has in store for me.