Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A taste of things to come

The past two weeks have seen the tempers of party apparatchiks rise to unsafe levels because the women and men they intended to organise party "primaries for simply refused to follow their cues as and when directed to do so. These ungrateful women and men, instead of saying "Thank you" and doing as they were told, frequently defied their party bosses and invoked the names of "higher authorities" so many times that some of the nominations could not be held. As if that were not enough, ungrateful party members (if they could be called that) engaged in elaborate schemes to rig the results of the nominations contests by stealing ballot materials, pre-marking ballot materials, and misleading loyal party members as to the legitimacy of the entire process.

If you listened to party apparatchiks, not only would you believe that Kenyans are ungrateful, disloyal saboteurs, but that the very civilisation they were being offered by their party masters was being rejected out of hand and out of spite.

Kenyan politicians and their mandarins are bereft of fresh ideas. Nothing proved this as much as the image of grateful, pot-bellied members of the Jubilee alliance heading off to Beijing to undergo "training" int he management of political parties by apparats of the Communist Party of China and the minority coalition failing to call out the ruling alliance (made up of die-hard "capitalists") for its hypocrisies: how can the most pro-business political alliance in a generation yoke its nascent ideology to one of the most retrogressive and repressive communist political organisations in the world without batting an eyelid?

The nominations contests have unfolded predictably. Kenya is unofficially (and probably unlawfully) "zoned" with each coalition or alliance "controlling" a particular political zone that closely mirrors certain geographical areas. For example, ODM's zone is predominantly "Luo Nyanza" while Jubilee's zones include "Mt Kenya region" and the "North Rift". A nomination by your party in its "zone" is as good as a victory in the general election, or so the conventional wisdom goes and, therefore, the violence that has defined Kenya's elections since 1988 has been visited on these nominations on a very scary scale. On Tuesday, April 25, in Pangani constituency in Nairobi, a man was stabbed to death during a Jubilee nomination exercise. Few expect the violence and death to be confined to the nominations; the general election, in which multiple candidates from multiple parties will be seeking the same political seat, will see greater violence, whether or not the national government is prepared to crack down hard on offenders.

What remains clear is that Kenyan elections remain a zero-sum game: there are always winners and losers. The stakes are high; electoral victory does not mean that healthcare will suddenly be affordable for millions of Kenyans or jobs will suddenly be created for hundreds of thousands of youth. Electoral victory means an opportunity to participate in or influence lucrative billions-shillings public tenders and to use high public office for the self-aggrandisement that has come to define the Kenyan politician. What we are getting today is a taste of things to come in the run-up to the August 8 general election. God help us all.

It ain't funny no more

Procurement scams have been all the rage these past few years. Government procurement has minted dozens of millionaires and billionaires since the halcyon days of “Yote yawezekana bila Moi.” It is now trite knowledge that if you want to build a multi-million shilling pile in the village to awe the hoi polloi and bend them to your will, all you have to do is win a tender or two and Bob’s your uncle!

This isn’t that surprising. The procurement fiddles during the Kenyatta and Moi eras set the stage for the tenderpreneurship during the Kibaki years. We have now taken this lunacy to its logical conclusion: state capture at any cost.

Unless you have not been paying attention, and even if you don’t own a TV or buy newspapers, by now you must surely have heard of the political candidates who have been abducted, assaulted or threatened as they seek the nominations of their parties. While exaggeration is expected by our vaunted free press, there must be some smidgen of truth in the reports that even candidates for the office of woman representative are spending hundreds of millions to secure victory not just at the nominations but at the general election as well. The reason for this fervent desire to become a mheshimiwa is not so remote: as a member of the government, whether as an elected representative or a member of the executive, comes with privileges available to the public and no privilege is as important as the ability to participate in or influence public procurement.

Those wondering aloud about how a five-year salary of sixty million shillings can justify the outlay of one hundred million to become an elected representative should realise that the world we live in now is one in which shadows and ghosts define public policy and public service. The National Youth Service scam ensnared members of the executive and Parliament and members of the ruling alliance and the opposition coalition. Both the corrupt and the anti-corruption warriors were ensnared in the scam. It is rumoured that almost eight hundred million shillings was stolen but it is likely that the sum is considerably higher as NYS had twenty-five billion shillings budgeted in its name.

Now that every ambitious billionaire-in-waiting knows that the path to financial glory passes through the Consolidated Fund, they are pulling out all the stops to ‘enter government”. It is why blood and tears are being shed even at the nominations stage and it is why aspiring elected representatives are living in fear and travelling with phalanxes of armed bodyguards. When the dust settles after the 9th August, perhaps, we will be able to come to terms with the lunacy of it all because, just as it eventually happened in Venezuela, Pakistan, Italy, the Ukraine and Belarus, state capture, while funny, will have a huge, bloody human cost.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


You know its a tough campaign when even candidates for the office of member of county assembly are getting abducted or violently assaulted by their rivals. Kenyans, as usual, have raised the stakes on high-stakes campaigning. Now, regardless of whether a candidate has any chance of victory at the hustings, tales, some very tall, are being broadcast far and wide of kidnappings, abductions and assaults of rivals. And this too at the nominations' "stage", when, presumably, the stakes are not that high. But if it is true that the Jubilee Party took in over six hundred and eighty million shillings from its own nominations, the "investment" in the nomination might just reflect the one that is likely to be made in the general election which begs the question: If they're treating the election as an investment, just what kind of return on investment are they looking at?

Monday, April 10, 2017

On public transport

Public transportation is a system where buses, trains, subways, and other forms of transportation that charge set fares, run on fixed routes, and are available to the public. The system may be owned and operated by the government, private investors or a combination of both. What is certain, though, is that the system is supposed to transport the largest number of commuters, usually in an urban area, for a set fare that is usually many multiples lower than the cost of operating a private vehicle.

Nairobi's public transportation system is entirely a private one. Buses, minibuses and vans form the core of the system. Part of it is in the hands of companies with large fleets; but the vast part of it is made up of private investors who own and operate one or two vehicles. Competition in the sector is cut-throat; for some, investment in the sector has ended in tears, having lost their investment to competition and organised criminal organisations that unofficially police the sector.

The national government (through the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development) and the county government have failed to make private investment in public transportation worthwhile and the effect has been, to my mind, oversaturation, recklessness, losses. In other words, the failures of the Government have resulted in chaos.

Part of the problem has been that the regulation of the sector is more miss than hit; for example, the National Transport Safety Authority is responsible for issuing permits to public service vehicles to operate on public roads. These permits are usually issued after a road-worthiness assessment of the vehicles. It is trite knowledge that large swathes of PSV fleets are unroadworthy; the same accusation of corruption against law enforcement officers can be levelled against NTSA officials when it comes to the issuance of permits to PSV owners or operators.

One other aspect of the problem in Nairobi is that the infrastructure available to PSVs (as well as other road-users) is shambolic and inadequate. As opposed to two decades ago when PSVs used to operate on set schedules along their assigned routes, PSVs spend considerable amounts of time parked at termini, stages and roadsides waiting to pick up a full complement of passengers before moving. If even a fraction of the estimated 30,000 PSVs in Nairobi did that, it means that substantial road infrastructure is occupied by obstructing PSVs. This affects traffic flow, especially on busy main roads, causing congestion an increasing the likelihood of road traffic accidents. Add to the fact that pavements, road signs, traffic lights and road markings are almost always absent or inoperational, the chaos on the roads is usually exacerbated to unimaginable proportions.

Poor enforcement of rules and regulations also contributes to our traffic problems. Coupled by the lackadaisical attitude of the NTSA when it comes to licensing PSV and PSV crews, the police have to shoulder their share of the blame for permitting many PSV crews to operate with criminal impunity: driving on the wrong side of the road, stopping in inappropriate places to pick up or drop off passengers, speeding, occupying more than one lane at a time, overlapping...these are just some of the traffic infractions that PSV crews routinely engage in. The impunity of PSV crews emboldens private motorists and taxi crews to engage in the same blatant violations of the law. The result is traffic chaos.

Finally, little serious thought is given to pedestrians, handcart pushers, cyclists and boda boda riders as legitimate road-users. It is why pedestrian space is slowly being encroached on not just by buildings expanding their footprints using fences or walls, but also unlicensed "hawkers" who camp out on the pavements, and boda bodas and motor vehicles parked on pavements because parking space is at high premium these days. Consequently, more and more pedestrians are now compelled to "encroach" onto the roads, putting life and limb at increased risk and compelling motorists and PSV crews to often swerve to avoid them.

The solution is unlikely to be Government investment in BRTs, subways, light rails or urban mass transit systems. Not at first, any way. Solutions should start by rethinking public transportation in light of the changed mindsets of operators or owners of PSVs. If they will no longer operate on set schedules, then the logical first step is to increase the infrastructure available to stationary PSVs so that they are no longer obstructions on roads. Second must be stricter enforcement of all rules and regulations. Unroadworthy vehicles must not be permitted onto public roads and PSV  crews that break traffic rules must be punished. Third, safety infrastructure must be provided: road signs, traffic lights and lane markings. Fourth, infrastructure must be redesigned to accommodate boda bodas, cyclists and handcart pushers as well as increased numbers of pedestrians and "hawkers". Finally, more parking for private cars must be provided or built.

These solutions must be co-ordinated between the key stakeholders: national and county governments, NTSA and national police, PSV owners, operators and crews, and private motorists and pedestrians' associations. If the only solution on the table is light rail/BRT/Mass Transit System, nothing will change.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Facebook Archives: You are on your own

It is interesting to observe how the ones who campaigned against the election of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, and who invested so heavily in the election petitions challenging the results of the election, are faring after the Supreme Court of Kenya declared that the election of the two was valid. The Mutunga Court, after fourteen days of intense legal gymnastics, declared that despite the irregularities that even the IEBC admitted had occurred, the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as president and that of William Ruto as deputy president was after all valid. Raila Odinga swiftly accepted the verdict of the court. However, there are those who are still fighting the election and the re-litigating the election petitions, long after everyone else has set their minds to move on.

Maina Kiai, the former head of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and Makau Mutua, the director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, had done everything in their power to ensure that first, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto would not be on the ballot, and second, failing in that mission, to ensure they lost the election petition challenging their election. The two are two for two: Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were on the ballot and the court dismissed the petition challenging their election.

Messrs Kiai and Mutua have not taken the news well. Mr Kiai penned a poisonous diatribe against "home guards" linked to the Uhuru presidency and another one calling the Charperson of the IEBC vile names for the manner in which his lawyer, the combatively indefatigable Ahmednasir Abdullahi, defended him in court. Makau Mutua has declared categorically that he will not and cannot accept Uhuru Kenyatta as the president of Kenya.

For two eminent human rights campaigners to treat the will of at least 6 million Kenyans in such a cavalier manner beggars belief. The Second Liberation was all about unleashing the will of the people to make the choices that they will without the nannying, oppressive hand of the government leading them hither and thither. With the dismantling of the KANU machinery that had been abused by former presidents, Kenyans overwhelmingly ratified a new constitution that guaranteed them democratic rights that had been stifled for decades. The flip side of the bargain was that politicians, whether standing for the presidency or some other public office, had to offer themselves to the people in the most persuasive way possible. Mr Makau continues to argue that Mr Kenyatta is an insider and that he benefitted from his links to the government and its machinery. He refuses to accept that Mr Kenyatta and the wily Mr Ruto made a compelling case to the people of Kenya, persuading many from areas other than their strongholds in the Mt Kenya region and the Rift Valley.

Some of us were opposed to the election of Uhuru Kenyatta or William Ruto and we made our feelings known at the ballot. That battle is now past and we are prepared to live with our choices, or lack of them. Some of us were never persuaded that the two should not be on the ballot, regardless of the persuasion from Messrs Kiai and Mutua. We never agreed that the ICC was the killer knock-out punch that would deny them their place on the ballot. And we never agreed with the two that they were hamstrung by Chapter 6 of the Constitution. We thought that their manifesto was a pipe-dream; now we will see whether they will prove us wrong once again. But we will not join Messrs Kiai and Mutua in their poisonous campaign against a government that is yet to even take office officially; that is a path to heartache or worse. We will do what other patriots are doing: we will work with the government we have to make our lives a little better.

What do you want to do with street families?

There are two key questions to consider when attempting to implement a new policy: will it cost money and if so, how much? In Nairobi City County, both the national and county governments are faced with a serious problem: tens of thousands of Kenyans living on the streets. One of the more striking reactions by a popular member of the media industry has been to suggest that street families are a threat to the safety of citizens. Another one by a leading newspaper is that the members of street families must be rounded up, confined to rehabilitation centres and that the rounding up and confinement should be carried out by county askaris instead of their more traditional role, that of energetically chasing hawkers. Neither of them has even attempted to examine the problem from a fiscal perspective: will it cost any money and if so, how much?

Take the media personality's assertion that street families are responsible for the un-safety of citizens. Any reaction must involve measures to neutralise the dangers posed by members of street families. These measures might include the recruitment and training of more askaris and policemen, the deployment of more askaris and policemen in places overrun by street families, the enhanced arrest, prosecution and confinement or incarceration of members of street families in conflict with the law. None of these actions can be accomplished without the expenditure of public funds; Kenya isn't, after all, the United States of America where for-profit private prisons have proliferated in the last decade or so.

Public finance is often a zero-sum game because there is a finite amount of national revenue that can be collected and spent in a fiscal year. Nairobi's fiscal situation is not special; there are multiple priorities and limited public funds to address these priorities. If this media personality is interested in the eradication of street families in order for him to feel safer, is he willing to pay more in taxes and rates if the increased taxes or rates go towards addressing the street families' "menace"?

Take also the newspaper's demand that members of street families must be rounded up and confined to rehabilitation centres, and given access to education "where they can learn some trade that could be income generating for their sustenance". First, these centres must be built and staffed with qualified personnel who have undergone training to care for and educate members of street families. Second, facilities must be provided for the proper training and care of members of street families. Third, unless the newspaper intends for confinement in these centres to be involuntary, incentives must be offered to members of street families to enter and stay at these rehabilitation centres until they are fully trained and capable of generating an income for their sustenance. None of these things comes free: public funds must be appropriated for them. Where will these funds be found? Taxes and rates.

The media personality and his colleague, a business news reporter, had the opportunity to interrogate the seniormost bureaucrat in the county government about his government's plans for street families. Instead what we witnessed is members of the elite engaged in a political dance that failed to even tease out the semblance of a policy from multiple statements on the same. We were inundated by statistics but none of the statistical rhetorical flourishes served to answer the simplest question: how much it would cost to address the plight of street families sustainably, humanely and effectively.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Mr Madowo, street families are not unsafe

Street families are back in full swing all over the city. These endanger the lives of citizens. Larry Madowo, SIDEBAR
This remarkable statement occurs around the 18:33 minute mark on the video as posted on YouTube.  I might be able to accept the excuse that in the heat of the moment during a charged television interview, an exasperated interviewer mightn't be able to collect his thoughts sufficiently in order to ask a question as it should be asked. But I can't; Mr Madowo and his colleague, Mr Kantai, had time to prepare for the interview.

Two things stand out. First, street families are made up of criminals. Second, street families are not made up of citizens; they endanger citizens' lives. Nairobi's elite is astonishing. It never ceases to blame someone else for what is a cultural problem: the poor and the lower classes are not fit to be considered citizens because, more often than not, they are the causes of all crime. Simplistic? Maybe. But I have Mr Madowo's words. As a member of Nairobi's elite, Mr Madowo is representative of the casual dismissal of anyone who isn't a member of the elite.

Street families are not "back in full swing"; they never left. If the Homeless of Nairobi, a Nairobi charity is anything to go by, street families have always been there. There was a brief period when rehabilitation and relocation removed many of them from the streets of the Nairobi business district. Those programmes have been hijacked by political combat between the ruling national alliance and the ruling county coalition. In any event, to claim that street families are back is startlingly wrong.

But it is the utterly elitist certainty that it is street families ho endanger the lives of "citizens" that takes the breath away. An open-eyed examination of the lives of street families reveals that their members are the victims of great violence, not just from law enforcement officers but also from "citizens" as Mr Madowo refers to them. Physical and sexual assaults are commonplace against members of street families. So are the unlawful confiscation and destruction of their private property and their exclusion from accessing basic services such as healthcare and education in direct and indirect ways. To expect these vulnerable Kenyans to react like docile slaves is asinine.

We are now used to painting the poor with a broad brush but forget Jesus's exasperated question according to the Gospel of Matthew, "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" The elite, even among themselves, is remarkable for the degree of un-safety it puts its members in. Many of them have firearms certificates which are often used in patently risky and unlawful ways. In recent months prominent members of elite society have accused their spouses and significant partners of physical and sexual assault. The cases of members of the elite killing and maiming other road users using expensive SUVs are commonplace. Before Mr Madowo can accuse the poor and the vulnerable of being responsible for the un-safety of citizens, it would behoove him to cast a wider eye at the society to which he belongs.

Street families are not a bane to be eradicated. They are humans that deserve kindness and opportunity. Public policy must stop treating them as a problem or as a menace. It must be reoriented, even if it means greater outlays of public funds, towards their rehabilitation, access to education and training opportunities, access to basics such as food, healthcare and shelter, and the protection of their dignity from the heavy-handed, fascistic attentions of the elite and their police forces.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Bumpy and rambunctious

The Bill, if passed into law, will not only subject some elected leaders to unfair by-elections but also encourage corruption and impunity in the Judiciary where judges will take advantage of their final authority to be enticed to deliver judgement in favour of a party.
A member of the Judicial Service Commission is reported to have expressed those sentiments in an advisory opinion he has given the Speakers of each chamber of Parliament. It is an amazing declaration. On the face of it, it is a restatement of one of our favourite shibboleths: the Judiciary simply can't be trusted. It is also a startling declaration about the failure of the Judicial Service Commission to ensure that the administration of justice is just and fair. Finally, it is an indictment of the electoral system that this commissioner feels will lead to electoral unfairness, and judicial corruption and impunity.

Elections take on a mind of their own in the best of circumstance. Our circumstances, though, are anything but good. Political parties have failed to reflect, truly, the electorate; instead, they remain grotesque caricatures of the founder-owners. Parties are ill-suited to the onerous task of organising the political needs of the people or the proper distribution of political power among stakeholders. Instead, they are weapons of mass destruction and it is why so many politicians spend so much treasure in order to occupy party positions of power and influence.

As a result of the dysfunction in political parties, elections are not won or lost on the basis of ideology or more prosaic bread-and-butter concerns of the electorate; the are won or lost on the basis of the curation of ethnic and tribal loyalties, the cash-based influencing of voters and the oftentimes violent intimidation of candidates and their supporters. For these reasons, it is almost certain that disputes will arise at every electoral level: MCA, Governor, Woman Representative, MP, Senator and President. These electoral dispute will consume a disproportionate amount of the Judiciary's energy and, crucially, time. For the sake of sanity, the Judiciary can't expend most of its energy and time hearing or determining electoral disputes. The litigation must come to an end at some point and it is at the Court of Appeal that electoral litigation must end. (I would argue that even presidential decisions should only be decided at the Court of Appeal, but, maddeningly, the Constitution disagrees.)

For a member of the Judicial Service Commission to openly and recklessly sow doubt about not just the elections process but the administration of justice, it is impossible to tell whether he is a shill for governors with doubtful electoral prospects who would love to prolong litigation all the way to the already discredited Supreme Court or whether he has given up all hope that the situation will ever improve. Because the opportunities for rent seeking have multiplied exponentially since the election of the first generation of devolved governments, elections and election petitions have become akin to do-or-die events; the stakes are so high that no matter the vociferous protestations of innocence, this member of the Judicial Service Commission confirms that "enticements", whether at the Court of Appeal or elsewhere, are almost certain to play a role in the determination of the election petitions.

What we are witnessing today is the unbridled desire for State office and the pre-election maneuvres that candidates are engaging in, including by activating tame mouthpieces to their causes, in order to secure whatever advantages there are to secure. If this advisory opinion to the Speakers is accepted as an affront to the candidates' right to "access the courts", this will simply be one other safety net strung across the roiling waters of the electoral oceans that one set of jittery candidates will surely need come the 9th August. Dear reader, the situation is about to get even crazier so hold on to your seat and settle in for a bumpy and rambunctious ride.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Are you a moron?

If you claim, even in jest, that violent crimes are a consequence of poverty or penury, you are an idiot. If you claim with a straight face and without an ounce of irony that it is the "lower" classes who have a propensity to violence, you are an idiot. If you propose that the solution to violent crime is extrajudicial executions by the police, you, dear reader, are a moron. Fear not, sir; I do not weep for violent offenders whose young lives are violently cut short. May, probably all, made their bed and if it turns out to be made up of ballistic rounds, they can't come crying to me about it.

But, I am no champion of the unlawful, excessive and unnecessary employment of force represented by the 7.62mm cartridge travelling at 715 m/s. I may be naive, but giving the forces of law and order the opportunity to play by unconstitutional rules never ends well for the blameless or the innocent. Temporary safety or security may be purchased by the blood of a few alleged violent criminal offenders but, as every victim of a police state will remind us, what was once temporary becomes entrenched soon enough and its entrenchment almost always leads to more and more innocent and blameless citizens facing the same 7.62mm cartridge travelling at the same 715 m/s and not a court of law in sight.

Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi had the Special Branch and the Police Reserves whose violent notoriety sends shivers down grown men's spines even today. Nyayo House, Nyati House and Ngong Forest recall the worst excesses of a police state run amok. Mwai Kibaki had the Kwekwe Squad and the blood of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of "Mungiki adherents" who faced the Kwekwe Squad's hail of bullets laid the bloody foundation for the descent into murderous madness that was the benign-sounding post-election violence.

Violence begets violence. This is almost an immutable law of nature. There aren't enough bullets in the world to wage war with the criminal underclass, never mind the confident-sounding declarations of imminent victories by the worthies in charge of national security and public safety. Law and order is not a factor of the application of brute, violent, deadly force but that of the just interpretation and application of the law without fear or favour. Kenya is far from the land of the rule of law.

Kenya has a penchant for shortcuts and it never learns from its mistakes. You can draw a straight line through the violent actions of the Special Branch and Police Reservists in the 1960s and '70s to the political assassinations of the '60s, '70s and '80s to the rise (and attempted violent extermination) of "proscribed sects" such as the Mungiki and similar crime organisations to the elections-related violence of 1992, 1997 and 2007. Kenya bullied its judges and prosecutors to apply the criminal law of the land in increasingly farcically unfair ways and was shocked when crime, including violent crime, spiralled out of control. The unholy trinity of a corrupt venal state applying violence as the solution to all its problems and an atrophied justice system guaranteed that eventually, even the fig leaf of a corrupt judiciary or prosecution service would be unnecessary: undesirables could be eliminated safe in the knowledge that the rest of the people would keep schtum.

When Willie Kimani, Josphat Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri were murdered by policemen in secret and their bodies dumped in a river, the police adapted; instead of hiding their criminality, they went in the opposite direction. All they have to do now is blow you away in broad daylight, claim that you are a known and notorious violent offender and they will get away, literally, with murder. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority will tut-tut in despair and, Pontius Pilate-like, wash its hands of the affair because of a "lack of co-operation by the police leadership" and "intimidation" by the rank and file. The DPP won't prosecute because of "lack of evidence". If the DPP does prosecute, the judiciary will almost always acquit because of the DPP's "shoddy case-preparation." And just like you who have forgotten the names of Willie Kimani's fellow victims, Kenyans will forget about the whole affair.

So, if your answer remains that violent crimes are a consequence of poverty or penury, or that it is the "lower" classes who have a propensity to violence, or that the solution to violent crime is extrajudicial executions by the police, you, dear reader, are a moron.

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 ...