Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Kissing toads

Political parties make sense when they are established on clear principles, represent the interests of established constituencies, operate along clear rules, are supported by memberships that contribute money and other resources for the benefit of the members, operate transparently and are accountable to the members. 
 
If there's a Kenyan political party that makes sense, it hasn't presented itself to the people. Kenyan political parties, more often than not, represent the interests of "founder-members", have been captured by an elite few, don't espouse any clear principles other than the pablum rolled out for elections, are not supported by any known memberships and often operate along byzantine rules that are altered so often it is never clear any rules apply. But mostly, most operate in the shadows and their leaders are accountable to no one.

For these reasons, independent candidates were an inevitable consequence of the pre-election primaries conducted over the month of April 2017. Kenyan political parties ceased to have ideological characters some time after the Little General Election of 1969 when Kanuism enshrined its first principle: the president is the party; the party is the president. Little has changed in 48 years, never mind the doomed ideological renaissance of 1990/1991 when Kanuism was harried left and right by the Forum of the Restoration of Democracy, FORD, the last truly ideologically-driven mass movement in Kenya.

Many Kenyan politicians identify themselves with ideological markers: social-democrat, socialist, conservative, capitalist, and whatnot. But it in identity in name only. Almost all of them have succeeded in making politics almost exclusively about themselves, not their parties or their ideologies or their parties' ideologies. If you look at the Jubilation's hysteria over the broadsides against its economic policies by Dr David Ndii, it is marked by exhortations to ignore Dr Ndii because he is jealous of Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent president, and in thrall to the treasonous ideology of Raila Odinga, the doyen of the Opposition, without specifying what that treasonous ideology actually is. Suffice to say the Jubilation's propaganda is propagated by hatchet men with the subtlety of sledgehammers.

It is instructive, however, that both leading political alliances are composed of feckless and ideologically bereft politicians, two evils incapable of articulating in clear terms what they stand, each of which has engaged in chicanery that has pushed out otherwise "loyal" political aspirants into the cold of electoral independence. Neither alliance has a credible members' register, an accusation that has been levelled at the electoral commission, and this gaping hole was been filled, during the "primaries", with busloads of "outsiders" -- a situation likely to prevail in August if the electoral commission doesn't get its act together.

I will repeat what I said on Twitter: between good an evil, there is no moral choice to be made; one must always choose good over evil. A moral choice is between two evils -- one must choose the lesser evil of the two. None of our political parties and the politicians who use them are good. To one extent or another, they are all evil. Our choice as voters is to choose the least evil from among them. Among those are the victims of political party chicanery facing the bracingly cold winds of independent status at the hustings. Whatever happens, we must not deceive ourselves that there are ideologicaly-driven, mass-membership, rule-of-the-law politicians or political parties to choose from. We are fairy-tale princesses about to kiss a whole lot of toads. Pucker up!

My true fear

I didn't vote from Kilome constituency in the 2013 or 2007 general elections, nor in the 2010 and 2005 referenda even though that is where my heart will be interred some faraway day int he future. I voted in Harambee Ward, Makadara Constituency at the Bidii Primary School polling station after having cued, all four times, for at least five hours. Unless the register is "tampered with", I intend to cast my ballot in Harambee Ward, Makadara Constituency at the Bidii Primary School polling station on the 8th August. I hope this time round that the wait isn't five hours long.

What I remember of 2007 and its aftermath is now obscured by the passage of time and the fact that no matter how public the violence was, I was insulated from it all because Harambee Ward didn't experience marauding rioters with axes to grind. The height of our hardship was when households had to ration unga, veggies and meat because supplies were not making it to the dukas -- the Uchumi at Phase III had shut its doors immediately the first shot was fired. I was forced to ration my last half-pack of Dunhills. I probably should have given up smoking there and then.

Kenyans have a great capacity for political amnesia -- or so it seems. We invoked the spectre of 2007 to push through a constitutional referendum in 2010 and paper over the glaring and shocking shortcomings of the 2013 general election. We will keep invoking it for the foreseeable future -- so long as Raila Odinga is a presidential candidate in Kenya, 2007 will always serve as the boogeyman of Kenyan politics, summoned to chasten those who would challenge the narrative of the ruling non-Raila-Odinga-led alliance of Kanuists and Kanu's orphans.

The Kenyans likely to suffer every time the politics of Kenya turns to shit are unlikely to be Kenyans like me. Buru Buru may not glisten the way it did in the 1980s and 1990s, but its residents continue to be as politically disconnected as ever, leaving the stone-throwing, full-throated political hooliganism for other Kenyans without employment or full-time employment for that matter. You will very rarely find a resident of Buru Buru, Ngumo, Otiende, Komarocks or Kileleshwa -- or any of the facsimiles of upper working class suburbs -- engaging in running battles on the streets of the capital or the ridges and valleys of "upcountry" whenever the politics of Kenya turns to violence. You are more likely to find them incessantly wringing their hands and praying that they have jobs to return to when everything settles  down. That was my biggest fear in January 2008 -- whether my job wold still be waiting for me or whether my employer would accuse me of being a watermelon and can my ass.
 
Many are reading the political tea-leaves in 2017 and looking at what it all means -- for the politicians and their political allies. Few care to ask Kenyans like me what our true worries are. I have the same fears I had in 2007 and 2013 -- would I have a job when it all was over?

The good Kenyan

Something @keguro_ has said gives me pause: can you use constitutional petitions strategically to change how your fellowman is treated? Perhaps you can.

Article 27 of the Constitution provides at clause (4) declares,
The State shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on any ground including race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth.
And at clause (5), it declares,
A person shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against another person on any of the grounds specified or contemplated in clause (4).
I believe, as I hope @keguro_ does, that hate speech, not just that which foments ethnic hatred but hate speech towards any person, is an act of discrimination and that it is, therefore, prohibited by Article 27(4) and (5). It should, therefore, be stopped or prevented by the State as part of the grand constitutional bargain we made with one another when we agreed to grant authority to the institutions of the Government to use specific measures to keep us safe -- and to protect our constitutional rights or fundamental freedoms.

However, if the State fails to do so, we have other constitutional tools available to us including Article 22 which provides at clause (1) that,
Every person has the right to institute court proceedings claiming that a right or fundamental freedom in the Bill of Rights has been denied, violated or infringed, or is threatened.
Okiya Omtata has already shown us what can be achieved by dogged litigatory persistence in his jihad against misgovernance and corruption. We can challenge the hate speech of both State and non-state actors against women, Muslims, gays, the poor -- all the "others" that are routinely the targets of State-sanctioned and privately broadcast hate speech -- with the constitutional tools that Mr Omtata has so ably exploited in the recent past. By even contemplating such a thing, perhaps, we have the opportunity to re-think how and what we say when we define who a "good Kenyan" is.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Stabbing our children in the back

On the 27th August, 2010, whether or not we voted for or against the Harmonised Draft Constitution of Kenya, we peaceably gave to ourselves a Constitution that declared at Article 260 that a child is "an individual who has not attained the age of eighteen years" and at Article 53 that "Every child has the right to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhuman treatment and punishment, and hazardous or exploitative labour" and "A child's best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child".

The Constitution says nothing about the "age of consent" when it comes to sexual relations but, in accordance with both Article 260 and 53, the Children Act is unequivocal that a child cannot give consent when it comes to sex acts with the child. In the eyes of the law, any adult who commits a sex act with a child commits an offence. That, at least, would be the national consensus if it were not for two seminal events this past year: the judgment of the High Court in Criminal Appeal No. 32 of 2015 and the proposal by the Leader of the Majority Party in the National Assembly to amend the Sexual Offences Act to provide for the age of sixteen years as the age of consent.
This is what the Judge declared in the criminal appeal,
It is the law that a child below the age of 18 years cannot consent to sex. Section 8 (5) qualifies the provisions of Section 8 (1) to 8 (4) which penalizes defilement. It can easily be concluded that it is immoral for one to have sex with a child under the age of 18 years. However, where the same child under 18 years who is protected by the law opts to go into men's houses for sex and then goes home, why should the court conclude that such a person was defiled. (sic) In my view that cannot be defilement.
The proposed amendments to the Sexual Offences Act would have lowered the age below which it would not be an offence to have sex with a child to sixteen years. These two things are troubling about what those in positions of power are capable of doing while the world continues to spin around us.

Had I been the one drafting the Sexual Offences Bill in 2006, I would not have allowed the barn-door-sized loophole that is section 8(5) that allows a defence where the accused claims that he or she was hoodwinked into having sex with a child because the child deceived him or her that the child was eighteen years old. However, if I had been compelled to insert such a provision, safeguards would have to be put in place: simply claiming deceit would not be enough. Proof would have to be adduced. The burden to prove that the child had the capacity to deceive an adult about the child's maturity would lie with the adult and the standard of proof should be high -- certainly higher than the "preponderance of proof" standard usually relied on.

Be that as it may, I fail to see how the Judge was persuaded that the appellant had proven deceit; it could not be out of the blue that the child chose to stay away from home and put up with the man for three days. Especially after the child's siblings came looking for her in the man's house, every sexual ac after that moment was sufficient to uphold his conviction. But taken together with the proposal in the following year to lower the age of consent o sixteen years, I fear that our children have ceased to be a high priority where their safety is concerned.

As a nation we have decreed that a child is any person who hasn't attained the age of eighteen years. We did this consciously. We were not deceived. The effect of this decree would be felt in many areas but more so on matters to do with the protection of children from harmful cultural practices such as early marriage or protection from abuse and all forms of violence such as sexual exploitation by adults. We did not make this decision lightly; those advocating for the rights of children have advocated these very policies for decades. In 2010, the rest of Kenya endorsed their views. It feels like a stab in the back when the High Court and the National Assembly would seek to reverse these gains, effectively amending the Constitution by the backdoor.

It seems overwhelming to fight on so many constitutional fronts these days but it is worth the fight for us to fight to keep children safe even from their own government. The proposed amendments to the Sexual Offences Act were eventually withdrawn but the Director of Public Prosecutions is yet to appeal the wrongheaded decision of the High Court. If we are to assure our future as a nation we must not fall prey to indolence when it comes to the care and protection of our children; we must remain vigilant as well as give parents better tools for caring and protecting their children. The courts and Parliament shouldn't be tools for the exploitation and abuse of our children.

Postponing the inevitable

Maize became a political weapon as Jubilee and Nasa supporters traded barbs over the cause of the shortage, but critical questions remained unanswered. -- Macharia Gaitho, Daily Nation
Whether or not one believes that climate change is anthropogenic, it is an immutable fact that because of climate change, Kenya will experience erratic weather conditions for the foreseeable future. Among the consequences of climate change for Kenya will be increased frequency of droughts and drought-like conditions. And among the possible consequences of droughts are famines, with the recent one reminding us of another immutable rule in Kenyan politics: hunger is a political weapon and he who wields it ruthlessly usually prevails.

Many Kenyans have speculated over who were the winners and losers from the recent famine, often examining and re-examining the sequence of events that led the Government to waive customs duties for maize imports to cope with severe shortages of maize-meal in the market. Few have taken serious note of how the shortages (and the consequent reports of starvation in hardship areas) were used as political weapons to corral politicians and county governments into a specific narrative.

If one remembers the reason why there is a film called Blackhawk Down, one will remember that it is because Somalia was in the grip of a devastating famine and that the warlords that controlled Mogadishu did so by using the food aid delivered in Somalia as a weapon. In Kenya, the threat of starvation deaths because of the famine and the potential for political losses in August has been used to brow-beat politicians and county governments to toe lines that were inimical to their long-term benefit. In other parts of Kenya, the famine has given local politicians the pretext they needed to settle cores with large landowners and their supporters in and out of Government. The common thread in the events following the declaration of a famine as a national disaster is the threat of starvation and runaway food inflation and what it means for the general election of 2017.

Few Kenyans are willing to accept the reality that Kenya will always be a work in progress, that we will never get to political nirvana. The men and women whom we elect to represent our interests will also always have selfishly reasons of their own to seek high office, include self-enrichment from public resources. We will always find ourselves in one political crisis or another; there will never be a day when we can claim that Kenya is at peace with itself because we no longer encourage the best among us to seek public office. It is only the charlatans, the snake-oil salesmen, the carpetbaggers and the venal who manage to capture the imagination of the public and put themselves forward for public office, whether that office is elective, appointive, faith-based or in business.

Our national leadership in all its manifestations is not composed of men and women who would, in all honesty, successfully pass an honestly-administered assessment based on the provisions of Article 10 or Chapter Six of the Constitution. What is more, we are comfortable with the idea that men and women of doubtful integrity and moral fibre are not always anathema to our interests. For this reason we are willing to accept the narrative that one man or woman is responsible for the famine that followed the 2016/2017 drought -- and that one other man or other woman will be responsible for "saving" us from the adverse effects of the famine. So long as we see ourselves as cogs in the political wheels of our "leaders" we will never truly liberate ourselves from starvation deaths -- we will only postpone the inevitable every now and then.

Friday, May 26, 2017

On information public policy

policy (n.) a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by a government, party, business, or individual.
What is the Government's policy towards, say, information? In Kenya, it almost unlikely that you will find a document that sets out the Government's policy in full, that has been adopted or approved by the Cabinet, or that has been reviewed and approved by Parliament. You're more likely to find, online and off, a "draft" policy used as the basis for "further consultation among stakeholders". Since 2010 policy has been made and implemented in opaque ways, often with little accountability or transparency, and with the end-game being the enactment of legislation.

Taking legislation as one outcome of public policy, information policy is reflected in the Access to Information Act (No. 31 of 2016), the Kenya Information and Communications Act (No. 2 of 1998), the Official Secrets Act (cap. 187), the Statistics Act (cap. 19), the Defamation Act (cap. 36) and the Penal Code (cap. 63), though many Kenyans will identify the Access to Information Act and the Kenya Information and Communications Act as the only ones meriting their attention as part of the information policy landscape.

What these laws demonstrate regarding the information policy of the Government is that information is principally to be regulated and, in specific instances, mediated by Government agencies including the Communications Authority and the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (established under the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Act, cap. 221). It is in the regulatory landscape that the Government's policy is most plain to see; the Communications Authority has little to do with the generation of information but everything to do with how that information is communicated and broadcast, it being the agency tasked with licensing communications (including telecommunications) and broadcasting companies.

In the evolving area of electronic communications, the policy relies on the same policy tools that underpin traditional media, including all the aforementioned statutes. However, new policy tools are needed in an increasingly electronic information landscape especially now that the individual's right to privacy forms a core part of the Bill of Rights. How personal information is collected, stored, accessed and used are becoming important policy areas that must be addressed and the existing statutory infrastructure is increasingly inadequate.

Take, for example, those annoying marketing text messages one receives from, say, betting companies. It is unlikely that the betting company simply programmed its communications system to send out a blanket ad to a preprogrammed mobile phone numbers; it had to have accessed a database that contained those numbers and other personal information that indicated that one would be a ripe target for marketing information related to gaming or gambling. We need new rules for how that information can be protected for the benefit of the individual.

More and more personal information is now being collected and stored in electronic form and is accessible by both public and private entities. Some, like medical information, is so deeply personal that controlled access is the only way that this information can be protected. Yet, we don't know how many private entities have access to our medical information, how much of that information is being used for medical research or even what the outcomes of that research are. An attempt has been made to address these lacunae. For example, the Data Protection Bill seeks, among other things, to give individual's greater control over their personal information, indicating that the Government (or some parts of the Government, anyway) are aware of the increasing need to give individuals better tools for managing and protecting their personal information. But until it is enacted into law, the policy tools available to the Government and the protections afforded individuals will be limited only to the Bill of Rights' protection of an individual's right to privacy.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why they hate Agwambo

In certain corners of Kenya's political arena, the hatred of Raila Odinga is intense. While there are many committed political operatives who are determined to craft a winning strategy for their candidates in the upcoming general election, there is a hardcore cohort that is motivated exclusively and bitterly by their hatred of Kenya's only second Prime Minister.

There are many of us who are utterly unconvinced that Raila Odinga would make a good president of Kenya but we are not giving Agwambo the side-eye because we hate his guts or fear his presidency. Some of us believe that his time is over, that he must make way for youthful political leaders. Still some others believe that he has spent so long being the symbol of the Official Opposition that he may not make the best president Kenya could have. Whatever our reasons, it is not that we feel for Tinga. It almost never could be.

Few Kenyans with a Twitter account know or remember how far back Kenya goes with Raila Odinga. Many seem to only remember the Raila Odinga who emerged after the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy fell apart after the death of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Raila's father, and the backstabbing that took place against Raila Odinga and his allies in the party. Those that look back a little further can remember that Rail Odinga was "implicated" in the abortive 1982 coup against Daniel Moi but seem to have erased their memories of the detention without trial that Raila Odinga suffered till the late 1980s. Jakom has a long and mysterious history with Kenya but that alone cannot explain the anger and hatred that it engenders in certain quarters.
The case against Agwambo's presidency by those who angrily hate him is always founded on an accusation that he is not a true patriot because of his connections to the 1982 abortive coup. Tinga, they allege, was never held to account for his role in the coup, meaning that he was never executed like Senior Private Hezekiah Ochuka and the other coup plotters. Those that hate him want him dead and yet you can't point to anything that Jakom has done in the past forty-five years that justifies this perverse vendetta that many of them seem to be waging.

Few Kenyans, though, care that much about the 1982 coup; it failed and Baba Moi went on to rule for a further 20 years. It almost always seems that the one who hate Raila Odinga hate him because he is Luo and, therefore, he is seen to be against the interests of the ethnic communities living around Mount Kenya, none more so than the Kikuyu though Jakom has done absolutely nothing to provoke this fear (save for the ill-advised appointment of a combative, abrasive and utterly unhinged "advisor on coalition affairs" when he was Prime Minister).

There are many grounds to deny Raila Odinga the presidency but on his public record, ethnic hatred isn't one that he has ever been guilty of. Then there are the allegations that Tinga had his hand in the Consolidated Fund cookie jar and the phrase that keeps on coming up is "maize scam" as if Raila Odinga single-handedly engineered a drought that turned into a famine and thereafter oversaw the systematic looting of the National Cereals and Produce Board silos while Kenyans starved to death. Cast your mind back to that time. Raila Odinga was not the Minister of State in the Office of the President in charge of Special Programmes. Neither was he the Minister for Finance nor the Minister for Agriculture, two men who had re-established an alliance that had been rendered asunder by the devastating 2002 Mwai Kibaki political victory. Remember the face of that North Rift octogenarian who made hundreds of millions simply by trading permits linked to maize in NCPB silos?

A picture has been painted of Raila Odinga as this mad, Luo ethnic chauvinist who will do anything and everything to "steal" the presidency, including engage in ill-fated coups and blatant rigging (even of party elections) so that he can exact some sort of revenge against ethnic communities that he blames for his personal and family failings. Those painting this picture are light on facts and heavy on innuendo. They almost always compare their political champions' records against Agwambo's by repeating, ad nauseum, that "Raila Odinda did much, much worse." It isn't enough that their guy built a road; it is only better because the road Agwambo built is full of potholes or some such shit.

Hatred for Raila Odinga has been elevated to a religious precept. It is now a canon of their religion and the high priests of this faith operate at the highest levels of delusion. The founding myths of this religion are now obscured by the self-serving sermons the faithful are fed on almost daily basis. It is enough, so the high priests preach, to know that Agwambo is the wrong man for the job and to hate him for not bowing out of the field of play.

Monday, May 22, 2017

To rotate or not to rotate?

In Kenya's constitution, there is the office of president and there is the office of deputy president. These, needless to say, are State offices. In the former constitution, there was the office of president, office of vice-president and office of prime minister. Those, too, were State offices. However, and this is important, the office of deputy president as well as the former officers of vice-president and prime minister, are not the same thing. They are not equal in status or power. The deputy president, vice-president or prime minister are not co-equals of the president. To suggest otherwise can only be with a malign intent.

Kenya has had four presidents: Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta. Jomo Kenyatta ruled as president between 1964 and 1978, Daniel Moi between 1978 and 2002, and Mwai Kibaki between 2002 and 2013. Uhuru Kenyatta has been president since 2013. Jomo Kenyatta, Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta are members of the Kikuyu while Daniel Moi is a member of the Kalenjin. It is not a hateful thing to say that three Kikuyu men and one Kalenjin man have been presidents of Kenya since 1964. It is also not a hateful thing to say that Kikuyu men have ruled Kenya for 30 years while a Kalenjin man has ruled Kenya for 24 years. These are plain, historical facts.

It is also not hateful to say that since 1964 Kenya has never been ruled by a Kamba, Luo, Luhya, Taita, Mijikenda, Meru, Embu, Kisii, Maasai, Turkana, Somali, Asian, European, Samburu, Ilchamus, Endorois, Chonyi, Giriama or any members of Kenya's other ethnic communities. By pointing out that Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta are Christians, it is not hateful to remind Kenyans that Kenya has never been ruled by a Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Baha'ai, atheist or a person who professes any of the other religions that are practiced or professed in Kenya. So too it is not hateful to point out that no woman has ever ruled Kenya or that all rulers of Kenya have been men.

If anyone accuses you of being antinational and antipatriotic for repeating these facts, you should be able to ignore your accuser with contempt because these facts are immutable. These facts are necessary for a national discourse on what national identity means to us in the twenty-first century and whether our national identity will ever erase our ethnic loyalties that are sustained by our unique languages, cultures, music, food, myths and mythologies. My Akamba are famous for their vibrant brightly-coloured dress while my Luo are renown the world over for their passion, heightened sense of fashion and an intellectual rigour that has taken its people to all corners of the world. My Maasai are the first thing foreign tourists think of when planning to visit our fair land and my Meru are known to be the only people who understand the ecology and economy of Miraa. All the best lawyers and accountants I know are from my Kisii and all the best dishes I have ever had were prepared from recipes of my Mijikenda. My peoples are everywhere -- except none of them has ever been president, the highest political office in Kenya.

It isn't wrong to discuss this fact and it isn't wrong to suggest that a member of my Endorois, long the victims of land-theft and forced immigration, should be allowed to govern this country and that such an opportunity should come via a rotational arrangement. That way, not just my Endorois will get the opportunity to be symbols of national pride and national unity, but so too will my Ilchamus, my Sengwer, my Basuba and my Pokot. Seeing the presidency as the just spoils of political competition is not the only way to look at it: it can also be seen as the only institution which, if shared justly, has the opportunity to unite us towards a common purpose. Before one of you freaks out and calls me a shameless anarchist, bear this in mind: in Switzerland or, as it is properly known, the Swiss Confederation, and whose peoples speak Swiss German, Swiss French, Swiss Italian and Romansh, has a president who only serves for a year and is elected by the Swiss parliament's upper house. You don't see the Swiss freaking out about that, do you?

Friday, May 19, 2017

The choir of doom

There is a measure of satisfaction -- I'm not sure how much -- to be derived from being a member of the Wring Our Hands in Despair Choir which sings of the great wonders Kenya can achieve if only fewer Kenyans were selfish, corrupt, lazy or any manner of other ills. Typical of the hymns by this choir is is this refrain,
If only a quarter of the energy spent on schemes to scam Kenyan taxpayers was redirected towards uplifting them tungekuwa mbali sana.
We are now reduced to a nation of wishful thinkers. If this or that or the other was OK, Kenya will be OK. If some one else does the work that needs to be done, Kenya will be OK. 

One of the most remixed hymns by the choir is entitled "Kenya must unleash its true potential". This hymn is sung with certainty and vigour. It is so popular that it forms the stump speech of every Kenyan politician worth their salt, every business tycoon who wants to look like the sage everyone claims they are, every wannabe guru with a dream to sell. Kenya's potential is always the responsibility of someone else to unleash. It is some animal instinct that we shall unlock tomorrow.

The most dirge-like hymns, however, are the ones that evoke the Truth: that Government is a feckless, corrupt parasite, hellbent in stealing as much of our taxes as it can get away with, borrow from international sugardaddies (and steal) as much as it can without a sound fiscal plan, engage in colossal acts of wastage with a view to creating opportunities for sacred cows in the private sector to profit, and whittle away at our god-given (or natural) rights like a termite army hollowing out a wooden granary. I think of these as Nihilists' Battle Hymns because they are designed to sow enervating despair because, as well know, in the end, Government shall prevail.

What the choir epitomises is not so difficult to discern: fewer and fewer Kenyans, whether they are  members of the middle classes or the working classes or even the elite, are interested in doing the necessary civic work to build a great society. The most important apsect of their lives is the opportunity to say that things are going to hell in a handbasket and that those doing the necessary work are the ones who are sending things to hell. But as we have learned, a single "mad" Omtatah does not a civic revolution make, and a single "intense" Boni does not a civic reawakening make.

Proof of this opinionated apathy is all around us: the majority of the uncivilised riff-raff of this City are shameless litterbugs no matter that the majority of them are formally "educated", hold down good jobs, live in good neighbourhoods and are people to be respected. They are all shameless litterbugs. But it is the murder of three children in this madness we call electioneering that tells me that Kenyans are not interested in anything that requires them to take a stand.

Children don't just vanish and their remains recovered from water bodies without someone seeing. I have no problem with fathers and mothers murdering their political rivals; that's the way they choose to play the game. But with the murder of children for political ends, it is time to draw the line. If you wring you hands one more time and say how terrible it is and how you want to unleash Kenya's potential and how you think that Kenyans should do more to stop political violence...

From buffoon to iron fist


The long title to the Films and Stage Plays Act (which establishes the Kenya Film Classification Board) states that it is,
An Act of Parliament to provide for controlling the making and exhibition of cinematograph films, for the licensing of stage plays, theatres and cinemas; and for purposes incidental thereto and connected therewith.
We'll get back to it later on.

The functions of the Kenya Film Classification Board are set out in section 15(1),
The functions of the Board shall be to—
(a) regulate the creation, broadcasting, possession, distribution and exhibition of films by—
(i)  examining every film and every poster submitted under this Act for purposes of classification;
(ii)  imposing age restriction on viewership;
(iii) giving consumer advice, having due regard to the protection of women and children against sexual exploitation or degradation in cinematograph films and on the internet...
The functions of the Board relate almost entirely to cinematograph films and posters "intended to be publicly displayed in connection with the film or its exhibition", including giving consumer advice "having due regard to the protection of women and children against sexual exploitation or degradation in cinematograph films and on the internet".

"Child" or "children" are mentioned only five times in the Act; once in relation to the functions of the Board at section 15(1)(a)(iii) and in section 17 in relation to the regulation of films unsuitable for children.

Now, it is possible to declare specific provisions of statutes to be inconsistent with each other, especially if the statutes have been amended on numerous occasions. But in this case, that isn't our primary concern. What we should focus on is whether or not the Board's mandate as claimed by its chief executive and its communications officers includes the protection of children or their welfare in the broadest sense possible and whether it has authority to regulate things like online computer games.

Section 17 is explicit about what the Board has power to do to protect children -- to issue certificates of approval "subject to the condition that no child shall be admitted to the exhibition" of those films. Section 15(1)(a)(iii) is only limited to giving consumer advice. It doesn't impose on the Board a specific power, outside of the power in section 17, to protect children or their welfare. And in no part of the Act are the subjective questions of "harm" or "moral values", in relation to children or anyone, addressed.

The main reason why the law was enacted in the first place was to "control the making and exhibition of cinematograph films". It would do so by issuing certificates of approval after reviewing the films before they were exhibited at cinemas or in other public forums. It would do so through the Kenya Film Classification Board which was formerly known as the Kenya Film Censorship Board. Denial of a certificate of approval would operate as a ban; in every sense a denial of the certificate is a ban on the film. What the Act doesn't provide for is for the Board to issue certificates of approval for computer games -- or for any software material for that matter. In other words, the Board can't ban computer games -- online or offline. And it has no mandate to regulate communications, that is, it has no authority to regulate the internet.

The Board has worked indefatigably to disendear itself from many Kenyans. Its jihad against Coca-Cola is still fresh in our minds as is its ill-judged attempt to bring Google to heel over a gay music video on its streaming service, YouTube. But when it targetted social functions (albeit hedonistically-themed social events) where virginities would be lost or the rainbow colours would be affirmed, the Board was entering a territory so far from its jurisdiction it is important to ask: to what end?

We have seen what happens when state agencies style themselves as the moral police. In almost all scenarios it is usually for the protection of the "vulnerable members of society": women and children. The list of things that are proscribed for the sake of the women and children is usually long including the creation of an enemies' list that usually includes homosexual men and women, transgender humans, political heterodoxies, "free" thinkers, certain kinds of artists, the followers of "strange" or "unusual" religions, atheists and anyone or anything deemed a threat to the safety of women or children (which, at this stage, is synonymous with the safety of the State as personified by the Government and its President).

The Board and its CEO have made simple-minded justifications for their decisions over the past year or two and they have both powered ahead with their moral policing regardless of the protests from civil libertarians. If the Board or the CEO are not stopped, it is almost certain that heterodoxy of whatever nature will not just be considered a moral wrong, but a threat to the security and stability of the State, and will, in turn, justify extraordinary measures to put down. Kenyans are familiar with what happened to their fellowmen when they were accused of "sedition" in the 1980s. The Board and its CEO only know too well. The Board is the thin end of a very fat wedge that will be used to separate Kenyans from the Bill of Rights. Its buffoonish boss shouldn't be underestimated; many buffoons have gone on to become the iron fist of the State.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Before we do something stupid

The vast majority of Kenyans are not emotionally attached to wild animals. That we keep seeing them as "wild animals" is a partial explanation. The more germane one is that wildlife has always been the preserve of the wealthy, especially kaburus from the colonial era. Game Parks, National Reserves and conservancies are merely the newest devices for depriving poor Kenyans of land for their families and their livelihoods. We do not have a stake in the conservation of elephants or rhinos; the fewer of them near our farms, the greater the guarantee of good harvests. Even intellectually we do not care about the fate of wild animals. Because of the skewed ownership of the profits from wildlife, we are not even part-owners of the heritage. The few of us who have been "trained" to see things this way only see the cheque at the end of the month. We do not buy the argument that what happens to elephants will affect us in the long run. We are happy enough to see kaburus suffering slightly. Schadenfreude, the Germans call it. (We don't care about elephant murders)
Be honest, how many of you wake up in the morning and look over the devastated detritus of your lives and wish to go live among the buffalo, zebra, giraffe or gazelle? Is the first thing that runs through your mind the loneliness of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhinoceros? Do you weep bitter tears about the cruel ending of the life of Satao, the last great tusker in Kenya's Tsavo East National Park? If you do, congratulations. You're a member of the One Per Cent and you live a life filled with beauty and wonder. You are also living in a world of fantasy.

Ever since my fellowman has been described as a bandit, incapable of living in a modern, twenty-first economy, clinging to bygone traditions and incapable of appreciating the value and importance of sale agreements or title deeds, I have come across the claim, over and over, that wildlife conservation, and the conservancies that engage in them, are the panacea for what ails our land-use practices that have led to soil destruction, drought (and the famines that follow), hunger and land clashes.

The vast majority of Kenyans -- indeed the vast majority of young Kenyans -- might think of the Maasai Mara or the Amboseli in abstract terms -- as places where, someday, they might visit for a holiday. But ask any of them and the same vision of these places comes to mind -- they are there for the pleasure of foreign, mostly caucasian, tourists and the dollars they bring with them. The Chinese, Indians, Arabs and other Black Africans who visit these Parks are no match for the dollar-bearing caucasian.

More insanely, however, the Maasai Mara and the Amboseli are not seen as the apotheosis in our failure of imagination. When the Endorois were moved en masse from the shores of Lake Bogoria because their land had been converted into a Game Reserve and were paid a pittance for their trouble, it confirmed that Establishment Kenyans were bereft of any useful ideas when it comes to land and the fraught politics surrounding it. The conservancy movement of the last twenty-five years is proof that since the fate of the Endorois was sealed in the mid-1970s, our education hasn't moved forward one single inch.

The "banditry" in Nanyuki is proof that not only have we not learnt anything, we are willing to double down on stupidity in the face of all known wisdom. So too the resource curse that seems to be stalking us in Turkana and off the shores of Lamu. We venerate the caucasian and his "wisdom" and follow him down rabbit holes without thinking about our fate: first we listened to them about our land now we are listening to them about other valuable stuff. Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique. Few people get the chance to see warning playing out before they do something stupid. We do. Or at least we should.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The inexorable churning

I wouldn't say this to their faces, but almost all aspiring parliamentarians (and their counterparts to county assemblies) have little idea of what it means not only to be political leaders, but elected representatives as well. Like other politicians, they have healthy egos that have persuaded them that they, and they alone, have the capacity to not just identify the challenges their people face but have the capacity to lead the people in finding and implementing solutions. All those other politicians who came before them are held hostage by greed, venality and corruption, the detritus of failed systems that are soon to be swept away by the purity of the mission at hand.

Many of them have some semblance of a public profile by the time they decide that the only way they can make meaningful change is by entering government as elected representatives. Some are businesspersons, others are professional persons like doctors or lawyers, still others are trade unionists, retired civil servants, and others come from the high-pressure world of civil society. 
It has been at least three decades since Kenyans joined political parties en masse, and so it is unlikely that many aspiring electoral candidates are card-carrying, lifetime members of any political parties. It is why s many of them seem to start new ones (after all, the old ones are the reason why they are entering politics in the first place) or buying their way into the old parties (after all, the incompetence of the older representatives cannot be allowed to stymie "development"). As a result, few of them know much about political parties, political organisation and mobilisation, electoral law, parliamentary procedure and practice, government procedures or political representation. They make it up as they go along.

Many are precocious, though, and if they are successfully elected will pick up the skills they need fairly quickly. The majority, however, must attend training seminars or workshops in order to know what to do as elected representatives. Needless to say that despite their sometimes obvious intelligence, few of them are natural politicians and are, almost always, easily manipulated into obvious traps, especially in regards to one of their most important roles as elected representatives: oversight of the executive branch.

Few humans will admit that they are ignorant of things; few politicians will admit that they know jack shit about the political process and the institutions that underpin it. Some will resist being publicly chastised, responding belligerently and rudely to suggestions that they are not ready. Others will hide behind armies of supplicants, sycophants and "communications" consultants. Because of this, for the past three decades, our political process has been hollowed out; each successive election has weeded out experienced (though corrupt and corruptible) political hands and replaced them with inexperienced (and easily misled and manipulated) political neophytes, thereby, ironically, entrenching corruption and the impunity it engenders.

It would surprise many of them to learn that there is nothing novel about their insurgent political careers. Kenya has always had outsider, insurgent politicians who have generated a lot of light but very little useful heat.You would have thought that with the incessant action by the Seven Bearded Sisters and the luminaries of the Second Liberation Movement that the national discourse would have cracked the hard nut that corruption has proven to be. You would be wrong. The same problem that bedevilled the Seven Bearded Sisters in 1978 is the same one that proved the head-scratcher to the Second Liberationists in 1992 and which will surely for the new generation of men and women who come into political office with a determination to lick corruption once and for all, come hell or high water. They will discover that corruption is the hell and the high water.

If they are to avoid the pitfalls that have befallen the arrogant but ignorant idealists of elections past, it is imperative that they set aside what they know and try and learn what they don't know in the weeks or months they have before their election. As with any corrupt system, the most important aspect of it is that which is written down: the Standing Orders and the Hansard. Both offer insights as to what can and cannot be accomplished by and elected representative. They offer clues about how relationships are forged between the MP and members of the executive branch, the MP and members of the judicial branch, the MP and other MPs, the MP and private-sector movers and shakers. Make no mistake, in order to succeed in changing the system, all these relationships are important; sooner or later even the Lone Ranger needs sidekicks and allies.

Some of the most disappointing MPs happen to be intelligent, well-meaning do-gooders who believed the lie: One Man can change everything. What they did not know is that they were not the Mahatma, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mother Teresa, Princess Diana or Nelson Mandela. What they forgot is that it took the Mahatma almost forty years for both satyagraha and ahimsa to form key plans of Indian political philosophy, that Dr King was not just eloquent but he was preternaturally intelligent or that it took almost twenty-years for the whole world to acknowledge that Madiba was right and that the Boers were full of it. Their ambition must be tempered with the realisation that change is incremental and frustrating and might never come to pass in their lifetimes. If they persist in the bubble of their God-complex delusion, the voters will cast them aside like yesterday's trash. In politics there are no permanent friend or permanent enemies - just the inexorable churning of politicians, one after the other.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

You cannot have your cake and eat it

Wazungu know their way around methali: You cannot have your cake and eat it. Take heed, dear outraged middle-class-or-something Kenyan: you can't simultaneously declare the Government to be an incompetent, wasteful and corrupt institution and at the same time demand that it meets the highest degrees of competence, efficiency and probity when it comes to the management of this latest famine.

Every Kenyan has the right to bitch about how bad things are and every adult Kenyan can pretend that they had nothing to do with how things got this bad. Regardless of the pretense, however, every adult Kenyan must be held to account for allowing their Government, whether or not they support its political leadership, for allowing a bountiful nation to approach world powers with a begging bowl in hand as its people slowly starve to death.

This indictment begins with the men and women who call themselves "the media": news reporters, journalists, news editors. They used to be known as the "fourth estate" and, as they have reminded us again and again since the liberalisation of media, a democracy functions best when a free press holds the Government to account. Our "media" has allowed the political leadership of this Government to get away with a lot; it can no longer consider itself fearless, free, independent or credible. Its sole reasons for existence, it seems, is to sell advertisement at the highest rate possible and pay as little as it can get away with in taxes. News (political) reporters have done precious little -- beyond their morbid fixation with which political personality has been "implicated in "corruption" -- to meet the other aspects of their mandate to educate and inform the people about their Government, what it has done and what it has failed to do.

Take, for example, the case of the Galana-Kulalu irrigation project. It boggles the mind that all news reporters repeated almost verbatim the press releases from the agriculture and irrigation ministries about progress on the project. Those of us with a curious bent have searched for and failed to find relevant data on pertinent things: how much was spent; how much land was put under irrigation; what crops were grown; how many bags of produce were produced per acre; what was the cost to produce (per bag and per acre) and how do these costs compare with commercial and subsistence agriculture; how much did it cost to bring produce from the farm to the market; what was the quality of produce from the project; how much of the project is mechanised and how much is still manual; and similar questions. The news reporters -- journalists -- have reported what the Government sold them; they haven't provided context. This relates to thousands of political questions that a free media is supposed to help the people understand.

But we, the people, must bear our fair share of the blame too. Take Nairobians for example. For three months, the majority of residents finally discovered what it feels like to have to buy water by the jerrican, something that is routine in Nairobi's "informal settlements". Many Nairobians are rate-payers; quite a few pay land rent too. Yet, despite their investment in their properties and their city, these Nairobians not only failed to hold the City fathers to account over the water situation, they did not raise the issue at all. No matter how bizarre the statements from the Nairobi water company got, Nairobians were content to grumble as is their wont but do nothing more to put the company's bosses' feet to the fire.

Our political leaders are not chosen in a vacuum except the vacuum of public education and information that is fomented by a media sector made up of preening, profit-hungry narcissists and an adult population full of whingers, whiners and armchair activists who prefer the dirty work of politics to be done by someone else, preferably someone from the working classes who lives in Kibera, Mathare Valley or Korogocho. Children, you simply can't have your cake and it eat too.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Undemocratic parties

"We need an electoral law to govern political parties primaries for free, fair and credible nominations." As quoted by @Faith Kasiva on Twitter
The political topic du jour is party primaries renamed so in our affected desire to be as American as possible. The shambles that were the primaries by the the Jubilee Party of Kenya are not the result of bad laws but the determined desire by the members of the party to sow as much confusion as possible during the exercise. Confusion leads to decisions that are not mediated by anyone or any institution to impose decisions on the party rank and file that they may resist. Confusion is a feature of all parties' primaries, whether they are members of the National Super Alliance or small, run of the mill parties like Narc-Kenya or Maendeleo Chap Chap Party.

The national discourse has tangentially dealt with the question of independent candidacies but it hasn't asked what I believe is the most important question: why is our politics organised around political parties and not independent candidates? The undemocratic exercise of power by politicians is tied directly to the undemocratic operation of political parties which signal to political and state institutions that undemocratic methods will not face political, constitutional or statutory challenge.

From the recruitment of -- and accounting for -- party members, the most undemocratic methods are employed, especially secrecy. The secrets of the political party reinforce every undemocratic act -- including bribery, forgery, violence and intimidation -- by party owners, officials and aspiring candidates. It is how a political party can have multiple party registers for the same constituency -- and all of them would be accurate depending on who the maker of the register was.

But do we really need to be politically organised around political parties? I have gone over news reports and articles over the past five years and come to an unsurprising realisation: political parties remain dormant for the period between elections. Little party activity takes place. No political party seems to invest in training and educating party officials or drafting party policy papers stating the party's position on public policy. Parties don't hold national delegate's conventions or congresses to reaffirm their ideologies or reconfirm their leaders to their position. Most important -- and damning to my mind -- no party seems to have a committed membership that subscribes to the party's ideals and proves its loyalty by giving material support -- money -- to the party for its activities. Parties' membership registers are about as real as chicken teeth.

I am -- we should all be -- suspicious of politicians when they exhort us to write better laws to better regulate political parties because political parties are, by very Kenyan standards, not designed to be well-regulated. When those politicians making these calls are elected representatives who have experienced the bracingly cold winds of change as represented by poor primary outcomes, my suspicion is tinged with paranoia because when these representatives were writing laws from regulating breast milk to regulating what photographs the newsmedia may publish, I am just curious as to why they never found the time to deal with political parties' primaries especially after they regulated every other aspect of the political and electoral process.

Few Kenyans have ever seen the constitutions of the parties that front thousands of men and women in our elections. Few Kenyans actually care enough to go looking for these constitutions. So it shouldn't be so difficult for most Kenyan voters to elect their representatives regardless of party affiliation, party membership or party loyalty, right? It doesn't make sense for Mr Odinga, for example, to command such blind loyalty when his own party is notorious for shambolic, violent, chaotic nominations. Or Uhuru Kenyatta, when his newest party -- his third in five years -- wears the veneer of corporate poshness but is in reality a dictatorship of fat wallets, deep pockets and political engineers of doubtful and dubious repute.

We don't really need political parties. We just need a less expensive, less chaotic way of choosing who will stand at an election. Political parties have proven to be the reason why our politics almost always ends in violence.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Whistling Dixie in the wind

We made a bargain with each other as adult voters. That bargain is called the Constitution of Kenya. In that bargain we decided how big a government we wanted. In making the bargain, we had a binary choice: promulgate a new constitution or carry on under an older, much-amended and imperfect one. On the 27th August, 2010 we replaced one constitutional order with a new one. What we didn't replace was the corrupted and corruptive politics of Kenya; we devolved it and the problems it engenders.

The Consolidated Fund is, more or less, the sum total of all the monies that pass through the innards of the Government of Kenya. That is all the taxes we pay, direct and otherwise, all the money borrowed by the Government, all the grants, donations and gifts to the Government, all the proceeds from the disposal of assets or the sale of licences and permits, and a million other sources of money. The Consolidated Fund, bar some constitutional amendment, is here to stay. The sources of money of the Consolidated Fund are here to stay. Taxes, in their varied forms, will continue to form the largest proportion of what forms the Consolidated Fund.

Even before we talk of a public service, the following State officers must be paid: the President, Deputy President, the members of the Cabinet, the members of Parliament, Governors, Deputy Governors, the members of county assemblies, judges and magistrates, the Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Chief of Defence Forces, each service commander of the Kenya Defence Forces, the Director-General of the National Intelligence Service, the Inspector-General and the Deputy Inspectors-General of the National Police Service, the Controller of Budget, the Auditor-General, the members of the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the National Gender and Equality Commission, the National Police Service Commission, the Teachers Service Commission, the National Land Commission, the Public Service Commission, the Judicial Service Commission, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the Commission on Revenue Allocation and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission.

The existence of these offices is part of the constitutional bargain we made with each other and the remuneration and benefits due to those holding these offices is a part of that bargain too. The Salaries and Remuneration Commission is charged with determining the remuneration and benefits of these State officers, another constitutional bargain we made with each other. The public service that works for, works with or otherwise supports these State officers reflects the thousands of things that we ask our government to do. After 2010, no one has a valid argument that State officers and public servants have stolen power that is not rightfully theirs; if anyone wishes to challenge the legitimacy of a power that is being exercised by the Government, they have the courts of law to do so. After 2010, arguments about access or knowledge of the law or ability of litigants are no longer valid.

The most significant State offices are those held by members of the national executive: the President, the Deputy President and the Cabinet. These offices are responsible for establishing tax policy and fiscal policy. The choice of President and Deputy President is directly related to the choice of members of the Cabinet and, in turn, the kinds of long term policies that hit us where it hurts most: the wallet. As a nation, we failed to interrogate the fiscal policies of the candidates in 2013; we are now paying the price as the cost of living gets out of hand because of the malign effects of our growing national debt. While to many the size of the national debt is morally indefensible, it is not unconstitutional: the power to incur these debts is given to the Government and it is accounted for by the Government in accordance with our constitutional bargain.

Some have called for "shrinking the size of government" by which they mean that the number of elected State officers must be reduced as well as the overall size of the public service. What they have failed to do is to advance an argument that is persuasive enough for those who have no problem with the national executive being involved in road construction, milk processing, sugar milling, armaments manufacturing, drugs' distribution, higher education or medical equipment leasing. Millions of Kenyans have no problem with the manner in which taxes are employed. Those that do can be separated into two camps: those who oppose taxation as an unconstitutional usurpation of private property and those who simply want to see as little of it wasted, misappropriated, misspent or stolen. The former are fond of wailing about the assault on their liberties without offering practical solutions that will help them attain their constitutional nirvana. They are constitutional nihilists of the worst kind.

We have problems in Kenya. To even attempt to solve them, we must accept a few things: we are a constitutional republic in which State offices, State officers and their powers are defined; these powers have been exercised for both good and ill; if we are to make things better for all, we must re-examine how State power is used, and review our constitutional arrangements to reflect that re-examination. Anything else is whistling Dixie in the wind.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

First improve the transport system we have

We didn't ask Sonko questions like zoning laws, revenue collection, parks and social halls, playgrounds and county schools for our kids, public transport (surely, surely, mathrees need to go. A city like Nairobi should have have a viable public bus network like yesterday). Wandia Njoya, Facebook
Nairobi once had public transport that was efficient, effective and, mostly, affordable. It was part-owned by the Government and it was known as the Kenya Bus Service Corporation*. The fares we paid to ride KBS were controlled by the Government. Because of its size and the price-controls, the gypsy minibuses and vans couldn't compete with KBS on fares; instead, they competed on speed, distance, comfort and entertainment.

Matatus were popular alternatives to the KBS in Eastlands, especially along Jogoo Road up to the City Stadium and Industrial Area, or up to Pumwani, Gikomba and Kariokor, connecting Embakasi, Doonholm, Umoja, Kariobangi South, Harambee, Buru Buru, Jamhuri, Jerusalem, Kimathi, Shauri Moyo, Jericho, Makadara and Maringo. KBS had a monopoly on the Central Bus Station, and the Ambassadeur Hotel, KENCOM and GPO stages. So far as I can remember, it also had termini in Kangemi, Kawangware, Pumwani and Umoja II. Matatus, on the other hand, were only allowed to operate out of that zone bordered by Ronald Ngala Street, Tom Mboya Street, and Kirinyaga Road, with popular termini along Accra Road, at the Globe Cinema Roundabout, the Nairobi Fire Station, next to Odeon Cinema and near the Khoja Mosque.

The principal provider of public transport was the KBS while matatus were alternatives for short distances only. KBS was organised and operated on a schedule that allowed one to plan her itinerary without worry. You could move from Umoja II to Kawangware using, at most two buses, because you were certain of the fare and the timetable and you didn't have to worry about being late. But what made the KBS perfect were the price controls by the City Council of Nairobi (which part-owned the KBS).

The liberalisation of public transport changed all this. First, the City Council discontinued price-controls and the KBS hiked its fares. Second, it lost its monopoly to the Central Bus Station and the Ambassadeur Hotel, KENCOM and GPO stages. Third, the national government undermined the KBS model by running for brief period the Nyayo Bus Service Corporation which charged even lower fares than the KBS because of subsidies offered by the national government. (The Nyayo Bus collapsed because it became an instrument of grand corruption.) Finally, matatus were licensed to operate on all the routes that the KBS used to operate on. There was a brief period when the KBS introduced the innovative Shuttle in the early 2000s to compete against matatus, but its debts finally put paid to it as a going concern and it underwent a management buyout. It has since then sold off most of its real estate and operates in the same competitive environment and in the same pricing model as the rest of the matatu sector. It is a bus company in name only; in all respects, it is a matatu operator with large-capacity buses.

Today, operators of large fleets of public service vehicles use a hybrid model: they own a set number of buses and mini-buses and offer franchises to individuals. These include the KBS Management Services (former managers who bought out the last owners of the KBS), Double M, Citi Hoppa and City Shuttle. These large operators maintain a semblance of standards. However, they compete against vastly larger single-vehicle operators, the living embodiment of the matatu spirit, who mostly operate 14-seat vans and 29-seat mini-buses. All operators compete for passengers and access to termini and stages. None operates on a set schedule. Many operate with uncertain fares, with a floor below which they cannot charge. Recent statutory changes require these single-vehicle operators to join Savings and Credit Co-operatives to instill some form of discipline in the sector, but as tragedies along Magadi Road have demonstrated in recent months, this hasn't helped much.

Hard as it is to imagine, Nairobi will not be nationalising public transport any time soon; it simply doesn't have the capital or the managerial expertise to successfully run a public transport network. However, it still retains the mandate to operate a public transport system. It has a mandate to make laws and, if properly overseen, to rebuild and expand the existing infrastructure. Nairobi's laws on public transport are a mess; so too are the laws enforced by the National Transport Safety Authority. There are too many unsafe vehicles posing as PSVs and many PSVs are operated dangerously. If we are to have the public transport system that we believe we are entitled to, our government and government agencies must ensure that the laws under which the system will operate are well-thought out and enforced firmly but fairly.

None of the men and women seeking public office in Nairobi seems to have credible plans or ideas to improve the state of affairs. All of them have made vague proposals about "mass transit" and the number of new large-capacity buses or trams they will buy. They are yet to give us an explanation of what is wrong with the current system and what can be done to improve it. Neither, it seems, are the voters who are demanding "a viable public bus network like yesterday".

 *http://www.ssatp.org/sites/ssatp/files/publications/Presentations/KenyaBusService.pdf

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

High-class perversity

Name-dropping is par for the course for the jet set. Name-dropping the names of the dead is perverse, though. I didn't realise how perverse our ukubwa culture was until I read the tweets of a serial name-dropper who couldn't help but remind us that she was connected to very dead formerly very powerful men.

Kenya's jet set is incestuous and insular; the same small elite group of people know each and have relations only with each other; upstarts and social climbers rarely break into this clique. It is this clique's insularity that blinds them to the perversity of name-checking/name-dropping the dead and gone. In the past, the name-dropping was meant to signal membership in the clique and allowed the one to whom the dropping was directed to confirm the name-dropper's social status. Often, it were new members that had the gauche habit of name-dropping; veteran members knew that it was enough to be invited to the right clubs, the right parties or the right [western] embassy reception.

Kenya's jet set has now been infiltrated by the sullied degenerates of the political classes, rough-hewn and newly monied. These are people whose polish is veneer-thin; a quick swipe with the wet towelette of high class social cachet and the ashy district focus skin beneath is revealed. Few survive their revelation as being members of the village-bicycle set, pretenders to the plush first class recliners of the jet set. Many of them have a narcissistic me-me-me penchant for posting selfies of themselves, chilled wine flutes to hand, reclining victoriously in first class on world class airlines, like Lufthansa or Virgin Atlantic. They often tend to come off as total asses.

The gauche, narcissistic, new-money social climbers seeking a place the social high table are the ones who are likely to remind you of their connection to the dead while affecting a faux emotional facade of sorrow at the memory of the departed. It's usually embarassing to know them; it's even more embarassing for them to know you and to publicly broadcast that they know you. It is downright mortifying when they signal membership in that higher social class they desperately wish to remain a part off when they remind you of their connection to the late great dearly departed. If we are lucky, every last one of them will become rich enough to move to California. Or New York. Or Sicily.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Whom will you rally to?

Evans Kidero or, as I love to call him, Le Kidero, Mike Sonko and, so far as we can tell, Miguna Miguna, all wish to be elected as Nairobi City County's governor on the 8th August. So too, if he carries through with his threat to stand as an independent candidate, does Peter Kenneth, one of the losing presidential candidates of 2013 and a popular former MP representing Murang'a between 2007 and 2013. It seems that Mr Kenneth's masochism knows no bounds; ever since he set his eyes higher than being the popular shark in a Murang'a pond, he has faced nothing but failure. However, it is possible the sting of losing the Jubilation's nomination to Mr Sonko must sting the most painful.

Mr Sonko is not known for the depth of his intellectual rigor. He has a street-smart and colourful approach to political combat. It helped him win a by-election that had been brought about by someone else; essentially, when Mr Sonko became an MP in 2010, he did so after Reuben Ndolo had spent months and boatloads of cash to bring down Dick Wathika. Mr Sonko has a complicated relationship with not just the ruling alliance, but the ruling alliance's leadership, but also some of its most influential thought-leaders. Mr Kenneth was thought to represent at least one half of the alliance's leadership and a large swathe of influential members who backed that half. He was seen as the urbane, suave, civilised and cosmopolitan foil to Mr Sonko's crude, ghettoised, hoi-plloi-sh wrong-side-of-the-tracks persona. Those who voted in the Jubilation's "primaries" pissed all over those plans to keep Mr Sonko in his place.

Mr Kidero has fans in the same way that rotting roadkill attracts swarms of maggots. No matter how much he tries to defend himself or explain himself, Mr Kidero cannot persuade the residents of the City in the Sun that is no longer green that he has done much to satisfy their needs. Indeed, regardless of the preposterousness of the claim, many residents of Nairobi City County miss the erstwhile City Council of Nairobi that, at least, removed the garbage from the streets and, no matter how heavy-handedly, kept the hawkers and street families from the CBD's streets. Instead, Mr Kidero will be remembered with a little hostility for promising first-world solutions but presiding over the sinking of the city in a quagmire of garbage, traffic congestion and the worst water crisis in twenty years. If he gets re-elected, it will not be because of what he has done or what he promises to do but because the other candidates are about as appealing as rusty nails driven through tender feet.

Which brings us to the barrister-solicitor-advocate-poet-author-bench-warmer, Miguna Miguna. He was the first man in Kenya to declare an independent campaign for the governor's office. He has been relentless in reminding Nairobians of his integrity, probity, intellect and accomplishments, though his accomplishments don't seem to have benefited Nairobians or Kenyans that much. He is a man of bombastic combat, certain that he is in the company of intellectual pygmies with a penchant for billion-shillings five-fingered-discounts and pharmaceutical-induced wealth-generation. We are, collectively and individually, unfit to be in his presence or to question the wisdom of his pronouncements. We are to sit in the corner, shut up, bow our heads in respectful silence and See How Things Are Done when he is in charge. Mr Miguna is the saviour we don't know we need but whom his most ardent acolytes know for sure we definitely need. If only we could just open our eyes. VIVA!!!

As usual we are faced with the devil and deep blue sea, rocks and hard places, the devil's we know and the angels we don't. Pick a metaphor. We've had Le Kidero in charge since 2013. Only the blind still believe that if we only gave him a chance, things will get better real soon. Mr Sonko has a long history of acts that raise serious doubts about his judgment or wisdom. Mr Kenneth creates the impression that he is a carpetbagger who will try his luck anywhere and everywhere so long as he his online fan club keeps his hopes up. Mr Miguna is probably trying the Trumpian political version of reverse psychology: the more he insults us the more we will love him and vote for him.

These are the men who claim that they wish to govern Nairobi. No wonder no one is inspired to rally to their banners. Whom will you rally to?

Youth is wasted on the young

Pick a side; stick to it, no matter what. That seems to be the foundation of the Jubilation's twitter army of influenza. It's funnier to think of them as the flu though some flus can and do kill. But when the Jubilation's twitter flu starts supporting patently unintelligible ideas - that twitter posts on the price of milk have real world effects on the price of milk - founded on the cherry-picking of elements of political or economic theory, how else can one view them but as a kind of influenza virus?

Truth, such as it is, is truth and right, such as it is, is right. No amount of mealy-mouthed legalese will make the people accept a bad thing as anything but bad; even when loyalists sing your praises about your virtues and achievements, not even your hubris that demands such praise-singing will hide the truth about your virtues, if they exist, and your achievements, if they ever occurred.

It is an election year and so the Jubilation and the Nasalites have deployed hordes of viruses to massage the news and shape opinion and infect the public space with lies, distortions and the praise-singing of political champions and the virulent castigation of political enemies. The Jubilation has its grubby hands on the levers of power and as the dust settles on the fiasco of its party "primaries", semi-literate acolytes with an internet connection and bank accounts to fill are busy setting the stage for total information and communications control on or before the general elections.

The same asinine argument relied on by the Central bank Governor to explain the straitened circumstances of the Chase Bank is the same one being relied on by the Jubilation's army of pseudo-intellectuals to lead the people towards accepting a decision by the Jubilation to switch off the internet in the name of the greater public good. Desperate politicians with boatloads of cash always seem to surround themselves with youthful men and women with talents to advance political interests that will eventually consume those same youngsters. It happened in 2007 and in 2013. It is happening today. Kenya's political class has mastered the washing-machine cycle of winning elections: wash, rinse, repeat. The playbook has not changed; what evolves is the technology.

We are being prepared for political confusion and, perhaps, political violence. The Nasalites are determined to spread the idea that its constituency is larger than that of the Jubilation by a couple of millions and that nothing has changed since the 2013 contest left the Jubilation in firm control. While the Nasalites' political lineup remains virtually the same, the political football pitch has shifted. The Nasalites continue to field old, tired and morally compromised political warriors against the Jubilation's reincarnation of the KANU of the late 1970s and 1980s that at first refused to accept the mortality of the president and then did everything to perpetuate the stale Soviet gospel that the president has been immortalised in the political philosophy of the day: fuata nyayo!

It is now almost certain that the internet will "fail" and that the mobile networks that have become intertwined in all our dealings will be offline until the "situation is resolved". Court jesters - like those seeing correlations between tweets and milk prices - will perform for the Jubilation. And soon thereafter, just as history reminds us, they will be betrayed. Youth is wasted on the young because it is often stolen for the pleasure of the aged.

They all fall, eventually

The member of the National Assembly for Mumias East is a spectacularly unpleasant character. But he is not unique. A former member of the Na...