Monday, September 18, 2017

They came for the matatu and I did nothing...

The national values and principles of governance include patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, the rule of law, democracy and the participation of the people. -- Article 10 (2) (a)
This is quite easily one of the constitutional principles or values that the executive, both at national and county levels, has found very difficult to apply. The more uncharitable among us would allege that the executive has actively resisted applying this principle, especially when it comes to the making or implementation of public policy as required in Article 232 (1) (d). 

This difficulty or resistance was plain to see in two events with profound impacts on Kenyans: the "ban" imposed by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources on the use of plastic bags and the proposed "ban" by the Governor of Nairobi City County on the entry of PSVs into the Nairobi Central Business District from the 20th September. Neither "ban" was democratic or involved the participation of the people before they were imposed but they have received the buy-in of many Kenyans because of the projected perceived benefits of the "bans".

The plastic bags "ban" is covered extensively in other posts on this blog but only tangentially has the proposed "ban" by the Governor. No one has accused Mike Sonko or his deputy of experience in running a complex institution such as a county government. Mr Igathe, the Governor's deputy, has run big companies and understands, to some extent, how complex systems operate. It is yet to be seen whether his acclaimed corporate credentials will translate into success in a political institution as the county government. Mr Sonko's credentials do not bear repeating -- mostly because, despite his political intelligence, they are non-existent, never mind his recent graduation from university.

Mr Sonko proposes to "solve" Nairobi City's traffic problems by "banning" the entry of PSVs into the CBD. He does so without having consulted the people the "ban" will affect most: those who have to walk longer distances to get to their places of work. Just like the plastic "ban", a group of men who have not used public transport for a decade are purporting to make policy decisions that affect more than three-quarters of the residents of a city they administer without having spoken to the commuters who would be affected. Worse, they have not published their plans for how the "ban" will be effected, whether or not new classes of offences are created by their "ban", what the penalties for contravening the "ban" are, what forms of PSV are exempted from the "ban", what happens to what were once PSV termini, or what steps the county government is taking to ensure that facilities are provided for those who choose to walk or cycle into the CBD.
 
Mr Sonko must have heard the cries of the oppressed private motorist and shop-owner, mercilessly abused by the PSV driver and his crew. He heard their cries and, unlike Pharaoh who hardened his heart, he has bowed to their wishes and banished the hateful matatu out of the CBD for the sake of the peace, safety and sanity of the private motorist and his boon friend, the shop-owner. The fate of the commuter is none of his problem. The fate of the pedestrian and cyclist is none of his problem. A city that has done so much for the private motorist is prepared to bend over backwards for him just one more time.

There is something to be said for "public participation", the nomenclature of "participation of the people". It will not solve all policy challenges but it will offer more options than the pet projects of the Governor or his cronies. It will highlight the difficulties a particular policy s likely to encounter. It will put a face to the humans likely to suffer if their needs are given short shrift. Few of us have any love lost for the Matatu Owners' or Matatu Welfare associations -- Messrs. Kimutai and Mbugua are spectacularly unpleasant men -- but both are legitimate stakeholders in the public transport sector and their decisions affect millions of Nairobians, for good and for ill. Ignoring their input is foolish and refusing to talk to them is asinine. The only people who will suffer will be commuters -- and quips about "keeping fit" are not funny at all.

Kenya's constitution faces probing attacks all the times with many malign actors attempting to weaken or subvert its provisions, especially the Bill of Rights. The film censorship board's chief executive was a particularly egregious actor. His unsophisticated overreaches were refined by the environment minister. The Nairobi governor is just the latest member of the executive to probe how far he an violate the principles of the constitution before he is stopped. Sooner or later, someone serious will go after something more dangerous. If we let Mr Sonko get away with it, we only pave the way for the day the Bill of Rights, nay the Constitution, shall not be worth the paper it is printed on.

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