Thursday, December 20, 2018

The final ossuary

One, apparently, can hire police officers for private bodyguard work and such. This is apparently a legitimate part of their duties as uniformed officers of the law. It says so right there in section 104 of the National Police Service Act, 2011, with the caveat that it has to be for the protection of the public good or public interest. The public interest, as we have discovered in recent months, is quite a fungible thing, with what Okiya Omtata does being the most solid definition of it and everything that mawaziri do being the softest definition, if that be it, of the the thing.

What I didn't know until I was well into adulting was that there is a second, secret service that police officers offered: the hire of firearms issued to individual police officers or armories in police stations. Handcuffs too, it seems, are hired out for private use. But this isn't about police officers and wayward firearms. this is about the utterly asinine decision to issue private security companies with firearms licenses so that their personnel can bear firearms while on duty. 

I don't mean that it is not a good idea to arm watchmen with guns; it probably is, given the number of police guns being used against them whenever the premises they guard are robbed by armed robbers. What I mean is that given Kenya's political history, it is surprising that no one has raised the issue of militias now being converted into private security companies with the object of lawfully acquiring firearms. Since 1992 when even mawaziri were caught transporting everything from simis to bows and arrows to volatile political hotspots, we have known that powerful politicians, keen on retaining their political power, have armed youthful Kenyans with what wazungu derisively refer to as "crude weapons". These youthful Kenyans have often been mobilised in militias, which are activated during especially fraught elections, and deployed to intimidate political rivals if not outright engage in rapine, pillaging and murder. 2017 and 2018 have witnessed their fair share of political violence at the hands of these kinds of militia.

So, for a usually paranoid ministry such as Interior and Co-ordination of National Government, I am shocked that it has not put its foot down and declared that the likes of G4S are not getting guns. Period! The late Nkaissery said "no". The late Michuki said "no". The mercurial Murungaru said "no". Even the laissez faire Ole Lenku said "no". What has changed after a decade and a half that it is now OK to allow private security companies to acquire and keep firearms in large numbers? Has no one considered that it a small hop, step and jump before Kenya's ethnic-cleansing-minded politicians will clean up the image of their militias, apply for (and obtain) registration as private security companies and then apply (and obtain) gun permits? What were once tribal gangs will become legitimate mini-armies. It will not end well. The next round of political blood-letting will not just be bloodier; it will be deadlier. The seeds of civil war that were planted in 2007/2008 will definitely bloom with tragic consequences.

The only people who will come out ahead of this thing will do so because they are the only ones who have ever done well out of these sorts of things. The ordinary Kenyan, Wanjiku, in addition to everything else she has to worry over, will now be forced to contend with roving gangs of (mostly) young men who are armed to the teeth and whose moral compasses have been turned away from True North by the magnetic silky-smooth tongues of pied political pipers. If we are not careful, and we seem not be, the abyss we stared into in 2008 won't stare back, but it shall be the final ossuary of our nation's youths' remains.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

How low have we sunk?

I have never killed anyone. I have never murdered anyone either. (Yes, there is a world of a difference between the two.) I have contemplated the murder of many, many people, dreaming of excruciating ways to prolong their suffering before the coup de grâce. But I have never seriously considered myself capable of murder. Even though my ego is healthy enough to pretend that I would kill in defence of loved ones or myself, I also don't ever wish to be placed in such a situation because I may very well wuss out. As a result of all this, I am not sure I would want to know and be friends with a killer or a murderer.
A few months ago, a young woman was murdered in cold blood. The cause of her murder remains unknown. This not-knowing has led to speculation about whom she knew, how she knew them and who among them was involved in her murder. A man was arrested on the suspicion that he had murdered this young woman. He had been seen with her on the material night. He was known to spend a lot of time with her. He was also famous (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) for the tall stories associated with him: that he was a former mercenary in Afghanistan; that he owned and used numerous firearms; and the like.

This man's account of the night the young woman was murdered implicated his fiancée and her neighbour in the murder of the young woman, on account of an alleged botched robbery (in which he was the victim) that left him nursing a gruesome gunshot wound ad raised more questions than answers. The man, his fiancée and her neighbour (the man was living with his fiancée at the time of the murder, him being unemployed and without any known fixed address) were all arrested, though the neighbour was released when he demonstrated that he had nothing to do with the affairs of the couple.

Both the man and his fiancée were arraigned before a murder court and charged with the murder of that young woman. Neither had shown much remorse during the investigation into the murder, a case that was covered extensively with Kenya's tabloids of record (as well as of the gutter variety). The bail hearings attracted every glory-whore of a defence lawyer worth his salt as well as recently-unemployed government officials with dubious antecedents. Even amid all the hoopla, the couple remained visibly (to my eye, anyway) remorseless. In the four months since the remains of the slain woman were discovered, the couple at the heart of the case have not even once expressed shame or remorse for the death. Not once.

Their friends have come to their rescue on numerous occasions. The woman's employer has gone on record to affirm their faith in her character, even after witnessing the inconsistencies in her story on the night that the murder took place. Despite his financially straitened circumstances, the man continues to enjoy the services of very expensive defence lawyers raising the interesting question as to whom the bill of costs will be sent.
In typical Kenyan fashion, we have forgotten about the murder and are now caught up in the drama surrounding the tabloidised lives of this couple. We are reminded of their humanity as they canoodle in front of cameras while appearing before murder judges. We are asked to empathise with them for the suffering they are undergoing - psychological and physical - as a result of the unfair way they are being treated because of their mere connection with the murder. In the Christmas spirit, a whisper campaign has been initiated to remind us that they are young and have long, bright futures, if only we could show a bit of Jesus-like mercy. Indeed, someone has already raised the bar to a typically high Kenyan standard: the woman has all it takes to make an excellent woman parliamentarian, county notwithstanding.

As this particular murder trial wends its way to a verdict, it is time we reflected on whether our humanity has finally been debased enough that alleged murderers have become the stuff of real life telenovela romances to which we shall pay undivided, lustful attention. We have sunk so very low. How low, I cannot tell. Can you?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Change or resign

The problem of underage pregnancies must not be viewed as a burden of the ministry of education alone.- Cabinet Secretary for Education, 19th November 2018
Why is this person in charge of the policy on education, the implementation of that policy, and the machinery of government responsible for the care and protection of children while in school? I listened with anger as the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Kenya national Examinations Council and the secretary to the Teachers Service Commission carry on from where their Cabinet Secretary had left off, laying the blame for child parents on their parents and on the children themselves. I ask once again: why are these people in charge?

Government and faith-based organisations, notably the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church of Kenya, joined hands in the 1990s to fundamentally alter how children would be educated about sex. This has had profound consequences in the twenty-first century Information Age. Coupled with senior Government officials zealous pursuing conservative USA religious agendas that deny young people relevant information about sex, two generations of Kenyans, well into their adulthood, do not understand what sex is and how to deal with all the difficult questions associated with sex. As a result, not only are we witnessing a surge in child parentage, we are also witnessing a resurgence of HIV/AIDS among young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, increasing cases of sexual harassment and assault, and rising cases of pregnancy and birth-related complications, including poorly performed terminations of pregnancies. In my opinion, we can trace a large portion of these problems to the ministry of education's capitulation to ideas, ideologies and political pressures that have handicapped young people in their education about sex.

The motto "education is power" is especially relevant to comprehensive sex education. The USA religious ideology of "abstinence-only" sex education has failed wherever it has been tried. It defines sex education with a view to its understanding in the 1980s or 1990s, and fails to account for the evolution of gender dynamics, cultures, social mores and other concepts such as affirmative and passive consent that have redefined how we situate sex in broader social issues. The Cabinet Secretary and her senior bureaucrats are clinging to ideologies that offer little help to our children in the twenty-first century.

The principal institutions that have the greatest impact on children are the family and the education system, primarily schools. Everyone acknowledges that parents are spending fewer and fewer quality hours with their children these days, leaving teachers, peers, young adults, mass media and social media to provide guidance on issues as old as time. Social media, and the internet in general, and mass media have, for the most part, distorted the sex into grotesque proportions, failing to provide information that, at the very least, empowers children and young adults to make healthy and safer choices. Schools, and teachers, have the best opportunity of helping children determine what is healthy and safe by sifting through the images portrayed on TV and Instagram and identifying unhealthy, unsafe and self-destructive tropes that often prove attractive to naive and ill-informed children.

Of course we realise that the blame does not lie with the ministry of education alone, but the fact that it has washed its hands of the debate, that it has refused or failed to push back against policies that have done more harm than good, places the bulk of the blame on the ministry. Ms Mohamed, Prof Magoha and Dr Macharia continue to do our children a great disservice by failing to address the dearth of relevant information required by our children when it comes to sex or adamantly refusing to consider policies that would ameliorate the life risks teenage parenting engender for child parents in the long term. For instance, there is no justifiable reason why supplementary national examinations cannot be organised for children who were out of school when the annual examinations are written by their colleagues. My preference would be for the abolition of national examinations altogether, but in the immediate term, it is manifestly unfair not only to place the burden of child pregnancy on the children and their parents alone, but also to deny them some sort of comfort that a supplementary examination would offer if it were administered in February or March of the following year.

We keep claiming that children are our future. The Children Act's entire ethos is built around the ethos of the "best interests of the child". Heck, Article 53 of the Constitution is exclusively about the child and the protection of the child. Ms Mohamed, Prof Magoha and Dr Macharia don't seem to realise this. They should either resign their offices or change their attitudes.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Signs

One of our one-percenters was flying into the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and she snapped a photo of all the land that lay undeveloped along the glide path of her plane. In typically Kenyan fashion, our one-percenter had this to say,
"Excellent landing & service @KenyaAirways as we returned from SA. I pondered as I captured the approach on the 'idle land' around the capital @UKenyatta @Sonko Lets build 'decanting sites' on unutilised land to deliver #AgendaHousingKe"
It's typically Kenyan to have an epiphany that almost always calls for A Simple Solution. Our one-percenter epitomises the tyranny under which Kenyans have suffered for decades. Nairobi has a housing shortage. Nairobi and its environs have "idle" land. Therefore, build on that idle land and the housing shortage will disappear. The nitty-gritty of public policy that underpins all successful public programmes isn't even hinted at. Instead, we are reminded again and again that world class cities like New York, London, Seoul, Tokyo, Mumbai and Buenos Aires have no idle land near any of their major civilian airports, as if Nairobi can measure up to these cities in terms of even the most basic of services for the vast majority of its residents who are overwhelmingly not one-percenters.

We have witnessed how harrowing lives can be made when policies are made, imposed and implemented without proper planning. Devolution of public health services(save for those services offered by national referral hospitals) comes to mind. A combination of factors have contributed mightily to the disaster unfolding in delivery of public health services. The resistance from ministry mandarins loath to give up their power to the chicanery of ministers, their loyal underlings and the satellite of buzzards they all seem to attract has led to one public health disaster to another culminating in the employment, at exorbitant public expense, foreign doctors to serve hard-struck Kenyans.

If the same cavalier attitude is brought to "affordable" housing, a "development" sector that is synonymous with grand corruption, "decanting sites" will become permanent "informal" settlements and whatever plan there might have been to ensure that as many Kenyans afford decent housing will go up in the same puff of smoke that "mobile clinics" went up in.

It is, of course, the responsibility of elected representatives to highlight public policy issues that appear to have been given short shrift by members of the executive. It is not the responsibility of elected representatives to become cheerleaders for every cockamamie scheme to finagle ever more billions from the national treasury at the people's expense. It has been more than a year since our one-percenter made it to the National Assembly. Her tenure is notable for her social media presence. It is, though, devoid of any tangible successes, programmes or policy proposals. She is not the only one. If the future mother-of-all-scams, #AgendaHousingKe", gets off the ground because she and her parliamentary colleagues were busy fantasising about "decanting sites" on "idle" land, you can't say that you didn't see the signs.

Enough!

Ministers of faith are some of the most bigoted, hateful, moralistic sadists in the universe. And that too knowing that the gods they tend to represent here on Earth are bigoted, hateful, moralistic sadists of note. Every now and then, ministers of faith remind us why the enormous non-statutory power they wield should be taken away once and for all.

This past weekend, a couple that wished to enter the institution of marriage with their eyes wide open had the wind taken out of their sails by an excrementally, monumentally cruel minister of faith. Now, some have argued that when the couple settled for that particular minister of faith, they should have known that when one licks honey from a rose bush, there will be good parts and there will be bad parts and they should have been prepared for all eventualities, as Kenyans are wont to say. However, by all accounts, the happy-till-then couple had complied with the long list of demands the minister of faith had made before officiating at their happy day. They had no way of knowing that caprice would cast a dark cloud over their union and that the minister of faith's pique would not only make their union memorable for all the wrong reasons, but also because of the enormous time and expense that were wasted to indulge his massive ego.

Of course, as is their wont, Kenyans on Twitter were quick to point out two significant statutory mistakes that the minister of faith made: first, he insisted that the couple must undertake an HIV/AIDS test before he could officiate at their wedding. Second, he insisted that he should be notified when they had complied with his demand. By making both demands, the minister of faith committed an offence as set out in section 13 of the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, 2006, which not only make it an offence to compel any person to undertake an HIV/AIDS test but also to use an HIV/AIDS test as a precondition for marriage. What I am 99.99% confident of is that the minister of faith will not be arraigned before any court of law any time soon. Moreover, he will also receive the raucously vocal support of fellow men and women of the cloth insisting that faith-based organisations of Kenya shall continue to play their role in preventing and controlling the spread of HIV and AIDS which, in their circles, have retained the moral-stained stigma against HIV and AIDS that made the disease so difficult to deal with in its early years.
 
We must come to terms with the enormous powers we have granted various social, cultural and statutory institutions because the more powers we grant these institutions, the less free we become, the more oppressed we are. In the dark days of colonial conquest, the colonialist's religion was an excellent tool for the pacification of the indigenous peoples, erasing their cultures and mores, demolishing their social, cultural and political institutions, and imposing the edifices of colonialism that have stood the test of time, with indigenous homeguards being more colonialist than the colonialist himself. None are more colonialist that the colonialist than ministers of faith, who have resisted time and tide as the world around them has evolved beyond their wildest fantasies.
 
This power must be broken before it succeeds in the never-ended colonial endeavour to break us as humans, as a people, as a community. The minister of faith, with his vindictive paternalism, is an example of the kind of power that we must break, break with and break away from. One of the ways we can do so is to prosecute him for his offences. The HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, 2006 is one weapon we can wield against this execrable human as a warning to the rest of the bigots on his side that we shall no longer cower before a man who claims friendship with powerful imaginary friends and attempts to order our lives even to the most intimate and personal degree. It is time we said, "BASTA!"

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Men, really, are trash

One day, we were walking up Muindi Mbingu Street past City Market. She preferred walking on the road, dodging motor vehicles. I though that it was mad to do so. I didn't understand that her risk threshold would be breached if she walked on the pavement. Because I am a man and men don't know jack shit about what it takes for any woman to walk in these here streets of Nairobi.

I have never been catcalled, insulted, groped, assaulted, commented upon or, generally, harassed for walking while male in Nairobi. She has. Dozens upon dozens of times. And given how much of the available pavement space has been commandeered by "hawkers" and beggars, and the ever-rising population of pedestrians, she has been on the receiving end of a stream of harassment that I will never, ever experience. So it makes sense for her to walk on the road, dodging matatus, private cars, the occasional parking boy and glue-sniffing, shit-slinging chokora. The risk of getting run down by a motorist is preferable to the harassment that has, in the past, escalated to outright violence.

We have called for a better design for non-motorised transport in Nairobi but because the decisions are made by men who will never experience what women experience on the daily, it is almost certain that change will not come any time soon. Public architecture and civil engineering in Nairobi is predominantly driven by how the world is seen by men and because of it, women pay a heavy price - including being unfairly judged as being reckless when traversing Nairobi's streets and dodging its unhinged population of motorists that seem hellbent in violating even the unread bits of the Traffic Act.

Well, no more! I will not stand in judgment when I see women take risks to avoid being harassed and assaulted on our crowded city pavements. I will, instead, do my bit to push those that make policy, design and build public spaces to take into account the needs of women. Between the aggressively wandering hands of men and the diesel-belching Rukagina Sacco behemoths of Ronald Ngala Street, I now have a slight inkling of why women prefer the latter. Men, really, are trash

Monday, November 05, 2018

Rigged against them all

The national examinations system is designed to bring out the worst instincts among Kenyans regardless of their age, academic status or station in life. The public education system is designed to encourage the basest instincts among Kenyans. The combination of the two - the education system and the examinations system - are a cocktail that brings tragedy to may families in predictable ways.
Last weeks, hundreds of thousands of teenagers sat for their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations in the presence of armed and uniformed police officers, one more reason to remember that the Government of Kenya really does not understand anything to do with the rights of the child enshrined in the Constitution, the Children Act or the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was also reported that dozens of children preparing to sit, or sitting, for the examinations did so immediately after they had given birth, further proof that not only doesn't the Government not understand anything to do with the rights of the child but that it does not actually care to protect the rights of the children of Kenya. I am almost certain that the same will be witnessed in the next three weeks as children undertake the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations.

If you intend to undertake a degree at any university in Kenya, you must attain a certain academic grade in your basic education. The most recognised entry examination to universities in Kenya is the KCSE, though international equivalents are offered such as the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE by many private learning institutions. The KCSE is only offered once a year; if you do not obtain the minimum grade, you must wait a whole year to sit for the exam afresh. There are no equivalency examinations offered by Government: the KCSE is the be all and end all of university-entry examinations.As such, it offers rent-seekers great opportunities to suborn and subvert it, and further the corruption of the soul of the nation.

From the moment a child is enrolled in Standard 1 in a public school, the road leads first to a "national" school and, from the successful few, to a "good" public university (state-owned and state-supported university), of which the premier ones are the University of Nairobi, the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agricultural Technology and the Kenyatta University, though their glory days have receded quite far into the past for anyone to seriously consider them the elite of the elite anymore. (In my opinion, why anyone would willingly subject themselves to the academic ministrations of Moi University or Pwani University defeats logic at a visceral level.) For the few with dollops of donor-dollars (or the local equivalent, tenderpreneurship-fuelled dollars), all roads lead to Strathmore University. But I digress.

If your talent lies in athletics, or the visual or performing arts, a reasonable KCSE grade will allow you to leave secondary school without being scorned and may relieve you, more often than not, of the burden of a university degree. The disciplined services will always hanker after the former while Kenya's budding art scene offers opportunities for the latter. But if your destiny is a white-collar job with a well-paying employer, a university degree is de rigueur and a post-graduate degree inestimably helpful. The numbers of those seeking white-collar success (and the respect it seemingly brings with it) have been increasing by multiples of factors for decades. So have the academic buccaneers hell-bent on turning the screws to the desperate and earning a fast shilling with the conscience of a sicario.

One of the ways I believe we can ameliorate the situation is for Government to offer the KCPE and the KCSE more than one once in a year - three times, in my opinion, would be extremely helpful. This would offer those wishing to re-sit the exams immediate opportunities to improve their last grade. It would also excuse new parents from having to juggle the emotional, psychological and physiological aftermath of childbirth with the emotionally-draining once-and-for-all national exam pressures that few teenagers are well-equipped to handle. Finally, it would finally force Governemnt to re-think its entire approach to the use of examinations to determine the overall level of learning of young persons and, I hope, instead, offer new ways of educating our children and offering them opportunities for their future that are not tied so tightly to a certificate that has been hijacked by a well-connected few.
In my estimation, the last three education ministers (including the incumbent) never understood what it takes to improve an education system. All they obsessed over were overall KCSE and KCPE grades and the the reduction of cheating in national examinations at all costs. The new curriculum being pioneered in the teeth of opposition from well-informed and qualified educators and the now-complete militarisation of national exams continue to remind us that men and women with a police mindset are always ill-suited to the task of the education of the young - they will always see total obedience and good grades as national goals to be pursued to the total exclusion of reason or the welfare of the children their policies affect.

I fear that incumbent education minister and her predecessors have laid the foundation for two generations of lost children who will be more easily pliable in the un-soft hands of a carceral state hell-bent on cheating the people out of their natural endowments. It will all end in the utter ruination of the people.

Eulogy for the rule of law

According to google, a "habit" means "a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up". We know that habits can be either good or bad. One of the worst habits we have as Kenyans is the casual manner in which we eschew rules, regulations and petty laws, like the Traffic Act and its regulations. Our bad habits on the road are a symptom of our wider disregard for the dozens upon dozens of statutory and non-statutory rules that order our lives, the aim being to cut corners and shorten deadlines in order to get ahead at the expense of everyone else.

On this Monday's commute, the sum total of our bad habits were in stark relief: long, impatient queues of commuters (where commuters tend to queue) awaiting scarce PSVs and, rather ironically given the scarce PSVs, incredible traffic jams into Nairobi's CBD. PSVs, epitomised by matatus (and the latest matatu iteration, nganyas) have for long faced the brunt of public opprobrium for all that is wrong with road behaviour. In the eyes of seemingly right thinking members of society, matatus are loud, noisy, reckless, extortionate, inconsiderate, dangerous and rude. In sum, matatu culture is the entirety of all the bad habits of matatu operators going back to the day matatus were, in effect, given a free hand to operate in Nairobi.

The antidote to our bad habits on the road, so the nascent fascists in our government (and their boosters in the private sector) would have you believe, were the Michuki Rules, named after the ex-colonial-era provincial administration martinet, the late John Michuki, a former minister of transport, who through sheer will and a ruthless streak, imposed a set of rules that, for a time anyway, made commuting less dangerous and less riddled with bad habits. The late Mr Michuki's rules weren't so much the inculcation of good habits among Nairobi's or Kenya's thousands of drivers and motorists, as they were the imposition of one man's vision of "discipline, in which disproportionate punishments would be imposed on anyone who defied any of the petty new rules made by the man.

An example will suffice. When the Kenya Bus Service was the preferred form of transport for Nairobi's commuters in the 1980s, the design of the buses was simple: two does, front and back, simple seats and enough capacity for standing commuters. KBS buses were not speedily driven and, therefore, did not need seatbelts for seated commuters. Because of the buses's timetables, the buses rarely carried commuters to excess outside of rush hour. Matatus, on the other hand, unconstrained by KBS's terms of its contract with the City Council of Nairobi, hell-bent on turning a fast shilling as quickly as possible, were smaller, were almost always overloaded, were almost always driven with a certain degree of reckless derring-do that appealed to rebellious youth, and almost always ended in tragedy. The "square" commuters who preferred KBS to matatus never had to worry about getting to work on time in relative safety. The "hip" users of matatus knew well enough to keep a watchful eye of the crew they were with and the state of the matatu they rode in. In 2018 the entire PSV sector is a matatu sector; KBS's spiritual successors are no more, not even KBS's actual successor, the KBS Management Services Company Limited.

More and more commuters and PSV operators eschewed the rules that kept everything on an even keel with the individualised desire to get ahead at all costs. The late Mr Michuki treated the symptoms of the disease, not its causes, which were legion. For twenty-four years, government officials had eroded the general respect of the law, enervating public institutions, encouraging petty acts of impunity, ignoring the tenets of decency and courtesy, and celebrating short cuts and quick fixes. In 2018, we are witness to a legacy of chicanery from the highest echelons of public life to the most private aspects of individual behaviour. The latest crackdown on traffic impunity will not last so long as we do not admit to ourselves that the  problem is not the written laws of the state but that our individual and institutional commitment to upholding the rule of law at all times is honoured more in the breach. If we are to succeed, the majority must develop good habits while the minority of scofflaws are shunned or, where they are incorrigible, punished. In other words, most of us must obey the common rules of courteous and decent behaviour, and eschew short cuts and quick fixes. The late Mr Michuki was not public transport's saviour. He was the bell tolling at the march of time marking our fall from grace. His rules were dirge at the funeral of what once was. His rules were the eulogy for the rule of law.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Looking for a legacy

When I was in Standard 3 at Rabai Road primary School, Peter Oloo Aringo was the Minister of Education (this is before we switched prepositions, so bear with me), and Kenya had entered the uncharted waters of Bretton-Woods-prescribed Structural Adjustment Programmes. The expression "cost-sharing", which I didn't understand and still don't, entered the national discourse and my father was told to part with money so that City Hall could build a workshop at Rabai Primary School. The workshop was duly built and when I was in Standard 7 and 8, I spent many, many happy hours in it sawing, planing, sanding and hammering various bits of wood into creations that gave great, great pleasure.

Baba Moi was getting into the swing of things at Harambee House, sprinkling the public service with his favoured political pets, many in high offices where policies were made, unmade and ignored. Few Kenyans appreciated the effect of Baba Moi's version of structural adjustment and few could foresee just how bad things would get by the time Mzee was being given the rudest send-off at the relatively peaceful end of his presidency. What I do remember, even in the midst of the rapid-fire changes, is that all waziris and their senior-most mandarins were driven about in Peugeot 504s, even the Vice-President, the flashiest French import we had at the time.

Not even Mzee saw the political virtues of zipping about in helicopters and a fleet of V8 VXs (though, to be fair to the modern-day waheshimiwa, he didn't need to when Voice of Kenya spent 25 of its allotted 30 minutes singing his praises in increasingly unsubtle ways at 1:00pm, 4:00pm, 6:00pm, 7:00pm and 9:00pm. Things were predictable. My workshop was built because Baba Moi decreed that it should be built.

Mzee didn't make promises often. Which comes as a bit of a surprise when I think about it. He almost always directed something to be done and the machinery of Government swung into action. He decreed free milk and soon enough, KCC lorries were delivering orange tetrapaks of Maziwa ya Nyayo. His successors have been mightily unlucky. They couldn't decree anything without appearing foolish. It is why the wonkish Kibaki delegated the arm-twisting and head-knocking to the likes of John Michuki, Chris Murungaru and Martha Karua or charm offensives to the like of the sharp-as-a-tack Mutula Kilonzo and scandal-prone Masaa-ni-ya-Mama Charity Ngilu. Baks's successor doesn't even have a Michuki in his corner; the hard-charging Matiang'i will one day prove to be the millstone that sinks his "legacy" for all eternity.

Mzee may have bankrupted the nation, morally, politically and fiscally, but when you see him lifting rocks above his head in some rural backwater as his Government fights to reverse mmonyoko wa udongo, you remember that the gabions kept your farmhouse from being washed away one more time by raging waters and mud. When you see him set his head back and laugh uproariously at the antics of the Vitimbi cast during some public holiday at the Nyayo National Stadium, you realise that he didn't crush everything underneath his heel. But try as you might, you can't summon the same sense of occasion when you remember Baks's "superhighway" or his successor's "SGR". Instead, it is relentless torrent of bad and worse news connected to the filching of many, many billions that boggle the mind.

Mzee suppressed and oppressed and, ironically, because of his heavy hand, Kenyans and Kenyan communities had a sense of pride when one of their children stood up to him. We feared him. And we suffered for it. But we never held him in contempt even when morally dubious stories about him were whispered in bars and funerals. No one feared Baks. No one fears his successor. Baks has the respect of economists because he managed a minor miracle with the economy, even if he cocked it up in the end. But his successor? Moi gave me a workshop. Baks gave me the opportunity to say mean things about the president without fearing that I would find my gonads in a vice. This one is looking for a "legacy". I fear that he will be unluckiest of them all.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Pufferies of the self-absorbed

"Sometimes though, I get the feeling that we are our own worst enemies. When everything seems to be going well for us, we scatter all to the four winds...The latest example is the call by Kenya Airways crew to go on strike, just as the country was jubilating that a journey of 10 years — for a direct flight to the United States — has come to an end." - nation.co.ke
Have you dreamed of travelling to the USA directly from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport? have you ever thought that, as a national priority, flying directly to the USA came before universal and comprehensive free basic education or an efficient, effective and affordable public healthcare system? When you think of Kenya, do you liken it to other brands like Coca-cola, Blue Band or pornhub.com?

There are many things that are going right with Kenya. Despite the best efforts of the ruling elite, more and more Kenyans are speaking out about the things that matter to the people. Though it may not seem like it, every single Okiya Omtata litigation victory is a good thing; it is among the many ways that Kenyans are building a rule-of-law judicial system.

Despite these, and many other, positive steps, we must also stare the truth in its face: Kenya has a long way to go to shrug off the corruption, tribalism and poverty that stalks the lives of millions of Kenyans. For Kenya Airways, perhaps, direct flights to the USA may prove the tonic needed for it to unwind its ruinous fiscal circumstances but a lifetime of lessons about the false promise of foreign markets tempers our expectations about the chances of a minnow like KQ in the vast, shark-filled ocean of global aviation in which it has floundered again and again and again.

For KQ's boosters to ignore that the company has been consistently and ruinously managed by its succession of politically-appointed managers, and the deleterious impacts of these managers' decisions on the rank-and-file of the company, is to live in an elite bubble of stupefying obscurity. Since the turn of the century, KQ has struggled to do right by its employees even though its managers (and directors) have almost always made off like bandits. The latest threat to strike is not the first and bar some Eastern European miracle, it shall not be last. Instead of captains of industry wringing their hands in despair at the selfishness of KQ's employees, perhaps it is time they started asking the serious questions about the roles of a few robber-barons in the c-suites of the national flag carrier.

Do not hide behind jingoism. I can guarantee, even without the benefit of an opinion poll, that the vast majority of Kenyans don't care all that much about KQ's direct flights to New York. But many of them will feel the righteousness of the demands by KQ employees because many of them are in the same straitened circumstances. The ranks of the poor, the unemployed and those living hand-to-mouth are increasing while the foreign bank accounts of the movers and the shakers continue to fatten. Kenyans will celebrate and jubilate only when they can hold their heads high with pride because they are no longer ashamed of looking their loved ones in the eye because they can't put three square ones on the table every day. International connections are well and good but unless they guarantee decent wages and personal well-being, they are merely the pufferies of the self-absorbed elitist windbags.

The kumira-kumira era is no improvement

Maybe it was intended to troll those Kenyans who had been uncharitable about her qualifications to manage one of Kenya's most important sectors. Maybe. When the Cabinet Secretary for Education declared that her ministry would not allow national exam candidates to be "disturbed" by "prayer days" or "visitors", which would also serve the goal of preventing examinations cheating, I thought that maybe she had forgotten what her role was supposed to be. But it became immediately clear that she was dead serious when the President (and commander-in-chief of the Kenya Defence Forces) declared with deadpan seriousness that if a national exam candidate was caught cheating, not only would Government throw the book at him, Government would also revoke the candidate's parents' examination certificates.

The Cabinet Secretary and the President, treading the same path as the immediate former Cabinet Secretary, who now happens to be in charge of the State policing and intelligence machinery, have come to the simple conclusion that the only way to measure educational attainment is by maximising the number of children who sit and pass national exams - and minimising, if not eliminating, the number of children who successfully get away with cheating. If it means jailing children, well, hey, now that we have converted Kenya's prisons into commercial enterprises, they will never want for semi-educated workers, will they?

The prosperity gospel favoured by Christian ministers of faith patronised by many of Kenya's political classes has become a national faith, if not religion. Every public institution is exhorted, with the silent acquiescence of public institutions of conscience, to "maximise revenues" in the light of increasing public debt ( and a ballooning public wage bill). While Government decreed "free" basic education in Government-funded schools on the one hand, it turned the Kenya Prisons service into a commercial enterprise intended to compete with the private sector in agriculture, furniture and handicrafts, and, of course, real estate development. Everything we now do, as a people and as a country, is measured down to the last cent. The results have been stark.

Back when we were a KANU dictatorship, before the Bretton-Woods assassins stuck stilettos in our collective rib-cage, we may have been poor and under the yoke of a fascist ethnic criminal enterprise (from which its victims are still recovering), but we not saddled with an unsustainable public debt that had largely been sequestered in Indian Ocean tax havens of ill repute without a hope of ever being recovered. The KANU mafia had stolen billions but not even them had had the balls to turn public debt into private profit on the scale it has been today. The creeping privatisation of the public service - prisons are just the latest step - is taking on a life of its own and consuming institutions that require the greatest care and protection such as public basic education and public primary healthcare services. The fate of the nation hangs in the balance yet the Cabinet Secretary is determined to provide a path to incarceration for as many young Kenyans as she can - unless they all toe the party line and do as they are told without question or challenge.

Much of what made Kenyans Kenyan is being steamrolled into conformity by the I-know-best attitude of the CS and her Cabinet colleagues and private sector enablers. When you think of the performing arts, benga and rumba, stage plays and poetry, public intellectualism and dissenting public opinion, the way was not lit by the shining lamps of the KANU-ya-jenga-nchi chants, but by the underground streams of protest that refused to be held back, official opprobrium notwithstanding. But with the rise of KANU and KANU-lite apparatchiks, using modern tools of suppression and for shaping public opinion, such as Ezekiel Caesar, the national finger-wagging this-is-un-Kenyan scold, old school performing arts are being suppressed, repressed and erased. And it is being replaced by milquetoast pap designed to pacify, stupefy and terrify while the national treasury is emptied of its last cent and the national silver is bartered to the highest bidder.  No one wants to return to the KANU-ni-baba-na-mama days but make no mistake, the only ones who think that the kumira-kumira era is an improvement are the ones with their twenty fat little fingers and toes in the national cookie jar.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Put the people first

An enduring image of Kenyan Government officials whenever they appear at a public event is grey-haired men and matronly women arrayed behind cloth-covered tables, dozens of bottles of water or fresh drinks within reach, under a tent or a covered dais - and the wananchi standing in front of them - or seated on the bare ground - in the open air, whether the weather is inclement or not - and hawkers offering them refreshments at a steep markup, especially for those not foresighted enough to bring their own bottled water or soft drink. The image is always of the watu wakubwa behind an impenetrable, protected barrier and the umma with their noses pressed hard in the window hoping for a glance of power and its trappings.

It is why the image of Gov Kivutha Kibwana on one knee at some ECD event is so shocking, especially remembering he was a Kibaki-Government Minister who at times let ministerial power overwhelm him leading to ridiculous actions. It is also why it is not surprising to see Gov John Lonyangapuo sitting, with his mawaziri, at another ECD event while the children on whose behalf the even was t be held, are either standing or sitting in the dirt. Mr Lonyangapuo is a died-in-the-wool serikali type. Mr Kibwana hopes to shatter the barrier between serikali and the people it serves.

It still shocks my visitors that when they knock and enter, I will stand up from my desk, come round and shake them by the hand - even when I have royally screwed them over regarding their needs. But I see no benefit in treating them as little people when their needs, if addressed, will make things better all around for their underlings, their friends, their families and the like. I can't offer them tea - I don't have a catering allowance - but I will take my time to listen and understand their needs, I will take written notes, and I will ask questions to clarify their points. I will not tell them what to do but offer them advise on how to best solve whatever problem brought them to my office. Most don't notice the effort and that is fine - I still have a salary for doing my job. But the ones who do are discombobulated because in the same building - hell, the same floor - the ukubwa syndrome will leave them with tonnes of anxiety and great feeling of disrespect.

The still-stalled prosecution of the deputy chief justice, the ongoing prosecution of Gov Sospeter Ojaamong and the impending murder trial of Gov Okoth Obado have revealed the deep roots of the ukubwa syndrome in Kenya. Government, in all its manifestations, still resists the centering of people in the manner that it conducts its affairs. The people are to be seen and not to be heard. Government will tell them what they need - and they will like it come hell or high water. When Government does something wrong - when governors steal or commit murder - the people must wait for Government to decide whether or not to investigate the offence, arrest the offenders, try them in courts of law, convict and sentence them, and jail them for their crimes. Th people's vies are not important; the "impact on Government operations" is the be all and end all of it.

Centering humans in public service is the first step to cracking this nut of impunity. Put people at the heart of the work of Government, the actions of Government, the behaviour of Government, and the crimes of Government. If people are the focus, then how the people are affected is vital to designing Government and Government processes. So what of Gov Anne Waiguru wishes for the EACC to "clear" her name over NYS Season 1? Will her cleared name benefit the people? If not, then her fulminations are unimportant - nay, irrelevant. So what that Gov Obado slept on the floor and ate sukuma wiki? Would an a'la carte menu from the Kempinski have benefitted the alleged victims of his crimes? If not, akule mboga na awache kisirani ndogo ndogo.

Gov Kibwana may yet end up as the the exception that proves the rule but so far, in his second incarnation as governor, and the culmination of a long public service career, he has taken humility to depths never seen before by any other public officer. Humility almost always presumes that other people's feelings, needs, experiences, and the like are more important than ones own. Gov Waiguru and the rest of her odious class simply don't think about the people as humans but as targets of political activity, sources of public revenue, victims of Government action and worshipful beneficiaries of Government largesse. They are wrong, of course, and soon enough, Gov Ojamoong and his perfidious colleagues will be out on their ears - for good - and the new Kibwanas will be in charge. That, anyway, is my hope.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Putting the genie back

When I was a child in primary school, I partook of Maziwa ya Nyayo - and loved every cold liquid ounce of it. After all, I was one of the watoto wa Nyayo. I even took part in the 10 Years of Nyayo Era celebrations in 1988 when thousands of children from across the country paraded in splendid colours at the Moi International Sports Stadium in Kasarani. There's photographic evidence of me in my colourful athletic attire somewhere in mum's house. We loved the whole of the experience, especially when we went away to camp at the Kenya Teachers Technical Training College in Gigiri.

Back then, when it was Voice of Kenya and not the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, everything was about Nyayo. He was a constant, reassuring presence. When he urged us to slow down mmonyoko wa udongo by building gabions, he turned up in person to throw in his share of rocks into the soil erosion preventing walls. When he asked us to be good Christians to one another, he did so by praying with us in our churches every Sunday without fail, bible in hand. Nyayo was Moi and Moi was Nyayo.

But even as a child, I knew well enough to be afraid of him and everything about him. You could see it by how even small children knew who in Buru Buru was the "Special Branch" guy among the three that roasted maize by the side of the road. You knew well enough not to say anything bad about Nyayo when in school. You were constantly conscious of the fear that pervaded everything your father did when he went to the office or drove us to shags over the holidays. Nyayo was benevolent most of the time and ruthless whenever it suited his needs. All the Maziwa ya Nyayo in the country couldn't erase the fact that even children knew enough to fear Baba wa Taifa.

I didn't really appreciate how schizophrenic Kenya was until I went to India. Vast, multi-cultural, multilingual and vibrantly, chaotically, loudly, exuberantly democratic, it was an amazing place to learn about dissent, discourse, democracy and politics. I stayed for a long time. I couldn't believe that actual communists won popular elections. Or that many minority communities enjoyed constitutional job quotas in government. It didn't come as a shock that some dissent in India was violent, in which decades of violence had led great misery and death, but that it had stopped intellectuals, artists, novelists and musicians from telling their side of the story. I found it astonishing that the Supreme Court of India had decreed that a state of emergency was unconstitutional, leading to the fall of a government and the jailing of the prime minister. More astonishingly, she had rebounded, and reclaimed her position in the party and in government.

Coming back home three years after Yote yawezekana bila MOI!, I was confronted by the spectre of the Nyayo Era where we would go out of our way to avoid embarassing Government and all its minions, factotums, nawabs and Brahmins. Even Mwai Kibaki's laid back, reticent style didn't hide the fear that still pervaded every facet of our lives. It is why the initial exuberance built on free speech was no longer there. There were many more new subjects which we could publicly explore - including the competence or otherwise of our president - but to suggest that we had to fundamentally reform how we were governed, policed, educated, treated, transported, or informed, were bridges too far. Today, more and more subjects are being effectively outlawed. Moi-ism is creeping back. You can see it in the intensity, and opacity, of the second Kenyatta succession. What we can and cannot say about it is now measured by how many people are afraid to even broach the subject in public, among strangers. The schizophrenia is back.
 
In India, it was clear what a democracy looked like and what a money-focused machine required. In India, even odious politicians needed to sell their politics in the market of political ideas. The most persuasive, not necessarily the best, won. Next door in China, the party is the state and the state is the party and what the state wants is total submission to its will, even among its highest ranking apparatchiks. It is why when one steps out of line, challenges the party's received wisdom, one is punished together with his family, friends and known or suspected associates. So it is no surprise that the Chinese way finds favour with those hell-bent on re-imposing the Nyayo philosophy. They are working overtime to put the post-Moi genie back in the bottle. I will not put it past them to succeed. I really wouldn't.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

We are human

Most Kenyan adults are not infant-like. They are sensible women and a few men. They hold down, tenuously sometimes, gainful employment. They pay, if their incomes warrant it, their taxes. The found families. They are respected members of the community, for the most part. Few of them still have the child-like curious wonder that leads them to foolhardy stunts like attempting to pet lions or hand-feed buffaloes in the wild. They are, in other words, sensible people who keep a healthy distance from wildlife and don't allow child-like exuberance to lead them to ruination.

The Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife is not one of those sensible Kenyans. He allows fits of pique to guide his tongue. And when his tongue is lubricated by high dudgeon, he lets slip the mask that Kenyan nawabs wear to hide their incivility, their hubris, their boys'-club mta-do-ness. The CS, every now and and then, is a manifestation of the contempt he and his colleagues hold other Kenyans. You can almost hear them doing everything in their power to suppress their innate desires to use terms such as "serf" to describe their fellowman.

It must chomp his butt that Kenya, officially anyway, is a democratic republic in which citizens' rights are protected by the Constitution including the freedom to demand that senior civil servants, like CSs, should be held to account for their acts of omission, commission and stupidity. For decades now it has been impossible to get a word in edgewise whenever questions of public policy have been raised or when the aftermath of the implementation of policies has led to tragedy. Bwana CS came of age when the citizen-serf was to be seen, some of the time, but never to be heard at all. Any citizen-serf that piped up invited the mkono wa serikali to straighten him out post haste. He still can't appreciate that those days, though not completely gone, are being erased with the rough sandpaper of a citizen-driven political and constitutional awakening that, in the fullness of time, will see him and his colleagues accounting for their acts of omission, commission and stupidity in very public and very humiliating ways. It is only a matter of time.

But we must ask: how come Kenya has been cursed by so many petulant political leaders, incapable of keeping their rage on short leashes, allowing it to guide their tongues into the most revelatory explosions? Mr Go-To-Hell is not the first senior civil servant to explode with contempt at the people seeking to hold him to account. He is merely the latest, and saddest. (Sad because he has been forced to swallow his words in public even though he hedged, hemmed and hawed about how he is only human" as if the rest of us are stoic rocks against whom the frustrations of life merely chip and shatter.)
 
If we were to take out our frustrations on the people who have engineered those frustrations, Mr Nobody-Has-Appointed-Me and his colleagues, and the minions that do their bidding, would we be justified in saying that we are but humans when their palaces lie in ruins? Will they accept our excuses as their Prados are smoking husks in the car parks of their golf clubs? Will they hell!

Change the design

Every now and then, Nairobi's notorious public transport suffers a seizure that makes everything decidedly and determinedly worse. Yesterday was such a day. It rained, briefly, in the afternoon. Public transport was screwed up for the rest of the day and well into the evening. My commute back home always begins at the Ambassadeur Hotel stage, but the serpentine queues were to dispiriting to join. So I decided to walk the three and half kilometres to City Stadium stage to catch the Nº36 matatu. And everything that is dysfunctional with our public transport system was revealed.

My walk took me past Tusker stage on Ronald Ngala Stree, through the Central Bus Station, down Uyoma Street to Race Course Road, then left onto River Road past the OTC stage and onto Landhies Road next to Muthurwa Market and past the Kamukunji jua kali market and finally the City Stadium stage on Jogoo Road. The number of pedestrians is massive, but it is not a problem. Cities are the people and if you don't love people then cities are not for you. The "hawkers", in their hustle, with their wares spread out on the pavement and their small children swirling in and out of pedestrians' legs, weren't a problem either. You can't knock a human who has found a way to earn a living that requires patience, resilience, people skills, a thick skin and, surprisingly on many occasions, a sunny disposition. Hawkers are Nairobi and Nairobi is hawkers.

What really was wrong is the absolute lack of space and the incredible noise that public transport generates. It is astonishing, quite frankly. Successive City Fathers have prioritised motorised transport and real estate development at the expense of small-scale and itinerant traders, and pedestrians. Witness the incumbent tom-tomming his road-building and road-repairing initiatives in competition (or is it partnership?) with the national road-building agencies and Ministry of Roads. Whenever they talk about "hawkers", they do so with disdain and anger, promising to "relocate" them to "ultra-modern" and purpose-built markets, "out of the CBD". They don't see hawkers as a valuable component of our city, humans who contribute to its vibrancy, colour and inimitable sense of hope.

It is the same attitude they bring, that they have always brought, when dealing with matatus, the second most common form of transport (after walking) in Nairobi. Most matatu operators are honest and diligent, shifting millions of Nairobians daily from home to work and back. Most matatu operators are made criminals by a system that prioritises money over people.

The three kilometres between Ambassadeur and City Stadium is a study at missed opportunities and an obsession with construction at all costs. Pavements are small, poorly designed and frequently commandeered by motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists, mkokotenis and matatus, in addition to the pedestrians and hawkers who serve them all. Drains and sewers are broken or blocked. And when it rains, even paved pavements turn to muddy paths, forcing many onto the roads and oncoming traffic. It is no wonder that pedestrians (and hawkers) make up the vast majority of fatalities and injuries in road traffic accidents. Half the reason why pedestrians receive the short end of the stick is not just because the City isn't designing public spaces with pedestrians in mind, it is also because building owners have decided to maximise the space they occupy by building on all of it, and building walls on pavements to keep out the riffraff. As a result, more and more people are walking on lesser and lesser space and, consequently, a hierarchy of blame ensues: motorists blame boda bodas who in turn blame mkokotenis who in turn blame pedestrians and who in turn blame hawkers and who are frequently the violent target of the City itself.

We should design the city with the people in mind, re-engineer it to make lives more livable. If we persist in designing the city for private motorists and BRTs that we will rarely use, this sense of violence will never end. For sure, unless dukas spring up where pedestrians and hawkers do business, they will never truly go away. Our problem is not an infrastructure one. It is a design one. Our design problems all emanate from a refusal to see humans, in all their colourful variety, as the reason the city exists. Change the design.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Jicho pevu, blinded


On the evening of 27 April 1993, a DHC-5 Buffalo transport aircraft of the Zambian Air Force crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after taking off from Libreville, Gabon. The flight was  carrying most of the Zambian national football team to a FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Senegal in Dakar. Kenya's energy cabinet secretary, seemingly reeling in shock at the arrest and arraignment of senior officers of the Kenya Power company, compared the arrests to one of the most devastating air disasters in Zambian history. The waziri, oblivious to the incredible insensitivity of his words or sentiments, epitomises the ukubwa syndrome that afflicts senior public officers like nothing else ever will.

Every single day, indignities are visited on Kenyans by the Big People in Government, business, academia, religious ministries, and civil society. To be in command of vast sums of money and to employs large numbers of Kenyans s to give you power and to have power in Kenya is often to blind oneself to everything else except the retention and expansion of that power, even if it means forgetting a cardinal truth: even a cat may stare at a king.

It has been an incredible month of insensitivity, especially from our political masters. A governor surrendered himself to the anticorruption commission, was taken into custody, detained and had his bail application determined while he was in custody. The governors' association was unhappy with this and demanded the same executive immunity enjoyed by the president while in office. Meanwhile, a group of twenty parliamentarians were sponsored by Parliament to attend the World Cup finals in Russia. All their expenses were catered for by Parliament. When challenged on their seemingly valueless junket, Parliament's officials first attempted to justify it by saying that these parliamentarian were "benchmarking" so that Kenya could see how to host major tourneys like the World Cup in the future. But soon enough the parliamentarians set aside all pretense and one of them declared shamelessly that he was not about to spend his money to attend the World Cup when Government was there to do so for him.

We are used to Government functionaries being treated like royalty, with access to every kind of luxury an privilege while millions of Kenyans suffer poverty on a scale that has to be seen to be believed. We have never strongly questioned the iniquity and inequity of taxes being spent for the comfort of a political class that has consistently failed to ameliorate the suffering of the masses. And every time we are shocked that a hitherto champion of the downtrodden will enter the citadel and, while promising to bring it all crumbling down, joins in the acquisitive avarice of the rest of the class. What was once billed as the "grim eye", it turns out, was nothing more than the green-eyed monster rearing its ugly head. It is a story that repeats itself over and over. And so whenever they find themselves on the wrong side of things, having gotten used to privilege in all things, they will demand further privileges to ameliorate their suffering. And their colleagues and friends will rend their clothes in the streets, pour ash over their hair and wear sackcloth until the unfairness ends. It is why Charles Keter does not see the offensive irony of equating the arrest of Ben Chumo and his colleagues to the death of twenty-five Zambians.

Sooner or later, we keep telling ourselves, the music will stop and we will build a more equitable society. I fear that our famed optimism blinds us to a harsh reality: so long as the society we dream off is to be erected on the foundation of the society we have today, with the structures of power that keep it in place, we will never succeed in that ambition. The power structure we have now is designed to exploit the majority. It is not built for national ambitions. It is the manifestation of elitist greed. In the end, it will consume us all.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Why do they hate children?

The Chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation wrote an open letter to the students of Kenya's boarding schools entitled "An open letter to students turned arsonists". He did not mince words nor hold back his views. The main thrust of his missive seems to be that regardless of the circumstances prevailing in boarding schools, schoolchildren should only react by "being able to express themselves without resorting to idiotic violent means". It seems that his argument is that schoolchildren should never, ever resort to violence, and if they do, they should face the full force of the law, including imprisonment where they will meet others like them who will teach them a lesson.

The Chairman of the Kenya Examinations Council was not to be left behind. He warned all children who were learning in schools whose facilities had been set aside that regardless of how many schools the students burned down, the examinations body would administer the exams, even if it meant doing so under trees. He warned the children that his council would not be intimidated by the ongoing unrest in schools. He and his council would not be moved by the demands of the children.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education, however, takes the cake. In a stemwinder of a press conference, she covered familiar ground regarding the reasons for the student unrest. National examinations, and the desire by children to cheat in them, featured prominently in her assessment of the basis of the recent unrest. She had similarly hard truths to impart on the children: not only would she encourage the prosecution of any child accused of participating in school unrest, she encouraged the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to refuse to grant them certificates of good conduct in future. In addition, she would make sure that their school leaving papers indicated that they were troublemakers and should be denied a university education and, with it, any opportunity to make something of themselves. She did not just want them to be punished; she wanted their lives to be destroyed.

Government in all its manifestations, and the men who agree with Government's current policies, seems to be in the throes of an anti-child programme of astonishing width and depth. It started with the ham-fisted manner in which the Free Maternity programme was implemented, and then sabotaged, by Ministry of Health officials and their boosters. Then came the multi-billion shilling disaster that was the School Laptops Programme and the fascist way in which the new competence-based curriculum is being rammed down our throats. And this is just the official Government position on things that fundamentally affect the lives of Kenyan children.

But with the recent tirade by the Cabinet Secretary regarding student unrest it is now patently clear that no one in that Ministry gives two shits about the welfare of children. I initially thought that the manner in which the twin disasters at Moi Girls Nairobi had been dealt with had something to do with the powerful parents in that school who intervened in force. But by declaring her support for setting policemen on children for violent protests without addressing the root causes of the violence, I know for damn sure that she does not care at all. What she, and the Government she serves, want is to be obeyed without question and we should be grateful for any small accommodation Government makes.

Children should not set dormitories and other school property on fire. However, when they are brutalised by their teachers, when they are housed like badly treated pets, when their nourishment is of a quality that will make a billy goat puke, when they are denied every single avenue to decompress in the name of high passmarks, and when they are isolated from their parents and other social structures so that the truth about their straitened circumstances remains a secret, the only avenue is violence and I cannot in good conscience hold it against them. That Government, in the haughty demeanour of the Cabinet Secretary and the hostile arrogance of the KNEC supremo, cannot imagine the legitimacy and urgency of the children's demands should be a stark warning about the future and a reminder of the past: disobey us and we will end you. What should scare the bejeesus out of you is that there are influential members of the business community who think that this attitude is the right one.

It is astonishing that a country can be held hostage to the fascist designs of a few men and women. It is astonishing that the debate about the turn of things is confined to social media. But it is utterly crazy that we seem on a rail track headed for Armageddon and it seems that there is nothing we can do about it. What I don't understand is why they hate children with such violent viscera? Do you know?

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...