Thursday, June 28, 2018

Has he lost the war?:

Donald J. Trump, the forty-fifth president of the United States of America, is a showman of incomparable repute. He has undone two hundred and fifty years of received wisdom regarding the most powerful office in the world. In a span of a year and a half, he has demonstrated that the Shiny City on the Hill, in Caliph Ronald Reagan's immortal words, is no different from Kinshasa, Harare, Lagos, Kampala or Nairobi. The United States Capitol, and the White House down the street, have bared their faces, revealing graft and nepotism on a scale previously unknown. And with its unmasking, the USA is leading the rest of the western democracies to unmask themselves to reveal their base and corrupted systems.

However, despite the revelation that Western Democracy is but a euphemism for camouflage, more and more African men and women wish to emigrate to the West, because, even if they are hated and persecuted because of the colours of their skins, their chances of living decently appear greater over there than over here. It is why, on balance, if Uhuru Kenyatta and his African Union peers fail to improve the lives of their peoples, the rickety boats killing Africans in droves in the Mediterranean will keep on sailing.

Uhuru Kenyatta has decided to be the public face of the latest battle in the War on Corruption, an endeavour that has seen an ex-police sharpshooter (known as "Boss"), an ex-judge (brilliant jurist; terrible at everything else), an ex-law lecturer (a pompous windbag whose tenure was mercifully short), an ex-accountant (who tried to pretend that he did not understand what "conflict of interest" means and was shoved aside for his trouble) and now, an ex-church leader (a doddery old man with the naivete of a teenager), lead the combined armies of anti-corruption soldiers to humiliating defeats. In this war, battles have been fought and lost on numerous battlefields whose names have sounded the death knell of trust in the integrity of the State itself: Goldenberg, Triton, Kazi kwa Vijana, Anglo-Leasing, NYS...the list is long and its devastation almost total. Uhuru Kenyatta is waging the war with florid rhetoric and performative anger. But he appears not to have a war-fighting strategy. If this is true, all it will take is for one humiliating battle defeat for him to withdraw from the field and pursue less legacy-building disasters.

We have long known, even without the benefit of Donald Trump's revealing behaviour, that graft can only be fought on multiple fronts. The law is not the only weapon in the arsenal. Yet we have done precious little to bring the other weapons to bear. As a result, those weapons have been co-opted by the forces of corruption, wearing down their utility in this war, and eroding the public trust in political, cultural, academic, social and economic institutions. If the fiasco that is Bad Sugar is anything to go by, the heart of the State, the Cabinet, can't be trusted to shoot straight in this war, and this undermines almost completely the president's stated ambitions.

The president is waging a losing war if he cannot even acknowledge that his Cabinet can't be trusted, his police chiefs can't be trusted, his army commanders can't be trusted, and the public prosecutor and judges have axes to grind that have nothing to do with his war. All it will take for his rhetoric to be ineffective is another multibillion shilling NYS heist, not counting all the other multibillion shilling heists that have already taken place on his watch. Perhaps, he lost the war long ago. Only that he doesn't realise it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The solution is not simply mass killings

Wishful thinking is now gaining adherents in Kenya if the rhetoric surrounding the War Against Corruption: Uhuru Edition is anything to go by. The most popular wish among the people seems to be a China-style death penalty for all public officials accused of graft. It isn't just a wish among the noisiest windbags sitting in the national legislature, but it pervades the firmament of the editorial classes of Kenya's tabloid media, including the nation's most popular tabloid. I was also a little shocked to see that senior leaders of Kenya's faith-based communities were of one mind when it came to graft in high places: death! (I shouldn't have been though; religious zealots tend to be particularly blood-thirsty.)

I have never understood the bloodlust that accompanies public discourse regarding knotty public policy problems and failures. It is as if death is a magic wand that you can wave and solve the nation's problem. The logic is dangerously simple: some people are bad; bad people should not live; any person who does something wrong is a bad person; all bad persons must be killed to save the country. There is little to no discourse about what allows "bad" people to thrive in the first place, though, every now and then an Op-Ed will slip through the net and demonstrate that sometimes the system encourages "bad" behaviour.

In recent months a familiar swindle has taken place and the public has been ribbed of billions in broad daylight. Also, despite reams of reports regarding the gaps in the public health surveillance system, contaminated food items have been smuggled into the country and dumped in the market. The death-penalty jihadists have insisted that every crook connected to NYS II and contaminated sugar must be executed to preserve the nation. Almost none has seen to fit to ask why, after everything that happened with NYS I, the loopholes associated with the tendering process at the National Youth Service were not closed. Or why the perennially dysfunctional sugar industry has not attracted the pro-reform zealots in the privatisation department.

Corruption, and its negative outcomes, is not just about corrupt people. It is also about systems that can be manipulated to corrupt ends. Of course I know that there are no perfect systems; but refusing to acknowledge that our plethora of anti-corruption laws, rules and regulations, institutions and strategic plans have failed in this war is to acknowledge that we are more enamoured of the rhetoric of anti-corruption as opposed to any actual anti-corruption campaign. The substance of the thing is sometimes more important than its form.

The solution is not simply mass killings.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Who stole from Shujaa Pride?

One of the funniest things I read today was about how mad the President's Chief of Staff and the headboy of the Kenya Rugby Union were because the members of Kenya's Sevens' team covered over the sponsor's name on their team jerseys when they absolutely flattened Fiji in France last night. Apparently, team Kenya covered the words "Make it Kenya", for which they were paid by Brand Kenya to wear, because their allowances from the sponsorship monies hadn't been paid by KRU. What was amusing is that it is the men who sweated it out on the pitch that were wrong - not the men who collected money on their behalf and refused to pay our athletes what they were rightfully owed.

In Kenya it is of vital importance that Government and its various sclerotic appendages are not embarassed, no matter how badly their officers act or how crooked their dealings are. It is the patriotic duty of every Kenya to ensure that Government always saves face - or at least it seems as if it is expected to be our patriotic duty. If the emperor has no clothes on then Godammit, it's you patriotic duty to pretend that he is wearing the finest three-piece suit from a Saville Row tailor.

It is why our rugby heroes will face the sharp end of the stick when they jet back into the country. How dare they show up the feckless penny-ante thievery of the men appointed to look after their welfare? How dare they show such disrespect to Brand Kenya and, by extension, Government by showing it up for failing or refusing to pay them their allowances? How dare they tell the whole rugby world that Government doesn't pay its dues? How dare they?!

If there is one thing that has allowed the war on corruption to seem like a lost cause, it is this instinct to protect public officers and the institutions they manage. It is why cover-ups are so easy in Kenya: don't embarass the boss has been elevated to a cardinal truth. It takes years and a brave whistleblower before the truth is ever known, by which time billions have been pilfered, frittered, and, all in all, remain unaccounted for. If the brave Sevens' team hadn't highlighted the fact that public funds, expended ostensibly on their behalf, had gone missing, would Kenyans have ever found out? I doubt it. Instead of Messrs Waita and Omwela losing their rags over the minor rebellion by the athletes, they must ask themselves what were the circumstances that prevented our hard-working and quite talented athletes from receiving their dues.  In short, who stole from Shujaa Pride?

Friday, June 08, 2018

The functional illiteracy of the nawabs

The most corrupt people are the ones who vote for us. When you go to the village they ask you, “Sasa utatuacha aje?”
The Woman Representative of Murang'a County in the National Assembly is an interesting person. When she accuses her electors of being the most corrupt merely because they ask for cash handouts from elected officials or candidates seeking political office, she betrays a staggering contempt for her constituents and a glaring self-delusion about her own culpability in the machinery of political corruption. She, and her fellow elected colleagues, have consistently been incapable of  articulating political messages that inspire and have always relied on campaign war-chests to buy votes from desperately poor voters.

The Woman Representative and her colleagues have reduced political activity to attending funerals and other social events that offer them an opportunity to "offer something small" at which they spend very little time speaking to how their constituents can play more constructive roles in the development of their constituencies but, instead, engaging in the worst forms of Kenyan politicking including sledging their rivals, defending the indefensible, and making false promises with an ease that sociopaths would appreciate.

She has engaged in most, if not all, the activities politicians in Kenya engage in when seeking votes or fighting to retain their seats and it is amazing that she would not only accuse her constituents of encouraging the graft that many of her colleagues routinely but that, somehow, this is sufficient grounds for insinuating that the people have endorsed political graft of all forms. It is a simple thought experiment: the next time she is asked for handouts while performing her political act, she should say no and let the chips fall where they may. If she is half the politician she thinks that she is, then she should persuade her constituents that despite her tight-fisted ways, she truly has their interests in mind and that they should re-elect her (and not elect her rivals).

The Murang'a politician is member of an assembly that has singularly failed to protect the welfare of the people by allowing the national executive to load up the public service with such a heavy debt burden that, regardless of the mellifluous songs about the "Big Four Agenda", it is almost certain that the personal circumstances of her constituents will not improve for a considerable period to come. When her personal circumstances have been affected, she has not hesitated to personally intervene with high government officials to seek redress. She doesn't seem to have translated that zeal for problem-solving to assist the constituents of Murang'a to ameliorate their straitened circumstances. Instead she chooses to insultingly accuse them of great corruption.

In any decent republic, the people make demands of their representatives. It is what representative government is all about. The Murang'a politician seems incapable of making the connection between her incredible capacity for not doing her job to the demands for cash handouts from her constituents. If she and her colleagues did their jobs properly, the number of beggars in Murang'a (as in the rest of the republic) would dwindle to only the most needy because the Government in which she serves would see to it that public policies encouraged wealth creation for all, thereby doing away with the need for the political classes to grace funerals with baskets of cash for the bereaved. She is an example of the functional illiterates we have sitting in the national legislature who continually refuse to acknowledge the depths of their ignorance and, thereby, fall to making wildly unreasoned accusations.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Discipline and disaster risk management

The "discipline" in disciplined forces has several implications. Members of police and military forces undergo training in a programmatic way so that when they are engaged in active combat, each member of the force reacts according to their  training, to perform their specific task without panicking, and therefore achieve a common objective. The sequence of events is programmed - drilled - into them such that from the moment the first shot is fired to the moment the operation is halted, each member of the force will follow the same sequence he or she was trained to follow, at the same speed that was drilled into them, without skipping a step, and thereby minimise errors and promote greater chances of victory or success.

This is the essence of disaster preparedness training, which it is increasingly becoming clear that many residential schools do not undertake. Disaster preparedness acknowledges the resources available, the environmental constraints, and the level of discipline of relevant stakeholders, and guides those in leadership to design a plan that will promote greater safety. An effective plan can save lives and minimise injuries. So too can a poor plan. But in the absence of any plan, more lives are at risk, more people are likely to be injured. An effective plan demonstrates that an organisation has the safety of its people as a priority.

Everything we now about residential schools these days points to one or two overriding priorities: high KCSE grades and a "good reputation". Very few residential schools seem to care that their students are safe. very few schools seem to have prioritised the safety of their students beyond the supply of fire extinguishers, the removal of window grills and the installation of outward-opening dormitory doors. Few, if any, residential schools drill their students on how to react to fires, stranger-invasions, medical emergencies, or any of a half dozen common disasters.

You don't need a law to prepare for disaster. Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr's and Senator Johnson Sakaja's Bill is all well and good but it will be meaningless if the outcome is merely to create new bureaucracies that will do everything in their power to expand their procurement capabilities as opposed to establishing a pro-safety disaster-preparedness framework, especially for our institutions of learning where hundreds of thousands of children spend the vast majority of their time. If school principals and headmasters are waiting for a disaster risk management law, then the battle is already lost.

It is vital that school heads undertake to design plans and systems that account for the youthfulness of their charges and their propensity to panic as well as the capabilities of teaching and non-teaching staff. These plans and systems must foster trust between the school staff and the students so that early warning mechanisms can be employed without victimising or shaming the students. But at the heart of any plan or system is training and drilling: everyone must train to do their part as regularly as possible so that panicked reactions are minimised as much as possible.

For this to work, how schools are resourced and managed must change. The old model of relying on prefects and captains to provide the bulk of leadership of students must cease. Even in a school with a low number of teaching and non-teaching staff, primary leadership must be provided by the adults in charge. They have greater life experiences and are more mature when it comes to evaluating potential risks than the child-cum-student leaders. 
 
In the two recent disasters at Moi Girls Secondary School, Nairobi, it is apparent that neither the school's administration nor its teaching and non-teaching staff were prepared for any disaster and that their lack of leadership condemned 1,200 children to face disasters on their own. Part of the reason why the disasters occurred is because the teaching staff have a terrible relationship with the children, especially the principal, who have been described as high-handed, aloof and dictatorial, and unwilling to consider any of the suggestions made by their most vulnerable stakeholders. The captains and prefects, hell-bent on preserving the privileges they enjoy in the school, are an extension of the dysfunction in the leadership of the school and too immature to consider the implications of their sometimes harsh actions. If the school doesn't prepare a disaster risk management policy, a disaster preparedness plan and a disaster response plan, then it is just a matter of time before disaster strikes again.

Children are not part of the disciplined forces; however, our understanding of "discipline" has to evolve beyond using "discipline" as a catchall term for behaviour correction or modification of incorrigible children. We must start teaching children how to take action to protect themselves and others when they are faced with risks such as fire or stranger attacks. This must start by changing the violence-based teacher-student relationships that seem to prevail in our schools today.

Do you care about the girls?

How does a public sector manager keep her job after children die while under her charge? How does she even justify her continuing to hold office when children under her charge are attacked in the dead of night, assaulted and raped? Why are her subordinates so keen to protect the "good reputation" of the school, going to the [admittedly alleged] extent of directing children not to "talk about it" or offering the victim "scholarships" for her silence? Why would the policeman investigating the latest outrage go out of his way to speculate that the victims made things up so that "they didn't have to sit for exams"?

There are many things that are wrong with the way residential schools are managed these days, and all of them are epitomised by the callous, cold-hearted manner in which Moi Girls Secondary School, Nairobi is managed. Ten students died in September because the dormitory in which they were asleep wasn't designed with their safety in mind. Their principal had done nothing to improve the conditions in which these girls slept. Instead, her efforts have been channelled to the construction of a chapel!

The fire exposed the lies about the school's safety. The latest outrage only confirms that the principal hasn't learnt any lessons from tragedy. It is alleged that the school has a night complement of three guards: two men and a woman. They are buttressed by a matron, CCTV cameras and a perimeter fence. This is the reported sum total of all the features responsible for the safety of one thousand and two hundred girls. And on the night of the latest outrage, the matron sleep through it ll despite the screams of the victims. Did she sleep through the fire as well?

It is tempting to blame parents for not insisting that things had to change after the fire, but things are never that cut and dried, are they? In Kenya, where you go to secondary school is almost as important as what grade you get after your final exams. Quabbz has a solid reputation and many of its alumni have gone on to glittering careers. many parents are determined to secure bright futures for their daughters and if it means that their daughters will sleep six to a cubicle for them to have half a chance in life, then so be it. Parents will put up with mercurial principals if it means that their daughters will score As and Bs and they will endure irrational rules if these rules are a sign of the commitment of the principal to guide their children to academic success.

It is time to rethink things. Jael Muriithi has presided over two disasters. It is unconscionable that she still has a job. The board of management has supervised Ms Muriithi's disastrous leadership over the past year. It is unconscionable that its members are still in office. The least that Amina Mohammed can do is to relieve these people of their duties and send them packing. The most she could do is to make sure that they are never placed in charge of any institution of learning ever again and co-operate as fully as possible with the relevant authorities to see that they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for their acts of negligence. If she won't, then the parents must. It is the least they can do to ensure that if they send their daughters back to Quabbz in a week that their children will not be under the charge of the women and men who have let them down so terribly in the past.

It is alleged that one of the assailants is a teacher at the school. This is not the first teacher that has taken advantage of his position and authority over the girls to such sadistic ends when Ms Muriithi has been in charge. That alone disqualifies Ms Muriithi from being in charge of any school in future. How hands-off is her leadership style that she was unable to identify a sexual predator under her supervision? How mercurial is her leadership that vulnerable children are afraid to report to her that they are being preyed on by their teacher? Whatever else happens, she can't go back to Quabbz. If she does, if she is allowed to go back, then you will know that this world doesn't care a whit for its girls.

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...