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.

As by law established

The members of my profession, the ones with a pompous sense of importance, tend to use phrases whose value has diminished greatly since the ...