Monday, December 09, 2019

The myth of frictionlessness

On Friday, my colleagues and I departed Kisumu City for Nairobi at around noon. It is a beautiful city and recent infrastructural developments have made it a pleasant place to visit. We got to Kericho around 2:30 pm but were held up on account of a tragedy that befell one of our colleagues who was travelling in a separate vehicle. By the time we were clearing things up, it was well past 4 pm and we were passing Kikopey at around 5:30 pm. That is when our troubles truly began. When we first saw the long string of taillights we didn't think anything of it. We should have paid attention to the lack of oncoming headlights, though, because when we finally became part of the traffic jam we had no idea we would be in it for eight hours. Yes, eight hours! We got through the Gilgil weigh bridge well after 2 am in the morning. Everything that I have come to loath about driving in Nairobi was on stark display on that stretch of tarmac between Nakuru and Gilgil: selfishness, aggression, bullying, recklessness and that peculiar Kenyan trait: ujuaji.

It turns out that there was a Passing Out Parade earlier in the day from the National Youth Service campus in Gilgil and waheshimiwa had graced the occasion. At least that is the version of events we were fed by other hapless road users. When the event was over, there was a mad scramble to leave the venue by the invited dignitaries and the family members of the NYS graduands while battling the usual heavy traffic on the busy highway. It was a madhouse. By the time we arrived, things had been stuck for four hours with no sign of resolution in sight. We were lucky, in a manner of speaking: our driver is a hardcore Nairobi driver and he will steal every advantage in traffic to get ahead. Essentially, for our comfort, he encapsulated every hateful habit of a matatu driver that drives me up the wall.

It occurs to me that broken systems encourage the worst behaviour even in the most reasonable and levelheaded humans. No system is as broken as our transport system, a mishmash of national and county government policies, rules and regulations enforced by multiple public entities without coherence or cohesion. Road designers and builders concentrate almost exclusively on designing and building roads without seriously considering the plight of non-motorised transport or non-driving road users. Law enforcement agencies, both national and county, are not really interested in safety as much as in the venue they can collect from fines imposed on traffic offenders. Pedestrians and other non-motorised transport users will sally forth into oncoming traffic secure in the knowledge that motorists will give them priority - a truism that has proven to be illusory if the statistics of dead and injured pedestrians are anything to go by. In any case, how we transport people and goods in Kenya is characterised by chaos, delays, damage, injury and death.

Everything that could go wrong on that day did. Everything that we could do to make things worse, we did. And when it started raining, the situation worsened by a factor of ten. Traffic to Nakuru came to a complete standstill. Traffic to Gilgil weigh bridge inched forward - and I mean inched. Traffic joining the highway from Gilgil town was at a complete standstill - I'm not even sure when they were allowed t join the highway. We were overlapping - that Kenyan expression that means something other than what athletes think it does - three deep. The more ambitious among us were driving off-road and getting stuck in black-cotton-mud in the bargain. Tempers were short and it is a miracle no one got shot by an angry motorist. The losses in terms of time and money must have been enormous. Yet it is almost certain that no one is seriously engaging with these issues in order to make things better. James Macharia does not seem the type to seriously grapple with these kinds of issues if it means taking time away from his pie-in-the-sky procurement-driven schemes.

I eventually made it home at 5 am in the morning - more than fifteen hours after setting off from Kisumu to a house that was shrouded in darkness because I couldn't recharge my pre-paid electricity meter on account that before my departure, we hadn't had electricity for two days! My fridge had defrosted completely, food had gone bad, and the house smelled something awful. My app-based taxi guy tried to swindle me of the fare by pretending he hadn't activated the app when the journey began - the Uber-isation of taxicabs is a hit-or-miss affair in Kenya. The yelling was enough to bring the watchman to the barrier to find out who was murdering who. In Kenya, the only people who suffer little to no friction as they go about their best lives are people with money. The vast majority of Kenyans are not in that category and it shows.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The idiocy of fighting USA culture wars

How invested, friend, are you in the fate of the presidency of Donald John Trump? How vested, fellow Kenyan human, are you in the next open seat on the Supreme Court of the United States? How vested, child, are you that Hillary Clinton's e-mails are being mentioned with a certain measure of zealous certainty (what about them?! say the party of donkeys, and they are proof that she is evil incarnate! say the lumbering conservative-is Party of Lincoln). Have you keenly read the tea-leaves during the Adam Schiff Show (better known as the Hearings of the Permanent Select Committee of the House of Representatives) on the Ukraine Affair? In short, brethren and sisthren, how much passion have you channeled into the wheres and wherefores of the United States of America political drama of the year?

For sure there are lessons to be learnt; there are lessons to be learnt from all affairs of men, particularly men of power. In the United States political drama, there are many lessons to be drawn, from how to manage expectations to how to side-step political landmines that would fell lesser humans. But, and I cannot stress this enough, investing emotional capital in whether or not Donald Trump and his acolytes are building an anti-democratic personality cult is foolishness of the highest order - especially if you are not a citizen of the United States.

I have been witness to men and women of Kenyan descent - citizens one and all - inveigling against each other on account of the pro- or anti-conservative credentials of Mr Trump. Some describe themselves in terms that, if you didn't know they were Black Kenyans, you would surely swear they were dyed-in-the-wool WASPs - White Anglo-Saxon Protestants - down to their claims of following various European-vintage "schools" promoting this, that or the other "conservative" or "libertarian" ideology.

They are so invested in "solving" the Dem v GOP/ Red-state v Blue-state schism, they have almost completely abandoned any thought for the plight of Kenyans in Kenya. If you ask them where they were when Henry Rotich was playing fast-and-loose with the national chequebook, all you'll get are shrugged shoulders and mumbled dissembling of a most shameless kind. Th eUSA, as a political idea and entity, is very amusing. As is the Brexit United Kingdom, Yellow Shirt France, Ataturk-lite Turkey and I'm-sorry-I-wore-blackface Canada. We have serious challenges facing our people on account of the pro-Western Democracy or Face-East economics policies that have shattered social safety nets and savaged economic security for the majority of Kenyans and to waste precious intellectual energy fighting stupid USA culture wars is the height of idiocy. Like the sharp-tongued boss of Goldman Sachs would have put it: that idiocy should not occur here. We can learn from the USA people. We don't have to join their tribal conflicts.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Of importance is aliveness

The machinery of government runs on money. It is that simple and that complex. Money is never enough. Money is especially never enough when by Government's own estimates fully one-third is "diverted" to non-government-related purposes, profitable though those purposes often are. To address the paucity of money in the national treasury, some monies are "ring-fenced" - they are not to be expended for anything other than for that which they have been appropriated. In government, ring-fenced funds are those drawn directly from the Consolidated Fund - funds for the judiciary are just the most prominent at present.

In the judiciary, money greases the wheels of justice and I do not mean by way of bribes and whatnot. Money pays for courthouses and specialised courtrooms. Money pays for administrative support. Money pays for the movement of circuit court judges. Money pays for mobile courts. Money pays for digitisation and creation of electronic case management systems. Money pays for the operations of specialised tribunals - like the National Environment Tribunal that hears appeals against the decisions of NEMA that affect, for example, Uhuru Park if and when the elevated expressway is ever built. Heck, money pays for Wi-Fi! Without money, a substantial chunk of judicial work will not be done or if done, will not be done effectively.

I have nothing but sympathy for Chief Justice Maraga and his Judiciary. He is in an unenviable position. Ever since the members of his Supreme Court were called "wakora" and promised that its most consequential political decision would be "revisited", it was a matter of when, not if, he and his judicial officers would walk the gauntlet. The "when" is today. The reason advanced by the beancounters in the treasury is that austerity is going to be across the board. The perception is different. Few Kenyans believe the treasury when it says that it is not playing politics. Many Kenyans are convinced that the national executive has finally let loose the dogs of war and the judiciary is facing the music.

There are those in the national executive who have taken advantage of the parlous state of the national treasury to settle imagined scores with the Chief Justice. There is no justifiable reason for the chickenshit accusations levelled at the Chief Justice. What would ever possess the human responsible for government protocol to ignore the presence of the CJ at a state function? Which moron directed the Kenya Airports Authority to lock out the CJ from the VIP lounges at our airports? For fcks sake, why would anyone invite the man to State House, specify the date and time for the appointment, and on the appointed hour keep him sitting in the lobby like a supplicant waiting for favours from on high?

Now it is entirely possible that there is a cadre of serikali mandarins who think that judicial officers exist to smooth over the rough bits of tenderpreneurship, them being the bigger tenderpreneurs, including the placing of thumbs in the scales of just in favour of these human scuzzballs. To them it is unfathomable that a Chief Justice will not lift up the phone and direct a magistrate in Kapchorwa to allow a suit on favour of this [pro-government] side or the other. My ears are still ringing from all the screeching that occurred when the National Environment Tribunal ruled that the Environmental Impact Assessment granted to the builders of the new Mombasa - Nairobi railway was flawed when it permitted the railway to go through portions of the Nairobi National Park. Come to think of it - the crippling of the Tribunal was the first successful shot against the judiciary. But we must bear in mind, the serikali-friendly tenderpreneurs must bear n mind, that this situation is untenable. If they successfully emasculate the judiciary, it is not Chief Justice Maraga and his judicial officers who will suffer but everyone. When we lose what little faith we have in the administration of justice, we will take the law into our own hands. Violence, in this instance, is inevitable.

We need the decisional and financial independence of the judiciary to be safeguarded but we must also be realistic. We are in a bit of a fiscal pickle and if there are to be cuts, the cuts must be applicable against everyone - parliamentarians, members of the Cabinet, county governments, and not just the judiciary. If you are going to insist that Mr Chief Justice Maraga should ride in a puny 1200cc Jetta, so too must Mr Non-Carcinogenic Wheelbarrow and JB himself in Bunge. If Wajir Law Courts have to do without Wi-Fi, so too can the Minister of Congratulations. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Whether sanity will prevail...anyway, cha muhimu ni aliveness.

Monday, November 04, 2019

20/20 judicial vision

In 2012 two members of the Judicial Service Commission wrote an amazing piece in Kenya's tabloid of record on why members of the Judiciary deserved to weep driving Mercedes-Benz motor vehicles. Their constitutional and legal reasoning were sound - a testament to their keen legal minds. But the position they adopted on behalf of judges was tone-deaf. 2012 was the year that it became apparent that the privileges and benefits we extended to senior government officials had been abused for dogs' years and, therefore, in the spirit of pulling together to lower the cost go government, no one would be spared when it came to cost-cutting.

The Commissioners, in their wisdom, didn't believe that such measures should be applicable to their core constituents without, shall we say, "fine-tuning". In other words, hand the whole thing over to a committee and watch the zeal fade away like mist in the noontime sun. In any case, it soon emerged that the judiciary's stand on the question of "cheaper" vehicles for judges wasn't the most troubling - it had somehow managed to find a loose three hundred million shillings to pay for an "official" residence for the Chief Justice that has not been occupied by either Dr Mutunga, the Chief Justice then, not his successor, D.K. Maraga, today.

Which brings me to the "sweeping cuts" ordered by the acting Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury and Planning. For the past seven years, according to those who should know, Government has been on an unsustainable debt trajectory, loading up on expensive sort term commercial loans to pay off other short term commercial loans. Government mandarins claim, quite often without a scintilla of evidence, that the proceeds of the loans have been poured not "development" projects, though the existence of the projects is very much in doubt. Sure, there are a few show-pieces like the new Mombasa - Nairobi railway, new bits of tarmac along Ngong Road and Outer Ring Road, and new bits of concrete for the Lamb Port (part of the no-one-is-sure-it-still-exists LAPSSET Corridor Program).

What was apparent when Government sold the first Eurobond was that these cuts were inevitable. It was apparent when the Eurobond projects couldn't be publicly identified or verified. It was apparent when NYS I (and NYS II) couldn't be resolved without plunging the ruling coalition not disarray. It was apparent when we apparently paid twice for election-related expenses - including electronic registration and verification equipment. It was apparent when, instead of facing the pernicious effects of the debt treadmill head-on, we were treated to a series of red herrings - from the unsustainability of the "public wage bill" to the unsustainability of 49 legislative chambers (hence the need to "punguza mizigo"). Every economics expert worth his salt agrees that the trillions we have poured in railways, urban roads, electricity generation and transmission, inland container depots and mobile medical facilities, were largely wasted. For example, Dr David Ndii has argued that had that money been invested in improving smallholder agricultural yields, the rise in national economic productivity would have been accompanied by an increase in wealth creation and employment.

It was therefore, inevitable that there would be sweeping cuts across the board in Government when the music finally stopped - the annual national revenue (which has been declining for years) is insufficient to pay down the loans or the interest payments on the loans. The Judiciary, for complicated political reasons, is an easy target. It will not be the only one. Other soft targets are the constitutional commissions, independent offices, non-commercial state corporations, semi-autonomous government agencies, and non-core regulatory authorities. Soon enough the cuts will spread to national and county governments, including cuts in the funds appropriated for Parliament and county assemblies. The pain is coming; the only question is when and how severe.

In 2012 the judiciary was riding high, insulated from the public opprobrium visited on Parliament and the national Executive. Some of its more excitable members made unfortunate statements from the Bench and in other public forums that painted the other arms of Government in a very harsh light. It enjoyed the support of foreign governments, and the door agencies affiliated with them. But it had enough old school serikali types for the praise, money and newfound independence to go to its collective head. Today it has no friends. Its foreign supporters back home are facing the same economic headwinds bedevilling Government; they will not be riding to the rescue any time soon. No matter how passionately the Chief Justice makes his case in the court of public opinion, the larder is bare and the judiciary will be the first victim of austerity. Had the judiciary bitten its tongue in those early years of the new constitutional dispensation, its fate may have been postponed a bit longer. Like the say in the USA, hindsight is 20/20.

We may not need new roads

There is a hierarchy to personal transport solutions. At the very top is the chauffeur-driven, outrider-escorted, route-secured head of state or government. At the very bottom is the pedestrian without access to a footpath of any kind. In between, though, there are combinations and permutations of travel to boggle the mind. Personal cars, taxicabs, rideshares, shared taxis (aka matatus), buses, trains, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians on footpaths. In Nairobi, commuting is dominated by pedestrians, motorcycle taxis, personal cars, matatus and buses - in that order, more or less. But, between Mlolongo (or the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport) and James Gichuru Road (Mombasa Road - Uhuru Highway - Waiyaki Way) commuting is dominated by personal cars and matatus, with all three sections experiencing epic traffic jams during peak hours and, quite often, during off-peak hours.

The solution, we have been told for the past seven years, is an elevated road that funnels traffic from Mlolongo/JKIA speedily to the James Gichuru Road (JGR) intersection. Some urban planners who know a thing or two have decried the proposal as ill-conceived and have pointed out that Kenyan experience shows that the traffic jams will only be ameliorated for a short while. Others have pointed out that the value of properties along the elevated road will fall because of the noise, the heat-sink effect and the influx of street families underneath the elevated road at key points. Still others have pointed out the negative environmental impacts, especially the increase in air and noise pollution, that a doubling of motor able roads will have along the path of the proposed elevated highway. Even if portions of Uhuru Part/Central Park remain un-excised for road construction, the negative environmental impacts  on the Parks will be significant.

Nairobi, and Kenya, almost always adapts to its transportation challenges. The matatus were a response to the relative inefficiency (and geographical discrimination) of the bus system. Matatus were fast and nimble, and very competitive on fares. The Kenya Bus Service, in all its official iterations, has rule-bound, inflexible and terrible at pricing its fares efficiently. For about a decade or so, the golden era between 1985 and 1995, KBS and matatus co-existed peaceably enough to produce a transport system that catered for the needs of rapidly expanding urban population. Nobody cared about the time taken between JKIA and JGR because, and be honest, there were very few people who made the twenty-six kilometre trip every single day.

But something terrible happened when John Njoroge Michuki became the Minister for Transport. In fully liberalising the public transport system, Minister Michuki failed to account for a few key reasons why it had become so bad. First, rent-seeking became commonplace. KBS faced increasing competition from laxly policed or regulated matatus owned by City Councillors, Cabinet Minsters, policemen and other well-connected entrepreneurs. While it was required to meet the terms of its license with the City Council, matatu operators were not: minimum fleet requirements, minimum services, safety, fare pricing and city-wide service were, more or less, waived for matatus but not KBS. Coupled with an economy that had nosedived and rising cost of operations, KBS scaled back its services until it went belly up, bought out by Britain's Stagecoach before the whole thing collapsed. It briefly tried to fight on when it introduced the quickly-popular Shuttle service - matatu-sized minibuses that competed with matatus in terms of efficiency and pricing. But by then it was too late and General Motors East Africa repossessed its minibuses and KBS went out of business. It lives on in the name of KBS Management Services, a pale shadow of its former self.

Since the collapse of KBS and the infrastructure that had supported its operations (Central Bus Stations and the termini at Kawangware, Kangemi, Eastleigh, Umoja II, Dandora and Kariobangi), and the full liberalisation of public transportation, Nairobi has had a public transport system in name only. It is disparate operators plying their trade without a policy to cohere their efforts. The result is chaos - Thika Superhighway, Ngong Road Expansion, Kenya Railways commuter trains, rideshare service providers, on-again-off-again NYS bus services, and over two dozen matatu saccos that exist only to maximise profit at all costs for their members, not collaborate to build an effective, efficient and affordable system. The JKIA - JGR expressway is simply more of the chaos. It may address the needs of a subset of commuters but it will in all likelihood contribute to the chaos, not provide a sustainable solution to the problems.

For now, the only service providers who have the institutional knowledge necessary to move millions of Nairobi residents from home to work and back again are the much maligned matatu industry. If they are not properly incentivised to provide city-wide services at a minimum level of safety and ride quality, all the new road real estate will not resolve the public transport chaos we are currently experiencing. This means certainty in regulation - everyone plays by the same rules as to fleet size, safety, quality of service and city-wide service provision (the last is the deal-breaker). Matatus operators that only offer services on a handful should be wound up or folded into the operation s of those that offer more extensive services. It may turn out that we don't need new roads after all.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The last kick

Only severe masochistic tendencies will drive a human person to use "comfortable" in the same sentence with "matatu". Not even the Republic of Rongai's nganyas can be considered comfy. They may have plush interiors, but they are operated along the same mercantilist lines as the Imperial British East African Company did. Their principle objective, each and every one of them, is to separate as many residents of the diaspora from the contents of their wallets, purses and MPesa accounts in the most cut-throat way possible before they fade into obscurity, supplanted by newer and shinier up-and-comers. So it is no surprise that the system that gave rise to Ongata Rongai's nganyas has spawned the 27 kilometre JKIA - James Gichuru Road elevated monstrosity that, so far we can tell, will "encroach" on bits of Nairobi's Uhuru Park.

We are getting an elevated "highway" we don't need. We are getting an elevated toll-road we don't need. We are getting a multi-billion-shilling boondoggle of doubtful economic viability for no better reason other than that the mandarins in charge of transport policy no longer make policy - they simply help well-connected movers and shakers to shake the money tree and move their profits to off-shore tax havens. Or purchase newer and shinier gas-guzzlers. Or run for high public office.

We have known for at least twenty years that more road means more cars - not lesser congestion. We have the data to prove it too. Most data shows that Nairobi's residents are not car people. The majority either walk to work or take public transport. Few Nairobians drive to work - less than thirty per cent. A coherent public policy will prioritise non-motorised transport (bicycles and footpaths) and mass transit systems that combine light rail, buses, yes, matatus, taxicabs and nduthis. Private motorists should be compelled to pay for the privilege of occupying scarce public real estate - on-street parking in the CBD and other high-traffic areas should pinch.

But instead we are getting a road used only by airport users - how many Nairobians work at JKIA or need to get there in a hurry on a daily basis? It is therefore, unsurprising that a system that has eschewed the basic tenets of public policy-making will rope in boosters who think that things like Uhuru Park and Nairobi National Park have no economic value and, therefore, do not deserve governmental protection. 

The proposed elevated highway is proof that we are no longer thinking about the majority of the people. When it comes it housing, "leafy suburbs" have successfully resisted cost-effective high-rise buildings that can accommodate more people and preserve the natural environment at the same time. Without a proactive people-driven public policy on the built environment, in thirty years we shall be demolishing the elevated highway and paving over Muthaiga, Runda, Kitisuru and Spring Valley at the barrel of the metaphorical gun of an exploding population in need of accommodation and clean air. Lavington, Kilimani and Kileleshwa are the harbingers of the change that is coming. The elevated highway is the last kick of a corrupt dying horse. Sooner or later, a restive people will demand, and get, what they need if not what they deserve.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Dead letter constitutional principles

Some Kenyans believe that part of the solution lies with amending the Constitution. The proposed popular initiatives reinforce and seek to tap into this public sentiment. However, the economic woes cited are due to poor leadership, weak governance structures and helpless constitutional bodies. In fact, the Constitution is yet to be fully implemented (emphasis mine). - Mugambi Laibuta (Popular initiatives to amend Kenya’s constitution: A misdiagnosis of the problem?)
To my knowledge, no constitution is immune to criticisms of inadequacy. Even brand-new constitutions suffer from political demands that almost always lead to calls for amendment. Kenya's Independence Constitution was amended within one year of Uhuru. The US Bill of Rights is made up entirely of constitutional amendments which were adopted a mere two years after the effective date of the US constitution. Therefore, there is nothing unusual about the demands to amend the Constitution of Kenya a mere nine years since it was promulgated.

Public sentiment in Kenya on matters of public importance tends to be shaped by political activity, especially the activities of leading national politicians. It has been so since the establishment of the republic in 1964. At every critical political turn, national political voices have shaped how Kenyans thought, what they did about it and when they did. Over the past seventeen years, the public policy question du jour has been constitutional reform "that accommodates all stakeholders". And over the past five years, the constitutional lament has been that the "constitution has not been fully implemented". Combined, these two things have shaped and reshaped politics in Kenya since August 2010 in one form or another.

Punguza Mzigo, the Thirdway Alliance proposal for constitutional amendments by popular initiative, is the polar opposite of the received political wisdom of accommodating all stakeholders. It flies in the face of what all leading national politicians have been campaigning for ever since it became clear that Raila Odinga's chances of presidential glory are all but dashed forever. It refuses to acknowledge that while many individuals want a reduced tax burden, increased "development", better employment prospects and peaceful electoral contests, few of them really object to "mtu wetu" being a member of the executive, legislature or judiciary. It is why the only people who murmured disapprovingly about the appointment of Chief Administrative Secretaries were the ones who laboured under the un-Kenyan delusion that "Government must be lean" in order to save public funds and deliver effective public services. They are the ones who constantly remind us that the constitution has not been "fully implemented" as if full implementation is an end in and of itself.

There are many constitutional values and principles that are notable because of the short shrift they have received from the three arms of Government, none more valuable, in my opinion, than meeting the two-thirds gender principle. In the appointment of the Cabinet, the principle has been flouted. The same is true of the Supreme Court, the upper levels of the public service, the management of state corporations and constitutional commissions, and, of course, both Houses of Parliament. Various arguments have been advanced as to why it has not been possible to do so, none of which is persuasive. Punguza Mizigo offers a solution though it is a solution that comes at a heavy price, one which few Kenyans are willing to pay.

Full implementation, in my opinion, remains a mirage so long as the constitutional culture fails to hold people to account, especially leaders in the executive, parliament or the judiciary, when they fail to live up to their constitutional obligation as they try and balance competing political interests. For example, there is no reason why the Chief Justice of Kenya must be a man or why men must form the majority on the Supreme Court. There is no reason why the Cabinet should not be split 50/50 between men and women or why women PSs should only land "soft" departments. Parliament's persistent failure (refusal?) to push through the only constitutional amendment with broad support to raise the representation of women is an indictment of its particular insular retrogressive culture.

There are no easy solutions. Whatever we choose to do to bring all constitutional principles and values to fruition will require great sacrifice. But so long as we believe what the politicians tell us, that they alone have the answers, and that the answers require no pain, full implementation will not happen. Once we recognise this truth, perhaps we can hold all of them to account. Mr Justice Maraga and his Judicial Service Commission, Mr Speaker Muturi and his Parliamentary Service Commission, and H.E. President Kenyatta and his Government have in their hands the power to lead the political changes we need. Their political cowardice is the reason why the two-thirds gender principle is dead letter law today.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ni uchawi ama nini?

Last month, in an inexplicable act of generosity, my employer decided that it would be a fine idea for me to carry on my official duties in Zanzibar. So, as is wont with these sorts of things, the procurement manager swung into action and secured a return air ticket for yours truly. It would be four days of "work" in one of the more desirable destinations in East Africa and I was prepared to enjoy every second of it. Outbound, I was flying a Dash-8 aircraft operated by Precision Air (which was owned lock, stock and barrel by Kenya Airways). Inbound, it was one of KQ's rather enjoyable Embraers.

Flying, I had forgotten, especially flying with KQ, requires the forbearance of a saint.

I am renown for arriving at the airport before time. Way, way before time. Three hours before. I am not missing my flight because of Nairobi's spectacularly bad traffic. So, kama kawaida, I checked in three hours early, checked in my sanduku, obtained my boarding pass and moseyed on to the departure lounge (Gate 14) and prepared to wait. By now I am so used to the security checks that I don't pay them any mind any more, even though they happen to be the stupidest procedures bar, maybe, the ones at Bagram Air Base. What I didn't know, and what the nice KQ person didn't tell me, was that Dash-8s are small and that there is always a chance your sanduku will not travel in the same flight as you.

Terminal 1-A used to be a wonderful place to wait for your flight when it was new. It is no longer new. It is no longer nice unless you are one of those "priority" passengers or have access to the Business Class or First Class lounges. Those of us who fly Cattle Class must contend with uncomfortable seats, harsh lighting, bad food, and a mysterious smell that seems to pervade the entire building. It is a strong, persistent and nausea-inducing smell. The kind of smell that lingers long after you've escaped the confines of the smelly place.

There was no drama with boarding, even though at one point one of those hi-vis-jacketed KQ people couldn't seem to understand why the plane wasn't parked where it should be and he took a perverse pleasure in yelling at whoever he was yelling at on the phone that "Kama ni kulipa ni wewe utalipa!" The flight was uneventful: bad food, turbulence, a smell, kama kawaida. Landing was no biggie. Customs? Smooth as snot. Baggage claim? Yeah, all of you who were sitting to the right of the plane, your bags are in Nairobi! Or Dar es Salaam. Or lost.

It took me an hour of bugging the bored-looking security guy to find out that you report your missing baggage to that other guy who will fill out a form, take down your accommodation details (if you can even remember them) and arrange for the bags to be delivered wherever you are. Yaani it is so kawaida for Precision/KQ to leave bags behind in Nairobi that the "baggage services" guy has developed a super-thick skin from all the unhappily loud travellers he has had to deal with over the years.

My hotel was marvellous (save for the food and the fact that on the third night, I shit you not, the restaurant caught fire when they were fiddling with the wiring - it happened to be the only night I went in for a meal. It was my last. But the suite was perfect. Large without being cavernous; small without being claustrophobic. And cable TV. Boy did I laugh at the very madnesses of the talking heads of Fox News. Hannity is particularly hilarious.

As in Nairobi, so too in Zanzibar. My flight back was scheduled for 9:00 am. So obviously I was at the airport at 6:00 am. Once more, security, baggage-check and check-in were smooth as greased lightning. 9 came and passed. Then 9:30. Then 10:00. No KQ. No explanation. At 10:30, with the lounge now packed full of sweating travellers, destined for all points of the globe, the KQ rep finally showed up with a bunch of vouchers - for snacks. Then, and only then, did he go into this long-ass soliloquy about a passenger who had been stricken on the KQ plane so that it to had to divert to Mombasa and that the passenger had kicked the bucket and that...he went on and on and nobody cared. I swear if it had been a rugby match and he was playing for the other side, someone would have kneed him in his jewels. The plane eventually arrived at 12:15 pm. Like a Forward Travellers Sacco matatu - without an apology or an explanation.

The worst was yet to come. We landed in Nairobi on time, more or less. We cleared immigration swiftly, more or less. Then we got to baggage claim and the bags were nowhere to be seen. For forty-five minutes we stood there like idiots watching as one mechanic after another entered the hidden places of the conveyor belt and hammered things into place while swearing at each other. Yeah, even the "priority" passengers na wengineo wenye mienendo kama hayo were forced to wait, and wait, and wait. The final humiliation was the single x-ray machine operated by the nice fellow from the Customs Department - for checked in bags, not hand luggage - where another queue of fuming humanity formed. When we finally burst out into the sunlight, it was trending towards 4:00 pm. When the day began, I was going to get  home at 11:00 am.

I don't know how KQ is still in business. It must be some kind of uchawi, I swear, because the shit it is doing these days to its customers defy reason or explanation.

Saturday, October 12, 2019


Eliud Kipchoge has built a legacy that is almost unassailable. He is truly the King of the Marathon, the greatest there has ever been. Kenyans are justifiably proud of him. We admire his discipline, focus, sacrifice and determination. Many of us pour ourselves into our goals with the same sense of purpose and destiny; many of us are hamstrung from the get-go, but we forge on because we have faith in ourselves, our abilities and the vision of our lives.

We can no longer say the same with a straight face about the men and women who sit atop the tower of power - ministers of government have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, or their pants down, or both; ministers of religion have perfected the art of separating Kenyans from the contents of her wallets as well as the love and trust of their families; education administrators are guilty of failing in the basic principle of educating and are no longer in expanding the realms of knowledge because of their race to the bottomline of ever-fatter profits from their "customers". Our faith in a just and proper government has been shattered and now we stand alone to face the future with few positive prospects. And yet, as Mr Kipchoge demonstrates, we can still change the world.

Maybe we are not yet lost. Maybe we can still be inspired to do great things. Maybe we can still rebuild that which has been rendered asunder. Maybe we can seize the future that is rightfully ours. Maybe, just maybe, Mr Kipchoge is not the only one to show us what can be achieved despite the challenges that are strewn across our paths.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Moi's hashtag warriors

"MOI was a serious political adult; fully in charge of the national homestead he headed. He genuinely cared for National Unity, running a Govt largely representative of the face of Kenya. He fully protected our territorial borders. History will judge this man kindly. #MoiDay" - Linus Kaikai
I am part of the generation that came of age during the Nyayo Era. We mouthed the Nyayo Philosophy of "Peace, Love and Unity" and recited the "Loyalty Pledge" (whose words escape me today) with fervour. I quaffed down "Maziwa ya Nyayo" without a care in the world and I performed in the national celebrations of "10 Years of Nyayo Era" with thousands of the members of my age group. The one constant back then was Baba Moi - after all, Voice of Kenya dedicated fully two-thirds of its news broadcast to Baba Moi. He was everywhere, all the time. He was, indeed, a "serious political adult".

Mr Kaikai elides a few details, however, when he declares that "MOI...genuinely cared for National Unity, running a Govt largely representative of the face of Kenya". Take the manner in which Moi was "fully in charge". Along Kenyatta Avenue is Nyayo House and along Loita Street is Nyati House. Both are infamous for the number of Kenyans who passed through their basements, especially those that never saw the light of day. "Wagalla" and "Wajir Airstrip" are names of places that cemented Moi's reputation of being "fully in charge". "Land clashes" and "ethnic cleansing" gathered political currency because Moi was so determined to forge a Government that represented the "face of Kenya" at all costs.

Mr Kaikai, and many of the Kenyans singing Baba Moi's praises, confuse a lack of civil war in the 24 years of Moi's rule with peace. Murders of dissidents and rivals were a small price to pay for peace and stability. Corruption on an industrial scale - whose effects are felt 17 years after Moi left office - was a price worth paying for a Government that reflected the face of Kenya. Territorial integrity guaranteed a crumbling public education and public health systems whose coffins, the Jubilation is nailing the final nails into. Baba Moi's shadow looms long over our collective national fate - the outlook is bleak.

Moi's Government represented the face of Kenya only if the face of Kenya was one characterised by an avarice that was almost comical. To be fair, when Moi said that he was going to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, he did exactly that when it came to land. But this grab-as-much-as-you-can philosophy came at a high cost: millions of landless Kenyans have passed on their hardships down to the third generation with very few escaping the poverty trap Moi's land policies built for their parents and grandparents.

When history writes Moi's obituary, it will only be kind to him if it only states, "He ruled Kenya for twenty-four years" and left it at that. The truth, while "complicated", is not that difficult to recall. The Nyayo Philosophy of "Peace, Love and Unity" was not so much about national unity but about self-preservation at all costs. The footsteps that Moi was following were laid by Kenya's first, and only, president for life. The philosophy called for a massive security apparatus to control what the people said, what they read, what they wrote and what they thought, and when that failed, it exacted punishments that ranged from low-degree harassment to more permanent solutions for which proof has always proven elusive. Linus Kaikai's #MoiDay call to arms is a reminder that though many Kenyans paid a high price for the Nyayo Philosophy, a small cohort became fat off of it.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

I just hope

Before my current bailiwick, I worked for an amazing committee. I was green. I was...obvious. But it was an amazing experience. I got to travel. All over Kenya.  The only places we never visited during my time with them were the troubled bits of Turkana, West Pokot and Wajir.

My first trip was to Kisumu - KisumCity.  My per diem was a pittance - 2,500 only. Because I was an unpaid intern at the time. But Josie and Kate were the kindest they could ever have been - they picked my tab. I still don’t know why. Of course, Makoloo sorted everyone else out on meals and drinks. I have never worked with more generous people since.

We went everywhere. We met so many interesting people. It’s hard to imagine now that that committee laid the foundation for my current post. They taught me so much, especially about duty and service. They taught me to be less me, and I miss them dearly.

I have traveled more since then. Australia. The USA. Rwanda. South Africa. Tanzania. Zanzibar. But all my foreign travels pale in significance to the trips we took to Lamu, Isebania/Sirare, Meru, Kwale, Kitui...all those towns, villages...places that are what they made me. I’d give an arm to relive those years. But life is lived going forward. I can’t wait. I just hope.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Give the SGR a pass?

I haven’t been on the SGR yet. Given the, shall we be generous?, flip-flopping of the Kenya Railways Corporation about food and drink “from outside”, I am not sure that I ever will...but let’s keep hope alive, shall we? I have been on trains before. And planes. And boats. And lots of cars. For long journeys. But I shall always remember my first ride on the Shatabdi Express (well, not really, but it was in India so...)

It was all of thirty-four hours, from Nee Delhi to Pune to Sangli and finally to Kolhapur, where Chattrapati Shivaji has a university named after him. Second Class Sleeper Car. At the height of summer. Eight bunks to the sleeper. Me and Johnson. Riding the rails as Black men in Hindu India.

We had a stash of chapatis that Elizabeth had made for us. Three litres of water each. We shouldn’t have bothered. We rode with this Army captain and his family...wife, son and two daughters. He’d spent time in Dar es Salaam in the eighties. Spoke passable English. Generous to fault the moment he heard we were from Kenya. They shared with us their rotis, aloo gobi, masala chai and the wisdom of the rails.

I remember pulling into Agra Station in the dead of night. An eerie silence in a busy train station. Rushing for the public loos and backing out equally as quickly because of the remarkable stench. I remember cut chai sold in clay kulhas by the tea vendors on the train. I remember the Hijras in their colourful saris demanding - yes, demanding - alms or they would embarrass you till your green to the gills. I remember the midnight ride through the eastern bits of Gujarat when the train slowed down because of the threat of militants attacking the train. And armed guards on the roof, keeping vigil.

The heat was oppressive at first. But Johnson and I had acclimatised to the oppressive heat of South Delhi. Soon enough, we had also acclimatised to the heat in those super-crowded sleeper cars. And the smell. Because it reeked! Of course, our three-litre rations of water - and the chapatis - were spent within the first twelve hours but the Bisleri vendors were always at hand and our rupees went the distance. But Captain Surinder and his family made sure we were well provisioned by the time the journey ended. I still can’t figure out how they packed so much food in such small-looking baggage. Their many kindnesses will stay with me till the day I die.

The last time I travelled properly was to Zanzibar. I hated the journey. I loved the place. I simply hated getting there. Kenya Airways and Precision Airlines made the trip a nightmare. Outbound, they lost my bag. Inbound, the flight was delayed for five hours. The inflight meal was shit. The seats didn’t recline. Legroom was a rumour. Turbulence for the one hour hop was incessant. And when did they stop offering those tiny Coke cans on flights? KQ’s cost-cutting has turned the Pride of Africa into a pale shadow of Air Bujumbura! While I loved Zanzibar, especially Ali my cabbie, I hated getting there. The journey had nothing on the beauty of my first Indian train ride that went on and on and on. If KQ is a reflection of how we treat travellers, and KR is bullying passengers over their pilau and Coca-Cola, maybe I’ll just give the SGR a pass.

When the bough breaks

If given the opportunity, would you throw your hat in the ring and put yourself forward for elective office in Kenya? Would you raise your hand if the chance arose for you to turn around an iconic brand like Uchumi Supermarket or Kenya Airways? If you saw it happening, would you confront your minister of faith when he became a bully, gaslit the congregation about it and threatened spiritual damnation for the naysayers among you?

It isn't easy leading. It isn't easy leading when the people have little faith in leadership of any kind. It is almost damnedly impossible to lead when people have no faith in the institutions that form their communities, whether political corporate, spiritual, academic or social. It takes a Herculean effort to stand in the breach when inspiration is hard to come by because of the cynicism that now pervades everywhere.

Twitter has gifted us the meme and there is something frightening about how easily it is to memify our leaders these days because of their vacuousness. Look at our political classes: they are the typification of memification. They are caricatures; men and women of doubtful repute. They are incorrigibly irredeemable. Seeing what they have become and witnessing what they have failed to achieve, few want to become them. At a personal level, many of us think of ourselves as honest and trustworthy. We don't always lie. We don't always steal. We don't always cheat. When we do, we have handy excuses for it,  it we think of ourselves as decent folk, simply trying to make a life for ourselves and our loved ones.

And because of our self-image, we almost always shun the spotlight regardless of the fame that it may bring. Few of us want the onerous duty of leading, making decisions, championing causes. Those of us who do, those of us who have the urge to serve, almost always do it with a clean heart - in the beginning anyway. But there are among us whose desire for positions of leadership has nothing to do with service but a desire for self-aggrandisement. Their motives are almost always self-serving. They are as plain as the nose on your face.

We have suffered these people for decades. They have lied, cheated and stolen. They have caused civil strife and suborned murder. And they have become very, very wealthy off of the sweat of our brows. They are unapologetic. They are nowadays, suave, urbane and polished. They have silky-smooth tongues. They are Mephistopheles to our Faust, and our bargain with them has led us to this sorry plane. Bank accounts where they are to be had are shrinking. Job prospects for the young, eager and unemployed, are mirages. Home-ownership is a burden that sometimes cripples entire families.

One day the bough will break and the cradle will fall. I shudder to imagine what will happen on that dark day. So should you.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Well, someone better do something about it.

We need to look for unique combinations of brains and empathy when we choose our leaders, and look beyond the smooth-talking aggressors who have been our undoing. - Why do people keep selecting bad leaders? Sunny Bindra
Let's approach this problem from the other end, sir. How many times do we sit and think about the kinds of leaders we want, what kinds of qualities they should possess, how many of the people we know or are familiar with would make good leaders and, crucially, follow through on choosing them to lead? Be honest, please, because it is almost certain that you and I have thought long and hard about these things without following through. In the abstract, we have the perfect woman or man for the job. When it comes to making the choice, the litany of excuses about why we "went another way" is spectacular.

One of the outcomes of this intellectual/practical dichotomy is that we become frustrated. As a people, we spend goodly amounts of time relitigating the same case: what Kenya needs to do to succeed; what our employers need to do in order to be profitable; what our houses of worship need to do to reclaim the moral high ground; what "government" needs to do to root out impunity and corruption. The list of things we need to do, and the qualities of those we need to do them, and the saviours we believe have those qualities, is long and depressing if only because the list of excuses we have advanced again and again for why things didn't go the way we expected is even longer - and more detailed. If the International Olympics Committee ever admitted excuse-making as a competitive sport, Kenyans would rank up there with marathon gold medalists.

In my opinion, our habit is not inexplicable. It has everything to do with human nature. Meta-problems are never solved at the individual level; meta-problem-makers, on the other hand, have an outsize influence on individual behaviour. Think of it this way: if Mr Bindra suggests that reading fifty books in a year is a worthy goal, we are most likely to believe him and, in many cases, attempt the feat (or pretend to). But if Mr Maundu made the same suggestion, a man about whom little is known, we'd think of it as an interesting proposition and go back to more important things like who Natalie actually is.

The opposite is true as well. If Mr Maundu suggests, whether by word or deed, that it is OK to park his not-yet-existent humongous V8-powered SUV in such a manner as to obstruct a handicaps-only parking bay, the frothing-at-the-mouth members of the Cast-The-First-Stone Association, #KOT Chapter, would pull out all the stops to name-and-shame. But if an elected or nominated member of one of Kenya's less-than-august legislative chambers does so, and finds a persuasive or, as is often the case, a not-so-persuasive reason why it is OK for her to do so, there will be one or two desultory squeaks from the fair-play rule-of-law true believers. But for the rest of us we will think of the legislator as a boor and "Someone better do something about it" and go back to our mission to track down Natalie and ask her if she called someone a pejorative word.

When personal responsibility lies on all of us, then it lies on none of us. We have found comfort in saying, "We should..." because it has proven much harder to say "I shall..." We have become our own alibis for our inaction. It is always someone else's problem. It is why ministers of government and ministers of faith, and all the other leadership classes in-between, have become insurmountable challenges, year in, year out. It is easier to point at my neighbour and accuse him of electing the Worst Person to govern. It exculpates me from responsibility. It absolves me of my civic sin of going-along-to-get-along. I will never accuse myself. Ever. Neither will you. Until I - and that means you too - can look in the mirror and admit that I haven't changed, that I have refused to change, that I know I must change, and that even if I stand alone I am doing the right thing - until that day, it is almost certain that a year from now, when Mr Bindra rouses himself to think on this matter, he will right the same exact piece. New words, maybe. But exactly the same.

I know what I shall do. And I know what I shall not do. The question is obvious, then, isn't it?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

How rude!

"I'll know it when I see it." So said an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court when ruling on a case that involved pornography and obscenity. The same is true for the most of us when it comes to the question of whether or not someone is being rude when the rudeness is not overt. Body language. Gestures. Facial tics. Intonation. Context. Nine times out of ten, our instincts are correct. It makes for fascinating interactions, right?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


A girl killed herself yesterday. She was a student. She was humiliated by her teacher. Her teacher humiliated her for having her period and not having a pad. I don't know what kind of world it is where teachers are gratuitously cruel like this. It would have cost the teacher nothing to be supportive and offer to help the girl find clean clothes and a pad. It would have cost the teacher nothing at all. But that teacher is part of a system that sees children as the enemy, to be controlled with bullying, coercion, emotional manipulation and violence. Yet, the future of the nation, as the political classes repeatedly remind us, includes children who need us more than ever to nurture, encourage, support and protect in ever greater and deeper ways. When we fail basic empathy tests it is almost certain that the children we brutalise will one day come after us with pitchforks. Then we will truly be sorry.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Seeking vindication, foolishly

In my opinion, Kenya's criminal classes are extraordinarily good at their job. No, I don't mean the hapless men and women convicted of petty theft or robbery year in, year out. No, I don't mean those souls. The ones who have done a bang up job tend to have the prefixes and suffixes to their names, have acquired titles of note, and swan around as if they were the people's conscience. They are extraordinarily good at their job.

One or two are ministers of faith, one or two are ministers of government, one or two are legal eagles with reputations to match, one or two are judges sitting on high, and still one or two are bankers, doctors, engineers, teachers and "environmentalists". The most successful members of the criminal classes of Kenya happen to be members of Government, in one form or another. They have their hands on the levers of power and when those levers are moved, bank vaults fall open and their wallets are immeasurably fattened. What makes them exceptionally good at thieving is that they have persuaded us that they are extremely dim-witted. They have learnt how to play the fool.

If you have been online on the twitter sphere lately, you will have sniggered at the question, "How can Kenyan billionaires have such poor taste in decor?" The impression you get is that these billionaires couldn't be that smart if their choice of decor is a cross between Kiambu postmodernist and Kisii postmodernist Art Deco. It takes real skill for the devil to persuade you that he is not there.

Take the shambles that are the various "scandals". Twenty million or so for towels. Sounds stupid, right? But it shifted focus from what was actually happening, didn't it? Key questions were obscured by virtue of the ridiculousness about those damn towels. For instance, how, exactly, did the Kerio Valley Development Authority decide to build the dams? How was that Italian company identified? Who made first contact with it, and when? Who performed due diligence on the company and what did they find? Maybe the DCI and the DPP know the answers to these questions now that were obscure by the salaciousness redolent of this towels, the pick-me shit-show that is the Fourth Estate, and our general deference for the high and mighty, shady or not.

These people are extraordinarily gifted and they have perfected their craft over decades. From penny ante scams - briefcases of cash - they now play the game with aplomb, in plain sight, 24/7, shamelessly and ruthlessly. We are their marks. We fall for every single con, big and small. And we sing their praises as if we were singing Italian arias to Nero at the height of his powers regardless of his bloodlust, greed, megalomania and poor impulse control - very much the characteristics of our guys. The small band of online wingers that point to the absurdity of it all are (a) laughably few, (b) hilariously outnumbered by influencers, and (c) painfully ignored by one and all. We keep at it, tilting-at-windmills and all, in the hopes that we will be vindicated.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


"We need to move away from the divide and rule system and embrace the inclusiveness on matters of the Constitution"
Members of Kenya's only Bar association are in Mombasa for the association's annual conference. The "theme" of the conference is "An Audit of the Constitution: The quest for constitutional reform and transformation". There is a "sub-theme" as well: "embracing technology in legal practice, litigation and commercial practice". What caught my eye on the law Society of Kenya's twitter timeline was what one of their presenters said about the current state of our constitutional order: that it is a "divide and rule system" which we must move away from.

I am concerned that the LSK is no longer an institution where radical ideas are vigorously canvassed and the 2019 conference seems to confirm this. Kenya is in the middle of a prolonged presidential campaign that has been enlivened by change-the-constitution movements of doubtful utility: the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) that is designed to deny William Ruto a shot at the presidency and the Punguza Mizigo campaign that is designed to piss off the BBI. Both movements purport to lay bare our constitutional shortcomings and invite Kenyans to participate in charades masquerading as "public participation" in identifying a common way forward. So far Kenyans have not taken the bait - many are concerned more with the challenges of an economy that is firing on no cylinders than with the musical chairs of political leadership their political leaders are engaged in.

What is disappointing in all this is the barely-there nature of LSK's contribution to the discourse which, when it occurs, tends towards pablum that would embarass a first-year law student. Instead of addressing the obviousness of the constitutional sabotage perpetrated by leading members of Government, especially "rogue" members of the Cabinet and Parliament, LSK is happy to publicise its deep concerns for the "divide and rule" system prevailing today. We have forty-seven county governments, established mostly along ethno-linguistic lines. Lines, we might add, Kenyans accepted as the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution. Yet the LSK, despite the real-world problems engendered by such thinking, chooses to concentrate on issues that, superficially, address the ethno-lingustic fracturing of the country but do little to propose solutions to unite the peoples of Kenya.

In my opinion, LSK is no longer merely a stakeholder when it comes to governmental affairs. It has become so intertwined with Governemnt that it is sometimes difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. It is time for a change and that change must begin by the repeal of the provisions of law that place LSK members as members of public entities. Yes, even the Judicial Service Commission. This marriage between civil society organisations and Government has led to the defanging of the former, and entrenched the impunity of many members of the latter. There is no better example of a defanged civil society than the wishy-washy LSK today.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Jealousy is not a good strategy

Thirdway proposes to change 29 Articles of the Constitution. Surely it was not intended that many amendments should be grouped together and require just one vote of support from any member of the public. The Kenya provision is inspired by the Swiss Constitution. In Switzerland, the Constitution and law require that a people’s amendment proposal be focussed and deal with only one topic. Jill Cottrell Ghai, Is Thirdway Alliances proposal to change the law constitutional?
Prof Ghai prefaced the above paragraph thus: Article 257 of the Constitution says: “An amendment to this Constitution may be proposed by a popular initiative signed by at least one million registered voters.” She argues that the provision, inspired by a Swiss one, was not intended to be used for the amendment of more than one provision of the Constitution. However, the language of Article 257 does not expressly state that only one proposal can be entertained at a time. If that were the case, it could lead to absurd outcomes, for example, a single proposal to abolish the Senate, without accompanying "consequential" amendments, would lead to the abolition of the institution while retaining dead provisions such as the ones pertaining to its functions.

Those opposed to the Thirdway Alliance's steps towards the amendment of the Constitution so far have advanced many arguments but few of them have advanced a persuasive constitutional one. Prof Ghai's falls among those that have the veneer of constitutional legitimacy but once one peels away the mask, reveals that the veneer is all there is.

I don't approve of the wholesale amendments proposed by Thirdway Alliance. I think they reinforce the constitutional confusion inherent in the political aspects of the constitutional order, especially the organisation of the national government and its relationship with devolved government. The 29 proposed amendments touch on disparate subjects all tethered to the idea that less government is less expensive government. That taking the devolution of public funds to its extreme end will be a boon for the people. I think it is foolhardy to experiment further with public funds; CDF spawned similar "development" funds that proved to be cash cows for a well-connected elite. Ward Development Funds, managed and overseen by county elected representatives, will not replicate the success of CDF but mirror the corruption and waste of all other public funds. I don't believe the proposal will lead to less expensive government but to a more corrupt and, therefore, more expensive one.

However, I can find no constitutional grounds to oppose Thirdway Alliance's proposals or to cast doubt that the proposals have been advanced in accordance with Article 257. Whether it is the question of public consultation or meeting whatever standards of proof are needed in order to approach the electoral commission, in my opinion, Thirdway Alliance has satisfied all constitutional requirements. I believe that its opponents, especially many from the civil society sector are unhappy that Dr Aukot and his partners did not invite the ancien regime of civil society to participate in the process as elite constitutional overseers to maintain the purity of their Mfangano days. Many of them are offended that he took his case directly to the people without so much as a by your leave and denied them their place in shaping the constitutional order; they are afraid that if the Bill garners substantial grassroots support, they will be unable to shape the constitutional future of this country for at least another decade, rendering many of them obsolete. In short, they are jealous. However, jealousy is not a constitutional ground to stop the Bill from being dealt with under Article 257.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Missing the forest for the trees

The whole of Chapter Sixteen of the Constitution deals with amendments to the Constitution. Some amendments require a referendum. Many others do not. An amendment relating to the size of Parliament does not require a referendum. Nor one relating to an expansion in the size of the national executive. Nor, surprisingly, regarding emoluments paid to state officers. So those among you with a habit of declaring with finality that some amendments cannot be made should really rethink their constitutional absolutism.

What we failed to do, even at the height of the last major push for constitutional reforms, was to examine the motivations that led to the demon seed of a constitution that we replaced in 2010. What went wrong is not examined inasmuch as who was responsible. Jomo Kenyatta and Baba Moi shoulder the lion's share of the blame. An apathetic, cowed electorate is given the benefit of the doubt, though some of its leading lights bent over backwards to excuse every step taken to render Kenya's constitutional order supine and feckless.

The recent intrigues surrounding a referendum to amend the constitution follow the same pattern that led to the debasement of the former constitution. The loudest voices, and the strongest protagonists, have managed to disguise the true cause of Kenya's constitution-less governance ethos. We are reminded almost on a daily basis that the constitution is to blame for governance instability, that if it is tweaked in this area or that, we shall enjoy the fruits of devolution. The constitutional order established by the constitution, we are harangued, does not properly represent the "face of Kenya" and, therefore, it is necessary to make changes so that "no one is left behind" when it comes to development and prosperity.

The justifications for constitutional change are legitimate sounding but they are all bullshit. Parallels can be drawn to the change the constitution movement of the 1970s that gained prominence when it became apparent that Jomo Kenyatta was on his last legs. The true purpose of the movement, one which its backers didn't care to hide, was to drive a stake through the heart of the constitutional order to keep Daniel Moi from State House. The aim of the 2019 referendum choir is the same: to keep William Ruto from State House. Every other accoutrements festooning the pro-referendum bouquet is bullshit.

What should be apparent is that "the people" are an afterthought - though, as in the '70s and '80s, there are those among them who will bend over backwards to ensure that the people are given the constitutional shaft. We are being blinded to the foundation of the motives behind the push for constitutional change by, quite frankly, specious arguments about why the constitution cannot or should not be amended. Instead of admitting that our constitutional order exists only in name, we are focussed on holders of state offices and the power they wield by foregoing constitutional restraints in almost all their acts. We, the people, will not hold them to account and, consequently, they see nothing wrong in dipping deeper and deeper into our pockets for higher and higher taxes to pay for, among other things, "night allowances" for parliamentarians, allowances for spouses of certain state officers, and similarly patently unconstitutional acts.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Choose wisely

As we age, we should be changing not only our wardrobes and our appetites, but also our roles and responsibilities. Coaching others, reducing our active responsibilities, allowing new thinking to enter the arena – this is how thoughtful persons evolve. They go before they are asked to, or before nature intervenes. – Sunny Bindra
As always, Mr Bindra gets to the rub and you can't but help and wonder at the thing of it. More often than we think possible, we tend to evolve, our tastes tend to refine, though for many of us, not our wardrobes - the mountain of dad-jeans jokes is proof enough. In my estimation though, one thing that also ought to be considered is a strong moral and ethical core. It defines the nature of our evolution. In many occasions it is shed off with the accumulation of wealth and power, sometimes in direct proportion.

As children we are taught many lessons, both good and bad. What we choose to retain determines how we lead. Social and and economic status is irrelevant to what we retain. If the bulk of our lessons are bad ones, and we lack the capacity or willingness to jettison them, we will make bad leaders. Our visions will inevitably lead to bad ends for many people, even if we personally make to the other side better off. It is the old software programming rule: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Throughout our lives we have the chance to learn new things. But if we have been conditioned to filter out the good and retain the bad, we almost certainly will turn out to be bad. Often, though, we get the opportunity to do the reverse, regardless of our past. It may be a charismatic mentor, a Road to Damascus moment or some other life-altering event. Many of us seize these opportunities and go on to redefine our worldviews. But when we fail to do so, and we just happen to wield great power, the results are often devastating.

Uganda offers a fascinating case study of what happens when longevity is paired by a relentless shedding of good lessons and the adoption of bad ones. President Museveni isn't the only political leader who has sat on the throne for decades. The queen of England has served as head of state longer than some of the longest serving presidents on Earth. President Museveni had a clear moral and ethical agenda when he led a successful revolution. He had countless opportunities to see a vision greater than himself for Ugandans. Instead, he has seemingly adopted every trope about autocrats, from nepotism to conflicts of interest. Unlike Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore whose vision was coupled with a strong sense of destiny for the island nation, President Museveni's vision has increasingly become about him. Uganda's fate now, it seems, is Museveni's fate. It will not end well.

In Kenya, there are countless examples of longevity and bad choices in the corporate world such that the departures of leaders with celebrated moral ad ethical standards is national news. The late Bob Collymore was the ideal that even politicians claimed to aspire to. He may have made a few morally or ethically dubious choices, but few could legitimately claim that he didn't publicly abide by certain strong ethical and moral values. The same is not true of his contemporaries whose corporate records are littered with cheated shareholders, business partners and customers. While they have thrived and been celebrated in the pages of business magazines, their continued presence in corporate circles is tolerated rather than welcomed. They are the man at the ed of the bar to whom many are courteous but few are willing to be seen drinking with.

If you lack a moral and ethical core that prizes doing the right thing over turning a profit or gaining an advantage, you will most likely be successful. But it is unlikely that you will be celebrated. You will be emulated by the unthinking, but you will not be lionized. You will build an empire, but it will crumble to dust when you shuffle off this mortal coil. Ancient empires have crumbled because they became rotten to the core. World leaders have fallen and been forgotten for espousing the worst values. If you are not careful, you will be a footnote in history, treated as cautionary tale. Choose wisely.

Start at the very top, Mr Mohamed

When regulators fail or are compromised, the whole system fails. My advice to H.E is to send heads of all the regulatory authorities home. Hire clean folks. Start afresh. That is where your war on corruption should have started. The regulators are regularising corruption. - @WehliyeMohamed
Whenever we bemoan the extent of corruption in the provision of public services, I recall this quote from Tacitus: "The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws". Kenya's regulatory environment is the result of the metastasizing corruption enervating its public institutions. If it were not for the corruption of the the Traffic Police Department, we wouldn't have the National Transport and Safety Authority which, in some instances of unthinking-ness, has resulted in motor vehicles, many times of the same make, model and colour, bearing the same number plate. The DusitD2 attack rammed home the consequences of NTSA's corruption. This is just the most obvious example.

In the heat of the moment, as a consequence of the hollowing out of public institutions by politicians and administrators alike, Government reacts by establishing a new institution to regulate a hitherto regulated sector. KEBS' failures spawned the Anti-Counterfeit Authority. EACC's failures spawned the Asset Recovery Agency. The National Police Service's failures spawned NTSA. And so on and so forth. Rather than address the root causes of regulatory failure, we have always sought to cover them up by establishing a new institution, throwing billions of shillings at it, and letting them have a free hand to "clean up the rot". The policy almost always fails in execution.

There is a fundamental flaw at the heart of the Kenyan administrative state: some Kenyans, and the entities they control, and some foreigners, and the billions they are said to have "invested", are "untouchable". Their status, power and wealth insulate them from the consequences of their actions. The law is merely an inconvenience to them. It can be set aside when it is in their interests. This is epitomised by the way we no longer protest the privileges extended to flag-festooned SUVs that are driven without a care for the Traffic Act or, indeed, the highway code - merely because they bear "very important passengers" going about their duties and who cannot afford to be inconvenienced by such mundane things as lane discipline. This anti-law attitude has permeated every facet of our lives. It has inspired Kenyans from all walks of life to extend even the most tenuous associations with powerful people into some kind of invisibility cloak when it comes to their public and private dealings.

Traffic Act scofflaws who happen to head powerful religious congregations seemingly walk away from the deaths they have caused on the roads. Vendors of various foodstuffs are seemingly immune not just from prosecution but from any form of investigation as they adulterate their wares with toxins and carcinogens with impunity. All of them take their cue from senior state officers who side-eye rules and regulations even when it makes no sense to do so. If those that make and enforce the law behave like bandits, why should the Kenyan on the street do so? It is important to hire clean folks. But it makes no sense to do so while the ones doing the hiring are mired in graft. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Are we prepared to bell the cat and elect and appoint Kenyans of integrity in the first place?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Should have known better

Guns for hire ain't loyal, and they shouldn't expect loyalty from their benefactors. When they are no longer of use, it is amazing how swiftly their paymasters turn on them. Often, the about-turn is limited to very cold shoulders in very public spaces. But every now and then, when a message needs to be sent, the change in their fortunes is usually accompanied by court dates before unsmiling magistrates just itching to hurl the book at them.

This is what has characterised Kenya's political elite's relations with the less savory elements of Kenya's supposedly free press. When the going is good, both sides make a killing: the sellsword makes bank; the politico gets a journalistic burnishing to inflate his already massive ego several times over. When it all goes tits up, boy o' buy, do things escalate fast. What casually begins as a war of words ends with handcuffs and scary-sounding charges. Robert Alai is living proof that when you're in, you're a guest; when you're out, you're a pest. He should have known better - when you sup with the devil, use a long spoon.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

How very Christian of us

There is a fanaticism to the Jubilationists' apologia that is a bit terrifying. Despite all proof to the contrary about the Jubilation's big ticket boondoggles, there are those in the inner circle who are determined to fight tooth and nail for the boondoggles not to be seen as the white elephants they are but as the key to unlocking Kenya's economic potential in the same skein as Singapore's.

One of my favorites is a former diplomat at our permanent mission to the UN in New York who seems to operate as if he is still singing Kenya's praises in foreign lands to ignorant foreign peoples. He has a knack for finding the silver lining in the dark clouds hanging over the Jubilation's economic performance, the reports of IEA Kenya be damned. He will lash at out at any Kenyan demonstrating disloyal tendencies, as he did at one of #SwitchOffKPLC's leading voices on social media for her accurate description of the economic rapine taking place under the Jubilation.

It confounds how the jubilationistic inner circle is impervious to advice, criticism and unpalatable truths. It is as if the moment they put on the tricoloured, Maasai-beaded wristbands, they lost the ability to reason critically about things. They wear their total and absolute fealty o their liege on their sleeves, unabashedly, unapologetically, and crassly loudly. Theirs is not loyalty to the ideal that Kenya aspires to be. No. It is personal. They have trothed their loyalty to their liege and all he stands for. Regardless of the vacuousness of some of the things they have foisted on the peoples they are supposed to serve. It confounds deeply.

We are a nation in a hurry, and that is a good thing. But it is not alright that we have a political leadership incapable of introspection, reflection, moderation or deliberation. We are not the United States, held hostage to twenty-four-hour news cycles. We don't need a political leadership that cannot sit still for a moment, take the time to reflect on whether or not Kenyans actually need to be bullied into obtaining "smart" IDs. Or "smart" DLs. Or "affordable" houses. We need a political leadership that serves our best interests, even if it means Kenya will be behind the curve in the corralling, collating and consolidating of personal data.

But in the heavily guarded, heavily policed echo chamber of the Jubilationists' sanctum sanctorum, personal fealty and die hard loyalty matter more than anything else. And the personal, daily demonstration of fealty is what keeps the satraps in office, regardless of the consequences of their deaf-eared approach to public service. Look no further at the deleterious effects of their loyalty than the debt burden foisted on our children, their children, and their children's children. It's like the Christian god's curse to the third and fourth generations threatened in the book of Exodus. Apposite for a "Christian" nation, don't you think?

Monday, June 17, 2019

Sunny's new one stings

"When people oppose reasonable arguments vigorously, it behoves us to look carefully at where their reward comes from." - Sunny Bindra, Who Is Paid Not To Understand?
I live an exciting life. I play with fire every day I come to to the office. I review many, many schemes and offer my professional advice based on whether or not the proposals pass legal muster. I do not make policy. Nor do I execute policy. But my grubby fingerprints are all over some of the dodgiest schemes. And it sometimes shames me to the core to witness the aftermath of some of the schemes that came across my desk that I was powerless to quash. Sunny Bindra's words are a cruel echo that sometimes it isn't enough to dig into where an unreasonable person's rewards come from, but who among us enable such obduracy.

Bad ideas do not gain currency merely because they are defended by obdurate, but powerful, backers. Many bad ideas gain currency because they have been sieved and vetted by an entire ecosystem designed to bring them to the fore. In many cases, well-functioning systems act like kidneys and livers, filtering out impurities. When these kidneys and livers fail, bone marrow manufactures powerful antibodies to repel the more tenacious impurities. But every now and then, even well-functioning systems fail. That is the best case scenario. The worst is truly horrible to behold.

Bad systems are composed of different layers of, for lack of a better word, corrupted components. At each stage in the process of proposing, making and implementing bad ideas, the incentives at play are self-serving, not intended to benefit anyone other than that one dealing with the proposal at that time. The big picture is merely the sunny sky outside ones window and no more. Bad systems are made up of poor incentives at every stage of the way and they often have men and women determined to defend their roles in bringing forth bad ideas to the death - or, quite often, to a frothing mouth end.

Harebrained schemes are the usual outcome of bad systems and the loudest defenders of the harebrained schemes have perfected the art of manipulating the rewards' processes of the system. Not everyone is rewarded in treasure and not everyone seeks treasure as a reward. So a careful look for cash transfers or similar rewards will only reveal part of the problem areas. Look for people whose scores have been unfairly settled in their favour. Look for people whose career progression has received an unwarranted boost from higher authorities. Look for the emergence of sacred cows. When the, lets say, waziri is frothing at the mouth, spit-flecked lips flapping, defending the implementation of a harebrained scheme, look for the most enthusiastic clappers standing behind him, listen to the technocratic mandarin explaining why what you heard is not what you think it means but some wonderful solution to a problem you didn't even know you had. Rewards come in many forms and it pays to know which ones are relevant and which ones are not.

You own it all

As a child, everything, and I mean everything, is permitted because responsibility for your acts of omission and commission are borne by those responsible for you. It is rare for a child to be held responsible for horrible things. The child might get a spanking or a scolding, but ultimately, the responsibility for the child's deeds and misdeeds lies with someone else: parents, caregivers, teachers, the lot. The Christian bible says to put away childish things when one becomes a man. That includes putting away childish tantrums.

In the same spirit, Steve Jobs had a rule: the janitor could make excuses for why he did a bad job. The vice president of the company could not; the vice president owned all the mistake of his subordinates. The same is true of presidents of countries. A presidency that is defined by excuses, tantrums and blame-shifting is a failed presidency no matter how many paper achievements its boosters and propagandists can point to.

The rise of the Jubilation was propagated on the promise of the corporatisation of the executive branch of government, with technocrats setting the pace on getting things done. It has not worked out quite as promised. The majority of the technocrats have floundered. Their achievements have been stellar in only one area: the out of control looting of public funds. Many decisions have been serious head-scratchers, inexplicable to an extent that even their proponents have no idea what the decisions were intended to achieve in the first place. 10,000MW of electricity? Check. But why? 10,000km of new tarmac? Check? But why? 66 BRT buses for Nairobi? Check. But why?

Amidst all this, with the metronomic piling on of failure after failure after failure, one thing remains constant: Furious President... Every month, one thing or another will lead to a newspaper headline with the legend: President Furious. And the question is always: Why? The president doesn't get the luxury of saying that his hands are tied, that he is helpless, that he doesn't know what to do. Not in Kenya. Not with a mandate the size of his. What is so difficult about sending packing the laggards in the Cabinet? What is so difficult about saying no to bad ideas, like pink lane marking on highways? At that level, regardless of "he is surrounded by bad advisors" stories, no excuses matter. You own the mistakes of your subordinates. They mess up, you take the blame. If you want it to stop, become, in effect, the janitor, and let someone else shoulder the burden of being the boss of bosses.

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 ...