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.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Wacha watangetange

"Kenya is in permanent campaign mode!" is a common complaint these days. Barely days after a contested election is finished and every elected representative and his rivals are back on the trail to ensure the next election is in their favour. 'Twas so for the 2017 general election as it was for the 2013 one and the 2007 one and so on and so forth. The campaign for the 2022 general elections began even before the results of the 2017 one were announced, with this camp, that camp, the other camp already formed with an eye to political power - and all that comes with it - when Uhuru Kenyatta's government is replaced with another one. We haven't really considered whether or not permanent campaigning is good or bad - we instinctively believe that it is bad.

It seems strange to say - strange to me anyway - that permanent campaign mode is neither bad not good. It is what it is. It does, though, give us an opportunity to constantly review our relationship with our government; what it means to be Kenyan in the midst of dwindling, pilfered resources; whether or not the country is on the right path; and whether we all come out alive in the end.

The 2022 presidential election campaign started even before the 2017 presidential election campaign and it has not stopped even for a second. It is easy to see why: the presidency is the holy grail of Kenyan politics. With it not only comes great power, but great power to aggrandize oneself and family, cronies and - in rare moments of strategic thinking - rivals. And has become custom since 2002, where Raila Odinga stands determines where everyone else sits. Some are in the hot seat. Some are out in the cold. Some have fire ants in their pants. But none can deny that regardless of the hat one wears - Kitaeleweka, Tangatanga and the rest of it - like Apostle Ng'ang'a would put it in inimitable style, when Raila Odinga coughs, the rest wanaitika.

And so it pays to ask: have the presidential election campaigns of the past two years been beneficial? Or have they just drained public resources, enervated the voting public, deepened disillusionment in the political process, and robbed the people of any hope in the future? In my opinion, the campaigns have been immensely illuminating and, yes, beneficial. Many Kenyans would have remained in the dark about the competence or otherwise of senior members of their government if it weren't for the allegations and counter-allegations being traded by members of rival campaign teams. So too the secrets of the SGR, Lamu Coal Plant, and a host of other dodgy schemes by members of our Government, senior and not. And for the discerning, the campaigning also reveals a rarely-considered attribute for political leadership: character.

For the most part, politicians, whether in office or out, are not to be trusted as far as you can throw them. Their dissembling has risen to a level where they themselves aren't sure that the words coming out of their mouths have any meaning. But even in their world, their are those who have generally been forces for good more than they have been forces for ill. They haven't had to bribe their way into office - well, not to the extent that the first thing Kenyans thought off when demonetization commenced was "Sasa atatoa thao za kanisa wapi?" Their constituents generally think of them as "clean". But there is a hardcore cohort that is despised outside a very narrow constituency. They are seen as the epitomy of mendaciousness, theft, graft and dishonorable conduct. In my opinion, a prolonged presidential campaign, one which reveals the extent of their loathsomeness is a boon for the people. So I say, let them tangatanga. In the end, their story may not end the way they pictured.

We need to learn, again, how to think

I don't think the parliamentarians of the National Assembly will heed the call and #RejectFinanceBill2024. They will tinker. They will v...