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?

Some bosses lead, some bosses blame

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