Monday, August 31, 2020

The tunnel vision of the blind

Seven years ago, rather tendentiously, I declared that because of Parliament, the Jubilee government "may go down in history as the worst government. Ever." Three years before, I had declaimed that "no longer should Kenyans be held hostage to the selfish goals and objectives of politicians; it is the responsibility of their representatives, through such organs as the PSCs to ensure that when decisions are taken, they are taken with the national interest in mind." In both cases I had underestimated the long tail of the not-so-dead KANU-ism that has proven as tenaciously resilient as witchweed.

Covid-19 gave the national executive the opportunity to subvert the ostensible separation of powers intended by the Constitution. The irony of such subversion occurring on the tenth anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution is not lost on the discerning. In five months, Parliament has been neutered and its power cast asunder like so much flotsam. From the moment various "parliamentary groups" were summoned to State House and read the riot act, Parliament's autonomy and independence has become a figment of our imagination. What began has a "handshake" three years ago has sealed the Twelfth Parliament's fate - Parliament can no longer claim to be separate from, or independent of, the national executive.

Martha Karua, the eponymous leader of NARC-Kenya, has a stark warning, which I paraphrase: if Parliament fails to re-assert itself, to take black that which has been granted by the Constitution, dodgy health-sector tenders will be the least of our worries. In my estimation, though, rigid fetishisation of the constitution will do more harm in the long run, and that includes the zealotry of the implement-the-constitution religion that is demanding the dissolution of parliament because it has failed in implementing the two-thirds gender rule.

No political system is perfect. Ours certainly is imperfect in many respects. The constitution was among the most difficult tools in resolving the imperfections of our system. We continue to suffer these imperfections because], on the one hand, the political elite will do everything in their power to prolong their place at the national trough even if it means running the national finances into the ground. On the other hand, Wanjiku prioritises immediate survival concerns at the expense of long-term political health because when one lives hand to mouth for most of the year, and one is faced with a once-in-a-century epidemic, one can't spend too much time parsing whether or not women, youth or the disabled have received a fair constitutional shake. It is the middle classes of intellectuals, business leaders, ministers of faith and political party apparatchiks who are supposed to discern the needs of the people and drive the ship of state into the calmer waters of long-term political, economic and social stability. But the middle classes, at the expense the Wanjiku they are supposed to lead, guide and assist, have cast their lot with the political elite in the hopes of inheriting the mantle from the political elite. The middle classes have betrayed their cause in the false hope of ascension into the ranks of the rich and powerful.

If the fervour with which the 2022 general election is being conducted is anything to go by - if you really think that they are not campaigning, you have not been paying attention - the political elite and Kenya's tabloids have completely forgotten the existence of Wanjiku and, instead, have turned their world into this massive echo chamber where only their ideas and views of the world percolate. Poverty? Kenyans aren't poor - even during the pandemic, inflation was low and exports were up! Unemployment? It is only temporary; as soon as the pandemic ends, the economy will roar back into full productivity on the back of higher tourist visitors and greater demand for cut flowers! Political instability? Please! Now that parliament and State House are in sync, the Big Four Agenda and the BBI Initiative will give the people what they ahem always wanted: a seat at the table for the people who reflect the face of Kenya! In short, if the middle classes and the political elite they serve don't wish to see it, then it doesn't exist.

The BBI's recommendations will be rammed down our throats. The Big Four will be implemented come hell or high water. CBC will churn out successive generations of unquestioning drones. But only if tunnel-vision prophecies by the blind come to pass. And none are as blind as the political elite, the Fourth Estate and the predatory bankers who bankroll the whole kit and caboodle. Listen to them at your own peril.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

A pox on your war

As we ponder constitutional changes, let us define a Nairobi Capital City governance system that is insulated from politics of the day, and that is based on professional execution and delivery of services. On the minimum we may need a 10 year “lease” for the NMS mandate to allow it to turnaround the city, before we revert to an elected county mandate. Nairobi has been an extraordinary problem requiring an exceptional constitutional consideration.Soldier on General Badi, Nairobi stands with you
The peoples of Nairobi City County have had the opportunity to elect county governments on two occasions. The first time, they elected a charlatan. The second time, they elected a buffoon. But it was their choice. They exercised their franchise freely and without intimidation. They got the government that they elected. If they want their government to do more, to do better, they will elect one that will do just that. That is the bargain they, and the voters in the remaining 46 counties, made when they participated in the referendum that, among other things, led to the promulgation of a constitution that established Nairobi City's county government. It is time for Nairobi's "saviours" to accept that unless they are willing to present themselves at the hustings, their interventions mean as much as a fart in a hurricane. They should accept this unpalatable fact - and move on.

General Badi and his band of merry men may be doing a bang up job but no one elected them to perform that job. He is unaccountable to the people who matter - the voters (and residents) of Nairobi. No matter how well he executes his mandate, he is not the choice of the peoples of Nairobi and unless he is elected to office in the county government, he never will. No one has the right or authority to grant him a "10 year lease". To even argue that what he is doing falls within the confines of the constitution is to blind oneself to the inherent risks of such extra-constitutional shenanigans.

It is not as if the existing legal framework doesn't provide for a Badi-like arrangement. The Urban Areas and Cities Act, 2011, offers City Fathers the opportunity to appoint city managers to perform the tasks that General Badi is purporting to perform. That the provisions of this Act have suffered the gimlet eye of General Badi's benefactors is an indictment of their capacity to "think out of the box". They are confined in their fantasies of executive imperialism that we thought had been buried six feet under on the 26th August, 2010. Their acolytes, like the author of the unfortunate screed at the top of this post, have conveniently forgotten why we wanted executive imperialism to be cast on the ash heap of history - the corruption and abuse of office that it violently engendered.

That Nairobi City's government is a mess goes without saying. That City Fathers have proven to be corrupt saboteurs can be seen, plain as day, from the effects of the works of their hands. But Nairobi's peoples do not deserve to be cheated of the opportunity to build systems that serve their interests. It distresses me at a professional level that my colleagues in the Bar have been unable to successfully overturn General Badi's installation as an unelected City Father not only on constitutional grounds but on statutory ones as well. (If you were to ask the more serious members of my profession, they will quietly admit to you that the legal framework underpinning General Badi's "authority" is flimsy to the point of being ephemeral. They choose not to shout this out in the agora because it may endanger fat briefs when they are approached to offer legal services in matters connected to this municipal coup.)

One of the most vital functions of the City County Government is regulating "development" - what we know as the building and construction industry. Since the burial of the Nairobi City Commission, development has not only been an area of great graft, but one that has caused untold misery from the dozens of buildings that have collapsed to the spectacular chaos in un-planned construction. What we sniffily refer to as "informal settlements" are the result of development control that has abandoned all pretence at professionalism. Looking at the things General Badi has tom-tommed of his first 100 days, it is plain that he intends to follow a well-beaten path - but with military precision. He brings no expertise at development control and it shows. When the dust settles on his iniquitous tenure, maybe we will find out for whom he was beard. 

They all fall, eventually

The member of the National Assembly for Mumias East is a spectacularly unpleasant character. But he is not unique. A former member of the Na...