Wednesday, October 28, 2020

There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth

If you are like me, and I sincerely hope that you are not, then you steer clear of Kenyan news media. Much of what passes as news and political commentary these days is barely-disguised propaganda from, in order of precedence, the president, his embattled deputy, the former prime minister or the satellites of vocal acolytes that carry water for the three principals. Every now and then, has-beens like the former vice presidents and some of the more energetic members of parliament will get a bit of airtime as will the doddery political flies made up of "civil society" windbags that swarm around the high table.

Therefore, it is almost certain that if it hadn't been for the violent rhetoric surrounding the release of the recent Report of the Steering Committee on the Implementation of the Building Bridges to a United Kenya Taskforce Report, the event would have passed me by without so much as a by-your-leave. But, sadly, I happened to come across the spirited whining of the former leader of the majority party in the senate and my spirit is disturbed.

Listening to the poor man, one gets the impression that the BBI, the catchall acronym for the implementation of the Taskforce report, is a matter of such grave national importance that presidential political ambitions shall be made and unmade on the outcome of the process. Our eponymous senator went to great lengths to highlight the crucial weaknesses in BBI (while also bitching piteously about how he and his fellow travellers had been locked out of the process). It never occurred to him to admit that the reason why there was a BBI in the first place is that he, his principals and their political party have done a great deal of constitutional sabotage that necessitates a messy political solution today.

Members of my benighted profession are taught to look at circumstances for what they are and not for what our clients wish them to be. I have witnessed one of my seniors throwing his weight behind some of the BBI report's steering committee's implementation report and, dear friend, my spirit is disturbed because if there's one thing that the BBI in its entirety is, it is that it is proof of constitutional hooliganism of epic proportions. Some may argue that the trigger for the latest round of BBI madness is the Chief Justice's advice to the president to dissolve parliament over parliament's refusal to implement the two-thirds gender rule. Some may say that after a year, give or take a pandemic or two, of the inexorable marginalisation of the deputy president and his acolytes, it is time to put him out of his misery. Still others might say that if there is a way of putting constitutional square pegs in antidemocratic round holes, the BBI is it with its proposals for statutory health commissions and constitutional police councils.

I am of a different opinion. From the moment the reds accepted, with open contempt, the outcome of the 2010 referendum, they have worked assiduously to hamstring everything the constitution stands for, from gender equity to the protection of the rights of arrested persons, fiscal rectitude to the principles of devolution. Parliamentary independence was, and continues to be, notable by its absence. Judicial independence has been the focus of determined violence that it is a wonder that just recently the Chief Justice inaugurated a new court house.

In my opinion, the BBI is a fig-leaf for something that Kenyans are afraid to come to terms wit: the political elite who speak for and about them hate the people. They hate them with a deep and abiding malevolence that is revealed in the policies and laws that are enforced, and the constitutional principles that are exsanguinated in the open, the way sacrificial lambs were exsanguinated in biblical myths. I have no faith that the successful implementation of the recommendations of the BBI Taskforce will re-acquaint Kenya's elite with the basic tenets of constitutional values. In fact, if (or when) the BBI recommendations are fully implemented, I predict that Kenyans will have great cause to regret their choices of elites. Like it is told in the Gospel according to St Matthew, there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Badi & Co. and the Bill of Rights

Paternalism does not sit well with Bills of Rights.

Nairobi's City Fathers, from the city's founding, have treated the "native" population with a paternalism that has invited rights' violating behaviour of such cruelty that it almost always comes as shock when one sees it in action. The City Fathers, and the central government that backs their anti-people plays, have always segregated the city - the wealthier suburbs and the Eastlands wasteland of untidiness in need of a firm guiding fatherly hand by Those Who Know Better.

This attitude, unsurprisingly, pervades city planning. It is the guiding light of the newly-minted roadsweeping company otherwise known as Nairobi Metropolitan Services, which has theoretically taken on the onerous task of physical planning, public health, public sanitation and public transport. Its 100-day anniversary was marked by the presidential flagging off of water bowsers and off-road ambulances. The president has "inspected" cabro works in the Nairobi Central Business District, giving the general in command top marks for his efforts. The general has attracted a positive press from the usual boosters - professional types that do not want to encounter mikokoteni, nduthists, matatus or hawkers in the streets of their beloved CBD. In their minds, it is a matter of time before martial discipline sorts out the city's issues and it can take its rightful place among the great cities of the world: London, New York, Paris, Munich, Milan and Singapore.

General Badi & Co., in keeping with the expectations of their boosters, have announced that, just like Rwanda's Kigali, one day in each month will be dedicated to mandatory roadsweeping by those in the city.  General Badi announced, portentously, that "this will come into law; it will be a must" to the ponderous praise of those who want government to be their daddy. A few things, though, escape their attention. Or, as I read it, they have completely ignored what is plain to see.

First, regardless of the legitimacy of the deed of transfer, General Badi was not elected to his position; he was appointed to it. He is accountable to his appointing authority. If he messes up, he can't be removed by the voters of the city. It is up to his appointing authority to decide whether or not he is doing a bang up job. So far, his appointing authority is happy with cabro works and branded water bowsers.

Second, a corollary to the first point. He is only accountable to his appointing authority for how he spends taxpayers' money. He need not present a budget for his operations to anyone other than his appointing authority. He is not subject to legislative oversight by the County Assembly. He does not have to lay his budget or his plans before the County Assembly. If he is summoned to attend before the relevant county assembly committees responsible for oversight of the areas under his charge, he can flip the committees the bird and suffer no adverse consequences. He can spend the billions under his charge without further reference to the county government.

Third, the opacity of the General's operations is a recipe for great corruption and if one argues that the Kenya Defence Forces is as white as the driven snow when it comes to graft, one has simply not been paying attention. The Air Force itself, where the general hails from, has yet to satisfactorily explain its dodgy purchase of jet fighters from Jordan that have never seen the great blue yonder. And now the man and his cohort are entering into public works contracts under unknown terms for unknown sums. If a billion or two evaporate into the ether, no one would know.

Fourth, the general is not trained to manage municipalities. Planning air war campaigns and implementing plans to revivify public health services are alike as chalk and cheese. The tendrils of industrial action emanating from the county's health workers will soon enough choke his grand plans for "21 new hospitals" simply because he does not seem to know what he wants to do to improve public health services.

The face of paternalism in Kenya has always been that of autocracy. Kenyans who don't see the light are to be beaten into submission. In Nairobi, the beating has always been meted out by the City Askaris. In order for General Badi to ensure that the residents of this city "turn out in large numbers" to sweep the roads, he will either have to persuade them that it is a good thing or he will have to force them to comply with his "it will be a must" way of thinking. If the latter, he will need to turn out the City Askaris, rungus and shields, to crack heads. Either way, that bit of the Bill of Rights about slavery, servitude and forced labour, is about to meet the General's new cohort. I will leave the irony of an Air Force general commanding City Askaris for others to muse about.