Friday, December 10, 2021

NMS Must Go

The Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act (No. 8 of 1999) is one of the most mind-numbingly boring pieces of legislation to ever manage from the National Assembly of Kenya. It is written in such a stodgy and turgid style that only a masochist would read it for fun. It's ennui-inducing text notwithstanding, it is a law of the Republic and must be obeyed whenever someone sets out to do a project in Kenya. It binds everyone, regardless of their station in life. Barring the nitpicking of members of my tribe, where it says "shall", it commands one to do or refrain from doing that act.

It states, at section 58(1):

Notwithstanding any approval, permit or license granted under this Act or any other law in force in Kenya, any person, being a proponent of a project, shall before financing, commencing, proceeding with, carrying out, executing or conducting or causing to be financed, commenced, proceeded with, carried out, executed or conducted by another person any undertaking specified in the Second Schedule to this Act, submit a project report to the Authority, in the prescribed form, giving the prescribed information and which shall be accompanied by the prescribed fee.

The Second Schedule classifies projects into low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk.  In my opinion, what is being undertaken in Uhuru Park is a low-risk project (small scale rehabilitation, maintenance and modernization of projects), for which a project report should have been submitted to NEMA and, should NEMA have directed, an EIA should have been undertaken. In flagrant disregard for section 58, none of this was done and it has taken a petition by the Communist Party of Kenya to put a stop to the goings on in Nairobi's largest urban green space.

We have been fed tonnes of propaganda about how military officers are so by-the-book and honest that they will right the developmental ship of state from its dangerously parleys state. I have expressed my scepticism about the soldiers donning mufti and playing at civilian administration. I am not persuaded that soldiers - whose business should be to high wars - are well-suited to the mess coalition-building of varied interests that is necessary to the running of a city or the management of its affairs. Even senior military officers live under the rubric that all orders of their commanders-in-chief must be obeyed, regardless of the constitutional fig leaf of "lawful orders". The general in charge of the Uhuru Park project has not demonstrated a sufficient capability in civilian coalition-building to believe that he is capable of complying with anything other than the direct orders of his commanding officer.

We know enough about the disfunction in NEMA and other regulatory bodies to know that the cost of undertaking any project in Kenya is orders of magnitude higher than it needs to be. The solution, however, is not to undermine the laws of the Republic no matter how noble a project is claimed to be. The Uhuru Park fiasco is proof that military generals lack the creativity needed to undertake any major project in the city. Messrs Sonko and Kidero were terrible governors but they understood the need to consult widely and involve all affected parties when undertaking projects, and when the projects foundered for whatever reason, they adjusted, adapted or pulled out altogether, which is the essential component of democratic development.

The poor man charged with improving physical planning services in Nairobi City is incapable of consulting effectively; has no clue about the political and social impacts of his my-way-or-the-highway approach to leadership; believes that the ends justify unlawful means; and will not admit that he is in waters he can't navigate or that his appointing authority was wrong to appoint him in the first place. The Environment and Land Court may yet reverse its injunction against the Uhuru Park project and if it did, that would be entirely in keeping with the doctrine of the rule of law. The reason why the injunction exists in the first place is that the project proponents in Uhuru Park shat on the rule of law. Whether or not the injunction is lifted, the Nairobi Metropolitan Service cannot continue to operate. It should be disbanded and its officers barred from ever serving in the public service again.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

What is left unsaid says it all

We teach our children that violence is not the answer. We, sometimes, reinforce the lesson, with violence. Therein lies irony, but that is not the reason for this post. If there's one lesson that we have taken from years of childhood development studies it is that violence forms a poor foundation for the education and discipline of children. But in situations where time and other resources are scarce, the instinct to chart familiar, violent, paths overwhelms the instinct to spend more time and resources in building new systems for the education and discipline of our children. It is a schizophrenic hypocrisy, of sorts.

I have watched with amazement as the Cabinet Secretary for Education and his internal security counterpart, together with other senior government officials, muse publicly that it is time to reintroduce corporal punishment in schools as one of the solutions for the waves of school unrest and associated cases of arson. Far better thinkers of childhood development can tell you why violent coercive force is no longer the preferred method for educating or disciplining children. I intend to show you why it is wrong for governmental officials to casually and recklessly recommend the usurpation of constitutional prohibitions.

In Kenya, Cabinet Secretaries and Principal Secretaries swear an oath to obey, respect and uphold the Constitution of Kenya and all other laws of the Republic. The Constitution imposes an obligation on all Kenyans to protect children from all forms of violence. In my opinion, this includes protection of children from corporal punishment, which is a form of violence. The Basic Education Act, which is a law of the Republic, states that one of the principles of the provision of basic education is the elimination of  corporal punishment.

The oaths that the Cabinet Secretaries and Principal Secretaries swore means that they cannot casually propose the reintroduction of corporal punishment without first amending the Constitution and repealing the provisions that protect children from any form of violence. Furthermore, they cannot declare that they "do not believe in children's rights", because it would amount to saying that they do not believe in the Bill of Rights, which would bring into question their fitness to continue serving in Government.

I have watched with trepidation as senior members of the Government have swatted away their constitutional obligations whenever it inconvenienced them. A senior member of the police service defied court orders and was convicted of contempt and ordered to serve a term of imprisonment of four years. He has also disobeyed the latest court order. Several Cabinet Secretaries have also been convicted of contempt of court; they have all defied the sanctions imposed on them by the courts. No less than the Chief Justice of kenya has watched as some of his orders are defied by Government officials.

Meanwhile, the police service is wielded as a sledgehammer against the hoi polloi should they deign to set one toe over the line. Quite often, police action in the enforcement of the law ends tragically; men, women, children and infants have died at the hands of police in the enforcement of the law. But when it comes to senior members of the Government, regardless of the scale of their alleged offences, they are treated with kid gloves even as they thumb their noses at the rule of law. This is not a satisfactory way to build a culture of constitutionalism in Kenya. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the true threat to the constitutional order is the reckless disregard for the rule of law by senior members of the Government.

In my opinion, any governmental official who declares that children do not enjoy any constitutional protections is not fit to hold public office; any government official who defies the orders of the courts, is not fit to hold public office; any governmental official who undermines the rule of law in any way must be removed from office and barred from public service forever. But this is half the story, isn't it? The other half is left unsaid because that is what we do and who we are.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Change or die

A video was published on social media showing the exact moment 25 people died. The bus they were traveling in attempted to cross a swollen river at an unsafe drift road crossing. It is reported that the driver of the ill-fated bus hesitated for a long time before being urged forward by his passengers who were on their way to a wedding. It is also reported that some of the passengers argued that God would keep them safe. This terrible tragedy was avoidable.

In the same week, a speeding driver who is suspected to have been driving while drank hit and killed two motorcycle riders. It is reported that the dangerous driver is the son of a senior policeman. It is also reported that police procedures at the scene of a road traffic accident in which fatalities are reported were not followed. The dangerous driver was allowed to leave the scene of the accident without recording a statement. The vehicle that he was driving was not towed to the nearest police station. The policemen at the scene of the accident did not alert anyone about the accident. This tragedy could have been avoided. The events that followed could have been prevented.

There are many things that contribute to the dangerousness of driving on Kenyan roads. Some are highlighted in these tragedies: poor road design; poor mitigation of risks; poor driver training; and abuse of office by privileged road users. Take the manner in which the alleged son of the senior policeman was treated. He is not the first one to get away with traffic offences because of who he is or who he is connected to. It has become an ingrained part of our national DNA that senior government officers (and they friends and families) are not to be strictly bound by the law, even when their actions cause death and serious injury.

We have a word for this: impunity. It pervades every aspect of our lives. It is excused. It is encouraged. And as we have seen, it cause death, injury and destruction on a colossal scale. The single most important contributor to the contempt for the law that infects Kenyans' lives is the impunity of governmental officials, their families and friends. Why should the hoi polloi follow the law when the men and women who have sworn to uphold the law flout it with impunity and protect their friends and family when they flout it? Why should the hoi polloi obey the law when the forces of law and order conspire to defeat the ends of justice when the high and mighty commit offences? If our governmental leaders will not be held to account, if they will conspire with other governmental officials to undermine the law, and thereby defeat the ends of justice while causing death and injury, there is no reasonable cause to believe that the people they govern or lead will do the same. Widespread hypocrisy is simply not a good way to govern. And when it comes to road traffic accidents, fatalities and injuries, this kind of hypocrisy is deadly.

The Kitui tragedy was avoidable and preventable. Avoidable because the driver of the ill-fated bus should have turned back and found an alternative route to his destination and if such a route was not to be found, returned to where the journey began. No amount of exhortations from his passengers should have override his initial instincts to avoid the crossing.

It was preventable if only the crossing had a proper bridge or, if such a bridge was not to be had, a barrier across the crossing during the period the crossing was dangerous to use. One of the episodes on the Australian reality series Outback Truckers shows the lengths local authorise in the Australian bush will go to prevent tragedies on the roads. In this episode, the long-haul trucker comes to a similar drift crossing that is swollen; the river has broken its banks and is swirling over the drift crossing. The local authorities have posted a barrier across it and a notice barring its use. Our trucker is the only one on the road. He chooses safety and finds an alternative route. Our bus driver should have done the same. The Kitui County Government should have posted warnings not to use the crossing.

The Kitui county government's apathy, as that of the roads' authority and National Transport and Safety Authority, are responsible fr the deaths. The bus driver and his passengers are not the only cause of the tragedy. Because no one will truly be held to account for this kind of apathy, it is almost certain that the Kitui county government, the roads' authority and NTSA will not change how they govern the roads; the drift road crossing will remain dangerous when the river waters swell; and eventually, tragedy will strike again. The impunity we have permitted to metastasise when it comes to law enforcement on the roads has infected the design, construction and use of roads. If we don't change, death and injury will continue to stalk us wherever we go.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Untrained, inexperienced, without a plan

It almost always comes as a surprise when a Kenyan will robustly defend under-performers in the public service with a roster of excuses that a child of five will see for what it is: arrant nonsense. My latest encounter is with a man (I will assume it is a man because men will walk through fire for other under-performing men) who can only marvel at the challenges the general in charge of the Nairobi Metropolitan Service has faced as he seeks to bring water services closer to the people.

In response to my observation that the good general is utterly useless due to the image of mikokoteni-borne water vendors plying their trade in the Central Business District, the man could not hold himself back and had to remind me that the general has sunk 300 boreholes in informal settlement. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he had missed the point, especially when we limbered up and declared, "Nairobi cannot be overhauled in two years", completely forgetting that rapid results was what the general promised when he took up this additional duty.

If the general had bothered to ask, he would have been told that water services are not for the unprepared. The redoubtable Martha Karua faced entrenched resistance from cartels and vested interests when she initiated reforms in the water sector. If for nothing else, Ms karma is remembered in Government for the preparations she made for the water reforms, and the skills she demonstrated when she overcame resistance to her form agenda. The general does not have Ms Karua's skills. He may be a hotshot over at the Airforce, but he is woefully out of his depth when it comes tot he delivery of efficient, effective and affordable water services.

It is not unpatriotic to point this out. He is simply not qualified to manage water services. He isn't trained to do so. He has not worked int he water sector. He didn't have a plan to improve water services when he was appointed to his current post. All he had to go on were his prejudices - which are, in fact - the appointing authority's prejudices - when to comes to how residents of Nairobi access water services. It is why the general celebrates - and is celebrated for - the sinking of boreholes in informal settlements as opposed to being celebrated for ensuring water services are provided at the lowest cost possible to the widest number of city residents without having to rely on expensive boreholes or contend with the environmental damage caused to water tables and wetlands.

Further, merely reminding me that Mr Sonko, the recording artist formerly known as Governor Bling Bling, was worse is not proof that the general is better at anything to do with municipal services. It is only proof that Nairobi's residents have been ill-served by its elected and appointed officials, and that there are no shortcuts to good service. Had the general been asked to modernise Kenya's Airforce, no one would have batted an eyelid; he is, after all, general in the airforce, where he has trained professionally for decades to rise to his current rank. Unfortunately, he came to municipal services without training, experience or a plan. Nairobi continues to pay the price for his ineptitude. His temporary duty assignment cannot end soon enough.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Of feral cats and police reforms

What one chooses to remember about the Kenya Police of the 1980s and 1990s is determined by how forgiving ones amnesia is. When I went to boarding school for my secondary school, like many teenage boys of my time, I knew well enough not to be accosted by police in the evening. Whether or not I was innocent, in uniform or dire medical distress (which happened frequently), if they ran into you at any time after 7 p.m., you would rue the day you stepped foot outside your school for anything than a fully chaperoned excursion in the company of a teacher. One of my friends never recovered from the violent assault he suffered at the hands of the police.

It was only years later when John Michuki admitted that the police were a tool for the control and oppression of the politically recalcitrant that it finally dawned on me that the directive to instil "discipline" in all Kenyans came from the top that I started to understand why "reforms" would always fail if the hand holding the political trigger was disinterested in police reforms. Mr Michuki certainly though the Ransley Commission report to be a complete waste of time - and so has every single one of his successors.

When the infant Pendo was killed by policemen, it was only the sustained public outcry that led to their arrest and prosecution, But four years after the trial began, the prosecution is yet to close its case. If it wasn't for the sustained public outcry that ensued, Benson Njiru's and Emmanuel Mutura's unexplained deaths at the hands of police would not have been investigated and their killers would not have been arrested and prosecuted. Four months after the two brothers were killed, no one is sure that the six police charged with their murder will ever be convicted. Five years after Willie Kimani, his client Josphat Mwenda and their driver Joseph Muiruri were abducted, tortured and murdered by policemen, we are only at the case-to-answer stage of the criminal trial, a trial where the police have stonewalled all the way.

From the moment we promulgated the new constitution, we have only paid lip service to police reforms. It is clear that the hands that hold the police's leash are loath to let go; the National Police Service Commission is powerful on paper and toothless in reality. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority is a pale imitation of a civilian oversight agency of policemen. The Internal Affairs Unit is renown for keeping a studious low profile. None of the cosmetic changes to police oversight and police leadership has demonstrably altered the fundamental nature of Kenya's police. The key to the state of affairs can be found in the stubborn unwillingness of the civilian authorities to implement and enforce the required reforms. This stubbornness is reflected in how they deploy policing resources, not for the safety of the people, but for the purpose of intimidating and controlling the people.

Policemen and policewomen are humans, parents, siblings, friends, children, grandchildren and members of the communities they hail from and reside in. As individuals, they are simultaneously victims and perpetrators of great inequality and unspeakable crimes. As an institution, the police forces are weapons of intimidation, fear, human rights abuse and great corruption and crime. It's been eleven years since we promulgated a new constitution, and things have not changed at all. Police continue to murder and solicit bribes with impunity. Isn't it time to admit that tinkering with the mechanics of policing - laws, rules and regulations, standing orders and standard operating procedures - misses the forest for the trees? The police and police institutions are not the problem. The problem is the political and civilian authorities. They are the ones in need of reform. Who will bell this feral cat?

Monday, October 18, 2021

It's time to send a message

Barely a decade has passed since "Ocampo Six", "Ekaterina", "Bensouda", "ICC" and "Waki Envelope" defined the run up to a general election. The tragic events that followed Mr. Samuel Kivuitu's declaration of the winner of the 2007 presidential election continue to define and redefine Kenyans and their relationship to their government. Of the many men and women who were party to the events that defined the aftermath of the election and the outcome of the abortive trial at the International Criminal Court, none cuts as tragic a figure as the former vice chairperson of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and first post-2010 senator of Mombasa County.

Those who care to remember will remember the passion he brought to his task investigating the violence that followed Mr. Kivuitu's declaration. Of the members of the Commission, he came across as unusually ardent, so much so that when rumours swirled about how witnesses had been bought and official reports manipulated, his name was linked to the rumours though no proof was ever adduced and the matter was allowed to rest. No one will remember the public investigation of the cause and aftermath of the 2007/2008 Post-Election Violence without remembering his public crusade to bring the perpetrators of the violence, especially the so-called Ocampo Six, to justice, whether here in kenya or at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

He trod a well-trodden path after his stint on the Commission was over. He joined a political party, the darling of the voters. He was popularly elected to the Senate as his county's first senator. He became a vocal member of the elected classes. Then he had a falling out with his party leader and, in his bid to be re-elected, lost his party's nomination and his deposit in the bargain. Ever since, he has cut an increasingly pitiable figure in his quest to find political redemption and relevance while out in the electoral cold.

In recent months he has found a friend in one of the men he once passionately accused of crimes against humanity, who offers him the hope of an electoral comeback. Together they have walked, as his new benefactor seeks to become Kenya's fifth head of state and government. To those who can remember the firebrand who pursued justice as a Commissioner, his transformation is a true head-scratcher, a reverse Damascene conversion - once one had sight and now they are blind.

Of the many tragedies Kenya has suffered in the period after 2008's peace deal between the 2007 presidential belligerents, none is as heartbreaking as the failure to do justice to those who were murdered, maimed, dispossessed or displaced after the 2007 general election. The heartbreak is made more painful by the number of men and women who have abandoned the pursuit of justice, even refusing to pay lip service to the corse of justice. They are, almost to a person engaged, in the wild pursuit of a place at the high table when the change of guard takes place in August next year. The individual men and women who promised justice and who, for a time at least, pursued justice and who have now turned their coats and joined together with the men they investigated with such vigour before is almost too painful to witness. But we must bear witness and tell our story if only to warn our future selves of the fickleness of human political principles.

Though no one was convicted of crimes connected to the 2007/200 violence, no one was truly acquitted either. Many events conspired to defeat the ends of justice. Truth did not triumph. That fig leaf is unavailable to that man. There are many things that he can rationalise about his behaviour but not how he has seemingly abandoned the principles that guided him when he was a Commissioner and a senator. If it is political redemption and relevance that he seeks after five years in the electoral cold, he deserves neither. He deserves to lose and lose roundly. The voters must send him a clear message: he is no longer welcome in the corridors of power.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Katiba at Eleven

The Constitution of Kenya turned eleven years old twenty days ago. That day happened to be the day that the Court of Appeal rejected the pleas of the pro-BBI zealots and upheld the judgment of the High Court - save in the case of a few issues that didn't speak to the core of the BBI argument. The Government marked the ten-year anniversary of the Constitution but the event was marked in a muted fashion, coming as it is, when the pro-constitutional-amendment bandwagon had suffered a few setbacks, the least not being a split in the national executive regarding the fruits of The Handshake, the place of the Deputy President and the sniping from the idleness by civil society stalwarts.

It doesn't come as a surprise that the eleven-year anniversary passed without comment, whether from the government or the media. This is the last year before the next general election, which should be held on the 9th August, 2022, if Kenya isn't at war and parliament hasn't pushed back the date of the general election to 9th February, 2023 or 8th August, 2023 [see Article 102 of the Constitution].

In any case, the government was preoccupied with the BBI appeal and the national media had no interest in it - unless it was told to pay attention by the government, which seems to be the current sthatemedia relationship. I read an amazing Op-Ed by the group editorial director of the Nation Media Group, in which he tried to justify the soft-ball questions he and his fellow new editors lobbed at the president last week. While we would be excited to read a no-holds-barred bare-knuckle slug-fest interview of the president, most of us would settle for an honest accounting of the government from the head of that government. The salience of the constitutional anniversary falling on the same day as the appeal judgment should not have been given the go-bye by Mr. Mathiu and his fellow editors. And yet, it was, and we can't but wonder whether it is because news editors have fallen so low in their own estimation that writing copy for politicians and their games is what they can and intend to do.

The judiciary, also, did not care to mark the occasion and yet the BBI judgments of the High Court and the Court of Appeal were powerful affirmations of the ideals set out in the Constitution, the least not being the centrality of the people's sovereignty in the exercise of governmental powers by the president and other members of the government. The courts have awakened a powerful debate regarding what the Constitution is, what it does, whom it protects and the threats it faces from those who swore oaths to obey, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.

Parliamentarians of all shades have proposed twenty-one separate constitutional amendment bills that have gone nowhere. Though the Bills were introduced in Parliament, they did not receive the support of the people, or the parliamentarians, for one reason or another. All proposed amendments drew strength from the utterances made by the constitution's supporters in 2010 that 80% of the draft constitution was good - and the remaining 20% could be sorted out after its promulgation. They had no intention of honouring their word; once the constitution was promulgated, they turned their attention to power-sharing and political horse-trading - the 20% that needed to be sorted out was left by the wayside. Then came along Ekuru Aukot's Punguza Mizigo Bill and the BBI Bill that wore the façade of popular support but, in truth, formed part of the desire of the political elite to exclude the people from consequential decisions that affect the lives of the people in intimate and destructive ways.

The Lancaster House constitution's guard-rails were removed with the intention of creating an imperium in the presidency and by the time section 2A was repealed in 1990, 38 amendments in total had been effected. The latest crop of 74 that formed part of the BBI Bill were a reckless Hail Mary from the political elite. They should have formed the highlight of the eleven-year celebration of the Constitution. They would have been proof that the guard-rails the Constitution has today serve a vital purpose - only truly necessary amendments that enjoy the support of the majority of the people shall be allowed t go through. Amendments designed to parcel out governmental power among buccaneers and brigands shall be fed into the woodchopper of the judiciary.

Monday, August 02, 2021

We won't be knocked down

For a long time, Kenyans took for granted certain immutable facts. We were the world champions of middle-distance and long-distance road races. Regardless of whether the races were held in chilly European capitals, tech-filled US cities or sweltering Asian ones, a Kenyan 1-2-3 was taken as a given. The Ethiopians and Moroccans were our natural challengers, and every now and then would cause an upset, but it was global received wisdom that Kenyans were kings of the road. End of.

Tokyo 2020 is testing our faith in what is known about the known universe in painful ways. There are many explanations for our heart-rending change of circumstances, most of which are the tea-leaves'-reading technical jargon of the people who care passionately about such things. I have a different explanation, one that is informed by feelings" and not technical facts.

A few months ago, one of the senior-most government officials was photographed, clean-shaven. His physical appearance had undergone such a shocking change that we were, well, shocked. I can still remember the cruel statements that were made about him and, for a moment, I felt a twinge of pity for him. But after a horrific year, where lives and livelihoods had been destroyed, rend asunder, I could understand why his physical appearance had become so shocking. The same is true of our most cherished Olympic tradition: winning road races.

When Eliud Kipchoge ran that amazing not-race in Vienna in 2019, he reminded the whole wide world what Kenyans were capable of achieving through sheer determination. A few uncharitable windbags whispered unkindly that "it must have been the special shoes" but deep down in their black hearts, they knew that what they were seeing was the magic that made Kenyans special. Mr Kipchoge is a national - nay, global - treasure, as is every single Kenyan that competes in road races.

But not even Mr Kipchoge's running mates can have escaped the hellscape that 2020 became. Training regimens were destroyed by mental and physical manxieties. Our exceptional, mentally resilient athletes can't have escaped any of the things that made Kenyans' lives that much harder. They are humans; they are not robots. They see what we see. They feel what we feel When we suffer, they suffer with us. The malaise that has enervated us as a people, surely, it must have affected them, even if a little. The paucity of medals in Tokyo is but the proof of how they too, have suffered.

I am a Kenyan and I have a Kenyan's optimism about life. Our team may not shine as brightly as it shone in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016, but I know that it will not simply give up. Our team will fight for every medal. Our team will suffer many knocks, but it will never be knocked down. And when the next Olympiad rolls around, our team will shine so bright it will shame the sun. Just you wait.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Whiteness and Black hair

One aspect of whiteness that is impossible to miss is the way Black hair is received, treated, experienced, controlled and blamed for all manner of disciplinary and professionalism issues. The image of professionalism is a white man with well-groomed hair in suit and tie in an office setting. The image of unprofessionalism is a Black woman with "natural" hair, regardless of whether or not she is in a suit, plain blouse, comfortable heels, in an office setting. That Back hair has nothing to do with whether or not one is able to execute their professional responsibilities well is irrelevant. We know what we know and that's the end of that.

Every now and then we are reminded of how much further we have to go as people to liberate ourselves from the shackles of whiteness. Just this week, a parent has reminded us that even our children, cute as they be, the loves of our lives, are not immune or immunisable from the whiteness that corrals the adults in their lives. His two years old son has been denied a place at a school because his hair does not "meet the standards" of the school. I know a dog whistle when I hear one and this one is as loud as a siren.

There is a certain type of school administrator that is incapable of seeing Black-ness as wholesome. He, or she, carries the enormous burden of erasing the Black-ness of a child to replace it with the whiteness of a "professional". It always begins with the child's hair. If it is "unkempt", it is wrong. If it is "too long", it is bad. If it is gathered as dreadlocks, it is wrong. In fact, if it is not close-cropped and brushed to a high sheen, it is wrong. It doesn't matter whether the child is a boy or a girl. If the hair is anything but that which is set by the school's standards, it is wrong - and it must be corrected, Or Else. Hence the never-ending wars between school administrators and parents over their children's attendance at school with the hair of the parents' choice. The wars of whiteness over Black-ness.

Some of you will argue, "If you knew what the school rules were, and you chose to enroll your child in that school, then you must conform to the school's rules. Otherwise, peleka mtoto shule ingine." Just like a man's inability to see his privilege in the patriarchy, so too the rule-enforcer's inability to see the pernicious, deleterious effect of whiteness on all our lives. Many of our experiences of whiteness are a series of prohibitions, the Black (human, really) things that we can't do. Things that if they were done by ypipo would not arouse comment, let alone sanction.

Hair is almost always the first thing whiteness denies Black persons. Hair must be treated to chemical or mechanical processes in order to conform to the world of whiteness. It is not acceptable even after all that chemical and mechanical manipulation - it is merely no longer objectionable. It is tolerable. It is the sun-bleached scar on alabaster skin that is not that bad. It makes whiteness feel better about itself. The world is ordered in its likeness - which is always the preferred way for the world to be ordered. And if it means that a child's social and cultural education is short-circuited, then so what?

Friday, July 02, 2021

Will it be a zombie imperialism?

I don't know whether the seven members of the Bench the Court of Appeal shall uphold the judgment of the High Court, affirm it in part and set it aside in part, or set it aside in its entirety; Mr Musinga, JA and his colleagues are playing their cards close to their collective chest. I wish I could tell you whether the arguments of the appellants and respondents resonate with Bench, but I'm not a soothsayer. However, based on my observations of what was said by some of the lawyers gesticulating actively in court, I am minded to say something about the continued assumption that the president of Kenya continues to enjoy a strong hand as the head of state and government.

The legal issues of whether or not the constitution contains a basic structure, and that this basic structure contains unamendable clauses, and that these unamendable clauses, should they be amended, would mean the replacement of the constitution, is a matter I shall leave in the able hands of the seven appeal judges. Instead, let us consider the arguments that have been advanced regarding the place of the president in the amendment of the constitution. The appellants (the unhappy men, women and government officials asking the appeal judges to overturn the High Court judgment) insist simultaneously that the president can approach the amendment of the constitution in his capacity as head of state and government and as a private citizen - Schrödinger's cat of presidential power. The respondents (the nervous men, women and civil society groups that won a momentous victory in the High Court) continue to hold that the president can only bring about an amendment to the constitution in his capacity as the head of state and government; if he wishes to initiate a popular initiative to amend the constitution, they insist, he must resign his office and take his place with Wanjiku - but who among us believes that a Kenyan president would ever resign in order to persuade the people to amend the constitution to grant him more power?

The implications of whether or not the president can participate in the amendment of the constitution in his official or private capacities are the reasons for much hand-wringing among the lawyers representing the appellants because they, in my opinion, suffer vestigial warm feelings for the concept of the president as having the widest freehand to act as he pleases as can be imagined - in short, an imperial presidency. They pine for the presidential imperialism that was engendered and entrenched by the former constitution. For those of us who can remember, the way in which the repeal of section 2A of the former constitution was initiated was by the president, at a political rally in a national stadium, turning to his attorney general and ordering him to bring a Bill for the repeal of section 2A to the National Assembly.

The now-ever-present Wanjiku was not, and had hitherto never been, afforded the courtesy of being consulted. As the president would sarcastically ask seven years later, "What does Wanjiku know about constitution-making?" it is clear that it had never occurred to the men and women cheering Mr Moi and Mr Wako on that fateful day to actually ask the citizens if the restoration of multi-partyism was a good thing or not. Things have evolved considerably since then. Beginning with the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission Act of 1997, the president's free hand has consistently been statutorily constrained, culminating with the explicit declaration in the Constitution of Kenya promulgated 11 years ago: sovereign power belongs to Wanjiku. The president is no longer the sovereign - or a sovereign for that matter. He does not wield sovereign power. He only exercises the power that Wanjiku donates to him - and no more. What the High Court did on that fateful day was to state what the words of Article 1 (1) actually mean. The awful (for the president and the pro-imperial-president cheering squad) consequence of that judgment is that what Mr Moi did in 1990 cannot be done by any of his successors, no matter how compelling a reason they fashion for it. The president can no longer order his government to amend the constitution willy-nilly - he must suffer the approval or rejection of the people.

At the end of the day, when the appellate judges read their judgment, they will be answering a simple question: is the imperial presidency dead and buried or does it still possess vestigial signs of life? The answer has serious implications. It might mean the setting aside of large swathes of constitutional obligations revolving around the participation of the people in determining their constitutional fates. The answer will also reveal who among us plays the mouse to the president's cat when it comes to protecting the values and principles of the constitution - and the rights and fundamental freedoms of Wanjiku.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

If we are lucky

There are few of us who are truly privileged to have almost all, if not all, of our needs - and desires - catered for. More often than not, we always want for something - something that is just out of our reach, its scent wafting into our nostrils, enflaming our passions and, when we are careless, driving us mad with desire. It is, therefore, a test of our forbearance that for the most part, we keep our passionate desires at bay, denying ourselves the freedom that comes with the pursuit unrestrained hedonism. We learn, even when the spigots of the national treasury are thrown wide open, to temper how we enjoy the gifts that we receive.

This is not the case with those who have learnt nothing of the fatalities arising out of gluttony. Their baser instincts are so used to being satiated at the snap of their fingers that when the boom falls, the devastation it leaves behind is truly pitiable. The catastrophe is much worse when it befalls the men and women charged to govern the country. If you haven't been paying attention, in the past week, the High Court has lowered a devastating boom on the men and women top the edifice we call government. The High Court has denied them that which their political hearts desire above all else: the supine acquiescence of their subjects. The proof of the devastation is in the confused and frenzied pillar-to-post flitting by their acolytes as they attempt to set back the clock to the days when the presidential snap of the fingers led to the dismissal of bad judges.

I am most amused by the spectral whispering by their disciples in the so-called free press: editors and political journalists have spent the past week prophesying deadly outcomes if the judgment is allowed to stand. They have also amplified the voices of clever, though shortsighted, members of the Kenyan Bar who continue to make increasingly shrill observations about constitutional crises that only they can see. Few of these highly motivated sirens have bothered to take a step back and ask whether or not their sense of entitlement - theirs and those of their patrons - were ever meant to be satisfied in the first place.

The merits, or otherwise, of the appeal are neither here nor there. The highly paid legal eagles for each side of the argument will plead their case before senior judges and the best argument - or the best political argument - will prevail and the show will move on to the Supreme Court. But the question as to whether the unhappy, super-entitled men and women who disagree with the uppity-ness of the lower classes should continue to be indulged remains unanswered. The temerity with which the judges of the High Court have recklessly refused to indulge the self-centred and entitled whims of the Kenyan aristocracy has been received with shock and everything the aristocracy's loyal footsoldiers have done has represented the rage that pervades that aristocracy's psyche and salons. If the judgment is not reversed, it may very well lead to a class psychosis that shall be terrible to behold - or experience.

Kenya is yet to reckon with the existence of its aristocracy represented by its members in the political executive, the legislatures, the judiciary, business and academia and the institutions of religion that continue to offer spiritual and social solace to the lower classes. The judgment, in my opinion, is the first serious attempt to push back at the demands of the self-entitled classes. It builds on the tentative steps taken by the Chief Justice in 2017 and 2020 - the vitiating of a presidential election and the demand that parliament should be dissolved for subverting the will of the people - and, if we are lucky, the judgment might inspire us to put our foot down against the demands of the ministers of faith and the avarice of the business classes. If we are lucky.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

They are called lies

The fundamental question that arises is how we ought to regulate fake news without limiting free speech outside the provisions of the Constitution. In an electioneering period, free political speech is critical. Should we even think about regulating fake news? Who even decides what fake news is and what it is not? - Mugambi Laibuta (The Fake News Pandemic)

"Fake news" is a handy euphemism for "lies". Once you make that conceptual link, it becomes apparent that it is here to stay. Humans have lied for as long as humans have had speech. Humans will continue to lie so long as lying confers an advantage of one over another. Governments lie to other governments. Governments lie to their citizens. Government officials lie to each other as they lie to civilians. It is not a pandemic; it is a design feature of humanity.

In answer to Mr Mugambi's question, no, we shouldn't think about regulating fake news aka lying except in a very narrow sense. Perjured testimony in court should be punished, for instance. Lying on governmental documents - tax returns, say - should attract stiff penalties. Lies by one person about another that cause harm should be the subject of private litigation, not criminal prosecution. It is not the place of Government to say whether or not lies between private parties are good or bad. The proponents of criminal defamation should, instead, be champions of the "I'll see you in court" culture. Suits for damages should determine the price one must pay for lying about someone else.

Mr Mugambi concludes by saying, "While there may be tools available to combat fake news, they are not widely deployed in Kenya. Perhaps we should focus on the effects of the fake news and not the contents of the fake news?" As a child, the consequences of lying were well-known. While it was not uncommon for adults to come to fisticuffs over lies told of or about them, the more socially-acceptable tools for dealing with liars included ostracisation. It was a shameful thing to be shunned for lying. Social institutions - faith and academic institutions, places of work, social clubs and peer group organisations, and the like - played a vital role in dealing with liars and mitigating the effects of their lies. Hard as it may be to believe, even political parties had processes for weeding out flagrant and egregious liars.

But today, all these social institutions accept lying from their most prominent members. I'm a member of the Law Society of Kenya. An inactive one, but that is neither here nor there. A prominent member of my Society lied about the source of an article he wrote for our journal. He lied when he was found out. He lied when he was asked to properly attribute the source of the contents of the article. He kept on lying unto the moment he was forced by a court of law to acknowledge his lie. What I found distasteful is that he did not face any sanctions from the Society. He remains a member in good standing of our professional association. He continues to appear in public without the shame of his lying hanging over him. Besides the attribution he was forced to make by the court, he has not faced any social or professional consequences for his lying. And if it hadn't been for the aggrieved party, our journal, which failed to even notice the blatant academic thieving he had engaged in, would have happily continued to celebrate him as a valued contributor.

This kind of social acceptance of lying is now prevalent in all spheres. There's a minister of faith who has lied repeatedly about a fatal road traffic accident he caused due to his reckless and dangerous driving. The pews in his church building continued to be filled until the day freedom of association was severely restricted on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a senior government official who has lied about a harmful policy his ministry is pursuing that will lead to millions of Kenyan children being offered extremely substandard education. He is still in office. A senior member of the Cabinet promised to publish the contracts of a highly controversial public infrastructure works. Three years later, the contracts remain hidden behind a veil of secrecy.

It is impossible to address the consequences of lying when every social institution that can do something about liars is infiltrated and run by liars. What we should do is empower individuals as much as possible to make it easier for them to seek damages for lies that cause them harm. What Government should do is punish people who lie in official documents - tax returns, for example - or lie in official governmental proceedings - such as perjury in court. What we must also do, though I don't know if it can be done, is to restore social institutions to perform the tasks they used to perform with regards to liars. For example, faith organisations should not give liars in their midst platforms to spread their lies. Professional associations should revoke professional titles and rewards they have conferred on liars in their midst. But most of all, we should call "fake news" what it is: LIES. Properly naming the thing is the first step to dealing with the thing.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Badi-nage was not the solution

My father once owned a Citroën DS 19. The one with the directional headlights and green hydraulic fluid. The one that sat on its haunches after it had been switched off. The one that had an armrest in the rear seat that could be lifted to make space for a third passenger. The one that flew like the wind when we travelled "up-country" to see the really old people who plowed us with ridiculously stringy, yet tasty, mangos.  I absolutely loved that car.

I especially liked riding in it on those frequent occasions when he had to drive me to the doctor. We would leave home at the crack of dawn so that we would be among the first to be seen by the doctor. Then afterwards, whether or not there were syringes and injections involved, he'd buy me a snack, get me a storybook, leave me in his office as he taught his mid-morning lectures. That early in the morning, we'd come past Marigiti as the road was being washed. Yes, they washed the roads in those olden days.

This is my point: for a brief moment, after the perfidious City Council had been fired and the City Commission appointed, Nairobi City was the Green City in the Sun, where municipal services functioned, the roads were swept and washed, the kamero collected the garbage on Tuesday and Saturday, Marigiti was the place to find your freshest veggies, and Gikomba and Kariokor the place to find your kienyeji chicken and tilapia. State-sponsored schools were clean and cost-sharing hadn't yet become a burden for parents. You'd shop at Uchumi and use the brown bags to cover your textbooks which were bought from Savanis. Nairobi, for a glorious moment in time, was good even for the working classes.

Nairobi has fallen a long way from its heights in the 1980s. From the day the Sunbeam Supermarket on Tom Mboya Street collapsed, a succession of mayors and governors have bequeathed us a city that has become harder and harder to live in, even for the wealthy elite in their leafy suburbs. The streets are no longer washed, let alone swept. The kamero long ago stopped running; mountains of garbage mark the boundaries of different "zones". Yes, even the leafy suburbs can be identified by the mountains of garbage right outside their gates. Marigiti, Kariokor and Gikomba are places you venture into with trepidation. After all, who can remember that amazing year when Uhuru Kenyatta was the Minister of Local Government and six hundred tonnes of garbage were trucked out of Marigiti? Or the tens of thousands of rats that fled soon thereafter?

In the early days of the pandemic, President Uhuru Kenyatta engineered the transfer of certain municipal services from the wildly incompetent city administration of Mike Mbuvi Sonko to the martial-oriented Maj. Gen. Mohamed Abdalla Badi and his Nairobi Metropolitan Services. The General came into office with a lot of goodwill in his back. Nairobians - indeed, Kenyans - were tired with the erratic behaviour of their governor and many were confident that a man who has overseen combat missions for the '82 Air Force was just the one to sort out the problems of the benighted no-longer-green City in the Sun. 

It is apparent that the confidence was misplaced. We know and appreciate that the challenges bedevilling the planning department require root-and-branch reforms and our patience will only start to run thin if more buildings "collapse" during construction. But the fact that the General and his precious NMS continue to allow the festering problem of garbage collection to exist is unfathomable and unforgivable. Everywhere you turn, mountains of garbage moulder malodorously on roadsides - and roads. Garbage clogs surface drains and sewers. Marigiti is langusihing beneath a new six-hundred-tonne mountain of its own while Kariokor has been swarmed by motorcycle taxis and ramshackle vibanda. All the good general can show for his time in office are coloured cabro bricks in the CBD and strategically-installed water tanks in a few markets.

An example of his failures is to be seen along Landhies Road. The General has surrounded Muthurwa Marpket, built during Uhuru Kenyatta's tenure in Local Government, with a high wall. But the pavement along Landhies Road has been turned into an obstacle course and now, with the rains, is unpassable unless one is prepared to get to their destination resembling an active pig. Little care has been taken to take care of the pedestrians of Landhies Road and none seems to be forthcoming. Indeed, the area East of Moi Avenue has been allowed to get worse and worse since he took office. The secrecy of his plans and his operations does not inspire confidence. I have no confidence that he will do anything more than build beautiful infrastructure in places that need it the least and put up barriers to ensure the Landhies Road pedestrians never cross to the shiny side of town. General Badi is neither the hero we wanted nor needed. He is, at the end of the day, the martial incarnation of Mike Mbuvi Sonko and his predecessors.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Just in case you forgot

It would be impossible for anyone with an internet connection to have ignored the trial of Derek Chauvin, the policeman accused of murdering George Floyd, in Minnesota. Mr Floyd was accused of passing off  counterfeit twenty dollar bill by a shopkeeper. Mr Chauvin, allegedly attempting to restrain Mr Floyd during his arrest, knelt on Mr Floyd's neck for nine minutes until he choked to death. It as all filmed by a bystander, a child who couldn't do anything more to help Mr Floyd. Mr Floyd's killing led to protests, protests that were met by police violence, and which in turn led to riots. This is not what happens in Kenya.

Josphat Mwenda was assaulted by the police. He sought the protection of the law and sued the police for the assault. In his suit, by which he was asking for the dismissal of his assailant from the police service, he was represented by Willie Kimani. On the fateful day, Joseph Muiruri drove Willie and Josphat to court and waited for them to return. After court, all three were abducted by policemen, unlawfully detained, and murdered. The murders took place in 2016. Five years later, the trial of the four police who murdered Josphat Mwenda, Willie Kimani and Joseph Muiruri have not been concluded. The murders led to demonstrations organised by civil society. The demonstrations petered out in days. The murders have long receded from the public conscience. In Kenya, police almost always get away with murder.

Since those murders, not much has taken place to reform the police or policing. Indeed, as we have come to experience during the pandemic, the police have become more brazen and reckless. The police have murdered children in the name of suppressing post-election violence and enforcing curfew orders. Nothing seems to have been done to punish the police that murdered children. The police have been accused of murdering un-housed Kenyans for violating curfew orders. In my opinion, because the victim was poor and "of no fixed abode", his murderers will get away with their crime.

The Law Society, which could be counted on in the past to say and do something to hold some of the violators of the law to account, is as silent as the sphinx. Its presidents - what an asinine title - are prone to self-publicity if it serves their narrow political ends but are loath to rouse themselves when the victims are the marginalised and un-seen. And where the Law Society leads, the rest of civil society follows. It is shocking how little the Kenya Human Rights Commission, the International Commission of Jurists - Kenya Chapter, and the Independent Medico-legal Unit have done to keep the murders of Willie Kimani, Josphat Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri in the public conscience.

This attitude, this casual disregard for the rule of law, respect for the law, equal protection of the law, due process of the law - this contempt for the people, their constitution and their laws - is a reflection of the men and women we have charged to govern and lead. It is reflected especially starkly in the elected leadership of this country and cascaded to every man and woman with a pot to piss in. Titans of industry, ministers of faith, favoured "thought leaders" in their ivory towers, and leading lights of Government get away with murder and all manner of crimes because they are the elite. And as they do so does the police that serves their interests. It is why four police saw it as a possibility that they could abduct three Kenyans in broad daylight from the precincts of law courts, detain them, torture them, murder them and get away with it. They knew that they would be protected. They knew that civil society would forget, if it even bothered to acknowledge the monstrousness of the thing. I thought someone needed to remind us where we were and what we were. Lest we had forgotten.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Outliers won't save us

As I understand it, two men went into a store in Minneapolis to do a bit of shopping. One of the men handed over a twenty-dollar bill as payment and the two men left and entered their parked car. The store manager determined that the twenty-dollar bill was a counterfeit bill and sent two of his assistants to ask the shopper who had paid to come back to the store. The shopper refused to do so. The store owner then called the police. From here, things escalate. In less than twenty minutes after the police arrived on the scene, the shopper was dead.

In my typically tone-def way, I tweeted that this was one more reason to go cashless. I was called out for it because it is not the counterfeit money that led to the man's death. One of the policemen who showed up on the scene was Caucasian. The man who was killed was Black. Everything we know - at least, everything we know from news media - about the United States is that encounters between white police and Black men are fraught with overwhelming risk for the Black suspects.

Indeed, it has become so commonplace that whenever a Black man suspects that police have been called to deal with something that he is accused of having done, he is faced with two choices: flight or total surrender. Neither guarantees that he shall walk away from the encounter alive.

The racialist policing in the United States is reflected in Kenya's policing. Indeed, racialism pervades a great deal of officialdom's interaction with "ordinary" Kenyans. Kenyans are increasingly being policed the way minority communities are policed in the United States. In my opinion, an armed police force is not designed for "community" policing; it is designed to control and suppress the policed population. It is designed to suspect the policed population of being a dangerous risk that must be met with force at the first instance.

If we think back to the beginning of the Government's response to the pandemic at the end of March of 2020, our most vivid memories are he immediate aftermath of the declaration of the 7 pm to 5 am curfew. There were scenes at the Likoni Ferry Crossing of hundreds of commuters lying on their stomachs as some of them are viciously assaulted by the police ostensibly for missing the curfew. There were the videos of delivery drivers being assaulted by gangs of police for violating the curfew even though, the Curfew Order expressly stated that they were exempt. There was the tragic story of a teenager shot dead by a policeman who recklessly fired his gun while accosting another group of curfew offenders. There was the shameful burial at night overseen by the police in order that was ostensibly enforcing Covid-19 protocols on burials and similar disposals of the remains of the deceased.

Many of us have been victims of police criminality, especially if we appear not to be members of the one-percent. We have been assaulted and robbed by police. We have been extorted and murdered. Indeed, one seemingly never-ending criminal trial involves a gang of police that abducted a complainant, his lawyer and their driver, murdered the there of them, and dumped their remains in a river. There are those who will defend the institution of the police on the grounds that not all police are bad; only a few rogue elements are responsible for the criminality that seems to pervade the ranks of the disciplined forces. Many of us think that the problem is not a few rogue elements but the entire institution needs to be remade to reflect the [relatively] new constitutional order.

There are many individual police that serve their communities, helping to prevent crime and protect lives and property. They assist communities to address security challenges and investigate serious crimes. They play an invaluable role in dispute resolution and conflict de-escalation. But they are not the norm. They are outliers. It is why they are celebrated whenever their stories are highlighted in the news media. We no longer need a conversation on the inherent criminality of the police; the facts are plain to see. What we need is to tear down the entire structure of the police and build it from scratch, if at all. Anything less is a betrayal of the Bill of Rights and an admission that we have learnt nothing from the policing troubles of the United States.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

They still don't care

As shall become apparent after you have spent ten or so minutes with me, my laziness is otherworldly. Combined with my legendary procrastination, I couldn't possibly be bothered by ninety-nine per cent of the shit that gets folks out of bed in the morning. It is why I go out of my way to do the things I do well first time round so that I don't have to repeat them - or myself. I have a conscience, of sorts, and I would prefer that my life choices not have negative externalities, as the economists would put it.

It is why I know that the decisions that were being taken regarding the "Public Order No. 2 of 2021" were not just made by lazy procrastinators, they were made without thinking of or caring about their negative externalities. The decision is redolent of the decision in March 2020, at the beginning of the panic throughout government, to impose a nighttime curfew without giving the millions of workers who would be affected y the decision time to make arrangements to deal with the decision. The videos of Kenyans being assaulted by policemen for violating the short-notice curfew orders were heart-wrenching. The powers-that-be have not learnt anything.

When the order was given to shut down all travel out of and into Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Machakos and Kajiado counties, little thought was given to the fact that Kiambu, Machakos and Kajiado are dormitory towns of Nairobi, and hundreds of thousands of workers commute from them to the City for work. Mavoko is Machakos, Ongata Rongai is in Kajiado, and Kikuyu is in Kiambu. By imposing travel restrictions on these three counties, it meant the workers who work in the City were, by presidential decree, barred from coming to work. If their employers are unable to make work-from-arrangements for them, they are likely to be laid off. The latest declaration, just like the 2020 one, did not even bother to look provide for exemptions that would be applicable for essential workers or essential supplies. And in typical serikali fashion, it would be enforced with great vigour by the forces of law and order, further empowering the petty tyrants that policemen have become over the past one year.

Those who know these things, the people engaged in the arduous task of dealing with public emergencies, have told us over and over that the response to a pandemic follows certain guidelines. The economists who look at the impacts have told us what needs to be done in order to ensure that the economy is protected and the livelihoods of workers are protected, if not their household incomes. In the past year, the decision-makers in this government have not listened to the experts, whether it was on pandemic response, management and mitigation or economic relief and recovery. They have paid more attention to the security implications of their decisions because, as we have come to learn, they are more interested in managing the political transition leading up to the 2022 general election to the almost-total exclusion of everything else.

The senior-most members of the security establishment have turned a deaf ear to public health and economic specialists and it has led us down a false path that has occasioned billions in economic losses and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lost and shattered livelihoods. That they continue to be in charge and continue to make decisions with serious cross-cutting implications is a terrible indictment of our collective response to this national emergency.

All it would have taken for us to weather this pandemic and emerge better than we have would have been the placing of care for the people at the heart of the national response. How do we protect people from disease, injury and harm? How do we protect households from the harmful and injurious effects of the pandemic? How do we protect incomes and the economy so that families don't suffer from the effects of poverty? Instead, the response revolved around the fear that the Government would fall, that the president's agenda (whatever that is) would be derailed, that "crime" would become widespread, that the people would lead a revolution. None of that indicated a care for the people; it was a response designed to protect narrow parochial interests. It was wrong, injurious and harmful. We are repeating the same mistakes, only this time, I fear, the outcomes will be much, much worse.

Friday, March 26, 2021

I tell you Maina...

In the olden days of 2005, when I had no choice in the matter, I was a passive, albeit annoyed, listener of the various morning shows on FM radio. Depending on which of the deathtraps called PSVs I boarded, I would sit through apparently humorous and entertaining renditions of "adult" subjects, mostly by male presenters, mostly in remarkably crass ways, mostly for prurience and titillation. The shows, even then, had little to commend them on the moral or social end. They almost universally bad. The FM stations made up for their bad-ness with music by Kenyan artists - and artistes - some of whom were very, very good. Some others produced pop songs whose beat still makes me bop my head whenever an earworm nestles in there. (Nameless, for sure, had a knack for belting out headbangers and I miss the man's songs something fierce.)

Then came along Mandevu - rather his wife - and my morning commute became this island of calmness because, I tell you Maina, Double M buses elevated the PSV game to levels hitherto seen in the mid-1980s when Kenya Bus stuck to a schedule and matatus were confined to the outskirts of the City. But I digress.

Morning FM radio, that vehicle for advertising products that a burgeoning working class aspiring to greatness wanted, was dominated by salaciously risqué shows that almost always engendered great discomfort when parents and their young wards happened to commute together. (We will cover the dysfunctional family life of parents who are afraid - and a bit ashamed - to discuss sex with their children another day.)

For me, though, it wasn't just the notoriously and relentlessly sexualised monotone of the likes of Maina and King'ang'i in the Morning that put me off, it was the determined efforts they all made to be on the wrong side of every single public interest issue of the day. If someone managed to break through their obsession with undersexed spouses and oversexed watchmen with a topic with real-world implications - say, Nairobi's notorious traffic jams - our sex mad radiomen would find a way of colouring the ensuing discussion with a bit of sex. These specimens of journalistic execrableness did not and could not find it in themselves to elevate the public discourse into topics that would, in the fulness of time, benefit the hundreds of thousands of commuters who tuned in day in, day out.

So it comes as no surprise that even in radio stations that have done many positive things, their presenters remain wedded to a determined almost-always patriarchally misogynistic view of the world. More importantly, they are prepared to share their worldviews loudly and without shame. Nuanced discussions about the wars of the sexes and similar cultural shibboleths receive only a patina of reason and thought. The depths of muck that these radiomen are prepared to plumb in their single-minded pursuit of the "sex sells" philosophy is sometimes quite staggering.

I have come a short distance from my Double M commute, but on those days when I have the luxury of driving myself to the office, it is to podcasts and my spectacularly eclectic collection of MP3 songs that I turn to. I cannot imagine my brain being addled by the pap peddled by the Mainas and King'ang'is of FM radio.

And yet these human specimens remain popular, their radio stations continue to promote their shows - and their views - and millions of Kenyans are made not just more stupider for their choice of entertainment, but worse as humans. If it is reinforced in your mind that men are superior to women, that women are men's sex objects, that women deserve every bad thing that happens to them for denying men sex - if the reinforcement is done day after day after day, we are worse off as humans. We will do bad things to each other as result. We will harm each other. We will injure each other. We will murder one another. What's worse, we won't care.

There will be a reckoning

I imagine that not every Johnnie-come-lately can get through the training needed to become a doctor or surgeon. By all accounts, the amount of twenty-four-hour swotting medical students engage in in order to append the prefix "Dr" before their names and the suffix "MD" after is simply staggering. Many of them also expand their intellectual muscles beyond Gray's Anatomy and the latest editions of the Physician's Desk Reference. You will happily listen to them expound on diverse subjects with a keen appreciation for the substance, if not the form. They are, quite often, delightful to be with. Sadly, they are a rapidly shrinking segment of the population, if not the academy.

Kenya's members of the medical profession are a funny lot these days. The pre-eminent example of the heights of achievement one can attain is a member of the national cabinet. Another one is an absentee deputy governor. Still another is a mouthpiece for the health ministry. What they have in common is a spectacularly horrific track record when it comes to keeping suffering Kenyans safe in the midst of a global pandemic that has ravaged homes, communities and the economy. It isn't that they have done bad things; that would be too easy in these days of social-media-fuelled blame-shifting. No. What they have one is to abdicate their senses - moral, intellectual, professional and social - and allowed the silver-tongued denizens of the Augean stables of national politics to carry the day whenever the question of public health comes up.

Indeed, in my opinion, the eponymous unsmiling member of the cabinet is the worst of the lot. He seems not to possess an ounce of humanity all the while executing un-human policies designed to academically segregate whole generations from their peers in other countries. He positively revels in acts designed to cow and humiliate his subordinates and underlings. He represents, as crassly as possible, the sentiments pervading the cabinet itself and he will not be deterred from demonstrating that if he were given the power to di, he would lead a nation without humans. Not a one. It would be clean, safe, un-corrupt, efficient - cold and sterile, like a surgical theatre.

Their kind is now prevalent across the land, spreading ominously like the epidemic decimating our families. Lawyers, accountants, teachers, nurses, engineers and architects are extolling the vicious virtues of more and more un-human policies, policies, if implemented, will convert humans into mere numbers, statistical datasets more useful in justifying the transfer of large wads of taxpayers' cash into the coffers of private corporations. Humans, people with needs and wants, are anathema to the utopia being preached to us by the likes of the waziri and his colleagues. Human messy-ness is a flaw, rather than a vital feature of our humanity, and must be stamped out by the bullet, if need be.

It has never occurred to them that they did not come of age in vacuums; they are patent reflections of the psychic tortures they visit on their fellowman. The more they impose restrictions, controls and violence on us, the worse their pristine country becomes shambolic, disheveled and untidy. The leafy-ness of their suburbs is being decimated because the same decimation they visited on the hovel-strewn neighbourhoods in the East has followed them home. Over the past one year, they have pursued the single-minded goal of subverting the will of the people, throwing public health caution to the four winds and as a result, visited on the people they intend to rule with an iron rod a horror of epic proportions. That horror has come back to bite them, and you can see them, their representatives and their apologists succumbing, one by one.

Of course they will push to the front when the vaccines come, but because they have flung open the national gates to all the nasty variants, the vaccine will do them  no good, and as they are felled one after the other, felled in the same cruel way as the people they have cruelly defiled, they will have no savior. None of us will. Some of them will end up with grand mausoleums, edifices to their egos and the memories of their egos, but when the maggots come for their embalmed arses, the only difference between them and us will be the volume of hypocritical wailing at their passing. In everything else, the six feet of soil between them and the living, they will be our peers, if not a bit lower down. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The fire has turned to ash

When I was a child, my congregation used to worship in a social hall in Nairobi's Eastlands. Our number grew too big to use the place comfortably but there was no sense of urgency to shift bases. Our congregation owned a piece of land nearby but had procrastinated about raising funds to build a sanctuary, so the land just sat there unused while attracting the attentions of the city's land sharks. One day, and I don't know why, we were ejected from the social hall and forced to "make alternative arrangements" while the higher ups in the clergy were still dithering about making arrangements to put up a sanctuary on our plot of land.

What I remember of the new place is that it wasn't fenced and we didn't even have a watchman to guard the place overnight. My memory may be faulty; it was, after all, almost thirty years ago. Our congregation, like many others, didn't invite the attentions of the politicians, aspiring or elected. We kept to ourselves and tended to our spiritual and social needs in peace. Then Mwai Kibaki was elected as the third president of the republic and everything turned to shit.

One of the worst outcomes of the supposed end of the Kanu era was the insidious co-option of civil society, including faith-based organisations, by the Kibaki regime. In incremental steps, the Kenyan Christian church became a "partner" in Government, lending its legitimacy to the fledgling Kibaki kleptocracy. By the time of the 2005 referendum, the Church was, in Kiswahili parlance, chanda na pete with the Kibaki government - and the opposition. By the time things were going tits up in 2007, the Church in Kenya, in its various guises, had picked sides and been rend asunder in the bargain. Some of the decisions made by Church leaders revolved around their need to either protect ill-acquired real estate properties or, as became commonplace, to illegally acquire real estate in Kenya's cities and towns. Whereas my small congregation had jumped through numerous hoops to be allocated the plot we eventually built our sanctuary on, some congregations owned more than what they could legitimately claim as necessary for their faith-based activities and charitable works.

And as Kenya's politics turned to shit, so too did "motivated" schisms in congregations widen between the members and the clergy. Much of what converted congregations into political footballs revolved around land - and real estate holdings. Land, in Kenya, is the true fuel of political activity, and the church - and other religious communities - has become a self-interested political institution because of it, camouflaging its political biases in the traditional rhetoric of the church such as family values, abortion, "Kadhis' courts" and homosexuality.

During the second liberation struggle, the church was deeply compromised, playing handmaid to Kenyatta's and Moi's authoritarianisms. However, there were individual clergymen who went against the grain and spoke against their congregations' interests. Henry Okullu, Alexander Muge, David Gitari, Timothy Njoya, Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki and John Anthony Kaizer paid heavy prices for their stances. They upheld the deeply patriarchal foundations of their congregations even as they challenged the political compromises of the 1980s and 1990s. They faced violence and intimidation for their political activities; their sermons were monitored and they were frequently placed under surveillance by state agents. Though no one was ever prosecuted for it, it is commonly believed that Bishop Muge and Father Kaizer were assassinated for their politics.

In 2021, it is difficult to state with confidence that there is a minister of faith who commands the same legitimacy as the firebrand clergymen of the 1990s. Their organisations have become so entangled with the politicians that sometimes it is difficult to separate the two. While an individual clergyman may declare that his pulpit will never be used by a politician or for political purposes, his organisation is busily "lobbying" the lands minister for favourable treatment regarding its numerous holdings - and the finance minister to boot to ensure that its vast incomes are not taxed. Many faith-based organisations rival Mammon in their avarice and material chicanery. Many members of the congregations are happy to go along; few of them are free of the corruption that has infested every sphere of modern life.

Many congregations have little in common with the communities where their sanctuaries are located. The sanctuaries are not places for the local community to find help - or solace - but for-profit shops designed to maximise returns on investment for the congregations - or, as is more likely these days, the clergy. It is why many have seven-feet high fences topped with razor wire and guarded 24/7 by armed watchmen. Sunday service is accessible only after running the gantlet of security theatre, beeping wands and all. Spiritual nourishment used to be a core function of the sanctuary back in the day but nowadays, "investment opportunities" for the members is the primary motivator for church service. We now attend church for its "networking" opportunities - other than the gauche fronting and preening that has become a must-do. Among the clergy we don't have modern-day Gitaris or Okullus or Muges. If a clergyman is murdered it is almost certain that it will be because of a "deal gone bad". Or, as is becoming commonplace, the clergyman has killed someone.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Whose 24 hours is it?

We don't all have the same twenty-four hours. Some of us have a little bit more. This is not to deprecate the good fortune of those who have a bit more on that front. It is to acknowledge that in the lottery of life, there are winners, there are non-winners and there are losers - and that many of those holding the short end of the stick do so through no fault of their own. It isn't strictly "this is what it is" but an acknowledgment that the structures that make up the daily are not known to be fairly distributed or fairly accessible.

Many of us are happy enough to just make do. Our ambitions are to survive childhood traumas, enter into successful loving relationships, build a house huko ushago, and squirrel away a tidy sum for our old age, an old age which, if you are of the masculine persuasion if not gender, will be spent ogling nubile secondary school headmistresses and cracking naughty jokes with your bar-mates.

The majority though, especially in light of the havoc wreaked by the pandemic, live a life of a great many challenges, challenges exacerbated by selfish public policies designed to keep them in penury despite the blood and sweat they pour into personal industry. Industriousness never seems to turn into a leg up. Instead, it invites acute and unabashedly avariciously shameless attentions from the forces of law and order - the number of industrious-but-poor that are accosted by the blue-frocked forces of law and order as they bring home the bacon is simply staggering. The taxman is never far behind either - Pay As You Earn schemes for many of my industrious-but-benighted brethren is nothing short of daylight robbery.

So it sticks in the craw to watch as senior members of the political and economic establishment take the privileges we allow them for grated in the reckless way they do nowadays. Take for example the madness surrounding the gauche former governor of the capital city. Despite a youthful record of staggering disqualification, he has variously been a member of the National Assembly and Senate and an extremely popularly elected governor of the county. But despite it all, despite apparently amassing a great fortune, he has determinedly shat on the people he was supposed to lead to better days. He epitomises, in the most extreme sense, the disgraceful way his peers and former parliamentary colleagues treat the rest of us. But despite it all, he is no match for the crude ways more senior political officials treat us. The contempt they have for the rest of us is only matched by the recklessness with which they make decisions. Whether or not we are harmed in the bargain is no skin off of their noses.

I humbly put it to you that the reason why things are the way there are is the utter fecklessness of the thinking classes. I have borne witness to the pusillanimity of some of these that sit in ivory towers. One who claims the mantle of "professor", unearned, has taken to singing the praises of men determined to lay to waste the Kenyan academy that if we were to attempt to put daylight between his lips and his benefactors' arses, I fear we would come to a violently bad end. It is that bad. Those of us with the temerity to point out that the emperor is swanning about in the airy version of the finest finery that the House of Gucci can produce are treated like the unwanted crud that sticks to the bottom of your shoes when you walk through a badly-tended cow boma. We are more likely to attract the attentions of acronym agencies on one false pretext and another.

If proof were needed that we really don't have the same twenty-four hours, just witness the panic in millions of homes as the realisation falls on parents that the children they have been preparing to take the national exams were ill-served by the ten months they were at home and that only the children of parents with the additional time-saving ten thousand shillings or so per week for internet and other academic resources will sit for the exams and pass. While many of my neighbours' children had to contend with curriculum delivery that involved kabambe mobiles, their counterparts in the barely-still leafy bits of the city often enjoyed personalised tuition services. The poisoned fruits of the poisoned post-pandemic age will be borne for years to come and, I fear, the poison will kill us all.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Whom do you know and how do you know them?

On 27 January 2021, the Business Registration Service notified its stakeholders that it had extended the deadline for registered companies to notify the Service of companies' beneficial owners. One of my favourite interlocutors on Twitter wondered if there was a registry in Kenya that doesn't have issues. This gave me pause. The rule regarding beneficial owners of registered companies was imposed as part of the reforms designed to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism through registered companies whose ultimate beneficial owners (and controllers) remained hidden behind very thick and intricate corporate veils.

Broadly speaking, the Government has taken several steps to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism by digitising different kinds of registers including the register of births and deaths, the register of persons, the immigration register, the driving licence register, the land register and the tax register. The Government's efforts have been undermined by the two-tier law enforcement system that we have in this country: the great unwashed will have the book thrown at them while the high and mighty can thumb their noses at the forces of law and order (so long as they don't run afoul of the itchy-trigger-fingered political bosses).

A Senator highlighted this two-tier justice system at a political rally on the weekend of the 23rd/24th January. He has recently come under the scrutiny of the tax and anti-corruption authorities regarding some of the income he earned from professional services he rendered to the Government of Nairobi City County. He alleged, without advancing any proof, that the recent attention of the authorities in his financial affairs was because he had decided to campaign against the building bridges initiative, including the proposed constitutional amendments, in the president's backyard - the Mt Kenya region. Presumably, if he had backed the BBI process and he had engaged in financial chicanery, he would have been given a free pass.

This is, of course, a problem that prevails the world over. Kenya is not unique. In the USA, quite recently, the former president pardoned dozens of scofflaws who had backed his unfounded (so far, wink wink) allegations about elections fraud. They had committed serious crimes. Some had even been imprisoned for their crimes. But because they backed the former president's play, they pardoned and allowed to go scot-free. In Kenya, quite frequently, those who have the president's favour never even get to be accused, charged, arraigned, tried, convicted or sentenced. One way that they get around the pesky rules and regulations of the Government is by subverting Government processes and procedures, including the process and procedures governing public registers.

We can all recall the "scandal" regarding the voter registration of the daughter of one of the former Ministers of Education. She was hard-pressed to explain how (a) she had been registered when she was out of the country and (b) how she had been registered in the same register book as President Mwai Kibaki which had (presumably) been closed after he had been issued with his voter's card. Who can forget the big-toothed spectre of the pomaded deep-voiced TV and radio presenter who was issued with a "digital" driving license without the bother of applying for it only so that the transport authorities could influence the uptake of the new document by Kenya's reckless motorists. We are painfully aware of the abortive attempts to issue Kenyans with a Huduma Namba or a "digital" passport, whose deadlines have been pushed back more than once.

But nothing reveals the two-tier system than the way the Covid-19 rules and regulations are enforced. Public health officials have extolled the virtues of wearing masks, social distancing and hand sanitisation for at least a year. Many Kenyans have been assaulted by police authorities all in the name of enforcing the rules. At least three have been killed by police on allegations that they were violating the rules. Yet those who support the BBI process have been given great leeway when violating the rules: they have held super spreader political rallies where masks or hand-washing stations have been conspicuously absent. Those who do not support the process and have attempted to hold their own anti-BBI super spreader political rallies have been arrested, jailed, and charged in court.

The chickens of our two-tier legal system are coming home to roost. In order to create the impression that its stakeholders have faced great hardship with making the necessary filings, the companies' registration authorities have extended the deadline for the filings. It is almost certain that even though the business registration process has been digitised, the traditional Big Man syndrome afflicting old analogue registers has afflicted the business name register as well, and it is becoming apparent that certain Big Men have no intention of revealing whether or not they are beneficial owners of companies that they have used to thumb their noses at a myriad of laws, rules and regulations. In the patois of The West Wing, a liberal fantasy of a functional and functioning US federal government, six to five and pick 'em, but this deadline will be extended a second time - or, as we are won't to do, the beneficial owners' rule shall not be enforced with any sort of seriousness when it comes to those Who Know People.

Friday, January 29, 2021

How much money are you willing to burn?

Politics is a retail business and as some of you have discovered in your endeavours as private business people, some vendors engage in chicanery as you play it straight. First, let me digress a bit. When you walk into your Quickmart 24/7 (which is not open 24/7 anymore on account of the asinine night curfew policy being enforced by the headmaster-in-chief) in search of a six-pack of eggs, you will be confronted by a shelf that has seven different brands on offer - each displayed at different heights and with different degrees of prominence. I have heard told that some egg vendors will approach the franchisee and offer him a sweetener (a massive bribe to the clueless) to place their brands at the most advantageous space on the shelves so as to attract maximum sales from the gullible shopper.

I don't know if this is true - I am not an eggs' vendor. But the same rule applies when it comes to selling your political ambitions to the great unwashed. Some politicians play it straight and approach voters and potential voters with nothing but their silver tongues. Others piss on such "honour" and let rip with their wallets - hence the remarkably predictable supply of t-shirts, hats, umbrellas and shukas on offer whenever political realignments take place. The more ambitious burn their fingers supplying various kinds of foodstuffs - unga ugali, unga ngano, cooking oil and rice are very popular during the general election, all festooned with the smiling faces of the men and women who intend to rule you.

But even big-money spending on elections is not without a measure of planning or network-building. You can't just pitch tent in Harambee Ward, Makadara Constituency with a Canter-full of Jogoo No. 1, Elianto and t-shirts without having seeded the ground first unless you want to lose not just your deposit but your shirt in the bargain. Because many of us are on the receiving end of the political hard sell, few of us have taken the time to see how broken the political system is and labour under the mistaken belief that this system can only be salvaged by a few "good" politicians banding together to establish a political party that will lay siege to the existing scrotal corruption and put the country to rights.

In political combat, it is preferable to wage war with the army that you have - not the army you hope to get. The armies that are available today consist almost entirely of paid mercenaries - some are paid more than others but the vast majority are paid, one way or the other. True believers are few and far between - quite often are figures of pity and derision. If you want to effect any kind of change, then you must play the game that is being played not the one that you imagine should be played. It is not a fair world and anyone whingeing about how "some intellectuals are whores" are playing with their hands tied behind their backs in a game where the opposite side is wearing steel-toed boots and is not averse to career-ending two-foot tackles. Chobo ua is usually the rule, not the exception.

First of all, you must organise. It isn't enough to write long-winded twitter-threads or fatuous blog posts (such as this one). You must find the money to pay voters and potential voters to choose you over your rivals. If you wish to spend your money, then your foolishness is the reason why you will lose. If you can sucker the people you wish to rule to pay for your political ambitions, then you are halfway to changing the world.

Secondly, play the game that's being played. If the other side abides by the rules, so should you. But the moment they step one millimetre over the line, you should abandon all thought of a "free and fair" process and bring all your skullduggery and cunning to bear. If this makes you queasy, please withdraw from the field of play and engage in spirited games of online scrabble or something.

Third, you must learn to lie. Ninety-nine per cent of the voters don't really want to be told that the economy is in the toilet; they want someone who can delude them that tomorrow will be a better day. Political truth-tellers are renown for losing elections, again and again. Radical honesty is for bearded white nationalist millennials living in California and New York who believe that the United States is the Greatest Country In The World.

I have seen with wonder grown adults trying to shame Dr David Ndii for his political combat and I wonder whether these people are really Kenyans. That they will not acknowledge that in politics there are no saints is an indictment of them and all they stand for. These are the sorts of people to drone on and on about "implementing the constitution" without putting their money where their mouths are. Those who understand the game know that "constitutional implementation" requires moral compromises more familiar to mafia assassins than to infant sucklings. Even the ministers of religion know this to be true - if you want to achieve political nirvana, fuck the rules and fuck your precious honour.

You identify like-minded people and organise. You watch the field of play and give as good as you get. As Sean Connery drolled in The Untouchables, "You want to get Capone? Here's how you get him. He pulls a knife? You pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital? You send one of his to the morgue! That's the Chicago way, and that's how you get Capone!" Third, if you're the one paying for the whole kit and caboodle, you're a fool. We will take your money and piss on your dreams.

In my opinion, so long as you think setting up new political parties is the way to win, you will always lose. The last fifteen years has been a study in losing by the political naifs: Thirdway Alliance is one among dozens of loser political outfits that go back to the Little General Election of 1969 that tried to infuse truth, justice and honour in a cesspit of black mambas, snake-oil salesman, witchdoctors and murderers. A new party only wins if it bribes and bribes well. The other alternative is if it builds a national grassroots network (through bribery and tedious back-breaking political organising). Dr Ndii has chosen his path and whether his side prevails depends on how hard his side tackles its rivals - and how much money they are willing to burn to prove their point.

Listen to what Gen Z is saying. Hear them.

Kenyan Gen Z seized the moment that was made for them and threw down the gauntlet at the feet of the Kenyan State. With the memory of the bi...