Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Badi-nage was not the solution

My father once owned a Citro├źn 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.