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?

We need to learn, again, how to think

I don't think the parliamentarians of the National Assembly will heed the call and #RejectFinanceBill2024. They will tinker. They will v...