Wednesday, December 28, 2022

We, the people...

Some of us have very specific ideas about how our Government should be run, ideas that, when given the opportunity, we share with the world in sometimes insistently strident tones. Some of us have been christened by the news media and punditocracy as "governance experts" and we bring our views to the masses through media interviews and commentary panels. But despite all the expertise we share with the world on the inner workings of the Government, public service, parliament and county assemblies, we seem to have ignored the most important stakeholder: ourselves.

The shenanigans in the Meru County Government and the shambolic way in which public sanitation is managed in Nairobi City County offer a window into the reasons why these failures have come to pass. First, to Gov. Kawira Mwangaza, her musician husband, and the dodgy grounds for her impeachment by the members of the Meru County Assembly. From the news reports, Gov. Mwangaza, a minister of faith and owner of a TV station, used her faith ministry and TV station to gain popularity and, at the 2022 general election, defeated Kiraitu Murungi to become Meru's third Governor. She did this as an independent candidate no less.

She appointed her husband to a non-remunerative county government position soon after. He attended County Executive Committee meetings where he appears to have made robust interventions. He participated in Meru County Government public events, as an entertainer, at the behest of the Governor. He has made public statements regarding county government matters that have affected the relationship between the Governor and the county assembly. This has created a schism between the two offices, and led to the Governor's impeachment. In this drama, the views of the residents of Meru County have not been solicited and if they had any views at all, only the sensational and salacious parts have been shared by the news media.

All in all, it appears as if Gov. Mwangaza's claim to fame was her Christian ministry and TV station. She had parlayed both into election, first as Woam Representative and thereafter as Governor. She appears to have done little of renown in terms of governance as a Woman Representative and, if the MCAs have their way, she won't get the chance to do anything as governor, and the residents of Meru will carry on as if this kind of situation is normal.

Nairobi offers a different kind of dysfunction. Four successive governors have failed to solve the solid waste management problem. Dr. Evans Kidero, despite his apparent academic and managerial credentials, was an abject failure. His promises went unmet. So too were Mr. Mike Sonko and his successor Ms. Anne Kananu. Gov. Johnson Sakaja seems to be well on his way to abject failure on that front as well. The way the national executive is determined to undercut his authority will not help matters.

Just like in Gov. Mwangaza's case, Gov. Sakaja did not distinguish himself in the Senate during the ten years that he was a member. His popularity as a talking head on TV notwithstanding and some Bills that were enacted into law, he proved to be just as lacklustre as the majority of his fellow-parliamentarians, incapable of articulating the problems that plagued the nation's Capital or propose any lasting solutions beyond throwing good money after bad. No wonder the national executive sees no reason to refer to him when appointing task forces to solve the county's problems.

Gov. Sakaja came close to centring the residents of Nairobi in his thinking when he declared a war on noise, but the way he has ignored the law, the administrative process and the affected bar owners tells me that he thinks that he is the incarnation of Mussolini and he only need bark for everyone to cower and obey. He will fail in his endeavours because he will make compromises to protect the city's revenue base and give a free pass to religious places, especially Christian churches. His failures, though, will be starkly demonstrated as the mountains of garbage that Kidero, Sonko and Kananu (and not to forget the hapless Gen. Bad of the unwanted, unnecessary Nairobi Metropolitan Services) failed to shift.

We are not absolved or blameless. We make excuses for why we are not engaged in the civic matters of our counties. We shift responsibility for our civic failures to others. We only engage in political activity in the narrowest possible way: political party nominations (in political parties we are not members of) and general elections (which he have a so-so faith in). We don't nominate people we think we need; we nominate (and elect) people who come from our "communities". And so legislative and administrative failures like Mr. Sakaja and Ms. Mwangaza, whose fame is their only credential, end up in suzerainty over us. And we wonder why we don't have all-day piped water or why garbage continues to choke our public drains and block our public thoroughfares.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Time to put them out to pasture

The President cannot initiate Constitutional amendments or changes through the popular initiative under Article 257 of the Constitution. - [2022] KESC 8 (KLR)

The bulk of legislative proposals considered and enacted by Parliament are made by the national executive. It is the rare private member's Bill that is enacted by Parliament and assented to by the President. This is to say that for the most part, the President can send a legislative proposal to Parliament and Parliament, in its wisdom as the representation of the legislative will of the people, can enact it or reject it. Therefore, the President can initiate an amendment to the Constitution of Kenya. What he can't do, and the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court were adamant on this point, is to initiate Constitutional amendments by popular initiative.

It is important to remember one other thing: an amendment to the Constitution by popular initiative does not necessarily mean that a referendum must be conducted on the amendment. A referendum must be conducted if the amendment affects any of the issues found in Article 255. The question of whether or not a referendum is warranted is independent of whether the amendment was by parliamentary or by popular initiative.

As to the question of the "office of the leader of the official opposition", a referendum is definitely warranted. Going by how the Azimio One Kenya Alliance described the functions of the proposed office, it is clear that the proposed amendment falls squarely within the ambit of Article 255 ("the functions of Parliament") and on that basis alone, whether the proposals is a parliamentary one or a popular one, a referendum is necessary for the amendment to be adopted by the people.

Regardless of who brings the amendment process to life, we are being manipulated onto thinking that the amendment is not a bad one. The popular discourse regarding the proposal is that it is a new form of handshake between the new administration and the putative opposition, and it is almost always framed in those terms. The Minority Party in Parliament is not treated as part of Parliament but an Opposition Party in the Westminster style of parliamentary government. It is not. It hasn't been since 2013. But you wouldn't know it going by how the 11th and 12th Parliaments behaved with Parliamentary Parties taking their political differences to such dysfunctional depths that Parliament never effectively played its oversight role over the national executive. In short, Parliament shirked its role and the Jubilee administration got away with all manner of dodgy things.

If we allow the office of the leader of the official opposition to be established along the lines proposed by Azimio, it is almost certain to be the last nail in the coffin of parliamentary oversight and we can kiss whatever restraints there were on the national executive goodbye. First, oversight is not an individual endeavour but an institutional one. A single "office" is incapable of wielding the kind of collective power that Parliament, and parliamentary committees, can. Secondly, and more crucially, it absolves Parliament from the responsibility of lax oversight; parliamentarians can pass the buck and say, "Hey, the Leader of the Official Opposition didn't do this, that or the other" and they can play footsie with the executive to their hearts' content. If the office is established, it is the people who will come out the poorer for it.

Mr. Odinga, and his acolytes including Prof. Makau Mutua, have had a good innings at the hustings but they are more likely today to advance political ideas that are twenty years out of date, like the cult of personality they insist on building around Mr. Odinga. Mr. Odinga's ODM is no longer capable of fresh ideas; listening to the younger members of the party leadership (like Sen. Sifuna and Hon. Ongili), one harkens back to the Kanu of the late 1970s with the likes of Kihika Kimani and Kariuki Chotara springing readily to mind who were determined to sustain a cult of personality around Jomo Kenyatta even though by 1975 it was clear he was over the hill and clinging on to power by the skin of his teeth. It is time to put Mr. Odinga, Prof. Makau and their generation of the Old Guard of the Second Liberation out to pasture, and bury moribund and retrogressive ideas like the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition in the deepest pit we can find.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Save the children. Or die.

It is ingrained in us to seek the intervention of the supernatural and, thereby, received divine favours. We propitiate the gods (and the universe) by making sacrifices to them in the hopes that they will be kind to us and grant us our deepest desires. Some of our sacrifices are deeply personal, while other are in the far of property. The more desperate we become, the bigger the sacrifice. This belief has led to great crimes.

I can't remember which general election brought to the limelight the serial murder of albinos but I remember how terrifying it was for them as a category of people, Kenyan and foreign. The killings were so widespread that our sisters and brothers in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were not spared. All this just so a man could win an election, something he considered to be a matter of life or death. After he lost, as many of them did, he fomented violence in his community, leading to further bloodshed, only this time more indiscriminate.

Kenya has had a long history of human sacrifices for wealth or political power. Those of us who grew up in the late 1980s and early 1990s can remember the rumours of a transport company owner whose Mombasa-Nairobi buses would have a string of accidents that resulted in mass casualties and that the deaths were human sacrifices to satisfy the bloodlust of the majini that made him fabulously wealthy. So it is with profound sadness that we are now told a family in Kisii has made a human sacrifice of a husband and the eyes of their three-years' old child so that the son and the mother can become rich. Our capacity for cruelty camouflaged as mysticism knows no bounds.

This faith in the supernatural has little to do with the level of education or social class or political and economic power. A successful political candidate from western kenya was convicted by an election court for, among other things, relying on witchcraft to win re-election. It seems, though, that the wider poverty spreads in kenya, the more people turn to supernatural interventions in order to get ahead. In Kisii, for example, the past decade has witnessed scores of widows being branded witches by their families, and murdered, and the properties they inherited from their husbands shared among their survivors. And now, children, without the ability to defend themselves or understand the risks their families pose, have become targets.

More generally too, children have become the targets of cruelty, in the home and at school, and little seems to be done to stem the tide of violence directed at them. I remember the lengths to which parents and alumni went to protect the "reputation" of a church-sponsored school located along Waiyaki Way when it covered up the death of a pupil at the hands of his classmate. Or the callous way the Cabinet Secretary for Education refused to address the systemic failures that led to the deaths of scores of schoolgirls in a dormitory fire.

As a people, as communities, as a nation, we seem impervious to the pain our neglect and violence has wrought on the most vulnerable among us. So long as we are securing the bag, you and yours are on your own, and our children had best learn fast how to fend off the predators and killers who would seek to shed their blood for a fistful of shillings. What we are doing is sowing the seeds of our own destruction, destruction that will come at the hands of those we have abused, misused and defiled, and made stones of their hearts. If we don't save our children, they will be the death of us.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Punda amechoka

On the 27th August of 2010, after more than twenty years of agitation, state-sponsored violence, political chicanery and constitutional lawfare, Kenya promulgated a new constitution. From the Ufungamano House Initiative, to the Ghai Commission to the Committee of Experts, Kenyans were determined to remake the constitutional framework to recognise and respect the will of the people. It was not our wish to repackage an avaricious political class with new titles and new offices. It is for this reason that we must acknowledge the tragic out-of-time-ness of Raila Odinga's determined push for political relevance by seeking a new government sinecure in the form of Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition courtesy of a BBI-like constitutional amendment.

Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga attempted to pull the wool over Kenyans' eyes with the Building Bridges Initiative that suffered catastrophic blows from the Judiciary. Even with the weak-toast face-saving by the Supreme Court, BBI was not supported, could not be supported, by the people. Its proposals should have received far better critical review, but because of the underhanded way that the entire enterprise was undertaken, only the politicians who stood to gain invested time, energy and scarce public resources to achieving the objects of BBI, including the creation of new offices designed, it seemed, solely to accommodate unsuccessful election candidates.

Mr Odinga lost the 2022 general election by repeating the same mistakes that were made when prosecuting the BBI programmes. But, I fear, he has not taken any lessons from his recent string of losses. He is banking on Kenyans' nostalgic fondness for his political battles of the past, especially the central role he played in agitating for a new constitution. Many Kenyans hold him in awe for what he did on Saba Saba and though they found it distasteful later on, they were appreciative of the rapprochement with Baba Moi that permitted him to merge his party with Kanu and his taking a cabinet position in government. His stint as Mwai Kibaki's Prime Minister was useful in dealing with the political reality of the presidential election that was stolen from him. When he attempted a similar gambit via the handshake with Uhuru Kenyatta, he failed and failed badly.

The ground has shifted significantly since 2008. There are fewer and fewer Kenyans who are willing to accommodate bloat in the senior ranks of the Government. Not in the middle of an unemployment crisis and famine. The Kenyans who were so optimistic in January 2003 have been browbeaten by relentless stories of senior politicians making out like bandits while the people they govern subsist on empty promises of development, free public services and social security for all. Lightning does not strike twice n a bottle and it is why BBI was fiasco and whatever accommodations Mr Odinga attempts with President Ruth will suffer the same ignominious fate.

Only politicians want a Prime Minister. Most Kenyans don't. Certainly, young Kenyans are only concerned about the savage cost of living. They want jobs that guarantee a comfortable life. They want social services that grant them the opportunity to found their own families and watch their children thrive and flourish. They are not interested in sustaining the exorbitant lifestyles of over-the-hill failed politicians. In the words of Ekuru Aukot, "Punda amechoka."

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...