Thursday, January 26, 2023

Prohibition is not the answer

The deputy president, in another of his brand of executive pronouncements, has directed county governments and administrative officers of the national government to “eradicate alcoholism” among the youth by, among other things, only permitting the issuance of a single liquor license “per town”. The reason for the draconian decree is that the youth are being destroyed by alcohol and drugs. The logic of the decree is that if the bars are shut down, the youth will not have access to alcohol (or drugs), and therefore, they will be saved from destruction.

It’s a simplistic argument and it is, in my opinion, uninformed. It is true that the prevalence of alcoholism among young people is very high. As is drug taking. But it does not follow that the reason why young people are becoming alcohol and drug addicts is because of the prevalence of bars. Correlation is not causation.

There are many reasons why alcoholism is affecting more and more younger people. One reason may be easier access to alcohol. In my opinion, there are several other reasons: the liquor licensing regime contemplated in the Mututho Laws has been observed more in the breach. There are more licensed premises where alcohol is served in residential areas than there are playing grounds. There are more bars within 100 metres of basic education institutions than there are libraries or book banks. There are more social media influencers promoting alcoholic beverages than there are those promoting sporting events or book fairs. In short, planning regulations have been ignored, the rule that bars should not be licensed near schools has been violated, and the ban on advertising has been subverted through social media paid promotions by non-traditional advertisers. Closing down bars is not the silver bullet that the deputy president thinks it is.

The solution that the deputy president proposes will not eradicate alcoholism; what it will do, especially if it is enforced the way he wants it to be enforced, will be to re-establish the primacy of the provincial administration that was the bane of this nation since the day it was created by the colonial government. It will give police and administrative officers free license to harass law-abiding Kenyans and lead to new ways of violating the rights and fundamental freedoms of restive, unemployed, despondent young people.

One of the mistakes that Uhuru Kenyatta made was to resort to simple, and often violently draconian, solutions for complex problems, and using the security services to implement those solutions. He didn’t appear to be interested in the hard work needed to analyse problems, and promote multi-pronged solutions, as all socio-economic problems demand. This is a mistake that the new regime seems partial to repeating. It is as if the mistakes of the past 12 years have been erased from our collective memory, and we are hell-bent in doing them over again, in the same way, with the same tools, and the same outcomes.

If, for example, we acknowledge that by the time a young person has become an alcoholic and drug addict, merely shutting down the local bar will not stop him from getting his fix. It impossible that the much-maligned “illicit brews” sector is about to enjoy a resurgence. Which will lead to tax evasion and other administrative wrongs. Which will lead to petty and property crimes. Which will eventually lead to violent crime. Which will lead to the resurgence of protection rackets by the likes of the Mungiki. And eventually, policemen will get in on the lucre that the criminal networks will have re-established. The one-bar-per-town, a bastardised version of the USA’s Prohibition Era, will end in disaster.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Farce and tragedy

We are living the same script. A presidential election is held, contested, adjudicated, declared and a president is sworn in. The losing candidate, The Losing Candidate, refuses to accept the result and embarks on a mourning spanning years to undermine the legitimacy of the presidential election; the president counters by making increasingly unwise declarations. Eventually the political rivals strike a bargain “to cool political temperatures” and patently unconstitutional schemes are hatched that may, or may not, be scuttled by an increasingly assertive judiciary.

2023 is no different from 2017 which was a rehash of 2013 and 2008. The situation is exacerbated by a political class that is bereft of vision, incapable of seeing beyond its collective nose, held hostage with the need to win the next election at all costs, and exhibiting all the attributes of the intellectually inferior and politically dwarfish.

The president and political leader of the majority party and the political leader of the minority party (not to be confused with the minority and majority leaders in parliament) both suffer from a lack of a clear, defining political vision, because the political vehicles they own and control are not founded on any clear political ideologies that inspire their members to articulate a vision of this country that transcend petty parochial sensitivities. They cover themselves with the language of political discourse, but if you rub off the thin layer of sophistication, what you reveal is a barren, desiccated and arid wasteland of dead single-party norms and dear leader vibes.

The consequences are dire. Had either of them the ability to clearly articulate a unified vision of what Kenya is, what it aspires to be, and what to can be, you would not have, five months after the Supreme Court declared with finality, morose politicians swinging wildly at the dead horse of the presidential election resuscitate. You would have them speaking with authority that, for example, competence based curricula are a death knell of young Kenyans’ futures; that the sale of the national family silver to johnny-come-latelies is nothing more than a 1990s desire to transfer state assets to well-connected political operatives and not to build national economic and industrial champions; that so long as thieves are responsible for public health policy, the dream of universal health care will never come to pass; and so on and so forth.

We know that they lack a coherent vision because their mouthpieces and surrogates keep repeating the same moribund political ideas; keep rehashing conspiracy theories that have been rejected by the highest court of the land; propose scatterbrained economic revival programmes that are thinly veiled schemes to swindle the state of billions of shillings. Anyone who takes an accused attempted murderer seriously in matters of truth, justice or reconciliation, and permits that person to speak for him, undermines the legitimacy of his political claims. Anyone who promises probity in word and deed but appoints men and women with known doubtful antecedents, desecrates any trust he may have garnered from the voting citizenry.

We have seen this movie before. They say that history repeats itself, first as farce and then as tragedy. The farcical bit ended with the interment of the BBI scheme. The tragedy, bar a radical change of course, is unfolding right before our eyes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Without trust, Mr Odinga is going nowhere

Raila Amolo Odinga is a colossus. It is immaterial that some of us think that he is over the hill, past his prime. He remains the most consequential politician and political leader this country hs experienced since his late father, Jaramogi, passed away. One can no longer wish away Mr Odinga as one could stop breathing. We can count on one hand the politicians and political leaders who have a made a genuine difference in Kenya, whether for good or for bad, and that list shall be incomplete if it does not have Mr Odinga on it.

The Supreme Court, after weighing the evidence adduced before it, determined that William Ruto was duly elected as the fifth president of Kenya. The road to this determination is not a tortuous one. Mr Odinga shook hands with Uhuru Kenyatta and buried the hatchet of the 2017 presidential election, which Mr Odinga refused to accept. Mr Kenyatta thereafter sidelined Mr Ruto, his deputy president, and embarked on a harebrained scheme to change the constitution. Mr Ruto joined hands with disgruntled Mt Kenya politicians which sustained him through four years of unfortunate treatment at the hands of his principal. When the presidential election was held, Mr Odinga was treated as the Government because of the support he received from Uhuru Kenyatta and his officials, and Mr Ruto, the sitting deputy president, was treated as the underdog, a role he played up all through.

It is common knowledge that Mr Ruto ran a well-organised presidential campaign; the discipline in his ranks was remarkable. Mr Odinga, on the other hand, never truly appeared to be the captain of his ship. First, it took him and Mr Kenyatta wasted weeks to get Mr Kalonzo Musyoka onside. Thereafter, it was never clear who was the one in charge: Mr Kenyatta or Mr Odinga. Rumours continue to swirl, that even on the day of the presidential election, Mr Odinga's team did not have a unified list of poll station observers. Indeed, things were so bad that Ms Martha Karua, Mr Odinga's running mate, could not even muster a good showing in her Gichugu, Kirinyaga, constituency. Mr Odinga alleges that rather than poor preparation and execution of plans on election day, it is Mr Ruto's campaign that subverted the will of the people by interfering with election processes, particularly the electronic transmission and tallying system, stealing votes from Mr Odinga and allocating them to Mr Ruto. The proof that Mr Odinga adduced before the Supreme Court was dismissed as mere "hot air". He has, since the judgment, maintained the righteousness of his claims and he seems, today, to have found a whistleblower willing to back his allegations.

Wahenga husema, "You will know them by the company they keep". Mr Odinga keeps some very dubious company. The positions they have adopted, and the actions they have undertaken, ostensibly in his name, have had negative externalities, as the economists say. They alienated voters by their braggadocio. They strutted around with their noses in their air safe in the knowledge that the "system", for once, was on their side. They took the voters for granted and as a result, peppered their pronouncements and announcements with condescending and pejorative language that, in effect, told us to know our place, not question the dubious use of state resources for their benefit, or the secretive relationships among and between them. While many of us are disappointed that Mr Odinga was not elected, very few of us actually sympathise with his plight, never mind the crowds that still flock to his rallies.

Mr Odinga is a colossus. But that is meaningless if he surrounds himself with political and intellectual pygmies, places his trust in slothful chancers and scallywags, and embarks on change-the-constitution adventures filled with evil designs for the people he seeks to govern. It may very well turn out that the whistleblower has spoken the truth and that his evidence is verifiable. But it doesn't matter so long as Mr Odinga's trust deficit with the vast majority of Kenyas remains so wide. Without us, the people, his claims are not worth more than a bucket of warm spit.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Radio sex and Italian leather shoes

The straw that broke this camel’s back came on a dreary morning riding a Double M to work and listening to Maina and King’ang’i in the Morning. It had rained the night before and, as was usual then, the sewers along Landhies Road were blocked and the sewerage was flowing out in the open. The stench was terrible. But what caught me out, beyond the indignity of my fellowman playing hop-skip-and-jump over puddles of sewerage, was the cackling by the two radio personalities at the expense of the poor people who suffered these indignities. It was stark that the morning radio shows, in addition to serving salacious and risqué fare, had little empathy for those they considered beneath them and held the unwashed masses in utter contempt.

While I disagreed with Joe Aketch’s opposition to the sale of Muthurwa Estate to private developers for the construction of new social housing, I understood it. As a councillor in City Hall, he had seen first hand how promises for the betterment of the poor were never kept, they were often dispossessed in in the name of redevelopment and slum upgrading, and no one could take the promises of the movers and shaker at face value without establishing trust through cast-iron-guarantees of benefits to project affected persons. For this reason, on the day that Maina and King’ang’i choose to mock and belittle the poor of Muthurwa, the repairs and rehabilitation of the sewer and drainage system in the area had been ignored for years. Not much has changed in 2023.

The reason I’m banging on about Maina and King’ang’i has something to do with a discussion I had last night on Twitter. I suggested that (especially for radio listeners) we have been programmed to listen more to radio shows heavy on sex and salaciousness than educational or informative fare, like Seeds of Gold (a series published in a weekend newspaper and broadcast on TV). Sex, and our version of political commentary, sell more than any programme designed to inform and educate.

I had, when I was a student in India, the benefit of WorldSpace satellite radio, through which I listened to lots of USA radio programming, particularly NPR. When I came home, the kind of on-air commentary that I enjoyed on NPR was lacking. I think, though my memory may fail me, that Granton Samboja had an evening radio show where he interviewed aspiring parliamentarians in 2007. But, for the most part, radio was dominated by low-brow sex-heavy broadcasts, sprinkled with low-brow political commentary that was long on speculation and shot on any substantive discussions of things that affected us.

My observation is that the low-brow end of the entertain-inform-educate troika attracts advertising shillings. These kinds of shows are easy to produce and easy to sponsor. On the other hand, Seeds of God, for example, require more resources, more time, more expertise. They cost more to produce. They are not popular topics (sex and politics). They do not attract many advertisers. Media companies will promote the low-brow programmes and only the bare minimum to bring Seeds of Gold to a wider audience. In my opinion, we have been programmed to prefer the Maina and King’ang’i programme to Seeds of Gold. 

This isn’t to say that we don’t actively choose to seek and listen to Maina and King’ang’i. Given the paucity of shows like Seeds of Gold, the choice we are given is merely different varieties of Maina and King’ang’i. It is not really a choice. The consequences are stark. Even among the people who should know better, little of substance is published, aired or broadcast to a wider audience. One must actively join different platforms, and actively search for informative and educational information, if one is to “better oneself”. Our national IQ is slowly slipping. It is how we end up with parliamentarians who think that being a Big Boy is being able to buy five thousand dollar Italian leather shoes. Sex on radio in the morning is how we ended up, to a large extent, being governed by semi-literate windbags in the Age of Information.

Friday, January 20, 2023

New nawab same as old nawab

The new-ish Government has announced that it it is going to build in 6 months an “ultramodern stadium” in Embu where the national celebrations for Madaraka Day shall be held. In order to make sure that the project is a success, it has placed the Principal Secretary in the Interior ministry in charge. The Ministry in charge of internal security - policing and intelligence - rather than the Sports ministry or even the Culture ministry is responsible for building a stadium. The more things change…

Kenya’s officialdom has learnt no lessons form the insertion of policemen, soldiers and intelligence officers in overtly civilian spaces. The secrecy that attends national defence and national security questions is now part and parcel of a vast swathe of purely civilian matters, contrary to the tenets of Article 10 and Article 232 of the Constitution regarding transparency and accountability. Indeed, not even a passing acquaintance with “the participation of the people” can be claimed when it comes to decisions made by members of the disciplined services; theirs is to do or die, not to wonder why.

Presidents Kenyatta the Elder, Moi, Kibaki and Kenyatta the Younger relied on their authority as commanders-in-chief to issue decrees that would and could not be countermanded or undermined by the members of the securocracy that they commanded. Their orders were almost always carried out without question. As a result, Kenyans were frequently harmed, injured, lied to, robbed and cheated in the guise of “national development”. Even in cases where such projects “succeeded”, it almost always emerged that we had overpaid for white elephants that had limited national or even local utility and whose costs lingered long after the projects had inevitably collapsed. Repeating the mistakes of past presidencies now seems to be a feature of the modern Kenyan presidency, not a bug.

Back in the day, the Public Works Department built things. It procured the supplies, deployed its engineers, and built things. It eventually succumbed to the sclerosis of corruption and Kenya established a new-ish procurement legislative framework, that now consists of the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act, the Public Private Partnerships Act, and the Public Finance Management Act. Boring shit, really. But you need to learn about this boring shit, especially about key phrases like “request for proposals”, “award of tender”, “procuring entity”, “financial close” and similar connected phrases that constitute the procurement of an “ultramodern stadium”. Even if you are not starting with a clean slate, merely prequalifying suppliers for the refurbishment and upgrading of the Embu stadium is not something that can be accomplished in 5 months, unless corners are cut, procedures are elided, mistakes are made, and scarce public funds go walkabout.

Had they said they were taking steps to spruce up the existing facility so that, for one day in 2023 it would be the centre of national attention, they could just justify an outlay that would run into the hundreds of millions of shillings. But, promising the impossible, and finding dodgy ways to justify things like “single-source procurement” and “emergency procurement”, only serves to entrench in the minds of those who had given the Government the benefit of the doubt, that the new nawabs were the same as the old nawabs and that it is Kenyans who shall end up the poorer for it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Welcome to 2023

It pays to pay attention to what politicians do and say, even as it is increasingly exhausting to do so. Many of the decisions made by government officials are affected by what elected politicians do or say, decisions that affect our day-to-day lives in large and small ways. Take the miffed bad-tempered reactions by the many, many men in the Meru county assembly for example. One worthy was so offended by the Meru Governor's vindication by the Senate that he declared on public television that he was no longer available to listen, or deal with, the complaints from his constituents. Instead, he sniffily announced, the aggrieved residents of the county should take their troubles to the Governor as he and his colleagues would only be available for weddings, funerals and birthdays.

This kind of performative stupidity affects the Government, and the governed, in profound ways. In Nairobi, a Nyeri senator has threatened to bring a motion of impeachment against the Nairobi Governor because the Governor has disrespected the Deputy President and "businessman from Mt Kenya region". Nairobi is plagued by many problems, one of which is the seemingly law-unto-itself behaviour of the matatu industry. Nairobi's Governor has made proposals on how to deal with some of the problems caused by the matatu industry. The Deputy President has attempted to intervene in the matter, invoking the claim that it will adversely affect business people from Mt Kenya region. The Nairobi Governor has, quite rightly, told him to mind his own national business and leave the county government to its rightful leadership. The Nyeri senator, feigning umbrage and pique, has chimed in with his two cents and acted like the senatorial toddler he is by threatening impeachment for the governor who is doing the job for which he was elected.

When Makueni county assembly members attempted to intimidate Governor Kivutha Kibwana, he stood his ground, and asked for the county government to be dissolved. The crisis was only resolved when the national government intervened. The voters sent all the members oof the assembly, save one, home at the next general election. It would behoove the nutters in Peru and Nyeri to take heed of their power and not allow the kinds of wasteful shenanigans engaged in by their elected representatives.

We enter 2023 faced with serious economic challenges that require sobriety and intelligence to resolve. The challenges will take longer to address if elected representatives are stupidly flexing their non-existent legislative muscles to bully and intimidate state officials charged with making life-altering decisions regarding the challenges. Tabloids like the Daily Nation and the Standard do not help by amplifying asinine political contests that do legislative and administrative harm instead of doing what the first drafters of history are supposed to do: hold the Government to account by telling truth to power.

But because of the domestic economic troubles many of us face, the lack of a credible Fourth Estate, the amplification of salacious spectacle over reasoned examination of state power, we are hard-pressed to pay attention to what needs paying attention to. School curricula, and the economic interests that favour one curriculum design over all others, are examined only by committed educationists and whose voices are smothered and suppressed. Electricity policy is a murky place where secret contracts with shady off-shore companies and inexplicable tax policies ensure that no Kenyan home is quite certain whether the electricity they are paying for isn't actually some form of poverty-inducing programme designed to keep them in penury for all eternity. Organised labour continues to suffer from sclerotic union leadership, where geriatrics gallivant to international bacchanalias and abandon any form of collective action to beef up paycheques for their members. The lunacies of the Meru county assembly members, and the news media amplification of those lunacies, are signs of coming terrible times for Kenyans. Something needs to give before we are overwhelmed and resort to extreme measures to force changes at the top.

Some bosses lead, some bosses blame

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