Friday, March 31, 2023

Media whores, slave-owners and land-grabbers

There are many things that require the attention of the news press. Children, for example, continue to suffer at the hands of their teachers, caregivers and parents. Recent months have borne witness to the cruelties inflicted on our young ones by those who have, or should have, a sworn duty to keep them safe from such cruelties. Also, for those who care to pay attention, young women have died at the hands of their intimate partners. Many have been murdered in their homes and the perpetrators of the crimes have been allowed to get away with murder. 

Rather than report comprehensively on the death and injuries visited on the vulnerable, the news press has paid overwhelming attention to the shenanigans of a five-times failed presidential candidate and his entourage. This is nothing new. Not even further proof that newsmen are now part and parcel of his entourage has come as a surprise. Editors and their predecessors see nothing shamefaced in admitting that they are on the payrolls of political belligerents, and have consigned news reporting to the ash heap of history.

It would make sense if Kenyans still bought newspapers or generated enough advertising revenue from watching Kenyan news programmes. But they don't. Instead, Kenyans, the vast majority of them being young or youthful, eschew reporting of any kind and instead rely on entertainment programmes (morning sex talk shows are particularly popular) for their news. Maina and King'ang'i in the morning and their ilk are the current stars of news journalism, shaping political ideologies amidst the salacious sexcapades they have to offer. You only need to listen to the likes of the Leaders of the Majority Party to get a sense of what they consider newsworthy political decision-making.

When a "seasoned" former news editor, long after he ceased to shape opinion in his newspaper's Op-Ed pages, is still offered a byline to write reckless screeds where he equates Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first and only president-for-life, to the slave-owning George Washington, and casting the land-grabbing of the former and the slave-owning of the latter as neither here nor there, you know that the news press has stopped thinking of itself as the conscience of the nation and has, instead, become the whore house of dead ideas. It doesn't matter whether it is the legacy press or the upstart new media organisations that are plying their trade, the journalism on offer is no longer intended to inform, educate and entertain, in that order, but to is meant to camouflage the deep structural infirmities in the body politic that continue to be hollowed out by a corrupt political class with the connivance of a corrupt news media corporatocracy.

What gets shoved to the sidelines, ignored or buried, are the petty indignities and life-shattering abuses Kenyans have to endure at the hands of the political classes and the state institutions at their command. Children, who must be protected, nurtured and encouraged, have become regular targets of the state (young Baby Pendo is one of thousands of victims) either through actual state-sanctioned violence,  or official neglect (Junior Secondary School fiascos are just the latest iteration of state apathy). It is the soul of this nation that is endangered because news editors think being cute about slave-owning and land-grabbing is the height of original thinking.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Chase them from the temple

I could have told you, to a moral certainty, that what happened was going to pass. A particularly voluble member of the National Assembly, and his counterpart in the national Executive, had primed the pump with alleged midnight meetings and not-so-subtle public fulminations against their bitter rivals. What has become boringly predictable is the way that the ministers of religion, majority of whom preach a particularly virulent strain of Christian evangelism, roused themselves and decided to share their two bits of wisdom on how to address the political crisis.

I have had it told that they are no longer ministers of religion; they wear the accoutrements of religious piety while in actual fact they are like lice and ticks, sucking the blood of innocents and infecting them with debilitating diseases. When the new regime took office, the minsters of religion tripped over themselves, abasing themselves in front of the new potentate, in the hopes that their earthly desires Ould be satiated: land, money and political power. No less a personage than the provost of the All Saints Cathedral has laid bare the threadbareness of their piety, accusing them of abandoning their flocks and endangering the congregants' immortal souls.

No one seriously thinks that the Christian church in Kenya has any sort of moral authority anymore. It doesn't matter whether it is the Church of Rome, Church of England or the various strains of evangelism, all are now tarred with the same brush. Ministers of religion have abandoned the teachings of the gospel, only suing the gospel as a cudgel to browbeat Kenyans into toeing some imaginary line that may or may not have anything to do wit faith and salvation.

Instead, the Christian church has become a home where sinners don't go to have their sins washed away, but celebrated and valorised for massive backhander. You average minister of religion nowadays swans around in a Range Rover or Mercedes-Benz, lives in a palatial mansion, opens "branches" in the USA and UK, and sponsors his children to holidays in Paris and Milan, all out of the Sunday offertory and annual tithe he extorts from his flock. And with that wealth, the minister of religion now seeks political power, not to perform the Lord's work, but to expand his empire of vice and avarice.

Jesus once took a whip and chased the moneylenders out of the temple. It may now take a rebellion from among the faithful to strip the wolf of his sheep's clothing and install a true man of God to lead them in worship. If the minsters of religion had truly cared about the fate and welfare of their flock, they would not have allowed them to be used and abused by the political classes. Instead, they would have cursed the ministers of politics and cast their demonic souls out of the church. As it is, the ministers of religion and the politicians they have abased themselves before are the devils our mothers warned us about when we were children.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Bullshit reasons and constitutional rights

It's fascinating to watch the libertarians and bill of rights zealots twisting themselves in knots as they argue that political contestation must be tied to some reasonable and rational objective. In their world, the bill of rights does not just serve the purpose of recognising, affirming, protecting and enjoying rights and fundamental freedoms, but in order for the bill of rights to make sense, the exercise of those rights or fundamental freedoms can only make sense if there's a rationale and logical objective. In short, for example, one cannot just pick "demonstration" as the bit of Article 37 of the Constitution of Kenya as the right to exercise, but the exercise of that right must be, and only be, to present a petition to a public authority and that the petition must serve some rational and logical purpose. You can't have a bullshit reason to hold a political demonstration.

Obviously I think that position is, well, bullshit.

You cannot have a liberal constitutional democracy if the limitations on the bill of rights are limitations tied to neo-liberal and capitalist philosophies of utility, profit and economic advancement. The constitution, as someone rightfully argued, serves the people; it is not the people who serve the constitution.

What Raila Odinga attempted on the 20th March was to exercise, as fully as possible, his rights under Article 37. Sure, he "declared" the 20th March to be a public holiday. Only a moron thinks that his declaration was [a] the unauthorised exercise of State authority or [b] an unlawful attempt to establish a government otherwise than in compliance with the Constitution of Kenya. Sensible Kenyans understood that what he was doing was pressing his demands in the language that resonated with the tens of thousands of Kenyans who agree with him. Also, no one can ignore the fact that he ignored the risks associated with his maandamano; whenever he calls people out onto the streets, some of them engage in violence unprovoked. Be that as it may, Mr Odinga and the politicians who joined in his calls for maandamano had every right to exercise his rights under Article 37 even if his demands are utter bullshit and serve no reasonable or logical purpose.

We are repeatedly reminded by a highly-motivated segment of the political and economic classes that "Kenya is a capitalist society" and that political demonstrations, such as those of the 20th March, pose a risk to livelihoods and economic activity and, therefore, they must be tempered. One lawyer had the temerity to suggest that political demonstrations should last, at most, one hour and then the demonstrators should go do something meaningful, like go to work. This is the kind of bullshit that prevents Kenya from doing the work needed to build a constitutional culture.

Obviously I am not a fan of that kind of bullshit.

I don't know if Mr Odinga is on the right side of history and I don't care. I care that flimsy neo-liberal rubbish forms such a firm foundation for the watering down of the letter and spirit of the bill of rights. I care that as a consequence of such subversive reasoning, State officers see nothing wrong in actively preventing law-abiding Kenyans from exercising their constitutional rights, refuse to actively take steps to protect Kenyans' fundamental freedoms, and, instead, provoke violence as part of their strategy for winning (and losing) political arguments.

In my opinion, Mr Odinga, since at least The Handshake, continues to demonstrate why he should bow out of the political limelight. Not because his current political campaign lies on a foundation of bullshit. It does, but I don't care. Not because his hardcore supporters are blind to all reason. They are, but I don't care. Not because his core constituency is a pale shadow of what it was in 2002/2003. It is, but I don't care. It is because he is a man out of time, both with the people he would wish to rule and the ideas he should have to rule effectively. MS-DOS in a world of AI, a rotary telephone in a world of VoIP.

But no matter how over-the-hill I believe him to be, so long as he does not call for the violent overthrow of the Constitution, the State or the government, I don't care that he wants to bring his supporters to KICC every Monday and Thursday so that they can take a traffic-snarling stroll to State House. He can do that every single day for the week to his heart's content. Article 37, which a majority of adult Kenyans adopted at a referendum, affords him that right. The only, and best, way to beat Mr Odinga at his game, is to marshal the political arguments that renders his nugatory. Only good ideas can beat bad ones. Not police batons, teargas and lethal 7.62mm rifle bullets.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Bottom-up listening

I used to work for a public complaints agency in the mid-2000s. We received complaints from around the country, investigated them, attempted to resolve them using alternative dispute resolution process such as mediation and conciliation, and made recommendations to public agencies on lasting solutions. My bosses were drawn from different backgrounds, and they cared passionately about the issues we dealt with. I learnt a great deal from them on how to approach the vulnerable and forgotten peoples of Kenya, how to draw them out to state sometimes painful truths to agents of the government, and how to listen to their issues with empathy and compassion.

By the time I was leaving the agency, I think, I had formed a philosophy of what lawyering is supposed to be: solve the problems of the client before you without substituting yourself for your client. Sometimes, in order to solve the client's problem, you have to prevail in a trial before a judge, magistrate or tribunal. Sometimes, it means finding an alternative way to litigation, such as the aforementioned alternative dispute resolution processes. And sometimes the problem cannot be solved and this needs to be communicated with compassion and empathy to your client. But in all cases, it is not my ego that needs to be assuaged, but my client's problem that needs to be solved.

The past four years have seen Kenya suffer a mega-drought not experienced since the 2007/2008 El Niño/La Niña effect. As early as the 2014/2015 seasons, we knew that the situation was going to get dire and going by our history, famine was all but assured. Famine response is, to my mind, a factor of time, logistics and speed. Time to plan, the logistical capacity to acquire, position and pre-position famine relief supplies, and speed in decision-making. Secondary measures include environmental rehabilitation programmes to build resilience in at-risk communities, especially communities that rely almost exclusively on rainfall such as pastoralists.

Drought, and famine, do not just affect pastoralists in Kenya; the whole of the Horn of Africa has been affected. Somalia, South Sudan, southern Ethiopia and northern Uganda are facing the same dire situation that Kenya is. Consequently, there is a fierce competition for scarce grazing fields. What makes the situation truly dangerous is the flow of small arms into Kenya from the battlefields in Somalia, South Sudan, southern Ethiopia and northern Uganda. In my opinion, no matter how effectively small arms are mopped up from the communities in Turkana, West Pocket, Baringo, Samburu and Laikipia, so long as the disarmament does not affect Somalia, South Sudan, southern Ethiopia and northern Uganda, fresh supplies of small arms will still make their way into Kenya, and they will still contribute to the instability experienced in the areas where pasture land is to be found.

The solution, to my mind, is not to wage war against peoples who are fighting for their survival. It is not to find new, questionably legal, way to exclude them from pasture lands belonging to "other communities". The solution lies in building resilience in those communities. Resilience can only be built by rebuilding public institutions and public utilities that serve the needs of pastoral communities. One of them is a logistics network that can move large herds of livestock long distances in a short period and with minimal losses; a banking and finance system that accommodates capital created by livestock; and a livestock and livestock products marketing system that can act as an emergency off-taker for communities willing to translate their livestock herds into cash.

But in order for these kinds of lasting solutions to work, Government must learn how to talk to these communities without patronising, infantilising or threatening their members. Government officials need to leave their suits, and the air of superiority the suits go with, in Nairobi. This is the whole essence of bottom-up decision-making. You listen to the communities at risk; you listen with compassion and empathy; you listen with the aim of solving their problems, not to win a war. Any other solution will be short-lived, much-reviled, and only lead to even greater resistance in the future. I fear that the mistakes of the past are being repeated.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Mr. Odinga and the Presidents

Fifteen years ago, Raila Odinga was cheated of electoral victory. The electoral theft led to widespread violence that was ruthlessly suppressed. Many Kenyans were killed. Hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes. If it was not for the intervention of the global community, Kenya might not have been able to put itself together again. After tense negotiations, Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga agreed to form a government of national unity.

Twenty years ago, or thereabouts, Raila Odinga led his party and a bunch of other into a merger with Kanu. He was appointed the Secretary-General of the merged political party. When President Moi cheated Mr. Odinga out of a fair and transparent political party nomination process to be the presidential flag bearer, he decamped again, and led his bunch of rebels into a merger with Mwai Kibaki's Democratic Party and Charity Ngilu's Social Democratic Party, among others, and formed the National Rainbow Coalition, that went on to win the 2002 general election.

Five years ago, after months of political instability that arose after the hotly-contested 2017 presidential election, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta shook hands and decided to bury the hatchet. Initially, William Ruth, the then Deputy President, supported The Handshake but when it became clear that Uhuru Kenyatta was deterred to renege on the agreement that he would put his weight behind Mr. Ruto for the presidency, Mr. Ruto became a bitter opponent of the arrangement. When Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga initiated the BBI process to amend the constitution, Mr. Ruto secretly financed law suits to defeat the proposals in the courts. He was successful in his efforts.

Now it is barely six months since President Ruto was sworn in as Kenya's fifth president and Mr. Odinga is sniping at his heels with his programme of political rallies aimed at weakening the President's grip on his government. Trial balloons have been floated suggesting that maybe it is time for the President and Mr. Odinga to ink their own version of a political agreement along the same lines as the agreements Mr. Odinga has had with Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta. It is, the whispers strongly insist, the only way that the new president can turn his attention to governing and dealing with the myriads of challenges facing his government, including the precarious economic situation, the dangerous effects of the prolonged drought, the violence engulfing pastoralist areas in the North Rift, and Kenya's military engagements in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The proposals for a new handshake are not as asinine as they appear; they would fall neatly into the same category as all previous Raila Odinga handshakes with Kenyan presidents. Despite his advancing age, and unkind insinuations that he is over the hill, Mr. Odinga remains the most consequential political leader in Kenya for at least three generations. Mwai Kibaki, president and all, only has two things by which we remember him: the 2007-2008 crisis and Kenya Vision 2030. Uhuru Kenyatta will be remembered for the scandals surrounding the National Youth Service, the Standard Gauge Railway and the Nairobi Expressway Project. Mr. Odinga, on the other hand, has had a hand in the 1982 attempted coup (for which he was detained for almost a decade), putting the final nail in Kanu's coffin, the rallying call in the 2002 general elections (Kibaki Tosha!) and, in one way or the other, the final push for a new constitution.

President Ruto and his acolytes would be best served by not dismissing the handshake idea out of hand. So long as Mr. Odinga can marshal tens of thousands of Kenyans, rich and poor alike, from all ethnic backgrounds, to the streets, the president cannot afford to dismiss Mr. Odinga as an old political has-been. Whether or not  it will dawn on the president that it is better for Mr. Odinga to be inside the tent pissing out depends almost entirely on whether or not he has honest advisors telling him the truth, as opposed to courtiers hell-bent on making a fast shilling. If for no reason, the president must bear in mind that three different presidents saw the wisdom of having Mr. Odinga in their governments.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

New asshole same as old asshole

We are all guilty of seeing ourselves as smarter, better, more intelligent, cleverer, more decisive...than the guy we think is an idiot. We are twice as guilty when the foundation of our hubris are academic credentials that contain the words "first class", "distinction", "summa cum laude" and the like. But our heads swell to gargantuan proportions when we compare ourselves to the equally egoistic members of the political classes. It is human nature.

However the judgment of the masses, sometimes, where the instinct for self-promotion has been ruthlessly suppressed, is quite often informative. In the Kenya of the here and now, the masses are witness to the most witless Cabinet Secretary since the chef shuffled off to do local politics in his county. Our hapless maker of roadside declarations was touted by some of his most ardent boosters as a genius. He had a reckless tongue, for sure, but were relentlessly assured that once is hind parts sat on the seat of real power, he would reveal his true genius.

The truth, unsurprisingly, is that he has not covered himself in glory. He doesn't know anything about his ministry. He doesn't care to know anything about his ministry. What is worse is that he is incapable of the self-reflection necessary to know that he doesn't know anything. And so, in his customary brash manner, he has made a raft of policy pronouncements without caring whether or not he has the power, the intellect and technical skill needed to make the pronouncements.

He has opined on the status of various dockets out of his purview with the certainty of a religious zealot flying by the seat of his pants. It doesn't appear that he has consulted anyone. Not his technical staff (whom he says he has too many of that he doesn't need). Not his Cabinet colleagues. Not the government's chief legal advisor. Not even his former parliamentary colleagues. He is flying solo because, in his mind, he is the smartest man in the room because he told us he is the smartest man in the room.

His arrogance would have him believe that he is the first one to do what he is doing. He forgets that the last cabinet had a man with a similarly gargantuan ego who made a hash of his docket that it will take the better part of a decade to put right. Like our current tornado of shit, the previous guy would not listen to wise counsel. Would not consult technical experts. Would interfere in the mandates of others. And felt that it was his duty, at least once a week, to remind his colleagues and underlings that they were imbeciles. He is not facing the prospects of ten years of political inertia. Nether his previous colleagues nor the current powers-that-be are interested in giving him the time of day.

What distinguishes us from the people we loath, quite often, is our capacity for self-reflection and humility, the ability to admit when we are wrong, and the intellectual honesty to ask for help whenever we need it. We don't always do these things, but we do them often enough not to be reviled by our families, friends and co-workers. Our enfant terrible has spent a decade being told that he is the best of the best, being valorised for some of the most asinine political decisions he has ever made. Now that he has tasted real power, he is unlikely to have the humility to take a step back and ask, "Do I know what I'm supposed to do?"

Monday, March 06, 2023

Scapegoats and camouflage

If you were to go by the recent news stories, you would think that the greatest threat Kenya faces today is from the Alphabet Mafia. The Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transexuals and Queers, better know as the LGBTQ, are at the heart of a conversation that has roused ministers of religion and ministers of government, and all manner of characters in-between, to fulminate and froth at the mouth. The anti-LGBTQ tinder was lit by a spark set by the Supreme Court when it said that the freedom of association protected in Article 36 of the Constitution permitted the registration of a non-governmental body that seeks to address the discrimination that the members of the LGBTQ community face. That the Supreme Court very carefully added that it was not repealing section 162, 163 and 165 of the Penal Code seems to have passed the fulminators and mouth-frothers by.

The effect of the news-media attention on the "implications of the Supreme Court judgment" very neatly deflected from a much more present and on-going scourge: the sexual exploitation of women, girls and children at the hands of labour recruiters working in Kenya's tea farms. I don't know if you noticed how swiftly the BBC expose of the sexual exploitation of women, girls and children in tea farms fell off the front pages of the news tabloids and how the socialites masquerading as TV journalists stopped telling the story or asking the hard questions.

These things are not even a well-kept secret. If you have worked in or worked with or worked for a tea company in Kenya, then you know that exploitation is at the core of its operations and no exploitation is as devastating as sexual exploitation of the vulnerable. The managers knew. The brokers knew. The "international" buyers knew. We knew. But everyone, other than the victims, chose to pretend that unless it was said out loud, then it didn't exist, it hadn't happened, no one had suffered. But what added to the shards of glass piercing my wounded heart is the knowledge that every single minister of religion that had ever plied his or her trade in or around the tea farms knew this to be true and did nothing except to participate in the anti-LGBTQ pantomime being enacted as camouflage for that abominable scourge. God, my friend, hates the LGBTQ far more than he hates rapists.

Two things can be true at the same time: the Supreme Court did not legalise carnal acts against the order of nature, and women, girls and children are being systematically raped by powerful men in tea farms. But it is the latter that is, or should be, consequential. It is the latter that should arouse our outrage, rage, and violent anger.

Not even the ministers of religion have bothered to sit with the awful, terrible, terrifying reality of the devastation that sexual exploitation brings to an individual, a family, a community. The utter humiliation. The utter shame. The physical and psychological subjugation. The violence against bodies, spirits and psyches. None of this has pricked the conscience of God's messengers. But paint a rainbow anywhere in Kenya today and watch as a mob, hopped up on religious fervour, descends upon you with the intent of killing you, physically and stochastically, because you have dared to ignore God's abhorrence of the Alphabet Mafia.

The men, and it almost certainly all men, who perpetrated and oversaw the perpetration of gross violence will get away with their terrible crimes. They will retire to opulent wealth. They will harden their hearts and deafen their ears because they know that even God's messengers don't think they did anything wrong. God's messengers only care for one thing today: how much lucre is given by the devout to the ministry. Gold is God. Suffering is no longer of concern to God.

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