Thursday, August 31, 2023

Misplaced love

One of the legacies of the Mwai Kibaki government was the widespread adoption of corporate buzzwords to hide the graft that public officials engaged in. Few Kenyans noticed until it was too late. It emboldened public officials many of whom were elected or appointed in county governments, Kenya's newest experiment in participatory government. In Eldoret, the seat of County Government of Uasin Gishu, public officials and well-connected businessmen have taken graft and fraud to untold heights.

It is reported in the Kenyan tabloid press that the county government established a scholarship fund for secondary school graduates to attend universities in Canada and Finland. In order to be eligible, the students and their families were required to contribute to a trust fund, which was under the control of county government officials. Apparently, over 950 million shillings was paid into the trust fund. The programme enjoyed initial success; dozens of residents of Uasin Gishu County have been enrolled in universities in Canada and Finland. However, it is now reported that fees are no longer been remitted to the foreign universities where the students are enrolled and, consequently, the students are are at risk of being discontinued and if that happens, their immigration status is endangered.

Further reports indicate that tens of millions of shillings have been withdrawn from the trust fund in unexplained circumstances. The officials, including the former governor (and current senator) deny any wrongdoing even as they refuse to explain how and why the scholarship programme appears to no longer sponsor students.

Meanwhile, a labour recruiter has reportedly undertaken a similar scheme of her own. She has collected tens of millions from young jobseekers with promises of employment in the Middle East. She appears to be engaged in a scam similar to ones that have been uncovered in Nairobi. She has denied wrongdoing and has dared the Senate (which purported to be investigating the matter) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to prove that she is a fraud. Not even the allegations and pleas by her victims have compelled her to offer a credible explanation as to the true status of her business operations.

Both the county government officials and the labour recruiter could only be this bold because they knew that the forces of law and order would not trouble them overmuch. Indeed, the past six months have witnessed the collapse and withdrawal of economic crimes prosecutions on such a scale as to bring into doubt the effectiveness of the criminal justice investigatory and prosecutory framework. This is one of the legacies of the Mwai Kibaki government. While in the 2003 to 2013 period only state officers could hope to escape criminal convictions and judicial sentences, it seems that even halfwitted fly-by-night fraudsters are not overly afraid of the police, the DPP or the courts.

The contempt for the law is widespread. It is witnessed in petty and grand ways. One cannot but see the consequences of such contempt, whether it is the increasing cases of fraud by even small-fry government officials and obscure labour recruiters in district backwaters no one thought of. The increasing ineffectiveness of the fraud investigators and prosecutors, despite their apparent constitutional, legal and operational independence, undermines what little faith we have in the government, both as an institution and a reflection of our national values and principles. The last ten years were quite favourable to the memory of Mwai Kibaki. An analysis of the graft that pervades the firmaments of the state might show that such warm feelings for Mwai Kibaki are misplaced.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Love in the age of graft

The ash-heap of presidential politics is not for the faint of heart. It takes grit, chutzpah, a shit-load of cash, and an overweening narcissism to get to the top, and once there, the people who loved you enough to elect you (whether or not there are stolen votes in there, somewhere) turn on you, with their hand out, for things you discover that you can't deliver, or don't even have the cash to deliver, all the while redoubling your efforts to stay at the top, come hell, high water or uchawi.

Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi, once they captured the party, did not have to fear being replaced at the top. Jomo Kenyatta, so far Kenya's only president for life, died in office. Daniel Moi ruled of almost 25 years, he might as well have died in office. It didn't matter to them whether their voters loved them or loathed them. They would remain in power because Kenyans didn't have a viable alternative. Then Daniel Moi ordered his attorney-general and his parliament to repeal Section 2A, and then the race was on to find his replacement.

His project turned out to be an extremely wealthy political naif. A damp squib. Mwai Kibaki, Daniel Moi's eventual successor, had a plan when he took on the unhappy job of President and Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Armed Forces. His plan was shot to hell three minutes after he took the oath of office and the fat men around him overworked in making sure Mwai Kibaki would have a blood-soaked second inaugural. To be fair to the gentlemen from Othaya, he didn't seem to hanker after praise. He didn't appear to be vainglorious. He did what he did to bring the national economy to an even keel. He cut a swathe in what Indians called the Licence Raj and, for the most part, unleashed Kenyans' economic instincts. And then he let it all slip away by allowing the graft that had germinated in the Jomo Kenyatta regime and festered in the Daniel Moi regime to be supercharged to untold, gargantuan scale.

The three years of Kenya's Second Promise (2003 to 2005) are lost to the sands of time. While we pray for a Third Promise, Uhuru Kenyatta postponed that day and the new man at the top isn't finding a lot of support on his way to Zion. The graft that Uhuru Kenyatta inherited grew wide, broad and deep. It is as if everyone who was anyone in the Government had his hand in the cookie jar. Mwai Kibaki may not have pulled every single Kenyan out of extreme poverty, but he left a healthy economic machine that had room to run. What Uhuru Kenyatta did was to take a perfectly adequate Toyota Hilux and drove it into total destruction, leaving an engine that had knocked, a gearbox that had no cogs, brakes that were a threat to life and limb, lights whose bulbs had long ago failed, and a suspension that, if the car ran, almost always required the driver and passengers to seek out chiropractors. William Ruto has to rebuild the engine, gearbox, brakes, lights, and suspension first, before he can even try to take a load of miraa to market.

The economic vandals who took root during Mwai Kibaki's and Uhuru Kenyatta's regimes have metastasised. Until they are dealt with, they will undermine every effort to restart the national economic machine. They will need to be uprooted and cast asunder from the health sector, basic education sector, energy sector, telecommunications sector, and even the civil society. So long as they know that it is business as usual, they will continue to walk the land barefaced and unafraid. Thieves should not be so bold. If the president fails to deal with them, no amount of salesmanship will reverse the animus the people will have for him when he next comes round begging to be re-elected.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The roads to failure

President Uhuru Kenyatta, The Fourth, is a tragic president. Save for the acolytes who trailed his coattails, like the slime that follows a slug's trail, not many Kenyans can point to things that made their lives better. The "Big 4 Agenda" - affordable housing, manufacturing, universal healthcare, and food security - have little to show in the way of improved quality of life for the billions of dollars that President Kenyatta showered on them. Sadly, President Ruto has learnt all the wrong lessons from his predecessor.

 The error, I believe, was a failure of imagination in President Kenyatta's entire presidency. In trying to emulate President Mwai Kibaki's successes, especially successes founded on the budding or construction of things and institutions, President Kenyatta failed to understand that legacies are not cast in concrete but in how well the citizenry lives its life. It is meaningless to building hundreds of thousands of square metres of hospital space if one has no doctors, nurses,  clinicians, dieticians, pharmacists, radiologists and surgeons to provide medical services in them. Uhuru Kenyatta carried in the capital-intensive construction foundation that Mwai Kibaki had bequeathed him and in the bargain wasted money that could have gone to training and deploying the experts needed to manage the infrastructure Mwai Kibaki had constructed. And as a result, while Kenyans were burdened by billions of dollars in public debt, fewer of them enjoyed an improved quality of life. President Ruto is embarking on the same fool's errand that Uhuru Kenyatta had.

While it is certainly true that Kenyans lack adequate hospital facilities, classrooms, police stations, and public transport, the solution is not to put all our financial eggs in the one basket of a construction-fuelled boom. Instead, President Ruto should focus 99% of his fiscal energies in supplying the healthcare workers and teachers and matatu drivers of the highest professional calibre that Kenyans need to offer the public services they desperately need. Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta have already supplied William Ruto with the concrete-and-steel foundation he needs to deliver high-quality public services. He should seize the opportunity if he truly wishes to succeed as The Fifth.

An example might suffice. The bulk of Nairobi's office workers live in Eastlands. They rely primarily on Jogoo Road to get to and from their office jobs. If President Ruto does as Kenya's infrastructure demons are urging him to do - expand Jogoo Road into a four-lane highway - all he will supply is an even more intractable traffic jam problem. But if, instead, he spent the bulk of his public transport money allocated to Jogoo Road to improving the commuter train service, finally reforming the matatu saccos operating in Eastlands, and improving the existing road and rail infrastructure, he will deliver, on orders of magnitude, more benefits to the residents of Eastlands than Uhuru Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki combined. Simple things like road lane -markings and street lights will do more to reduce traffic accidents and improve traffic enforcement than all the new roads in all of the world ever will. It will take courage for the President to do this - the courage to suppress the instinct to outdo Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta in the total kilometres of new roads built during a presidency.

I want the president to succeed. If he builds more new roads then spends money to maintain and improve the existing ones, he will fail.

Listen to what Gen Z is saying. Hear them.

Kenyan Gen Z seized the moment that was made for them and threw down the gauntlet at the feet of the Kenyan State. With the memory of the bi...