Friday, January 13, 2017

A Trumpite in Obama clothing.

Any comparison between a Kenyan politician and Barack Obama, the forty-fourth president of the United States is laughable. Kenyan politicians are likely to be comparable to Donald J Trump, the recently elected Tangerine Caligula, than Barack Obama, a politician of great political talents. (There is no woman politician in Kenya who compares with Hillary Clinton or the sharp-as-a-tack Senator Elizabeth Warren; only Martha Karua managed to demonstrate steely resolve and political chops to be comparable to Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady.)

Mr Obama has suffered the worst eight year run of any two-term president of the United States. Mitch McConnell, the United States' Senates' Majority Leader promised to make Mr Obama a one-term president and failed. But that didn't stop him and the members of his party from stymieing Mr Obama at every turn, accuse him of the most petty of things, challenge his citizenship and many other dishonourable things. What sets Mr Obama apart from many other politicians is that despite the needling, lying and destructive tendencies of the Republican Party directed at him, he remained gracious and, on the face of it at least, honourable to the end. The Republicans, on the other hand, simply lived up to its odious character by embracing Donald Trump and his carnival barker act.

Kenyan politicians don't have the deft touch displayed by Mr Obama since 2004 when he gave that speech at the Democratic National Convention. Few of them have demonstrated the acute intellectual curiosity necessary to propose and implement complicated and comprehensive policies for the benefit of the people. None of them certainly as the sense of history their offices afford and are more interested in the banal, the pedestrian, the juvenile or the salaciously scandalous. More of them are undisciplined and reckless than is safe for a functional democracy.

We are going to miss Mr Obama, if for nothing else than to show that even when ordering the assassinations of US citizens or the bombing of wedding parties, politicians have a responsibility to think of their people first. Hard decisions are the hallmark of any political office; how those hard decisions are  implemented are the reason why some politicians are celebrated, like Mr Obama will be for generations, and why some are vilified till the end of time, like Pol Pot, Stalin or Ceaușescu. No, good people, Kenya doesn't have an Obama or a Clinton. It has putative Pol Pots, instead.

It is a genuine pleasure to listen to Mr Obama speak. He knows his place in history and he has a sense of duty that, even in his wonkiest remarks, is apparent and true. Listening to Kenyan politicians is exhausting. They have as much depth as a puddle of spit. They spend more time celebrating their petty differences than anything else. They are self-conscious, gauche, crass, uncivilised, often incoherent, bearing massive chips on their shoulders and mendacious. They are the reason we are a nation in name only. They make one want to to weep into his whiskey.

If you doubt me, watch how they have reacted to the #LipaKamaTender movement. No, no, there are no Obamas in Kenya. Even the Kenyan who is an Obama is actually a Trumpite in Obama clothing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Stethoscopes and bad outcomes

They are not simple affairs and to suggest otherwise is to do a great disservice to the people.

Doctors have set down their stethoscopes, set aside the Hippocratic Oath, set upon the national government, and refused to see or treat the patients in their care. They demand the implementation of a comprehensive bargaining agreement, CBA, signed between them and the government in 2013. Few, if any of us, have seen a draft of the CBA and fewer still, if any, have a firm grasp of the terms of the CBA, including whether its implementation will be for the benefit of the people.

Few in the Government, whether it be the national or county government, has the moral authority to declare that what the doctors have done is immoral. Whenever the State officers in the national and county governments fall ill, serious or not, they jet off to foreign lands for their treatment. Needless to say, this comes at great public expense. The majority of the people they govern have access only to shambolic public facilities and expensive private facilities. Few have access to the gold-plated medical insurance policies that enable deputy governors to have casts put on their broken legs, governors to have Elastoplast removed from their faces, presidential nieces from having their stage 1 cancer treated overseas or cabinet ministers from having their stage 3 cancer treated by the best oncologists in the world.

The vast majority of Kenyans self-diagnose and self-medicate, often with tragic consequences. The vast majority of Kenyans have access to health facilities with no water, no electricity, no medicine drugs and few qualified healthcare workers. Regardless of the national government's promise to keep costs down, most Kenyans must pay for many services offered in public hospitals. It used to be called "cost-sharing" and it is an admission that the healthcare "system" that Kenyans have access to is a system only in name.

Whether doctors are remunerated fairly or not is part of the grand conversation regarding the cost of the entire public service, a vast undertaking employing hundreds of thousands of men and women, the vast majority of whom face the same dire healthcare challenges that the Kenyans they help govern face every day. Teachers and university dons have gone on strike in the past to enforce the terms of CBAs that the Government had attempted to set aside. The last time teachers held the Government over the barrel not even High Court orders brought them back to the table until their demands were met. What makes the teachers' strike strikingly different from the doctors' strike today and the nurses' strike in 2015 is that no one died because they hadn't been coached on their KCSE or KCPE.

I don't know if patients have died in the previous month because they didn't have doctors to treat them. This is a remarkable admission in and of itself because patients routinely die in public health facilities because of, quite often, preventable causes. One of the most striking images from the doctors strike were the facilities available to doctors in some hospitals for sterilisation before going to perform surgeries.  They are grossly inadequate and explain why, even when surgeries have been successfully completed, patients still seem to die.

The solutions to this particular strike are not impossible to achieve but they are harrowingly difficult. It is time to admit that the devolution of healthcare has been cocked up six way to hell. The devolved government has proven woefully inept, tribalising the county public services, nepotising public office and corrupting the public procurement system and thereby sowing discord, confusion and suffering, and creating village millionaires overnight. The national government has not covered itself in glory either. It has actively sabotaged the devolution of healthcare, interfered with the lucrative procurement of medical equipment, mucked about with the financial accounting for healthcare funds and studiously refused to even contemplate the completion of a comprehensive healthcare policy that will put to rest the lingering questions on the persistent challenges of the healthcare "system" in Kenya.

#LipaKamaTender is a catchy hashtag that captures the zeitgeist of the banditry that is tenderpreneurship of the kind practiced with the National Youth Service or the Ministry of Health's "mobile clinics", which aren't mobile or clinics. But it glosses over the fact that without the full and unqualified buy-in by the national government in the finalisation and implementation of a comprehensive healthcare policy, even if the doctors get their pay-rise, in the long term, the people will suffer ever more greatly. Without a comprehensive policy, it is impossible to argue that a pay-rise, the employment of more healthcare workers and the acquisition of new medical equipment will ensure that the healthcare of Kenyans is the best.

By all means, healthcare workers have every right to campaign for better terms of service. But if that is all that the strike is aiming to achieve, we shall have done a great disservice to ourselves. I scoffed at the idea that we could compel State officers and members of their immediate family to only use public facilities. I thought it was cruel to subject innocent Kenyans to the vagaries of policy choices made by their spouses, siblings or parents. I am no longer so sure I was right. In fact, I think I was absolutely wrong. State officers have made countless policy decisions that have affected millions of Kenyans. It is time these same State officers faced the results of their choices. They should be compelled to use the same facilities their policies have run down. They should face the same doctors, nurses and teachers that millions of Kenyans face. Perhaps it is the only way that we will make and implement proper policies for the benefit of all Kenyans, and not just a privileged few.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Love Java, loath Serena Beach Hotel

2016 gave me its fair share of customer-care standout moments. I will try and erase my experiences in Arusha and Dar es Salaam Tanzanians' passive-aggression is still not my cup of tea and I don't care how much you lot think that Tanzanians are totally, absolutely so much better than Kenyans. None of the hotels in Arusha or Dar es Salaam that I stayed in can hold a candle to the Kenyan ones I patronised in 2016, including the hotel that gave me the worst customer-care experience the Serena Beach Hotel in Mombasa.

I had been invited to a conference which would take place on the 12th and 13th August. I arrived on the 12th, at around 11:30 am. I had been forced to take a taxi to the hotel because the hotel's airport transfer vehicle had already left and the driver was unwilling to return for another passenger. I let that one go; after all, my attendance at the conference was organised at the last minute. When I arrived, there were three other clients I could see being attended to, so I waited my turn. It took five minutes for whoever were at reception to notice. I introduced myself and was informed that because the hotel was fully booked, I would be put up at another hotel. Again, I had no problem with that because everything was done at the last minute. I am grateful that I was given access to a room to wash up and change. That was the last bit of courtesy received. 

I wasn't told where I would be put up, whether it would be for both the nights I was to be in Mombasa, whether any or all of my meals would be catered for, or whether I would be picked up from this other hotel in order to make it for my conference. I changed and attended my workshop hoping that someone would provide the information later on. 

Lunch was nothing to write home about; the Serena Beach chef sure loves his oil. When our conference ended for the day, I asked whether or not a vacancy had occurred and whether or not I would be staying the night at the hotel. I was informed that I would not. I asked for my bags to be brought from the room I'd been given access to, which they were but which also raised the question: if the hotel was fully booked, what were my bags still doing in that room? This is when the apathy and disinterest of the hotel staff became apparent. 

First they wouldn't or couldn't tell me what I was required to do in order to check out even though I hadn't checked in at all. I managed to figure out what I needed to do in order to get that exit ticket hotels seem to issue these days from the rude cashiers. It took them ten minutes to find the guy who was supposed to let me know which hotel I would be put up in which he didn't. But worst of all was I had to insist that the hotel find me a taxi to drop me off at this other hotel (turned out to be The Shaza). 

Even as I was checking in into the Shaza, I had no idea that I was only supposed to spend one night there. Our conference had concluded a day early so I had no reason to come back to the Serena. What I didn't know was that other members of my delegation were informed by the Serena that they would only spend one night at the Shaza and that rooms were now available. I wasn't. When I checked out on Sunday, I was confronted with a demand to pay for the extra night I'd spent there. I refused. I stood my ground and they let it go. I don't know what they did to square my extra night at their hotel. I did not enjoy the experience. I will never arrange to stay at the Serena again and cause it the inconvenience I obviously did last time.

But, as always, the other side of the coin is a thing of wonder. As the Serena proves, chains and franchises tend to lose on quality the more branches they open. I fear that when it comes to Java, they have fallen victim to this phenomenon. But not at their Embassy House branch, one reason I have an expanding waistline.

I don't know any of the names of their members of staff I don't want to be accused of being a creep by checking out their bosoms every time I pretend that I forgot their names, see. What they are, though, is polite, quick-witted, very accommodating of my penchant for extra chillies and delightful. I love having my lunch there, even when their WiFi is iffy at best. Even when it is overrun by a lunchtime crowd made up of entitled crybabies from "Parliament Square", they are unfailingly professional in their service. And just so you know, their salads have never, ever been adulterated by snails or similar slimy things.

I wonder what 2017 has in store for me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Believers

Sunny Bindra asks,
How else to to explain the fact that these folks often have large security details (God’s protection is evidently insufficient); or that they wear more bling than rappers (the humility of the real prophets is evidently no example); or that they milk their congregations for obscene contributions to their personal wealth? And their unlettered, unthinking followers lap it all up.
It is this line that gives me pause: And their unlettered, unthinking followers lap it all up. It gives me pause because it looks and feels right, doesn't it? I am not so sure that we should be so condescending of the acolytes of Rolls-Royce-riding pastors and other men of the cloth.

The "traditional" or "mainstream" churches, including venerable institutions like the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church. the Presbyterian Church, and the Pentecostal Church, have taken solemnity to heights that would warm the cockles of the ever-serious. Their leaders eschew ostentatious displays such as high end SUVs and palatial mansions. More often than not, they are managed, especially their finances, with a degree of openness and transparency that makes the congregations feel like they are part of some solemn, united undertaking as members of the Church of Christ.

The more evangelical strains of the Christian religion embrace the finery of the Prosperity Gospel: believe in God and plant the "seed", and you will live in the lap of luxury. To show the congregation that there is indeed prosperity in the life of the evangelical church, "bishops" swan around in Rolls-Royces, live in hundred-million-shilling mansions, holiday in South Africa, shepherd "branches" in California or Texas, feature in the "society" pages of the newspapers and host TV talkshows in which they discuss everything from the Christian view of sexual intercourse to real estate investment with "Christian values".

There are many things that differentiate the "traditional" gospel from the "prosperity" gospel but only one that defines both: faith. "Faith" as my King James tells me in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews is
"the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
There is nothing as unseeable as the Hand of God in our lives. No matter what faith you profess, few of you have ever seen your gods but millions of you have an unshakeable faith that your god has done wonders for you, shaped your lives, favoured you with success and material wealth and punished you with death and pestilence for your sins. Your faith renews your trust in your co-religionists every day and forms a large part of the moral and ethical codes you believe you live by. When you call upon your god, he, she or it, answers, no matter if the answer is "Yes", "No" or "Wait".

But your faith, no matter how you slice the analysis, did not emerge spontaneously; you were taught to believe, you were inculcated with the faith. Your teachers might have been your parents, siblings, friends, school teachers or even, yes, politicians, but your most important teachers of faith, indoctrinators of belief, were your faith-leaders, whom you believe have been called by your god to lead your faith. One man or woman or a couple taught you the key tenets of your faith and instructed you on how to believe. If they taught you that you had to give and give and give, and not ask questions about what your giving has done, how would you know that you shouldn't give blindly, that you shouldn't question the preacher's Rolls-Royce?

I neither pity nor praise the blind believers of a Rolls-Royce-riding preacher because, in our own way, we are all blind believers of a Rolls-Royce-riding preacher because the preacher doesn't have to hold a book of faith to snooker us. He could be the "investment guru" who promises securities' market success to the "wise"; the star "professor" who promises intellectual superiority to the academically precocious; the "civil-rights icon" who promises political liberation for the courageous; the "inventor" who promises the solution to the world's intractable problems; the "corporate governance doyen" who promises to unlock value held in the corporation by matching skills with ambitions, profit with ethical values. Faith (and the gossip that inevitably accompanies it) is the only thing that unites all humankind. No sir, they are not unlettered or unthinking; they are simply, believers.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Saving face, come hell or high water

What does healthcare in Kenya entail? If you go by the rhetoric, two things: salaries and wages, and equipment and their billions of shilling worth of tenders. And it seems that the latter prevails over the former. Every time.

When the Government of Kenya, through the Presidency and the Ministry of Health, entered into a medical equipment supply agreement with who knows who, for thirty-eight billion shillings, the greatest whinge from devolved government wasn't that the equipment had been acquired without their input or consent (they hadn't) but that the terms of the tender had been negotiated exclusively by the national government, leaving the counties out of the party. They weren't unhappy that they were saddled with debts they couldn't service; they were unhappy that when contracts were being negotiated (and the backhanders that go with such "negotiations") senior county government bigshots never got the chance to ride the gravy train.

What remained unresolved, almost a decade since the process commenced, was the state of the health policy, its implementation, emerging challenges in the light of new constitutional imperatives, and the comprehensive bargaining agreement between public healthcare workers and their government. It isn't that difficult to understand why this is so.

If you have ever been to the National Treasury building, you will notice there are two banks of lifts. One is marked "VIP" and another is marked "Senior Staff". These two are set apart from the remaining four, and are reserved for the Cabinet Secretary and his Principal Secretaries (VIP) and the other, as you've surmised, the "senior staff", whoever they happen to be. The former have restricted access, access being controlled by keys. That isn't what makes them remarkable; what makes them remarkable is that they are gold-plated. The remaining lifts which seemed to have last been serviced when Mwai Kibaki was Minister for Finance, retain what looks like the original paintwork they had when they were installed.

The reason why healthcare workers receive short shrift from their employers despite CBAs and the like is that 99.99% of them are not fit, in the strange hierarchy of the Kenyan public service, to access gold-plated lifts like the ones at the National Treasury. For sure, almost all Kenyans who are not "VIPs" or "senior staff", never mind how much they pay in NHIF and NSSF contributions, do not deserve gold-plated anything, only the appearance of something.

"Face", as the Chinese have demonstrated through so many kung-fu films, is sometimes more important than anything else. To save "face", the Government pretended to offer Kenyans better healthcare by committing thirty-eight billion shillings to purchase medical equipment and a goodly sum to market the achievement in the media. It is why Machakos District Hospital has witnessed the "launching" of equipment that was delivered in 2014 at least three times in the last three years. It doesn't matter that the real equipment delivered to Machakos at great cost finds no technical or medical experts to operate them; all that matters is that the right people look good when the photojournalists come with their cameras.

Healthcare is a complex subject, made more complicated in an environment bereft of a coherent up-to-date policy or substantial public investment or resources. Kenya isn't Cuba where one of the last communist countries has managed to control the health of its citizens in ways that we would chafe at. It isn't the United Kingdom, whose cradle-to-the-grave taxpayer-financed National Health Service, warts and all, is a model that is the envy of the world. This is Kenya where the gold-plated-lift riders demonstrate their faith in Kenya's healthcare infrastructure, both public and private, by flying out to foreign medical facilities, even for minor injuries.

What we pay attention to, almost to the total exclusion of anything else, is face. And because the President cannot be seen to lose face, no matter how long the doctors stay on strike or how many Kenyans die in agony because of it, neither the President nor his government will bend an inch. At some point, something will have to give.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Is it worth the money?

Of what use is the Administration Police? Why do we still have a paramilitary police force when it is no longer under the command of chiefs, sub-chiefs, DCs or DOs?

Clause 17 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution reads thus,
Within five years after the effective date, the national government shall restructure the system of administration commonly known as the provincial administration to accord with and respect the system of devolved government established under the Constitution.
The provincial administration was not established by law; it simply came into being during the colonial era as the colonial government set out to administer the territory it formally proclaimed as Kenya when it became a colony. Among the offices the colonial government established were the District Commissioner and the District Officer which almost exclusively occupied by Caucasian British settlers or representatives of the colonial government seconded from London.

DCs and DOs were assisted by chiefs, assistant chiefs and village headmen to administer the territories under their jurisdiction. This administrative system made it easier to collect revenue (which was their principal job) and adjudicate disputes (which is how so many chiefs came to be unofficial magistrates after Independence). To enforce the colonial government’s law, these administrators were backed up by the Home Guard and, especially after 1963, the Administration Police Force which had formally came into being through the Administration Police Act, enacted in 1958 in the dying months of the Mau Mau rebellion.

Kenya had, therefore, two police forces: the Kenya Police Force, also known as the “regular” police and the Administration Police. (Within the Kenya Police were to be found Special Branch, which gathered “political” intelligence; the General Service Unit, a highly trained paramilitary force that acted as the President’s bodyguard among other sensitive assignments, the Anti-Stock Theft Unit, another paramilitary force tasked with policing cattle rustling among Kenya’s nomadic communities, and the Kenya Police Reserves, armed civilians who enforced the law in areas where it was uneconomical to deploy the regular police or, as in the case of Patrick Shaw, who acted as laws-unto-themselves in keeping the stayed-behind British settlers safe against Black violent robbers.)

The provincial administration, and the Administration Police, together with the Special Branch became the principal tools in the suppression of anti-party activities, especially after 1969. During President Moi’s reign, the provincial administration was a key provider of anti-party and anti-government intelligence while it was the Special Branch that was used to suppress sedition and punish pro-democracy zealots such as the so-called Seven Bearded Sisters (Abuya Abuya, James Orengo, Chelagat Mutai, Chebule wa Tsuma, Mwashengu wa Mwachofu, Lawrence Sifuna and Koigi Wamwere), many of whom were harassed, tortured, detained without trial and exiled from Kenya.

In the ratification of the Harmonised Draft Constitution in 2010, Kenyans had evinced a strong desire to strike at the heart of the provincial administration by cutting the Administration Police down to size. In the period between Mwai Kibaki’s 2002 presidential election victory and the 2007/2008 political crisis, the Administration Police thrived. It rivalled the regular police in equipment and funding, and in certain respects, it matched the power of the regular police. Its essential nature had not changed; it remained the President’s principal tool to suppress all political opposition. Indeed it had had become so powerful that during the deliberations of the Committee of Experts, it made it known that it would continue to exist as part of the national security apparatus. The CoE was inclined to fight it tooth and nail; the political classes were not, hence the anodyne and wishy-washy clause 17 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution. Kenyans, as always, got the short end of the stick.

The provincial administration and the Administration Police are some of the longest surviving relics of the colonial era. Even the manner of the recruitment of the Administration Police officers is redolent with the detritus of a colonist’s mindset that emphasised blind loyalty and obedience regardless of the cost. APs remain a key tool in the terrorisation of Kenyans in non-urban areas though, with the placing of the APs under the same command as the regular police, their malign presence is now to be felt in urban centres too. The ill-judged and ill-timed police reforms task force headed did not do much to shake the APs loose from their pre-Independence malevolent nature.

In recent years it has become apparent that letting loose the dogs of war wasn’t such a smart idea. There was a wave between 2005 and 2007 when APs, charged with escorting cash consignments from and between banks, colluded with robbers to rob the Cash-in-Transit vans of their loot. It was also the same period in which many AP officers were implicated in some of the most gruesome acts of extra-judicial killings by the police highlighted by a UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston. (The position of UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings, ironically, was formerly held by Kenya’s Attorney-General at the time, Amos Wako, who had proven difficult to work with during the investigation by Mr Alston.)

Today, the APs face an increasing number of cases in which AP officers turn their weapons on their superiors or commit suicide or both. Especially after 2002, the APs would always be an anachronism but because Kenya’s presidents have traditionally been extremely paranoid, they have always gone along with the idea that APs should never ever be abandoned. In an increasingly complex world in which trade defines many relationships, the continued existence of the APs as other than a border security force defies logic. It is time Kenyans asked whether it is worth the money to keep an armed, forty-thousand-man-strong paramilitary force with a record of murder.

(This post was originally published in maundutown.wordpress.com)

234 days of paranoia

mis·in·for·ma·tionfalse or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.
Is it a crime to lie in public? Is it a crime to “misinform the nation” or “mislead the people” about your political opponent’s achievements, undertakings or intentions? This is the question that has agitated the ruling alliance over the past three months. No matter how many times the ruling alliance has attempted to set the record straight on its achievements since Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as Kenya’s fourth president, the public commons has been awash with what the ruling alliance’s leading lights, such as the Leader of the Majority Party in Parliament and the Deputy President, have characterised as “lies”. There is now a Jubilee Parliamentary Party legislative proposal to criminalise “lying to the public” or, as one aspiring political candidate has termed it, “spreading misinformation harmful to the nation”.

Article 33(2) and Article 24 of the Constitution prescribe the constitutional limits of free speech. While Article 24 prescribes in general terms under what circumstances a right or fundamental freedom could be limited (by the State), Article 33(2) prescribes what free speech is not: propaganda for war, incitement to violence, hate speech, advocacy of hatred that constitutes ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm or advocacy of hatred that is based on any ground of discrimination specified or contemplated in Article 27(4). Article 33(3), meanwhile, isn’t so much a restriction on the freedom of speech as an obligation that in speaking freely, one must not disrespect the rights or reputations of others.

Two things are readily apparent. First, “misinformation” or “lies”, in and of themselves, are not reasonable grounds for placing any limitations on Kenyans’ freedom of speech in accordance with Article 24. Second, the intention of the Bill of Rights in Chapter Four of the Constitution wasn’t intended to create new offences for which citizens could be prosecuted for by the State; it was intended to restrict the State when it sought (or seeks) to restrict Kenyan’s rights and fundamental freedoms.

One thing seems to characterise the ruling alliance: acute political paranoia. Despite a fairly broad political mandate as evinced by its numbers in both the National Assembly and the Senate, its control of almost half the county governments in Kenya, its implementation of flagship projects (including the much-derided laptops-for-children) and justified successes in diplomacy and foreign relations, the ruling alliance has continued to operate like a minority opposition party, unsure of its parliamentary strength, hobbled by infighting and beset by enervating setbacks related to backhanders, kickbacks and tender-price-inflating nitwits. Despite its command and control of the national airwaves through its administrative and political oversight of the Communications Authority, the ruling alliance has been incapable of a coherent propaganda strategy to counter the Jubilee-is-the-most-corrupt-regime-ever narrative persuasively advanced by a member of the Minority Party, Raila Odinga.

The ruling alliance has had many successes but all have been overshadowed by revelations of what David Ndii, one of Kenya’s best thought-leaders, and John Githongo, Mwai Kibaki’s teller of uncomfortable truths, have called looting. “Looting”, they explain, goes beyond petty or grand corruption;corruption is simply the venal act of a few people who are in the right place with the opportunity to rip off the taxpayer. Looting, on the other hand, is the systemic and parasitic programme, sanctioned at the highest levels of the Government, to rob the taxpayer blind. Mr Odinga might not have the glib tongue that many in the ruling alliance seem to possess (the Deputy President and the Majority Leader in the National Assembly come readily to mind), but he has an uncomfortable knack of making them look daft every time they try to hide proof of perfidy in high places. For that reason, if for no other, more and more members of the ruling alliance consider Mr Odinga the most dangerous man in Kenya and the stratagem they are trying out for size is to classify his actions in the florid language of the “crime of misinformation”.

No one now doubts that the political campaigning for the 2017 general election is well underway and that a few members of the ruling alliance are not confident about the chances of their flag-bearer, President Uhuru Kenyatta. That he, too, entertains the suggestion that political speech should be restricted to protect Kenya and its citizens from Mr Odinga’s misinformation and lies lends credence to the notion that the ruling alliance is no longer confident of its chances at the hustings in August 2017. In a continent whose politics is rapidly changing, perhaps the members of the ruling alliance fear that despite Mr Odinga’s frequent malapropisms, his accusations may yet find purchase among the political hoi polloi, put paid to a repeat command performance by the ruling alliance at the next general elections, embolden constitutional commissions and independent offices to go fishing with dynamite, and motivate the minority party, civil society windbags and foreign powers to challenge the ruling alliance’s political hegemony.

The tool that the intellectual dwarfs of the ruling alliance have chosen for this particular task will not work. It is likely to be welcomed with open arms by the securocracy whose existence is almost entirely predicated on keeping the Commander-in-Chief in power, through thick and thin, good times and bad, as opposed to protecting the citizens’ rights or fundamental freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights. They quickly forget that what was wielded against their political opponents in the past will be wielded against them in the future. After all, the past is prologue. Should they manage to imprison Mr Odinga (or fatally end his political career), they should be prepared to hold onto the levers of political and governmental power by force if necessary because, as Baba Moi came to discover, even twenty-four years is not forever. Sooner or later the music will stop and it is they who will be without seats.

In Ghana, John Dramani Mahama turned out to be a one-term president as did Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria. In the Gambia, strongman Yahyah Jammeh lost to Adama Barrow (though he seems hellbent on staying put despite having initially conceded defeat) while in Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos has promised to step down before the next general elections in 2017, the same year Kenya will be going to the polls. In the United States, Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in what many called a “shock” defeat (though I don’t know what’s so shocking for a war-mongering wife of a serial philanderer and liar to lose an election to an electoral neophyte) while in the United Kingdom and Italy, prime ministers resigned their offices after losing referenda, the UK on the European Union and Italy on constitutional reforms. Both Africa and the rest of the world have recently demonstrated that incumbency is no guarantee of political longevity or victory any more.

Perhaps members of the ruling alliance have finally discovered that a partnership that is consecrated with looting is not the winning recipe they need for the 2017 general election and, in their panic, rather than right their ship, have decided to charge the doyen of the opposition with charges akin to treason. If it is a strategy to curry sympathy for the 2017 elections, I cannot see it. What is readily apparent is that Jubilee Party apparatchiks have panicked and in their panic are acting recklessly. It is their recklessness, not their looting inclinations per se, that is likely to be their undoing but only time will tell and it will be a long two hundred and thirty four days.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The magic ingredient

My dear Kenyans, the only guarantee against another descent into anarchy is not sterile calls for love, peace, and unity, but a just election with a credible outcome. — Macharia Gaitho, the Daily Nation
There are many ways to skin a cat, so the saying goes and Kenya's political leaders, elected representatives and presidents have proven it time and again over the past fifty-three years. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Toroitich Moi spent between them forty years proving that an iron fist without the velvet glove was necessary to keep the lid on a volatile, boiling cauldron. President Kenyatta waged a secret and not-so-secret war on the Shiftas that continues to rage almost forty years since he died in office.

President Moi oversaw a police state that spied on its citizens, detained thousands of them without the due process of the law, shat all over the human rights of its citizens and waged a secret war against pro-democracy campaigners that included assassinations, forced disappearances, kangaroo judicial processes and exiles to faraway lands. Only the uncharitable will claim that Kenya wasn't at peace even if it wasn't at peace with itself.

Mwai Kibaki tried a different tack; it didn't last. President Kibaki will never wash the stain of the murder, rape, rapine, pillaging and mass displacements of 2007/2008. He was the greedy president in charge; the death, pain, suffering and loss of faith are his cross to bear.

Kenyans don't need a just election with a credible outcome to guarantee that it will not descend into anarchy. Kenya needs a massive dose of respect: rep sect for the Constitution and the law; respect for the institutions of the State, Government and of the people; respect for one another regardless of ethnicity, culture, colour, creed, faith, occupation, sex, sexual orientation, class, education status, academic credentials, political persuasions, whatever. For now, Kenyans are almost united in the depths of their disrespect.

Ironically, the Constitution is the starkest example of our disrespect for ourselves and the laws of our land. Article 24 is a detailed clause that describes how rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution can be limited and to what extent. It is an indictment of our respect for one other because it acknowledges that our fraught history has always led to grave acts of disrespect and so the limits of official, statutory disrespect are now set down in the supreme law of the land in the form of Article 24.

We focus on general and presidential elections to the exclusion of almost everything else. Some more recent developments have completely escaped our eyes. Few of us have any idea how much debt our children or grandchildren will bear long after maggots have gotten at our innards. Few of us have any idea how much national treasure has been expended on fertilizer manufacturing factories that were never built or paper manufacturing plants that have not run for twenty-five years. Few of us have any idea why certain Kenyans are permitted to starve to death while certain national granaries are bursting at the seams.

By all means, elect the right men and women. If you truly want to make things better, open your eyes and focus on all of it. How your government functions and what it does. But above all, if you can respect each other, truly respect each other, you will go a long way in respecting our laws and institutions and ensuring that they are respected and respectable in equal measure. Respect is the magic ingredient for your free, fair and credible elections.