Friday, September 23, 2016

Not so quick, sir

Political campaigning is no longer seasonal in Kenya. Baba has been campaigning for the presidency since the Supreme Court said that the election of the other guy was kosher. The 2017 Nairobi gubernatorial campaign began the moment Ferdinand Waititu took Evans Kidero to court to challenge his election and lost. 

That Mr Waititu eventually lost interest in Nairobi and carpetbagged it to Kiambu is neither here nor there; his place has been taken up by putative candidates such as Mike Sonko's, Nairobi City County's senator, Margaret Wanjiru, a former Assistant Minister and member for Starehe, Dennis Waweru the current member for Dagoretti South, Esther Passaris, the eponymous proprietor of Adopt-A-Light, Johnson Sakaja, the chairman of The National Alliance and a nominated Member of the National Assembly, Philip Kisia, a former Town Clerk, and Miguna Miguna, a former officer in the defunct Prime Minister's office who failed to secure an ODM ticket to stand in the 2007 election in Nyando and who abandoned his first stab at the Governor's seat in Nairobi in 2013.

Despite their warts, some of these candidates have some achievements to their names. Mike Sonko is the most colourful of the lot. He freely admits to have been incarcerated at the Shimo La Tewa prison in Mombasa, but is canny enough to downplay what exactly he had been convicted of. He broke out of the maximum security prison in order to attend his mother's funeral. It isn't clear whether he ever went back to prison or when he was released. When he won the Makadara by-election, he did so using a mix of money power (he is rumoured to have spent 150 million shillings) and populist gestures, such as distribution of umbrellas to mama mbogas in Makadara constituency. As senator, frustrated at the inability to work with the governor, he set up the Sonko Rescue Team that provided free ambulance, breakdown and funeral cortege services - and a car service for newly-weds. Mr Sonko remains the most colourful candidate so far.

Esther Passaris will forever be remembered for popularising and monetising the lighting up of Nairobi's streets. She has fallen on hard times of late, but that doesn't take away from her star power and that she was the first one out of the gate with the idea of partnering with corporates in search of advertising and City Hall in need of an effective way of erecting and maintaining street lights. Her contract fell foul to the kawaida politics of City Hall but in the eyes of all Nairobians, it will always be her idea.

Even Johnson Sakaja, as a nominated MP, has at least one achievement to his name. He successfully sponsored and steered to enactment the National Youth Employment Authority Bill. This is not something to sneer at. In a deeply polarised parliament, where cross-party co-operation is almost unheard of, the first-time party leader and parliamentarian did what almost 70% of experienced MPs have not done.

All these candidates have healthy egos; you need a massive ego to declare that only you can solve the almost intractable problems of this city. But the healthiest ego of all belongs to Miguna Miguna. He is constantly singing his own praises. He constantly reminds us that he is the only candidate with integrity. He reminds us that Evans Kidero is a looter, MIke Sonko is a drugs smuggler, Margaret Wanjiru is an intellectual dwarf and the other candidates are part of the cartels that have laid Nairobi low. In his mind, he is the saviour of Nairobi. Only he can make the trains, quite literally, run on time and everyone who questions his motives, his vision, his manifesto or his statements is a saboteur in the pay of the cartels. 

What Mr Miguna does not have is a record of achievement. As an officer in the Prime Minister's office, when negotiating his salary, he boldly equated himself to Kivutha Kibwana, former MP, former Minister and former law professor. Ambassador Francis Muthaura would have none of it. Mr Miguna sued and lost. Not one of the people who worked with him, including the Prime Minister himself, will vouch for him as an achiever in the public service. His first stab at electoral politics was cut brutally short at the nomination stage. His second stab was abandoned before it even got off the ground. Of course we got it wrong when we elected Evans Kidero based on his work experience. At least he had something to offer. Mr Miguna doesn't even have that. Why, again, does he think he can win? Integrity? Sell that to the Eskimos. We've heard it all before.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Stop. Lying. To. Us.

We are not idiots, are we? Deep down we know that even "the only independent candidate, the only candidate that matters, the candidate with the only qualification that matters (integrity)" will not build a light rail system or a subway for Nairobi. Not in five years. Not in ten. Not ever. It has nothing to do with the feasibility or cost of the project. Both are things that we can overcome, resistance be damned. It has everything to do with the priorities of this city, which none of the candidates for the office seem to have assessed properly.

Public transport infrastructure expansion only becomes viable if it is done in conjunction with the counties in Nairobi's metropolitan area: Kiambu, Machakos and Kajiado. Otherwise, it is a foolhardy and foolish experiment at the expense of taxpayers.

Public transport reforms must accept certain unpalatable facts. The first is that it is a liberalised, free market system. If the county government wishes to enter the matatu business, it must do so knowing that it cannot re-nationalise the matatu industry. That horse is out of the barn and it is never coming back. The constitutional battles alone are not enough to justify the effort. If the county re-enters the matatu business, it will do as a competitor to, and a substitute for, the existing players in the sector. This will not be a walk in the park.

Secondly, the reforms have focussed on the stick end of the carrot-and-stick and not enough on the carrots. The stick, in the form of stiffer traffic penalties, has not worked so well. Private motorists and PSV operators now play dangerous games of hide and seek with law enforcers, placing not just their lives but those of other road users and law enforces in danger. Some of the stunts that hide-and-seek thrill-seekers engage in have led to tragic outcomes. The carrot side has not been so popular.

Simple things like road design, on-street car-parking design, road markings, traffic signs, traffic signalling systems, predictable and equitable law enforcement, among many others, have received the go bye. As a result, more road users remain at risk while the chaos on the roads gets worse. Few of the candidates or even the incumbent are capable of thinking out of the box beyond asinine suggestions about light rail and subways and context-less comparisons with first class cities such as New York, Singapore City or London.

Thirdly, given the arrogant elitism of the candidates, we all know that none of them is capable of looking at positive behavioral modification through urban planning as a solution. They want to build roads and footpaths and bike lanes, but not one of them has even cited the works or designs of a single urban planner. Urban planning has undergone a sea change since the 1980s; some modern designs have modified how humans interact with each other, reducing the potential for conflict, enhancing comfort and almost eliminating the risk of accidents or non-medical emergencies such as floods, fires or building collapses. Before you build your stupid subway, you must get the basics of urban design and planning right.

We are not idiots, dear candidates. Stop lying that you will build subways. If you're honest enough with yourself, you know we don't care about subways. Tunataka uondoe takataka mjini, uhakikishe mitaro hayajazibwa, hospitali za munispaa ziko na madaktari na madawa, na barabara hazina shimo. Ni hayo tu. Mengine mengi ni bonus.

What has Miguna done?

Sheng' rose up in Nairobi decades before Miguna Miguna set his sights (once again) to becoming Nairobi City's governor. Sheng' doesn't just define Nairobi, it is Nairobi. If Miguna Miguna fails to see the relevance of Sheng' to the dynamism of this City, then it begs the question, Why the hell does he want to be its governor?

This is what Mr Miguna said,
I'm going to develop Nairobi into a PROSPEROUS FIRST CLASS CITY; not a hodgepodge for Sheng & other ethnic languages.
In his mind, "first class" cities don't have a hodgepodge of the equivalent of Sheng' or other ethnic languages. Presumably, those kinds of cities only have languages that would be considered "first" class and they would exclude the Shengs and other ethnic languages of the world that are "definitely not first class." 

This is surprising on two fronts. First, Mr Miguna has lived in Canada for over a decade. He has seen the poisonous relationship between the English-speaking and French-speaking parts of Canada. He has also seen how the First Nations have been treated by both the English-speaking and French-speaking parts of Canada, including the racialist attempts to erase the First Nations' cultures by denying them their native languages. It is the same racialism that almost wiped out the Aborigines of Australia and, closer to home, has left the Yaaku with only seven native speakers of their language.

Second is the elitism of it all. Those who speak Sheng' or other "ethnic" languages are, by Mr Miguna's description, not first class. Perhaps Mr Miguna believes that only those who speak English are first class and sophisticated enough for him to build a prosperous Nairobi for. Everyone else must forego their culture, including those whose culture has been shaped by Sheng' because Nairobi and Sheng' are all they have ever had.

We, the suffering residents of this City, are eminently familiar with the way we are treated by the men and women who believe they are our betters, Mr Miguna included. We are used to the long stare down their noses, or the upturned nose when they "smell something funny" about us. We have always been treated as if we are permanently befouling the air that rightly belongs to them. We don't usually take it to heart because none of this City's elites have ever been stupid enough to set down in black and white their odious thoughts about us. Mr Miguna continues to set records.

Sheng' is no longer just a language; it is a culture. It is our culture. Those of us who grew up in Eastlands, that swathe of territory extending east of Landhies Road, Lusaka Road and Mombasa Road have lived this culture for over fifty years. Sheng' was here long before Mr Miguna descended from the Mt Olympus that is Nyando, famous for its river and its floods. Our music has crossed borders as Jaguar reminds us and it has employed dozens upon dozens of young people as Jua Cali's music and fashion lie continue to do every single day. What has Mr Miguna done in order for him to look down his nose at Sheng' or "ethnic" languages? What successful enterprises has he run with his precious English-speaking skills? In short, other than to him, what proof can he show for the prosperity he has brought to others using his precious first class English language skills?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Chief Justice Karua?

Save, perhaps, for Makau Mutua, law scholar, law professor, presidential refusenik, sometimes Twitter troll and public intellectual, if you really believe that the other candidates who were interviewed by the Judicial Service Commission merit to be appointed as Kenya's next Chief Justice, you haven't been paying attention.  Makau Mutua will forever be seen through the prism of the ICC cases against Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto and his steadfast refusal to see Uhuru Kenyatta as the legitimately elected fourth president of Kenya. If only Martha Karua had applied for the job, I wouldn't be bemoaning Kenya's record of missed opportunities.

Martha Karua has the qualifications and qualities needed to be Kenya's next Chief Justice. You have to go beyond the events of December 2007 and its aftermath and look at Ms Karua's entire record to see that I am right. With her qualifications and qualities, Ms Karua is wasted on national politics, moreso the presidency. The presidency, today, is a glorified procuring entity and the Cabinet is a glorified ministerial tender committee. Kenya's last truly presidential president was Mwai Kibaki. For sure he got entangled in tender scams, but if that is all you saw of his consequential presidency, again, you weren't paying attention. Back to Martha Karua; if she chooses to run for the presidency once more, Kenya will be denied the chance to finally reform the Judiciary, to finish what Willy Mutunga started.

As for the constitutional and statutory qualifications for the job, Ms Karua is more than qualified. As for the qualities needed to do the job, she stands head and shoulders above all the candidates interviewed so far. First, no one can claim with a straight face that Ms Karua is a Kanuist or has Kanuist tendencies. Since that day she took a stand against the political bullying by Baba Moi and his party, she has done her best to roll back the iniquities of the Kanu era. She has not always won; Moi's orphans proved to be numerous and resilient and some of her allies proved to be feckless wimps. Ms Karua has always been fearless and a Chief Justice needs her kind of fearlessness if she is going to face the forces of corruption, status quo and Kanuism still pervading the Judiciary.

Second, she is loyal to her ideals and to the ideal of a better Kenya. Many keep pointing out that if it wasn't for Ms Karua and many other supporters of Mwai Kibaki, the 2007/2008 post-election violence would not have taken place. I was one of these people and I was wrong. She supported Mwai Kibaki because it was the right thing to do. She had no information that the election had been stolen. She had no proof that the Electoral Commission had been compromised. Based on the information available to her at that time, I don't think she could have supported the unsupported claims by Raila Odinga to the presidency. She believes in the rule of law and the law prescribed precisely how an election was to be conducted and how a candidate could be declared the winner. She was not wrong.

Before you start singing "Anglo-Leasing! What about Anglo-Leasing?!" please remember that she has never been questioned or challenged in regards to the money that was returned to government and knowing what I know about the Official Secrets Act and the doctrine of collective responsibility of the Cabinet, I doubt that anyone, other than an Act f Parliament or an order of the courts, could have compelled her to divulge what were State secrets.

Third, Ms Karua is highly effective what she puts her mind to. She will see to the end her plans and programmes. When she has the support of her constituents, she has often proven unstoppable. It is why Gichugu's voters reposed their faith in her between 1992 and 2013. It is why when Mwai Kibaki looked to reform the water sector, he made Ms Karua the Minister for Water Resources Management and Development. It is why Mwai Kibaki chose her to negotiate with the opposition in the wake of the 2007/2008 crisis. It is why, when it dawned on him that Kiraitu Murungi was a liability, Mwai Kibaki appointed her as Minister for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs and trusted her to oversee the process that led to the harmonised draft constitution. If you don't believe that Ms Karua played a commanding role in the making of the constitution we have today, you have not been paying attention.

Fourth, Martha Karua is hard-nosed and aggressive, but she is not foolhardy. When she loses her temper, it is for strategic reasons. She has done the impossible in Kenyan public life; she has kept a tight rein on her ego and it has stood her in good stead. When she has lost, she has learnt from her mistakes and come back better prepared. When she has gone on the offensive, she has scared the living daylights out of the unprepared. If you remember when she debated William Ruto before the 2010 referendum, where Mr Ruto led the "No" team, she wiped the studio floor with him. By the end of the debate, she was the clear winner and Mr Ruto looked like he wished he were anywhere else but there. I almost felt sorry for the guy. Almost.

Finally, Ms Karua has successfully managed a political party in one of the most patriarchal political environments in Africa and she has done it with both charm and steel. I believe that Kenya needs to break the last bastion of male chauvinism by having its Judiciary headed by a tough-minded and honourable woman of Ms Karua's character. If we want to positively affect the lives of the largest number of people, we need to remember that many of our problems are problems of justice and injustice and we need a Chief Justice with the compassion of Willy Mutunga, the deft political touch we know Ms Karua possesses and the backbone to see things through. We don't want insiders whose rise to the top displays none of her fine qualities. Ms Karua should have applied for the job and the JSC would not have had to flee to The Hague to make their choice.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Who said God is clean?

First impressions matter. They matter more than we care to admit. They are shaped by our own peculiar experiences, biases, preferences and influences. It is why some of us have no compunction at ascribing moral attributes at the way a person dresses, what shoes they wear, what vehicles they drive, what accents they affect, whether or not they will look you in the eye and whether or not they will offer a firm handshake.

We instinctively judge those we perceive to be different from us and our judgments are harsh. One of Nairobi City County's gubernatorial aspirants, Esther Passaris, is a successful entrepreneur who has been in the public eye for the better part of a decade. A photo circulating online shows her in a revealing evening gown. She claims it has been photoshopped to damage her reputation. Her detractors declare that simply because of the photograph, Ms Passaris is unfit to hold the office of governor. This is a very stupid demand and the rationalisation of patently misogynistic ideas reveals the utter vacuousness and, perhaps, jealousy of Ms Passaris's detractors.

Ms Passaris is an attractive woman. She is also outspoken. The combination of the two rubs many men, and not a few women, the wrong way. That she speaks better than average English, is quick-witted, rich and commands the limelight in which many of her detractors cannot, are marks held against her and used to accuse her of, at best, amorality or, at worst, immorality. The accusation that how she allegedly dressed in the photo is really an accusation of amorality/immorality and a disqualification from the political race.

Patriarchal culture is often the boon friend of misogyny. That is not to say that misandry is nonexistent; it probably is more prevalent than we know. But in a political system and a public culture that is overwhelmingly masculine, where most of the visible trappings of power, authority, wealth and influence are enjoyed by men or their sons, where attempts at equalising the benefits enjoyed by women with those enjoyed by men founder on the rocks of masculine maneuvering and manipulation, it isn't enough to point out how harmful patriarchy is but the losses we suffer as a people when misogyny prevent perfectly qualified female applicants to high office.

The mark of evolved sensibilities is that one must hold their tongue when they meet another person for the first time, rein in the instinct to judge or to ascribe attributes yet to be revealed, and allow the relationship to mature such that the judgment will be informed by more than instinct, experience, bias, preference or influences. Merely because of what one wears a judgment of ones morality cannot be made. Anyone unable to make that intellectual leap is unfit to opine on public matters. It matters not that the one making the value judgment considers revealed ankles as anathema; we have demonstrated that how one dresses does not reveal what one is. Before you argue that street prostitutes dress exactly as you would expect them to dress, remember that while living off the proceeds of prostitution is an offence, prostitution itself is not and if you accept the modern appreciation of sex wok as legitimate work, then you must also accept that sex work is not immoral work.

Kenyans on Twitter, the Forty Third Tribe, are not evolved as much as they think they are. It is why you will still find even advocates of the High Court, beneficiaries of what should have been a liberal education, held hostage by notions that equate sartorial choice with moral choice. In their hidebound minds, there is no way that a morally upright woman would dress in "revealing" clothes; she would be demure, prim and proper. Therefore, anyone who still believes in the hackneyed children's adage, cleanliness is next to godliness, is an idiot.

Bad apples

So far, in my estimation, the following have shown a very strong interest in becoming Nairobi City County's next governor, a position the incumbent intends to defend: Miguna Miguna, Philip Kisia, Margaret Wanjiru and Esther Passaris. The four were at one time or another members of Raila Odinga's ODM. 

Mr Miguna campaigned for Raila Odinga and served as a member of his office when he was Prime Minister. Mr Kisia sought to be Evans Kidero's running mate in the 2013 election, but claims that corruption derailed his ambitions. Ms Wanjiru served as an Assistant Minister in Mwai Kibaki's Cabinet courtesy of her seat in Parliament via ODM. Ms Passaris sought the Embakasi seat on an ODM ticket.

All four appeared in what passes for the pre-eminent political show of the century, Jeff Koinange Live, which has been reduced to a hashtag these days. What is certain is that none of them is fit to be the next governor of Nairobi City, not that Nairobi City's voters care that much about fitness. Mr Miguna may claim to be the only candidate with integrity, but he has no executive experience. His service in the office of the Prime Minister remains shrouded in acrimony. Integrity is one thing; competence is quite another.

Ms Wanjiru has served in the executive but her service was marred with ceaseless allegations of graft, especially revolving around the question of National Housing Corporation houses. It doesn't help that how she behaved in relation to her estranged husband and his death was sensationally unseemly. Mr Kisia claims to have been a very successful Town Clerk when he served in the City Council of Nairobi. But few remember his achievements. Whenever Nairobians think of successful and effective Town Clerks, they think of John Gakuo.

Ms Passaris might not have executive experience in the public service but she has run a successful business, Adopt-A-Light, nurturing it from an idea into one of the most copied business ventures in Nairobi. Adopt-A-Light's fall from glory has been steep and Ms Passaris doesn't seem to have had a second wind in her corporate career. Indeed, she seems to spend great amounts of time in court over bankruptcies and insolvencies. Hers is a risk we cannot afford to take. But things are not that simple.

In a Kenyan election, in any election really, voters must choose from a basket of rotten apples and so it is with the choice of Nairobi's next governor. We are faced with more Kiderorisation that continues to visit misery on the residents of this city or a choice from among four flawed candidates. Mr Miguna's has an ego that matches his acerbic tongue but those do not disqualify him. He has no record of achievement in an executive position and though he is no doubt correct that integrity is vital, if that integrity is married to incompetence, it is likely to be as devastating as corruption has been to the fortunes of this city. He is the least qualified candidate.

Ms Passaris has successfully run one business venture. She sold it and moved on. Now she is battling auctioneers and bailiffs. She can of use as an alternative voice, but her financial problems also disqualify her. Ms Wanjiru danced on her late husband's grave. While morality isn't really a key factor in choosing a governor, governors shouldn't publicly celebrate the deaths of even their bitterest enemies. She's out too. We are left with Mr Kisia. He has served in the public service and his insider knowledge of City Hall is valuable. But a lot has changed since he was the Town Clerk so he may have to be quick to forestall paralysis if there is a changeover and he is elected in Mr Kidero's place. Of all the bad apples available, Mr Kisia is the least worst. So far, anyway.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ezekiel Mutua strikes again

This is from Ezekiel Mutua, the sermonising moral crusader who is the CEO of the Kenya Film Classification Board, KFCB.
When an atheist appears on a national TV and says he won't bring up his children ". . .the way Ezekiel Mutua wants..." for me it's an acknowledgement that the crusade on moral values is gathering momentum. This is an important national conversation.
Our Constitution acknowledges the supremacy of "the Almighty God of all creation." Our sense of right and wrong is premised on the fundamental faith in God. That's the foundation of our moral compass.
Atheists championing the... campaign on "Raising Children without God" are actually in breach of the Constitution. For as long as it's within my power to enforce the Film and Stage Plays Act there will be no such meetings meant to brainwash people to defy the Constitution and the law. To allow such is akin to approving radicalization.
Let these Godless fellows go and practise their "godlessness" elsewhere. Kenya is a God fearing nation and most citizens want to raise their children in a Godly manner.
I am drawing a line on this one!
The preamble states, "We, the people of Kenya...ACKNOWLEDGING the supremacy of Almighty God of all creation" but is maddeningly silent on "right and wrong". Indeed, read through all eighty six thousand or so words of the Constitution of Kenya and if the rightness or wrongness of a thing is declared among any of those words, I will forever restrain myself from needling Mr Mutua to the point he hides his ridiculous posts from me or those who deign to question the extent of his official remit.

There is no law that decrees parents to raise their children to not just believe in Almighty God of all creation but to also base their morality on that belief. Mr Mutua accuses atheistic parents who propose to raise their children without [a belief in] God as akin to defying the Constitution and the law. What provision of the Constitution has been defied? What Act of Parliament or regulations made under an Act of Parliament have been defied? And no, it is not the Films and Stage Plays Act, chapter 222 of the Laws of Kenya, or section 46I of the Kenya Information and Communications Act, 1998.

There are one or two provisions of the Constitution that Mr Mutua must pay attention to. First is Article 260 which is used to interpret key words of the Constitution. Mr Mutua will not find a definition of "almighty god of all creation', "Almighty God", "God", or "God of all creation". Second is Article 8. It states that there shall be no state religion. That one remains self-eplanataory though I fear Mr Mutua may require an explanation. It means, simply, that even if Kenya were a "God-fearing nation", as Mr Mutua would have you believe, neither the State nor the Government can proseletyse about which God to believe in and fear.

Third is Article 32 on freedom of conscience, religion, belief and opinion. Article 32 (2) and (3) limits the enjoyment of the freedom of expression; but that of belief, religion or opinion remains unfettered, subject only to the limitations in Article 24 which include reasonableness and justifiable-ness based on human dignity, equality and freedom. Fourth, Mr Mutua will come up against the strictures in Article 31 on privacy which decrees that the everyone has the right not to have information relating to their family affairs unnecessarily required or infringed.

In another of his disquisitions, Mr Mutua rightly quotes Article 45 family and the obligations of the State to both protect and recognise he family as the basis of social order. He would argue, I believe, that atheism threatens social order but so far he has advanced no proof that this is true. He also forgets that the context of Article 45 eschews religion and promotes, however ambivalently, heterosexual marriage and protects and recognises the rights inherent in such a marriage. If his intention, in the context of the family, was the protection of the children in that family, he would have had better luck relying on Article 53, especially Article 53(1)(d) and 53(2), which protect children from abuse and harmful cultural practices (if he could prove that atheism is either a form of abuse or a harmful cultural practice) and declare that on every matter concerning children, their best interests are paramount (by demonstrating that theism is in the best interests of the child).

At the end of the day, though, Mr Mutua must be prepared to face heightened scrutiny from civil libertarians. If he is speaking in his private capacity, then he is free to promote his ultra-conservative agenda. However, if he intends to use his public office to perform a duty that should be performed by another public officer (if the duty could be performed at all) by overstepping the bounds of his official mandate, he shall face the implacable constitutional hostility of all right-thinking libertarians. The choice of what he intends to do is entirely his but the outcomes of that choice may not be his to control. I hope he is prepared.

Paranoia and social class


I read the following remarkable editorial this morning and nearly gave myself a stroke because I was laughing so hard.
Society operates on strict social rules, some of which are unwritten. Sociologists talk of social distance defining relationships. There are invisible lines that must never be crossed. That line was crossed at Saturday’s launch of the Jubilee Party.
Bahati, a reputed gospel singer, had the audacity to not only move President Uhuru Kenyatta from his seat and occupy it, but also to place his feet on the President’s side table on which his drinking water would normally be placed. Bahati may have been well meaning. Perhaps it was entertainment. In all fairness, it was obtuse and highly disrespectful of the youngster, his fame notwithstanding. 
The public outcry this has raised is understandable if only because Mr Kenyatta is the Head of State. Because of the symbolism of the seat he occupies, at all times the security of the Head of State is cardinal, even if he himself has sought to demystify the Presidency. For since taking over as the President, Mr Kenyatta has adopted an easy demeanour, his panache is admirable; he is sociable and loves performances, but that is no licence for such breaches. 
It would help if organisers of such functions gave participants a rundown on the dos and the don’ts to avoid embarrassment and the obvious breach of security. Singer Bahati's bad showing, The Standard, September 13 2016
Social distance may be defined as "the perceived or desired degree of remoteness between a member of one social group and the members of another, as evidenced in the level of intimacy tolerated between them." President Kenyatta is highborn, of high social standing; after all, his father was a founding member of Kenya's Independence government, Kenya's first Prime Minister first President. President Kenyatta's family is landed and wealthy and exerts enormous influence in politics, banking, farming, tourism and real estate development. 

In other words, President Kenyatta's social class has all the hallmarks that Mr Bahati's does not. At least that is what the Standard would crudely remind Mr Bahati, and Mr Bahati overstepped his bounds to not only sit in the President's special chair, put his feet on the President's special table but he endangered the safety, possibly the life, of the President by both being too familiar with a man out of his social league and doing so with impunity. How dare he?!

First, it is important to remind the social-class-obsessed Standard that the social classes might play a crucial role in keeping the peace and reminding the proles of their station in life, but in the Digital Age, not only may a cat look at the king, it may also take an almighty piss in the king's cup. This is not feudal England where social classes were defined by how much land one controlled and, by extension, how many serfs served the feudal lord, but an age where ones and zeroes exert sometimes greater influence than the earth beneath our feet. If you doubt this, remember that Mark Zuckerberg exerts greater influence on more young Kenyans than President Kenyatta and his government even though Mr Zuckerberg probably owns a fraction of the land President Kenyatta's family owns and neither he nor his father has ever been a president of anything as Mr Kenyatta and his father have been.

Second, the Standard is wailing louder than than the bereaved. Why? President Kenyatta attended the launch of the Jubilee Party as a politician and, I mean no disrespect, politicians have no social status than is higher than that of the hoi polloi. Not today and certainly not in Kenya. The one person who should have been offended at the effrontery of the gospel artiste is the one in the mother of all hot seats, President Kenyatta. If you look at his face, you will see a man who is genuinely, in the parlance of [disrespectful] youngsters, feeling it.

You would expect a seasoned aristocrat, raised all his life as a prince of the city, expected to conform in all ways to his status in society, to recoil in horror, aghast at what a young, gauche whippersnapper has attempted to do: sit in the king's seat! Instead, President Kenyatta does what comes naturally to a man of great stature: he goes along with the moment because he knows his status does not derive from chairs or tables but from his position in the world, a position that is not cemented by symbolic chairs or tables. Even if President Kenyatta were not the President of Kenya, his social status would remain highborn.

Finally, did the Standard forget that President Kenyatta has a highly trained praetorian guard watching out for his security at all times? Did they really believe that Mr Bahati made a spur-of-the-moment decision to eject the President from his ceremonial seat and put up his feet on the President's ceremonial table with the president's guard idly twiddling their thumbs? In the world of high-octane political combat, nothing is left to chance anymore. Chance encounters are choreographed. Spontaneous seat-ejections are pre-planned. Nothing is as it seems. And assuming that the President's minders allowed a potential assassin to get close enough to the Commander-in-Chief, so close he had the temerity to demand to sit in his chair, is raising demons where none exist. Why is the Standard so paranoid?

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Funny/Not funny

I saw a funny tweet yesterday, I don't know whose: Now that the iPhone 7 is almost out, could the blessees wait for fathers to pay school fees first before asking for one? or words to that effect. Now that I have taken time to reflect on it, the tweet is not so funny anymore. It is tragic, really.

Ever since that Masters student from Kenyatta University was murdered by a person or persons unknown along Waiyaki Way, the svelte college girl sleeping with the older married man for pin money and other blessings has become more and more common. Since that woman with big bum, even bigger hair and million-shilling bleached-skin reminded us that her mother and siblings benefitted from her multiple relations with older married men or loaded Naija men, the stink has washed off the sponsor-sponsee and blesser-blessee relationships. Now many young women and men can countenance a physically intimate relationship with older patrons for the accouterments of modernity: iPhones, Dubai shopping sprees and white-sand beach holidays to Zanzibar or the Maldives without coming out in hives at the, at best, amorality of it all.

Now the big-bummed, big-haired artificially light-skinned women has been joined by other Bosschicks and toyboys, unafraid and unconcerned of being kept to a standard of life that they no longer need to work hard for or aspire to. Their sang-froid is down to the message that has become universal, from political movements to pulpits: fuck the right person and you can write your own ticket. Fuck them good enough and your cheques will not bounce for a year or three.

No one, though, thinks much of the collateral damage. Wives (and cuckolds), it is expected, will keep their mouths shut and keep the peace or they will find themselves riding the Citi Hoppa life they had escaped from. Worse, their share of the iPhone-Dubai-shopping-spree-Maldives-holidays might get yanked away. No one wants to be the only one in their social circle who doesn't have an iPhone, shop in Dubai or fuck on the sandy beaches of the Maldives. To the spouses who go along to get along, they deserve everything coming to them and then some.

But the children, especially as they enter the hormonal and vulnerable teen years, are a whole other matter. The plea from the author of the tweet should have pricked my conscience just a bit because it was written by a child who knew what her father was, what it meant to the author in terms of the basics of life (of which school fees are a very large part) and that neither the author's mother or father's siblings would intervene in her favour. She was on her own. Not even the twitterati had any sympathy.

We are all shaped by our environments and where selfishness, cruelty and psychological abuse have taken permanent residence, we cannot expect our young people to develop empathy or social consciences. The rapaciousness of a world defined by thousand-dollar phones, shopping sprees and foreign holidays and the non-discourse on the ethics of hard work, sexual morality and the protection and nurturing of the young is one in which children take to the twittersphere to beg for their piece of the parental pie. It is the quintessential dog-eat-dog world. It should give us pause, but that it won't , and that itself, should tell us something.

Utumishi kwa Wote

I have been robbed three times in my life. The first was when I was ten or eleven, Madiaba was the Coca-cola of choice at 7.50 a bottle and my father had given me crisp 100 shilling note to go to Kwa Cucu to buy 10 of them. It never occurred to me that in the absence of pockets in my shorts, I could just as easily have put the change in the bag full of soda. Taking the last turn home, I was confronted by a scruffy, natty-dreaded boy not more than two years older than me wielding a butcher knife. He took the money, I ran home, my dad whupped my ass.

The second was just after Mwai Kibaki sacked Raila Odinga and his fellow malcontents after the botched 2005 constitutional referendum. I was going home late from work. All I could find was a Citi Hoppa. I should have known better, riding in a Citi Hoppa at that hour of night. The three hijackers got on board at the City Stadium bus sage, pulled out what looked like Soviet-era Tokarevs and , with menaces, got us to empty our pockets of phones, wallets, spare cash, IDs. It wasn't the best day for me; I'd forgotten my wallet at home that day, my Nokia N-something had inexplicably turned into a brick and the 100 shillings I'd borrowed from Joan from the chairlady's office I'd just spent on the fare home. The robbers were not amused and the swollen-shut-and-bleeding left eye when I got home taught me a valuable lesson: buy a Toyota Vitz if you must, but stop commuting.

Neither of those two events stayed with me for long. The first, because of the incredible capacity for young boys to forget all traumatic events, faded from memory as soon as I could sit without my butt reminding me that fathers can be sadists sometimes. The second, well, wasn't so bad. They even let me keep my IDs, bank cards and brick of a Nokia which turned out only to have run out of power. I never bought that Vitz and commuting has become an exercise in fatalism: while Michuki might have shot dead all the hijackers, crazily-driven FTs might yet get me. But the third, the third makes me break out in a cold sweat every time I think about it. I was robbed on a Friday at 11pm along Accra Road by four AK-47-wielding policemen.

It was one of those days when I had a few hours to myself, a kickass pair of khakis and Safari boots and my mind craved the syncopation of a phat bass-line that only the Monte Carlo Club could deliver. But by eleven, two (tepid) beers later and after being assailed by Tarus Riley, Richie Spice and Konshens, I thought I was better off at home with a litre of Absolut and a Bob Marley playlist. They literally picked me up the moment I stepped out of the club; the other bodies milling about the pavement might as well have been invisible for all they saw or cared to see. In fifteen seconds I was in an alley off Accra Road, boxed in by four armed policemen, in handcuffs and wondering whether my parents would be coming to identify my butt-naked remains at City Mortuary the following day. 
 
They didn't even bother with the rigmarole of accusing me of being drunk and disorderly and then suggesting a way out; they just lifted my wallet out of my pocket, emptied it of even the coins that I had in those small pockets, gave me back my ID and bank card and walked off as if nothing had happened. Whom do you report a crime to when you've been robbed by the police? Since then, no matter how suspicious it looks, I always look for an escape route whenever I see armed police in my way. Even if it is 12:00 noon. I am never putting myself in a situation where armed police could rob me. Every time I think of it, I wonder whether they would have murdered me if they had found more than the two thousand I had on me? What would they have done if they had known I was about to pay almost a hundred thousand for Law School the following week and that I had the cash in my house? It says something that the only criminal gang I fear most is the one that has a motto: Utumishi kwa Wote (Service to All).

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The tyranny of simple solutions

The Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) took place in Kenya at the end of August 2016. More than ten thousand delegates attended. Prime Minister Shinzō Abe of Japan led a strong delegation to Kenya and committed Japan, one of the most developed nations in the world, to realising the industrialisation goals of African countries, the least not being Kenya which had been chosen to host the conference.

Shinzō Abe is not the only visitor from the developed world to come calling. Barack Obama of the USA and Matteo Renzi of Italy have come to Kenya and have pledged money and projects to help Kenya realise its goals. So too have the Premier of State Council of the People's Republic of China and the Pope, and Kenya also hosted the Tenth World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference and the Fourteenth Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Kenya has also taken a commanding lead in development-driven projects in the East African Community and in the Horn of Africa such as the Standard Gauge Railway project from Mombasa to Uganda, the Lamu-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport project and the Lokichar-Lamu oil pipeline and the implementation of the EAC One-Stop Border Post Act as seen from the projects at both the Kenya-Tanzania border at Namanga and the Kenya-Uganda border at Malaba.

When the well-connected, wealthy and powerful see these proofs of economic if not political legitimacy, they can't help and remind us that Kenya has arrived at the world stage, been accepted as an equal on many levels and it will only be the "sort[ing] out of little bits here and there" that will guarantee Kenya no longer has to suffer humiliating appendages such as "developing" or "middle income".

Kenya is not rich or wealthy in any realistic sense; if it were, basic things like primary healthcare, basic education, public transport, public safety, national security, private-sector job-creation, civic participation among the people, and both low-tech and high-tech manufacturing would compare favourably with Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, India and South Africa. Kenya would not be importing civil engineers from China to build its roads but, like Israel, the Startup Nation, Kenya would be exporting engineers to the EAC, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The only people who seem to think that Kenya is East Africa's South Korea and that Nairobi is akin to Seoul do not commute to work using public means and have made a killing ever since Kenya accepted its first billion-dollar loan from the Chinese EXIM bank in 2004.

The "little bits" that need sorting out have defeated all Kenya's governments since Independence and they seem to have become permanent and immutable to the changing fortunes as portrayed by Kenya's rising economic numbers. Infant mortality, child-birth mortality, free basic education, free primary healthcare, low unemployment, high degrees of high-tech and heavy manufacturing, high levels of basic STEM research, increased numbers of STEM patents awarded, food security, high levels of public safety, reasonably assured national security, commerce and trade-oriented foreign policy...these are not "little bits"; they are significant ones.

It is arrogant to presume that the reasons why Kenya continues to be held back on the economic front can be solved with a simple flick of the switch. It is this mindset that has raised expectations to unreasonable heights and eroded confidence in all our institutions, both public and private-sector. If you look at the acres of red ink on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Capital Markets Authority, the very body concerned with the regulation of the securities markets, has failed to live up to its mandate, in love as it is with technology. Instead of focusing on its core business of ensuring that listed companies don't fiddle with shareholders' monies, it wants us to believe that computerisation of the sector will eliminate regulatory risks. Not surprisingly, computerisation has only made fraud more efficient. And on and on it goes: simple solutions end up costing us hundreds of millions if not billions.

The things that hold us back or complex and are not prone to the tyranny of simple solutions. Those incapable of appreciating this should not be at the forefront of public policy or public discourse. They should instead take a step back, realise that their good fortune has often come from embedded conflicts of interest with the Government and its regulatory institutions, and not because they are responsible for the rising economic tide that is yet to lift other lesser canoes.