Thursday, April 30, 2015

I might be wrong.

According to the Urban Dictionary, which isn't really a dictionary, a dumbass is a person who is both stupid (e.g. dumb) while also stubbornly refusing to stop being stupid when asked (e.g. ass). Every now and then a dumbass will do something that is non-dumbass. Those events are rare enough to arouse comment among the dumbfounded. There is a Senator in Kenya whom the Urban Dictionary should use as a visual aid in the definition of dumbass.

This Senator has a tongue that out-speeds his mind; he can't wait to say something "profound" without taking into account that his words need reflecting on before they are shared on public forums. If he has ever heard of moderation, it must only have applied in his profession which is something that shocks many - that he was once a professional, abiding by a professional code of ethics and applying the highest standards of professionalism in his work. Looking at him today you wouldn't know that he has been to school, that he has been educated by anyone or that there is a county in Kenya that searched for a leader and settled on him.

This Senator has singled out an ethnic community for special attention. He does not base his argument on data, even though he must have conducted research before e attained his degree so he must know what data is. He simplistically connects one factoid to another ad declares it to be a viable theory and then he broadcasts it for one and all to be awed by. So he has turned his bilious eye on an ethnic community that also happens to be an ethnic community that elements of the national Executive seems to believe requires special, heightened attention.

This Senator has done this before. He will do it in the future. He will do it because he has fallen in love with the idea that he will be referred to as "mheshimiwa" for the rest of his life and he wants this feeling to be sustained through a very long stint in Kenya's Parliament. His dumbassery is calculated. It is deliberate and deliberative. It is all part of a political mating ritual. In fact it is almost akin to how parties are matched on a certain street in Nairobi. All one need to find out is what has changed in the Senator's backyard and what has changed in Nairobi and then connect the dots, see through his cock-and-bull story and Bob's your uncle.

So while he may genuinely fear that his ass is about to be blown up sky high, do you really believe that he wanted an ethnic minority in Kenya subjected to additional State attention if it did not mean he got something out of it? I don't think so. He is wooing a new sugar daddy. Or he's found one and his recent skirt-twirling was the price demanded by his sugar daddy. Then again, I might be horribly wrong.

I'll plant a mango tree for you.

I am not familiar with death. I may have flirted with it in my infancy, but it is my parents who have an appreciation for the Scythe-wielding Angel. By and large, I ignore death. I don't pay it any mind. After all, I am not old. I am not an invalid. I am not playing dice with HIV/AIDS, cancer or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Because I am not dying and I don't think I am dying any time soon, I do not know what to tell you when you are dying. Many people will pretend to know what to do or what to say or how to act simply because you have one foot in the grave; I don't and I probably never will.

Before I met you, you were already on your way across the river. So was I, by the by. What we didn't know was how long our crossings would be. Mine seems interminable, yours seems mercilessly short. You and I are not the traditionalists our parents sometimes wished we were, are we? You and I had an intimate knowledge of MTV at one time and we spent a great portion of our youth learning, and then unlearning, sheng'. Those bits of traditions that were imposed on us were surprisingly unintrusive. (I think anaesthesia is simply one of the best inventions of modern medicine, don't you?)

In any case, you were always on your way out. I'm a little sorry that your time is shorter than mine, but it's not my fault so your getting shirty with me over it just twists my briefs into a wad. Losing your temper because you're dying won't chance the fact that you are still dying. Of course I am not going away, but I am not going to let you turn me into a piñata every time I forget that you are dying or that you're dying alone.

No, I'm not going to tell you to "fight to the end" or to "live life to the full." If you want to die in bed, then go for it. If you want to drink whiskey until the curtain comes down, just hand over your AmEx Black and I can assure you that there will be a river of Double Black on your brief journey. If you want to engage in those bucket list lunacies you kept needling me about, by all means, go ahead, jump off the Eiffel Tower - just don't expect me to hold your hand while you jump. Do what you want. Yeah I know I said don't use me for a piñata but if that floats your boat, even for a while, go for it too - just know I will bite back and I'll be just as mean and disagreeable as you.

So she died first. I didn't say sorry then. I am not doing so now. I didn't kill her. You didn't either. So what did we have to be sorry for? You got shirty too that I didn't come for the wake. Yeah, I'm going to miss yours too. Every now and then I'll remember that you were my friend and I was yours. But only every now and then. I am not going to dwell on you and what you meant to me. Besides, after they plant you in the garden down the road, you'll rot, stink up your box, then turn, ever so slowly, to ash. I'll miss you. I just hope it is not too much. Farewell, my friend. (I'll plant your favourite mango tree on your plot.)

The gay and lesbian two-step.

I didn't see that one coming. Lenaola, Ngugi and Odunga, JJ, interpreted the Constitution and directed that the NGO Board the register the Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. But what I didn't see coming is something we have not paid attention to. The Government of Kenya is called upon to declare that "the Almighty God", whose supremacy is acknowledged in the preamble to the Constitution, exists.

Culture exists. Taboos are commonplace. Sentiments can be gauged. Religions are a dime a dozen in Kenya. But the State - other than the Islamic State, the Islamic Republic and the Vatican - does not declare the existence of god to be a fact. The unregistered Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has compelled the Attorney-General and the NGO Board - State organs both - to declare unequivocally that Almighty God exists and that Almighty God would be offended by the name of the organisation. "Gay" and "lesbian" in the name of an organisation registered under a law of Kenya would offend Almighty God.

Things, it seems, were cozier under the former constitution. The Penal Code was supreme. Its provisions were enforced without doubts. State organisations could act with caprice and they would not be held to account. Under the Constitution we promulgated in 2010, that cozy arrangement has now been shot to hell by the High Court. The Bill of Rights is supreme. Words like "dignity" and "discrimination" have deeper meaning and the State and ts organs are obliged to deal with these deeper meanings.

The High Court seems to say that while we, as the makers of the Constitution, might acknowledge the existence of Almighty God, that is not enough to discriminate against homosexuals who must be allowed to live a life of dignity under the Constitution. It is only a matter of time before the High Court lights on the interpretation of "dignity" by the Federal Constitution Court of Germany when it interpreted Germany's basic Law in the light of anti-terrorism legislation. If that happens I shudder to think what the Attorney-General will argue when he appeals against another ruling of the High Court that strikes down a discriminatory act by the State as unconstitutional.

We have a lot of work to do before we can make our constitution work. Most of that work will be to prise the cold dead hands of the deep, conservative State from the levers of power. Many are afraid that placing the constitution even above god is a recipe for disaster. Unless god is willing to come down to Earth and fight his battles, we must make the law of the land the constitution that we endorsed. Religions can teach us what they will, but they are not subject to referenda or promulgation. Soon someone will challenge the legitimacy of religion, religious laws and the power of godmen to order our lives. It will not be pretty either.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Will lightning strike?

Were you surprised that the Government of Nairobi City County did not make it to the list of best-performing counties? I was not. This morning, navigating the horrendous mud-filled "tarmac" roads of Eastleigh and Pumwani, I was resigned to the mud and the invisible potholes that reminded me that I need to pay a visit to Robs Magic once again. What I hadn't seen before was the spectacular mounds of rubbish outside what are labelled Pumwani Doctors' Flats.

Dr Kidero, the Governor of Nairobi City, has spent a lot of money promoting the county government's investment in Nairobi's largest maternity hospital. He has even posed for photographs with beaming new mothers and self-satisfied midwives when making one of his numerous whistle-stop tours of the hospital. Unless Dr Kidero is blind, unless his county government officials who arranged the photo-ops are blind, unless the doctors, midwives and nurses of the hospital are blind - in other words, unless an outbreak of blindness strikes every official involved when there is a gubernatorial photo-op - I don't see how that mound of garbage is still there, how that unused waste transfer station is still there, and how lorries with unknown cargoes from unknown places can still kick up the dust or churn the mud outside the walls of the hospital.

I have an idea, though, of why Dr Kidero and his government are stricken with blindness every time they make their way to the facility at which 30% of Nairobi is born. Dr Kidero and his government, including the departments or officers charged with political messaging, don't really care whether the county government is doing a good job; they only care whether they seem to be doing a good job. I can't say that I blame them - yes I can - but the instinct to put lipstick on a pig by any government, national or not, is strong and the more incompetent a government, the greater the instinct. Dr Kidero's government seems powerless to override this instinct. Pumwani Maternity Hospital and its garbage are proof that style and substance are yet to be consummated in the Government of Nairobi City County.

These rains have made it starkly clear that our governor and his government do not really know what they are supposed to do or when they are supposed to do it. The rains have demonstrated that the rates honest Nairobians pay disappear in the mysterious maw that are the county's accounts. How is it that even with the forewarning from last year's rains drains were not unblocked and sewers unclogged? How is it that for the mysterious sums paid under a mysterious tender to the equally mysterious Creative Consolidated, public sanitation is notable because it makes things worse, not better.

I have no doubt that neither Dr Kidero nor his government will learn the proper lessons from that poll. I have no doubt that all the talk about making Pumwani Maternity Hospital the premier maternity hospital in Kenya is happy talk best listened to by gullible children. I have absolutely no doubt that the style-over-substance instincts of this county government will be redoubled and not tamped down. Without a doubt, come the next rains, Pumwani Maternity Hospital will be besieged with garbage, mysterious lorries, blocked drains, clogged sewers and mysterious lorries carrying mysterious cargoes from mysterious towns. Or maybe lightning will strike and things will take on a different hue.

Money equals life, right?

The simplistic argument is simple enough that even a child can see the A to B to C of it all: all crime can be wiped out if the penalty is death. Simple. Straightforward. No muss, no fuss. Done deal! However...

The United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, that swathe of territory controlled by the Islamic State and China routinely execute capital offenders. Sometimes the United States even stands behind the decision to execute mentally disordered persons, after all, a capital offender, sane or not, has to die to balance the scales of justice. Sometimes it executes people who committed their capital offences when they were children; the evangelical argument that all children are innocent does not apply once you hit puberty, it seems.

Kenya has had a moratorium on the death penalty for twenty six years, but capital offences continue to be created and capital punishment continues to be decreed by the High Court, upheld by the Court of Appeal and, if the Supreme Court does what the Supreme Court of the United States has done, will be upheld as a just punishment by the State. Kenya's death rows, in other words, continue to swell with inmates undergoing, in effect, life sentences without the chance of release.

Someone has proposed that "economic crimes" be made capital crimes and that offenders should either be executed by the State or imprisoned for life. Unless you are looking for it, you won't see it. What the proposer is declaring, without the benefit of a national debate on the ethics and morality of it, is that when someone commits an economic crime - vandalism of a strategic asset, for example - that is the equivalent of murder or treason. (I don't believe treason should be punishable by death, and I have trouble accepting that murderers are beyond redemption, but those are settled offences for which the pitilessness of the State has been accepted.)

We are set our feet on the slippery slope of the State killing people over money. It almost always boils down to money when it comes to the State, but we have always accepted that we do not measure lives in terms of money and that the greater common good is not a balanced accountant's ledger. Sure, the State through our government collects taxes for which it builds roads, hospitals, electricity transmission systems and the like, but it also guarantees our safety and security whose benefits are not a series of zeroes in a bank account. With the declaration that economic crimes are capital crimes and that the punishment must be death, we seem to be crossing a line that we never knew existed.

I am not a seer. I cannot read tea leaves and predict your future. I am not a soothsayer. Nor, I suspect, are many of you. But there are few scarier things in the affairs of men than to declare that money equals life, for that is what this proposal does. Money and life are on the same plane at last. And while the economic crimes we contemplate for now are the big ones, eventually even schemes to avoid tax will be capital offences, Ponzi schemes will be capital offences, and bankruptcy or insolvency will be capital offences.

We don't really know why Kenya has a moratorium on capital punishment. Perhaps it is time we debated the question. Perhaps it is time we decided whether we trusted the agents of the State and the institutions of government to investigate capital offences effectively and kill the right people should the courts justly convict them.

Monday, April 27, 2015

How to lose a war.

You have a right to property in accordance with Article 40 of the Constitution, but that right is limited by the application of Article 24 which gives the State, and private parties, leeway to limit your right under Article 40. I think. I'm not sure. I don't know if the Kenya Bureau of Standards, Kebs, is going to win its war with the smugglers, distributors and makers of counterfeit goods. I have  great suspicion that it will lose and lose shamefully.

Kenyans do not have a great respect for public institutions, mostly because every time such institutions are given police powers, such as the ones Kebs has, those institutions use those police powers for rent-seeking. It is why with every change in Cabinet Secretary at the Industrialisation ministry, in comes a "new" boss at Kebs and a new chairman at its Standards Board. For Kebs to prevail in its war on counterfeiting and counterfeit goods, it must receive the broad support of consumers as a measure of their acceptance of its legitimacy. Kebs suffers low levels of legitimacy among consumers; consequently, only the truly aggrieved or truly committed will support it in the war on counterfeiting.

It is largely because of this that Eveready shut down its manufacturing plant in Nakuru. Of course, Eveready was competing in a market that had undergone great changes, it had failed to adapt to those changes and it was operating in a market where graft undermined many well-laid business plans But surely, a very large nail in Eveready's coffin was the failure by Kebs to keep out counterfeit batteries from the market and its studious refusal to catch and prosecute those who sold counterfeit, and low-priced, batteries in Kenya.

In tandem with every other low-hanging-fruit policymaker, Kebs is asking for stiffer fines and longer prison terms for offenders. It is the go-to strategy for those whose imagination leaves a lot to be desired. It is a strategy that has failed in all respects but is still being pursued because, well, what else do they have? Kebs could very well get its wish, but just like with the stiffening of the penalties in relation to wildlife related offences and the uptick in poaching because of strong push and pull factors, counterfeits are not about to disappear from the market. In fact, the stiffer the penalties the more likely to be a flood of counterfeits, from pharmaceuticals to watch batteries, from washing powder to powdered milk. In Kenya more laws lead to more corrupt officials which lead to spectacular scandals.

Our appreciation of Kebs and similar agencies is one of fear. They have no authority in our eyes; they have power. That power is more often abused than not. Unless we can accept the authority of Kebs and its siblings, instead of fearing it, we are unlikely to collaborate with it. Instead, we are likely to collaborate with the smugglers and counterfeiters to hoodwink the mighty, perfidious Kebs and make fools of its officers. Our education of the place of Kebs and similar agencies with police powers cannot be a one-way street either; they too must demonstrate that they are agencies with integrity when they stop being used as political footballs and when they stop being part and parcel of the smuggling-counterfeiting network. If they remain illegitimate in our eyes, Kebs and its siblings will always lose the war.

Is the EU a good role model?

Freedom is not free, or so some wit said. I could have heard that witticism on a gangsta rap track, but I am not sure. In any case, freedom, surely, is not free going by the rant that Binyavanga Wainaina embarked on on Twitter last night. Mr Wainaina is a colourful figure and an influential writer and thinker and last night he trained his sights on the hypocrisies of the Third Sector, sparing no one from his barbs. He did not seem to have bouquets for anyone.

It is really an insidious arrangement. Leading members of the European Union have identified key political outcomes they would like to see occur in Kenya. They sponsor civil society organisation and activists to pursue those political outcome. The marketing for that activism persuades many Kenyans, and Europeans, that there is "grassroots" support for the political activism, and that every time the Established political order resists the activism it is a sign that political intolerance runs high in Kenya. Therefore, we must fight corruption, we must promote free and fair elections, we must accept open markets, and we must allow expatriate Europeans to work unrestricted in Kenya because we are "part of the global economy."

Anyone who resists these ideas is an enemy of freedom. Anyone who promotes the idea that we should support our government when it subsidises water or gas or public transport will be branded a socialist and an anti-market anarchist. If we squeal loudly about the jobs Kenyans are losing to expatriate wazungu we will be excoriated as racist or xenophobic. The only legitimate message, it seems, is the propaganda that is promoted by those civil society stalwarts of "freedom" funded and "supported" by the European Union and its like-minded friends.

The Europeans surely appreciate this other witticism: he who pays the piper calls the tune. Take the "free" market, for example. Key elements include limited regulation, "private" investment and profits repatriation. None of these things are bad, per se, but they must be reviewed in the context of the market in which they are applied. We learnt this lesson the hard way from the implementation of the Bretton-Woods Institions' implementation of Structural Adjustment Programmes and the enforcement of the Washington Consensus. The misery visited upon least developing countries by these "pro-market" programmes continue to be experienced in the twenty-first century.

Kenya has liberalised its economy to very great extent. It is how key economic sectors are dominated by foreign-owned and foreign-controlled companies. In the hospitality sector, more and more "tourist" hotels are in the hands of foreign investors. In banking and finance, the leading banks in terms of market share and credit-creation (loan-books) are foreign owned or controlled. In news and broadcasting, a major player in the industry is a foreign religious foundation. Our market is, for good or ill, open to investment and competition. Kenyans, on the other hand, face hurdles after hurdles should they want to emigrate to or invest in parts of the European Union, and the only jobs they are "permitted" to aspire to seem to be in the lower end of the "service" industry. Kenyans, and Africans, generally, are a marauding horde to be kept out of the fortress that is the European Union or they will overrun it and run it down.

Those promoting political freedom in Kenya seem unwilling to question the bestial attitudes of the members of the European Union towards Africans fleeing wars that members of the European Union have promoted through their sales of arms and their refusal for global intervention. Anders Fogh Rasmussen was blase about how, when he was its Secretary-General, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation toppled Muamar Gaddafi from power, stood by as militia took over the country and washed its hands off the mushrooming Islamic State problem today. We have our problems, that we cannot elide. But let us not chide ourselves that the European Union is an example to emulate.

We are superior.

At this juncture, it would be a detrimental oversight to not point out the undemocratic character of the Court’s decision. Not in the decision itself, but in negating the will of the people as manifested by the legislature in passing the bill. The legislature as an elected organ of government, is simply more legitimate, egalitarian and participatory than appointed judges. In overruling the actions of elected officials, the court frustrates the intentions of a democratic government. ~ Judges not helping in efforts to counter terrorism, njeri.unedited
I saw this and I was floored. I do not know if the author remembers the violence with which the vote on the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014, was made. The violence became the subject of litigation and hearings by the Powers and Privileges Committee of the National Assembly. That vote was not the "will of the people" nor was it the "intentions of a democratic government."

When the President assented to the Bill, and because of the violence that accompanied its enactment by Parliament, it was reasonable that the amendments would be challenged in the law courts. Judges are unelected, it is true, but the era of judicial dictatorships ended when the Constitution was promulgated in August 2010. The High Court did what it was required to do under the Constitution. It is not the Judiciary's fault that the national Executive could not defend the rationale for the amendments. It is instructive to note that not all the amendments were invalidated by the High Court, just the more anti-democratic ones.

Parliament and the Executive do not enjoy more legitimacy, are not more egalitarian or more participatory simply because members of Parliament and the President or Deputy President are elected. After all, it is Parliament that approves the appointments of the Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice, and it is Parliament that enacted the law on the process that would be followed in the appointment of other judges, including the judges of the High Court. If Parliament's enactment of the Security Laws (Amendment) Act was a legitimate act, it follows too that the Judicial Service Act was a legitimate act.

Secondly, it is the Constitution that determines the extent of what one arm of government can do. The logic behind the separation of powers is now moot; no man can be a judge in his own cause and similarly, Parliament cannot determine the legitimacy of the laws it makes. That is the preserve of the Judiciary and we, the people, exercising our sovereign authority under Article 1, have empowered the Judiciary to strike down laws that offend our constitutional freedoms and rights.

Finally, democratic government cannot be a parliamentary dictatorship. The system of checks and balances in our constitutional scheme require that where there is doubt, one arm of government will check the excesses of the others. In this way, Parliament cannot collect the revenue it allocates through an Appropriations Bill, the Executive cannot enact the Bills that it assents to, nor the Judiciary enact the laws it interprets. None can function effectively - or democratically - without the other.

There is one other thing that the author ignored: Parliament is not egalitarian. Its members may consider each other as equals, but as an institution, it behaves as if it is superior to the voters who elected its members. It allocates substantial public funds to the comforts and safety of its members while millions are at risk of starvation because of badly managed drought mitigation, and thousands are at risk of being murdered by terrorists. Before we can prescribe solutions to the challenges that face us, it is necessary to be honest about what the institutions we have mean to us and, crucially, what they mean to each other. Parliament believes it is superior. It is not. It is time we reminded it that the Constitution is superior to it and the people superior to all of them.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Devolve policing.

"Paramilitary training" is such a benign-sounding and anodyne phrase that we never consider what it means. A little Googling and you find out that with just a bit more training, paramilitary training will become military training. That is what the Administration Police, members of the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Kenya Forest Service, some members of the Kenya Revenue Authority and members of the erstwhile Provincial Administration undergo. It is now part and parcel of the training of members of the National Youth Service - all twenty thousand of them each year.

As opposed to police training - which is not paramilitary training, save for the General Service Unit and its Reconnaissance Company - most of the uniformed services in Kenya need only a little more training for them to become military units. That should scare the hell out of you because many of these uniformed services are police units - in their mandates and their powers. Policing in Kenya has now been almost completely militarised.

Militaries fights wars. That's their main job. Whether these are short engagements or occupations, the job of the military is to fight in wars. A military is not a defensive force; it's job is to find the enemy and destroy it without mercy. When a military is deployed, its commanders accept that it shall suffer some attrition but they shall use it to cause greater attrition in the enemy. It suffers attrition when its equipment is degraded and depleted. And when its servicemen die. It prevails when it degrades and depletes the enemy's equipment. And by by killing or capturing more of the enemies soldiers. The entire mindset of a military is geared towards finding and destroying an enemy - and only stopping when ordered to do so by a higher authority.

Policing, on the other hand, in well-adjusted societies, is supposed to keep the people and their property safe, prevent the commission of offences and crimes, investigating crimes and assisting in the prosecution of offenders. It is not the job of police services to find and destroy enemies. The reason a police service might require its officers to carry weapons of any kind is strictly for self-defence - and the protection of property and lives of the civilian population. A police service does not proactively seek violent confrontations in the name of public safety.

We have been heading down this road for a while now. The recurrent refrain is that crime has to be combatted. The mantra is that more guns in more trained hands will be the solution to our crime problem. And so we now have a quasi-army made up of the Administration Police, KWS and KFS rangers, county commissioners and KRA officers, all waiting for the order from their Commander-in-Chief to find the enemy and destroy him. 

Separately, they have been a disappointment - Administration Police border patrols seem to let in more and more al Shabaab fighters than before, more elephants and rhinos are being poached under the noses of the armed-to-the-teeth KWS rangers, and Kenya's forests seem to be producing ever larger tonnes of charcoal despite the well-armed KFS rangers roaming in the forests like commandos. How more of the same only on a larger scale (ten thousand new police per year! twenty thousand NYS recruits with paramilitary training!) will solve our problems remains a mystery.

It is time for bold ideas, even including the horror of placing policing and policing resources under the direct control of governors. Policing is not primarily a national security matter, but a public safety one which is local in tenor and effect. Demilitarising policing will be a safe first step before policing is devolved. The GSU can be retained at national headquarters - though scaled down in size - to respond to armed events for which an unarmed county constabulary is unequipped to respond. But, sadly, in a world where multibillion-shilling unaccounted-for budgets command the lions share of our attention, we are going nowhere fast - except to a militaristic police.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Conservation, public safety and national security.

Wildlife conservationists and the national government are more alike than you would think. Whether or not Kenya is on the right track in the conservation and protection of its endangered wildlife is impossible to determine; secrecy and obfuscation surround much of the debate. Charles Onyango-Obbo has agreed to a debate with Paula Kahumbu on Saturday at which, I hope, light will be shed on what the State and the Third Sector know, should know or should find out about the link between our flora and fauna, especially Kenya's elephants, and public safety and national security.

Julius Kipng'etich is almost as lauded as Richard Leakey for his efforts while at the helm of the Kenya Wildlife Services, KWS. Dr Kipng'etich expanded the size of the service, especially its armed rangers, and improved its visibility in world capitals. Due to no small part in his efforts, the Government of Kenya presented a united front when the question of whether the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) should be revised in order to permit nations with stockpiles of ivory and other wildlife trophies to sell them on the open market. Kenya voted "No", by the by. That is one of the questions that Saturday's debate is set to settle to some degree.

What the debate may not highlight is that when it comes to wildlife conservation in Kenya, the worm has turned. When Richard Leakey and David Western ran KWS the main thing they had to deal with was poaching as an isolated matter, not as part of a complex web of cross-country, pan-continental criminal enterprise. Poaching is now interconnected with terrorism, drug-trafficking, people-smuggling, illegal arms' dealing and child-trafficking. In the corrupting of border security and customs forces, poaching joins a growing list worrying actors who have placed all nations with substantial populations of endangered species on high alert.

However, there is no way of confirming this interlinkage in Kenya. Conservationists do not want to see themselves as part of a broader national security and public safety ecology; all they care about is the conservation and protection of wildlife and the donor funds that come with that responsibility. They might be afraid that donors will pull back if part of their donations go towards beefing up border controls and improving intelligence-gathering in the broader war on cross-border crimes.

The government, on the other hand, has long publicly denied, or at least refused to acknowledge, a link between poaching and cross-border threats. Part of the reason is that it does not want to be embarassed by the fact that it does not have the capacity to effectively investigate and prosecute poaching offences as part of its broader mandate in combatting cross-border crimes because a significant proportion of its border security and border control forces have been compromised and corrupted. Such an admission, it fears, will undermine confidence in its integrity. That cannot be allowed to stand.

Conservation is not an end in itself. Neither is public safety or national security. If Kwame Owino of the Institute of Economic Affairs chooses to explore this question during Saturday's debate, perhaps he will be better able to demonstrate that conservation, public safety and national security should lead to greater economic empowerment for the people. The ecological benefits of conservation are, eventually, economic. So are the benefits of enhanced public safety and national security. I hope that the debate makes that clear.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The population is not the problem.

I think Kwame Owino will have an answer to this. Is Kenya "overpopulated?" I mean, are there more Kenyans than can be fed, employed, kept secure, educated and retained in rude health? Is Kenya's population the reason why the environment is being degraded "at an alarming rate" according to the National Environment Management Authority? I do not have access to the data that I hope Mr Owino does, but I would like to think that because such fatalistic declarations have been discounted in the past, they will be in the case of Kenya.

Before the Green Revolution was a reality, we were warned that the world's population would be unable to feed itself. Before the successful implementation of anti-retroviral therapies, the world waited for HIV/AIDS to bring about the Second Coming. For forty years the world waited with bated breath for the Cold War to turn hot and the collective tens of thousands of nuclear weapons to incinerate the Earth ten times over.

Kenya has a very dynamic population. Some generations possess skills that other generations can only envy. I do not believe that a shift to a knowledge-based economy will wipe out the need for mechanics, plumbers, electricians, welders or carpenters. The success of a knowledge economy will depend largely on an infrastructure built, maintained and serviced by the blue collar economy. One cannot exist without the other.

Ours is a complex political system that is struggling to satisfy all things for all people and succeeding in some while failing in others all the while having to deal with distortions such as corruption, nepotism and insecurity. We have pretended to move away from a planned economy without truly doing so - vestiges of the command era abound like in the pricing mechanism in the energy sector. We are still very much a welfare state, even with the cost sharing legacy of the SAPs of the 1980s/90s, where many goods and services are still supplied by the public sector. We also have an expanding and expansive private sector, though its share of manufacturing is growing smaller and smaller while real estate development, especially housing and hotels, is booming.

The challenge we face can be summed thus, I hope: we need to generate better-paying jobs for the Kenyan population that can afford higher-priced domestically-manufactured goods and services so that they can pay higher taxes in order to support the supply of critical public-sector goods and services while still providing for a more economic balance of trade. The flight of manufacturers from Kenya and the rise of corrupt real-estate development is not a sign that things are headed in the right direction. But, in all this, the demographic changes are not a threat. They never were.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

PR and lipstick on pigs.

A few years ago a partnership I am familiar with was swindled of a tidy sum. The partners did not take it lying down. They knew the swindler and, crucially, where he banked. They had contacts at the swindler's bank and pretty soon enough they had the swindler's bank statements. While I can understand what motivated the partners to the collection of that kind of intelligence on their quarry, it is also the principal reason why I have absolute no faith in the integrity of the cashless systems being sold to me by every company and its uncle.

I do not trust my telecom company. I love exploiting its money-transfer platform for many transactions, but I will absolutely not link that platform to my bank account. When I am solicited by criminal elements in Kamiti GK Prison over one successful lottery or the other, the only institution that could have handed them my personal details is my telecom company. So until it puts and end to these kinds of solicitations, I will not trust my telecom company.

I do not trust my bank either. Someone in my bank permitted a transaction on my VISA card without my permission for a sum I have never spent in a single day. My bank played hardball about recovering my lost funds. I pushed back. It eventually bent. Now it says it will have my money back in my account in forty-five working days.

All the public relations in the world about how my telco and my bank have all these corporate social responsibility programmes wiping away jiggers in Nyeri or planting trees in Mbooni or buying sanitary pads in Baringo will not make me trust them any time soon. They play fast and loose with my personal information. They put me at added risk of swindling by sophisticated criminals. But they are not sorry. They have done precious little to mitigate my risks or prevent them from occurring. My trust is the last thing they should expect.

No matter how shiny a new toy feels, in Kenya it always comes with strings attached. Whether it is a constitutional arrangement, a money transfer service, an insurance or banking product, an FM radio station, a newspaper, a highway, a railway, a port, a university or a religious organisation, the sheen wears off pretty fast, the rats come out of the woodwork, and I am left with my hand on my wallet attempting to keep it safe from all these new hyenas.

Someone asked me to reflect on the authentic meaning of public relations after I wisecracked that MPesa and credit/debit cards suffer an integrity deficit and that is why 9 out of 10 transactions are still in cash. In my estimation, PR is putting lipstick on the pig that is Kenya's corporate scene. What PR forgets is that no matter how much paint you slather on a pig's chaps, it remains a pig with all its porcine qualities undiminished. The day my level of trust in my telco and my bank goes up a notch, I'll reconsider my animus against them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

My essential humanity

When I am depressed, I get mean. Meanspirited, blackhearted and angry. It is a terrible thing to be at the receiving end of my acerbic tongue over which, it seems, not even the gods are powerless to rein it in. I become this callous troglodyte, incapable of empathy or good judgment. It becomes my mission in life to turn what was your good day into the most miserable eight hours you've ever been through. I am petty, vindictive, malicious and cruel. And I am the coldhearted ogre unwilling to apologise or be called to account for my cruelty.

Then the remorse sets in as soon as my dark cloud has passed. I am mortified. I am sad. I am a little blue, but not in a manic-depressive way. I am penitent and shit-scared that I have allowed another black mark to be added to my name. If I were the weeping type, there would be buckets to weep. If I were the gregarious type, I would be buying rounds of something or the other at the Porterhouse. But I am neither of those things and yet, all of them.

Do not fret, my friend. It is not a disquisition on my fragile ego, my fragile psyche or my enfeebled mental constitution. It is neither an explanation nor a plea for forgiveness. It is an examination of a flawed being. It is an examination of one flaw in a flawed being. And, sadly, it will not be a complete explanation. The Freudians and Jungians out there with their writing pads and on-the-tip-of-their-noses reading glasses, put away the pads and start polishing your glasses now - this is not for you either.

It is strange when one admits that they are not god, godlike or godly. One is free. One only has to cope with human frailty. No more, no less. Sometimes that is much harder than if one banged about like a Greek or Roman god of ancient mythology, because then, one has to contend with the judgment of mere mortals like himself. And that judgment is frequently unflattering, exposing scabs long forgotten - or ignored. That judgment picks at the scabs over and over until they start to bleed afresh, eventually festering and turning gangrenous if the same godlike disinterest in them persists.

But if one is sure of himself, confident in his essential humanity, satisfied to be taught as he surely is a teacher, the truth about himself is a burden off his back. He is no longer Atlas holding up the Earth on his shoulders, no longer Sisyphus pushing his sorrows up the mountain only to watch them roll back down. And so we now know. It is not a spirit of meanness, it is not the soot of a black heart nor the anger of a youngish black man, but the frailty at the heart of every man that walks the Earth as a man.

The good, the bad and the photogenic

These are the problems that drive people up the wall going by the hyperbole on Twitter timelines. A photograph of a beggar crawling past Parliament Buildings is posted on twitter. Some saw the photo as an indictment of Parliament, and the national government, while others saw it as an indictment of the one who took the photo while seemingly doing nothing to help the beggar. Some thought that highlighting our problems was the right thing to do; others thought that providing solutions to these problems was essential.

I once used a tragedy to make a larger point and it cost me the respect of a man I respect. Life is like the story of the five blind men and the elephant. Each one of them used their hands - experience - to see that part of the elephant they touched. The one who took the photo saw all the policies of the Government of Kenya, personified in the greed of the members of Parliament, to say one thing. Some commentators saw his callous and inhuman use of the tragedy of another to make a wider statement. Still some others saw the photo as a catalyst for Kenyans to find solutions instead of bellyaching all the time about how bad their country is.

I don't know if all three are guilty of being held hostage to the single-story narrative that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so brilliantly deconstructed on a TED talk, but it is plain to see from the Twitter timeline that we all have our hangups and that we are unafraid to state our case and let the chips fall where they will. What may have escaped the commentators on the timeline, so committed to their argument, was that even taking into account the relative anonymity and security of the internet, at this moment Kenyans have never been freer to comment on public affairs without fear. 

It is almost impossible to imagine that in the days before the internet, e-mail, mobile phones, social media apps and the like, Kenyans were held hostage to the narrative dictated by their government as personified in the President. You were free to think what you wanted to think; you were not free to express your though freely, though. Speech came with a very high cost; political speech should have come with a health warning because it frequently led to orthopaedic surgery or even fatalities.

We cannot paper over the fact that many millions of Kenyans live in abject circumstances. We cannot paper over the fact that a significant amount of the suffering in Kenya is because of policies and politics that exclude the people at all levels. But we cannot ignore the fact that we are freer than we were fifteen years ago. We cannot ignore the fact that in a changing global economy we have coped better than most and that our potential to be great remains. Finally we cannot ignore the fact that sometimes transitional periods last decades. So while we debate the Kenya we want, let us put everything in perspective: the good, the bad and the photogenic.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The day that never was.

Maybe the response was not bumbling, slowfooted or criminally mismanaged. Maybe it was the only response that the national security apparatus is capable of. Maybe this is the best it can do. If you recall, the initial police response to the Westgate attack was that it was a "normal" robbery. And if you recall, the official, yet-to-be-revised, response to the Mpeketoni attacks is that "the Opposition did it." Maybe the massacre of one hundred and forty seven Kenyans is neither here nor there - because it is Rogers Mbithi's fault.

I have tried to come to terms with my government and how it does what it does. I am still not sure whether I understand it, or whether anyone of us really understands it. When its ministers die in mysterious circumstances, we have national days of mourning but we also keep a tight lid on how they died, never mind what Commissions of Inquiry say or recommend.

Maybe we have been hoodwinked by the lions and lionesses of the Second Liberation to believe that instead of chicanery we shall have honour and instead of despair we shall have hope. I think we have been hoodwinked. I believe that we have bought a certain bridge in London and are still expecting to take delivery fifty five years since we put down our deposit.

Even when one of their own is shot dead by brigands and bandits, the people who make decisions about safety and security are not concerned enough to pretend to even do something that matters. They will still continue to target the newest targets of the national Executive, or some pet old targets from decades' past. They will continue to bandy about billions in the name of safety and security when they truly want to pocket all of it so that they can pay for a holiday in the Maldives with women who are not their wives or daughters. They will say many words that sound right - and promptly forget them when the teleprompters go dark.

The games they play - for indeed they are games - are games with huge costs and huge bills. Take this new game about walls. Hundreds of millions will be spent n feasibility studies. Billions will be sunk in the project, probably hundreds of billions. The wall will never be finished. The border will remain "porous". More Kenyans will be murdered by brigands and bandits. The evil cycle will be repeated.

Maybe we expected too much of them. In 2002, we had hope. Within three months they showed us how foolish we were for hoping that different hyenas would have different priorities. The boondoggles got larger. The scandals got grander. The murders became more brazen. Why anyone thought that 2013 would usher in the start of a new wave remains one of those peculiar mysteries Kenyans are famous for. It is time we admitted to ourselves that the day we have been aiting for is never coming. It never was.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

There will be no inquiry.

An inquiry will not be held. It was not held in the wake of the Westgate attack. It was not held in the wake of the Mpeketoni attacks. It was not held in the wake of the Mandera attacks. It will not be held int he wake of the Garissa University College Massacre. An inquiry will not be held because the recommendations that such an inquiry would make are recommendations that could not be possibly implemented without tearing the national government asunder.

The Commander-in-Chief was personally touched by the cold hand of the Shabaab when the Westgate Mall was attacked in 2013. If that was not enough to stiffen his spine then the massacre of one hundred and forty seven children will not either. The Commander-in-Chief is not a fool. He is not weak. And he is not a coward. He is a politician. Therein lies his biggest weakness as well as his biggest opportunity.

The Commander-in-Chief knows what has to be done in order to secure the nation and protect the people. There is little that is new in this discourse. What needs to be done has been common knowledge since a former president inspected a "guard of honour" mounted by the Mungiki before they became an outlawed gang.

At the top of that list is the reform of the national security apparatus, especially by curbing the rampant graft that defines it. We are all painfully aware of the petty bribery that defines the relationship between the people and the National Police Service. But it is only recently that we have become more aware of the abuse of office by its seniormost officers. It is remarkable that police resources have become the playthings of the senior cadres of the National Police Service. It is even more remarkable that these officers continue to hold office when their antics are revealed.

We must also reorient the national security apparatus from its obsession with tribal politics and towards public safety. The appointments of the Chief of Defence Forces, the Inspector-General of Police, the Cabinet Secretary and Principal Secretary of the Interior and the Director-General of National Intelligence are ostensibly on merit, but in truth are about satisfying the tribal fears of politicians in the ruling alliance. So long as these key officials are held hostage to the politics of tribal mathematics, they have little incentive to propose programmes that will keep the people safe or the nation secure. Consequently the men and women they command will not do so either.

By far the most difficult recommendation to implement is one that cannot be legislated for nor dictated. There is no way of making the political class see service to the people as their principal duty. For a decade they have lived it up like princes of the city, taking what they want without apology. They have commandeered the lion's share of public resources for their own pleasure. They have failed to keep the Executive in check. They are the principal agents in the corruption of the institutions of the State. And they have no shame and no remorse.

If we believed that the Judiciary could keep everyone else honest we could say that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But not even the sunniest optimist believes that that the administration of justice machinery - police, public prosecutions, and judges and magistrates - is capable of honesty or public service. There are individual officers of probity and integrity. But the institutions themselves are distrusted and their integrity challenged at every turn. 

An inquiry would exposed the hollowed out government that we have. It would expose the lie that the government exists to serve the people. It would expose the hypocrisy that the people elect the government to serve them. It would tear asunder our faith in ourselves, our fellowman and our government. No Commander-in-Chief wants to be the one to expose the rottenness of this system. No Commander-in-Chief ever will.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Don Felder and Joe Walsh on Hotel California: Epic


Some of us believe that Carlos Santana - especially on Black Magic Woman - is the greatest guitarist of all time. There are those who think that it is Old Slowhand Eric Clapton. I happen to believe that when BB King and Clapton played together on Riding With The King, the best guitarists in the world made the world stop and listen for four minutes and twenty-three seconds. But I think that one of the greatest solos ever was by Peter Tosh on Stir It Up with Bob Marley and the other Wailers.

Every genre has it kings, and every king has his Minister of Soul. But the two minutes and eighteen seconds' electric guitar interplay between Don Felder and Joe Walsh on Hotel California when The Eagles played live at the Capital Centre in Largo, Maryland, in 1977 has to count as one of the most absorbing pieces of music ever committed to tape. With the remarkable Don Henley on lead vocals and drums intercutting with some of the best stickwork at a live concert, Hotel California became one of the most emotive, evocative, compelling singles of the past half-century.

So I leave you to marvel at those 02:18. Believe you me, you wanna watch this.



video


Monday, April 13, 2015

Cutting corners and shame.

If there's a corner, you can trust that a Kenyan in a position of power or authority will find a way to cut it. If cutting corners were an Olympic sport, the medal haul would be in the same league as David Rudisha's rather impressive haul. But it isn't. It is the millstone round our necks. It is the reason why a student is dead and a hundred and fifty one have been injured. It is the reason why that idiot who ordered us not to "die like cockroaches" still keeps his job.

It is almost tend days since one hundred and forty seven other students were massacred in their dormitories and scores injured. In that period not all of the remains of the deceased have been identified while some have been misidentified leading to the spectacle of the families of the deceased fighting over the custody of remains they believe are of their loved ones. Our outrage seems not to have pricked the consciences of the president's propagandists - a new hashtag goes something like this : #2YearsOfSuccess, while parts of the North Rift see inviting the Commander-in-Chief to award trophies to golfers as a priority.

Back to the corner-cutting. Unless I have been blinded and deafened, the national Executive's installations, such as Harambee House, Sheria House, Commission House, KICC, Harambee House Annexe, Vigilance House, Herufi House and Jogoo House haven't had emergency drills in the past five years. I am not aware of the safety officers at Sheria House. (They seem to have found a few shillings to build security cages and entry pavilions that see very little use though.) If you are casually walking down Parliament Road take a gander at Sheria House and try to look for the emergency exits. When you find one call the newspapers. You will have discovered the reincarnated dodo and mighty moa.

It costs some money - not much - and time to train safety officers and to run emergency drills. What do you want to bet that the aforementioned buildings' supervisors have found alternative uses for the funds allocated for the safety of their buildings and their users? If this is how the core institutions of the national Executive view public safety, it is almost impossible for them to enforce safety measures in the wide edifice that is the public sector. It is how university students are left to fend for themselves when electricity transformers "explode" and send them into a panic. It is how stupidly insensitive mandarins blame us for "dying like cockroaches."

Sunny Bindra is right. It is not rage that should come first. Nor disgust. It is shame. We should be utterly mortified that this is what we expect of ourselves, of others, of the State and of its institutions: death and destruction on a colossal scale. Every day that I climb up the eight flights to my office because we seem to have "reallocated" the funds for the repair of lifts in my public building, I should do so with shame. Shame that I am a coward, unwilling to point out that that is not what a public building should be like, shame that I do not know what the evacuation plan of my public building looks like, shame that I do not know to where I shall evacuate, shame that I do not know who my designated safety officer is, shame that deep down I am afraid of my boss and will thus say nothing. Shame is the only response, the only appropriate reaction.

When I next travel overseas - if I travel overseas again - I will not hold my head high because David Rudisha and his teammates will keep cleaning up in the medal sweepstakes. I will not hold my head high because our tea is the envy of the world. I will not hold my head high because literacy, for the first time, is over 75%. I will hang it low in shame because children keep dying while idiots keep their jobs for doing nothing to even mitigate emergencies. I will hang it low because even the national Executive is okay with that situation. I will hang it low in shame. Deep and abiding shame.

Swearing fealty.

A letter I penned down Friday Morning when I couldn't sleep…

Dear Mr.President, I may not have voted for you, but I respect the Highest Public Office that you hold, and out of that Respect this is my plea as a Citizen of our Great Nation that was fortunate to have Peace for decades but is now under constant attack and in fear for a worse tomorrow.
Sir let’s please shift focus from all the Great Grand plans & put the Security of this Country at top most priority or there will be no one left to benefit from all the Strides we continue to make as a Nation.

It breaks my heart to think that my Children could grow up in a Nation that has Curfews, that is divided by religion, that is every man for himself to the point that every home owns a gun for protection…

This is all but a life of FEAR!! Constant FEAR!! A year ago I lost a colleague & a Friend… Now we have lost 147 innocent Kenyans. Sir it’s time to leave Kismaayo & stop fighting a war that is not our own, it is time to stop fighting our neighbors, it is time to put the Citizens of this Nation before everything else.

Respectably, GM
Kenyan Citizen
I chose to reproduce the letter in full. If I believed divine interventions were the only recourse we had, that is what I would recommend. Where do we begin with this astonishing missive?

Let us begin with the astonishing claim that "our Great Nation that was fortunate to have Peace for decades". If nothing else, we must be honest with each other. Kenya may not have been in the mad grip of a civil war and it may not have been waging war in a neighbouring country, but only those who were not touched by the cold hand of violence could make such an astonishing claim.

Jomo Kenyatta waged his Shifta War and ensured that the North Eastern Province would remain backward for generations. When it was clear that Baba Moi had lost the nation, he waged a sub rosa war against all public dissent. Torture, disappearances and outright murder were the defining features of the 1980s. Think of it as the Kenyan version of the Cold War between the USA and the USSR. The nineties, though, gave us "land clashes" and "ethnic clashes". "Peace for decades"?

How about this plaintive plea: "It breaks my heart to think that my Children could grow up in a Nation that has Curfews, that is divided by religion, that is every man for himself to the point that every home owns a gun for protection…"? 

In the past decade alone, Mt Elgon, West Pokot, Samburu, Lamu, Marsabit and Mandera have had curfews, both official and unofficial, imposed on them. Hundreds of thousands of homes do not have firearms on the premises; that is the privilege of the wealthy and the well-connected. When homes are broken into by brigands, few families have the firearms the author of this letter talks about for their defence. Thousands of Kenyans have been murdered in cold blood because, (a) their police service failed them, and (b) they could not get past the nightmarish bureaucracy that is the gantlet one must walk to obtain a firearms permit.

But the core of this letter seems to be an attempt by its author to swear fealty to the President because of the "respect [for] the Highest Public Office that [you] hold". We did away with the loyalty pledge because the relationship between the people and their president is not based on loyalty of the former for the latter, but the service by the  latter to the former. We are not his subjects. We are not his serfs. He serves us. When our children are murdered in cold blood, the buck stops with him. We will respect him when he earns our respect. He can choose to treat us with contempt; that is the bargain we made when we elected him. But at no point can he demand our loyalty when the bodies of the dead are not cold in the grave. Not at all.

Lessons in respect.

During Moi's time, the little rascals #KOT would be a in a basement getting a lesson on respect or worst. Lets not abuse freedom of speech. ~ @Emma999Too
I will resist the temptation to address the grammar in the above tweet and instead focus solely on an unusual aspect of recent discourse on the legacies of Kenya's former presidents. The author of that tweet may not have been glorifying what went on in Baba Moi's basements, but the casual way in which our immediate history has been forgotten is surely instructive.

There are scores of Kenyans who have been awarded hundreds of millions of shillings by the courts for the torture they underwent during the Moi Era. That is why only the foolhardy would dare to say a disrespectful word against the president then. This nation was ruled by fear. Anyone who spoke out of turn could expect, at the very least, to face harassment and, at worst, torture or death. Fearless commentators of the day fled the country in fear for their lives. The lessons one learnt in those basements were not of respect. They were lessons on the use and abuse of absolute power. They were lessons in the corruption of the State and its institutions, and the perversion of the rule of law.

Among Mwai Kibaki's legacies, when the history books are written, will be his laid-back attitude to public commentary of his policies and his government. Sure, every now and then he would get a bit hot under the collar and lash out at is critics, but he did not instinctively reach for the telephone to get his security chiefs to hunt down every single dissenting voice for a basement lesson in respect. Mwai Kibaki led Kenya into one of its most freest periods in a generation and public discourse was enriched for it - for a while anyway.

What the author of the tweet forgets is that freedom of speech includes the freedom to be obnoxious, disrespectful, unpatriotic, uncouth, scandalous and offensive. So long as what one says is not untrue, slanderous or libelous, one should decide the extent of his or her honour - and then speak their mind. The author of the tweet was reacting to the way Kenyans cashiered the Commander-in-Chief and his disciplined forces in the manner that they handled the murder of 147 Kenyans in Garissa. She was slighted on the Commander-in-Chief's behalf. She recalled a past that never was where people kept quiet because they respected the Commander-in-Chief, not feared him. She wanted decorum and patriotism in how the discourse was held. She did not contend with the raw feelings of Kenyans on Twitter, #KOT.

The genie is out of the bottle. Unless we recreate a Kenya where everyone is informing on everyone else, where torture is the order of the day and where the media is in the tight grip of the Commander-in-Chief and his henchmen, more and more dissatisfied Kenyans are going to exploit the anonymity of the internet and social media to say extremely offensive, disrespectful and unpatriotic things about the Commander-in-Chief, his disciplined forces and his government. Worse still, there is little that the author of the tweet or the Commander-in-Chief can do about it. Recalling Baba Moi's Nyayo House and Nyati House is not it either.

Hypocrisy

Poor senior civil servants don’t exist in Kenya. They bank alongside the wealthy, productive citizens of this beloved country. Our banking industry knows them quite well. ~ Carol Musyoka, The Nitpicker (13th April, 2015)
We've tried that already.
 I believe a clue about how Kenya mints billionaire civil servants lies in the culture bestowed upon this territory named Kenya by the British East Africa Company and all governments since. Hypocrisy defines the governments Kenya has had, more so since Independence. It is this hypocrisy that encourages banks to wink-and-nod at the requirements of the banking Act and the Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money-Laundering Act. It is this hypocrisy that sees banks carry on as if nothing is amiss when their clients are named in schemes to siphon off billions from the National Treasury. And it is this hypocrisy that guarantees that the Kenya Revenue Authority will not be slapping the billionaire civil servants with multi-million shilling tax demands on their ill-gotten "rents".

Just like the hypocrisy in the US Declaration of Independence about the equality of men, all law documents of Kenya that spoke of fairness an justice is Kenya created two classes of citizens - the privileged and powerful, and the poor. Even with Independence, Kenya is still a two-class system, in which those with power can get away with murder, literally, while chicken-thieves have the law books hurled at them with great enthusiasm. It is how the colonial government could see no irony in creating 'native reserves' or segregating the blacks in their Eastlands' hovels over which great mirth is had by those residing in the leafy suburbs.

All Kenyan banks do business with the Governed of Kenya in one for or another. The people who make the decisions about how much business a bank will do with the Government of Kenya are quite frequently the ones against whom Know Your Customer rules would be most inconvenient. So banks will swear fidelity to the strictures of the statute books without doing anything that would jeopardise the chance to handle billions upon billions of shillings that make their annual reports look so rosy. We will react with umbrage and shock when lists of shame are published but do absolutely nothing to dismantle the infrastructure that sustains the misappropriation and mismanagement of tax shillings. We will keep stumm because we hope - pray, really - that one day we too will be in a position to ride special express lifts to the the tenth floor of the buildings that house our banks to meet with senior bank staff and plan the "investment" of our billions.

It is hypocrisy, plain and simple. They say that no government should create billionaires of its public servants. They say a great many things. They have since the beginning of time. We have chosen to hear but not listen. Nigeria went to shit because of the hypocrisies bequeathed upon it by the British. It is still trying to recover. Kenya is becoming the Nigeria of East Africa before our eyes, but because of the hypocrisy at the heart of our desires we are seemingly powerless to anything about it. That should give us pause.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Call of Duty.

I have heeded the call. I shall take responsibility. It is time I took the fight to the terrorists, wherever they may lurk. This is my call to arms to like-minded warriors for the soul of the nation.
No more!
I am very, very aware that my Commander-in-Chief has a less than rosy view of the disciplined forces he commands, and that is why he has asked me to play my rightful role in the fight against the terrorists. In my zeal to obey my Commander-in-Chief, and in solidarity with those who have also heeded the call, I have undertaken to set up my very own "community policing" apparatus. I can assure the worrywarts among you that it shall not morph into a rival for the Mungiki, the Forty Brothers, the Sungu-sungu, the Kamjesh or the Jeshi la Baba. No sir it won't.

Taking my cue from the helpful suggestions of the Senator of Nairobi City and the  Acting Director National Disaster Management Unit, a Superintendent of Police by the by, to "fight back," I have decided to acquire certain skills that will stand me in good stead when the terrorists come back. (Given the givens, you know, like the Commander-in-Chief's lack of overt love for  the boys and girls not-in-mufti, you can understand why I am following the expert advice of the Senator and that policeman, can't you?)

Obviously, I have to develop a healthy suspicion of those around me, just in case they happen to be terrorists, or they happen to be harbouring terrorists. The strange behaviour of my brothers means I have to subject their lives to a microscopic examination that will make the National Intelligence Service sit up and take notice. The younger one seems to be acquiring engineering degrees that are bafflingly applied in management. I wonder if this is a clue to his nefarious intentions. After all, the last time we were staring at the barrel of a gun, one of the terrorists was a lawyer, well-versed in the weaselly language of the High Court and similar suspicious dens of intrigue and murderous mayhem. So why is he getting so many engineering degrees? Does he want to build a dirty bomb in his basement? Does he have a basement? I must investigate - just to be sure.

Equally obviously, I have to have boiling kettles of water and always-on irons because I do not think my Commander-in-Chief is going to throw open the gates of the national armouries for me to take my pick of G3s and AKs. The next best weapons, in the wise words of my Senator, are hot hater and hot irons. I'll find a way of practicing the use of these weapons so that the next time the terrorists armed with machine guns, pistols, knives and suicide-bomb vests come a calling, I will douse them with hot water and slam them in the face with hot irons. I will be prepared. I will not die like a cockroach, Mr Superintendent of Police. I'm going to roll with the big dogs!

Of course, just to satisfy the call to duty by my Commander-in-Chief, I am going to become the biggest neighbourhood snitch. I'm going to snitch on the three young men who seem to have not discernible source of income to pay for the three-bedroomed maisonette that they rent next door, nor the fifteen-million-shilling Range Rover - the one with the five-litre V8 - that they tear around the neighbourhood in from three in morning going God-knows-where for God-knows-what purpose. I'm going to snitch on that Mama Mboga who is always smiling even when her loyal customers refuse to buy any of her sewerage-grown sukuma wiki. How can anyone smile so broadly every single day from morning to night if she wasn't identifying targets for the terrorists and simply imagining us being shot up or blown up to smithereens? She is a suspect alright.

But just in case all this fails, I am instructing both my loved ones and my enemies to blame me if the terrorists get me. Don't blame the Commander-in-Chief or his boys; they can't be everywhere all the time. The Commander-in-Chief said that we cannot have a single policeman for every citizen. It's just not possible. It ain't happening. So blame me. Say I wasn't brave enough. Say I wasn't counter-violent enough. Say I put myself deliberately in the line of fire. Why don't you just go ahead and call me a loser for dying and giving the Commander-in-Chief hives and a bad name. Don't make him write you letters of condolences. Say it was all my damn fault and let him get on with the business of sending fighter jets to blow up manyattas in Somalia or wherever.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Godhood and service.

I'm going to dwell on this service-delivery topic for a while. Have you ever had your balls fettled by a tough-as-nails Administration Police officer? It is not what it looks like on TV. Dear God, it is not!  APs spend a great many hours firing their G3 rifles. This has made their hands as far removed from tender as they could get without turning into concrete slabs. When they pat you down, it is like you are being slapped in your naughty places with cast-iron paddles. It is not cool. At all.

When it comes to "sensitive" public buildings, that is the experience of the members of the public. They may not get a physical pat down, but they certainly get a psychological one. Public buildings are not designed to serve the people; that is why we have Huduma Centres. They are designed to cow them, browbeat them and, when that fails, humiliate them. It is why they never, ever have clean drinking water, clean toilets or comfortable chairs for those seeking audience with the mandarin at the top. (About the drinking water, aren't you just ashamed every time you see bigwigs on a dais being served Dasani or Keringet simply because their water company can't be trusted to pipe clean drinking water to one and all?)

Public buildings are a reflection of the men in charge in those buildings. They are the psychological profile of the man in charge. They are pretty accurate too. When you look at Harambee House, for example, tell me you don't see the paranoia and narcissism it engenders in its ostentatious security arrangements and the humongous, big red-and-blue sign out front that grandiosely declares "Office of the President". When you look at Harambee House Annexe, tell me you don't see the narcissistic preening and they-are-out-to-get-me paranoia behind its seven-hundred-million-shilling refurbishment-cum-security "upgrading". Parliament Buildings has not one, not two, not three but four separate security zones at which every non-VIP is subjected to scrutiny designed to make one feel small, insignificant and an interloper.

A full 747 KLM flight will have a very small population of First Class and Business Class passengers; the majority will be those flying in cattle class. They will do it with stoicism; after all you pay for what you get. At Schiphol, you will marvel at how accommodations are made for those sequestered in cattle class. I know I was floored. More lines for them too. Many, many chairs for them to lounge in. And complete, unfettered access to drinking fountains and suspiciously clean toilets. T1-A, JKIA, in contrast, is another hostile public building where the ones who travel economy are lumped with indignities and humiliations, while those travelling First or Business Class can almost begin to resent the noses pressed so closely and intimately to their nethers. (At the Mombasa airport I was amazed at the filthy two-by-four piece of carpet reserved by KQ for those flying Premier Class. Ukubwa lazima uonekane, sivyo?)

Contrast this with the only CEO I have ever met, though, disappointingly for me, he will never remember me. He runs a major construction company. Its annual returns make Henry Rotich and John Njiraini very, very happy. I am not sure he has a secretary or a security detail, though the contracts he handles are the equivalent of a small dictatorship's GDP. There is little ostentatious fawning when he gets to work at seven in the morning; the pantomime that accompanies my boss's arrival is quite the sight to behold. And his office building is fit for purpose. Oh, and the drinking water is fit for drinking out of the tap.

We have fetishised those who should be providing leadership in service to the people. We have persuaded them that their goal was to attain god-like greatness, not Jesuit-like service to the people. They demonstrate their godhood with ostentation and intricate security measures - for themselves. Whether the people they serve, or the people who serve under them, get what they need is not the point. He has made it. He has his six secretaries, six bodyguards, carpetted corner office suite, private toilet and ex-Nakumatt water dispenser with a massive Keringet bottle. What does he care that his minions make do with no water, filthy toilets and cracking linoleum floors? And to hell with those people who want t bother him with their demands and needs. He is sorted. The rest of you can sort yourselves out as best you can.

Mockeries that are service charters.

Ask and ye shall be answered. I asked. He answered. I asked Sunny Bindra whether a lack of pride in ones work was one reason why the public service remains so ineffective at service delivery. I believe there are clues to what Mr Bindra has written in the past and I can't wait to read what he writes in the future on this subject.

There are certain devices that the public service has adopted that have become mockeries of their intentions. These are Vision/Mission statements and declarations of core values, better known as service charters. Coupled with a rush towards ISO certification by public institutions, one could read service charters and expect that the service delivery environment would have improved measurably since the election of the NARC government in 2002. One would be wrong.

Let me not dwell on pride and service delivery, but on whether or not the public service respects its "customers", that is, the public. Walk along Harambee Avenue, Parliament Road, City Hall Way and Taifa Road and the answer is "no." On this rough square are to be found Jogoo House, the National Treasury, Kenyatta International Convention Centre, Vigilance House, Harambee House, Harambee House Annexe, Parliament Buildings, City Hall, and the Supreme Court. These happen to be the most hostile public buildings in the Central Business District and they are being aped in their hostility by Times Tower, the Central Bank, Herufi House, Kencom, County Hall and Continental House.

All these buildings have taken over pavements in the name of "security." Swathes of these public commons have been cordoned off and pedestrians have been forced to make do with limited space, burgeoning numbers and oncoming traffic. The safety of the public is no longer a matter of concern so long as the ropes keep the fences around these building beyond the hands of the pedestrians and, theoretically, keep the public officers behind them "secure" from harm. It could be argued that able-bodied pedestrians can take their chances and we could be done with it. But what about those who face challenges, such as those who are visually impaired or those who are confined to wheelchairs? The hostility of the public service, both national and county, is quite profound.

Kenya signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights and Dignity of Persons With Disabilities. It enacted the Persons With Disabilities Act, 2003. And the public service has done every thing to ignore the existence of the Convention and the Act. The proof is in all those approvals granted for buildings, roads, bridges, whatever, that ignore - erase - the existence of those living with disabilities. Simple things like access ramps and braille-enabled signs are notorious for their absence. Service charters and ISO certificates are a mockery of service delivery for those public institutions that have them and cannot make access for the disabled easier and have taken a hostile, confrontational approach to "security". Scrap them, or truly live up to their lofty goals.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

A Question for Sunny Bindra.

When pride does not come before a fall.
 
I have a question for Sunny Bindra: Is the reason the public service is bad at service delivery that most public servants do not take pride in their jobs? I do not intend to cause offence; many public servants take pride in what they do and very often strive to surpass their best every day. But, Mr Bindra, do you think that bad service delivery and a lack of pride in your work are connected? Because I do.

It may not come out clearly on this blog, but I take great pride in my work. I have done everything I can to expand my knowledge and skills so that my work can improve, even if the improvement is incremental at best. Whatever little edge I can get so that I can do my work better I shall strive to find. Maybe it is that mine is a specialised area of the law and that my colleagues in this field are few and far between because one of the traits we share is a constant yearning to learn more, to find out more, to know more. It is that which makes us the best at what we do.

Another trait of someone who takes pride in his work is that he is unafraid to collaborate with others. In my department we must collaborate or our output will be laughingly shoddy. Even my boss who has done this for nigh on thirty years has to let someone else read over what she has done; it is the only way that what we can produce remains the best work product, dare I say, of the whole ministry. It is sometimes humbling to have one of your colleagues point out what should have been an obvious error. Ours, I believe, is the best quality assurance system in government because for the most part we check our egos at the door and check with our colleagues that we are doing what we are supposed to do in the way it is supposed to be done.

Could it also be that someone who takes pride in his work would want his institution to be the best at what it does? The answer seems to be "yes", doesn't it? I have no doubt that if the remaining five technical departments took the same level of pride in their work, we would be the envy of the entire public service. It is here, I believe, that the rubber does indeed meet the road. As individuals we may take pride in our work and our departments. As a ministry we have no institutional pride. As a ministry we don't care whether we are assessed by the public as performers or non-performers. We don't care if we are reviled or not. We have no pride in our ministry.

I believe that is a malaise that afflicts the greater part of the public service and I don't think it has anything with the size of your paypacket. Some of the best paid lawyers are to be found in the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, but I am yet to meet one who takes pride in his Commission to the same extent that he takes pride in his work. It is why the Commission is always a  day late and a dollar short when it comes to even minor investigations. It is also why parliamentarians have no shame when they are exposed for corrupt acts; they don't have pride in themselves, they don't have pride in their work and they don't have pride in their institutions.

The head of my ministry does not take any pride in his ministry. I know this from the way he treats us. He is a genius, do not get me wrong, and his achievements are legendary. But none of his legendary intelligence or skills are to be seen in the manner his ministry does its work. Collectively we are reviled and loathed in equal measure and distrusted by many. It is not because we are crooks; but if our boss treats us like shit, there is absolutely no way we will make him look good when he needs to look good. I think that is the final ingredient. If a man takes pride in his work, and strives to make it better, and consequently takes pride in his institution and strives to make it better, the least the boss could do is acknowledge that and encourage it. If not, well, here's a list of names we should be familiar with by now: Goldenberg, Anglo-Leasing, Artur Brothers, Langata Primary School Playground, Weston Hotel, #ListOfShame, #147NotJustANumber.