Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A lobotomised national conscience

Most of us are not masochists; many of us have a depth of self-awareness that is so accurately self-critical that we do not labour under any illusions that we were meant to successfully sit examinations. First you must know yourself before you can know your enemy; we knew ourselves at a critical level that by the time we were subjected to the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, we were not fearful, but joyous that we could only sit for it once, and those would be the only chances we would get because it would either end with us attending university (far, far away) or we would be looking after grandfather's cows and playing horizontal mambo with comely village belles. Things have obviously changed a lot since those halcyon days.

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to what was going on around me when I was in Masaku. If I hadn't been interested in copying Tet's hand at drawing or Cromwell's at English literature, perhaps I would have noticed that there were more and more desperate parents who could not afford to have their sons or daughters take a pass at the KCSE and miss. More and more parents were drilling their children or having their children drilled from morning till night in order that they would successfully sit for the KCSE. Success at this level came with the promise of a prestigious admission to the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University or JKUAT or for the more better off, the private Strathmore College, later Strathmore University. (Only those of low ambitions dreamt of Moi University, Maseno, Egerton or Masinde Muliro, though Egerton was gaining an enviable reputation in natural resource management studies and Masinde Muliro was no longer a laughingstock when it came to certain engineering programmes.)

But even in those days, the most parents would do would be to spend more and more sums on tutors and exam coaches. I proceeded to waste six or seven years (I can't remember; Goan hash is quite potent) at a university far, far away, and by the time I got back, things had completely gone off the rails. Parents, their children, teachers, policemen, examinations' and ministry officials had formed a complex system for cheating at the KCSE. As no longer meant something and C+s had become utterly worthless. That was eleven years ago.

Every year, more students sit the KCSE and every year, more students get nailed for cheating. I am not talking about the one or two dingbats nailed with mwakenyas in their underpants. No, I mean the conniving snakes that have somehow created criminal networks that guarantee the "leakage" of examinations from the Kenya National Examinations Council, the distribution of those "leaked" exams through a nationwide network, and the collection of tens of millions of shillings in illegal profits. While I somewhat admire the technical sophistication of the cheating, and the brilliant people-skills some of these children require to prevail, I am with Sunny Bindra on this one: once a culture of cheating is inculcated in children, this nation is doomed forever.

Now that children have been introduced to the idea that cheating leads to fabulous wealth, and that fabulous wealth is all that matters, few of them have any incentive to work hard or to be productive. Kwekwe Mwandaza was an innocent gunned down in the dead of night by policemen with axes to grind, but the number of juveniles stalking the commons armed to the teeth like some kind of movie antiheroes is worryingly high and few of them have any qualms about blowing your head away for your wallet, its contents, your watch and your ever present smartphone, the twenty-first century symbol of modernity and money that folds.

Children were the conscience of this nation, once. Now they have become accomplices in its rapine, silent bystanders as a few rampage and pillage with impunity, because all parents, most parents, are complicit in the corruption of the innocent. We all want our children to get a "good education" which more often than not means a university degree. For that we have slowly whittled away at the last vestiges of social conscience that abhorred cheating. In essence, my friends, the good has become the handmaiden of a lobotomised national conscience. When your child holds a gun to your head and forces you to sign over the family cow, don't say you were not warned.

All about Tinga. Again!

The disappointed and unhappy leading lights of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy are well within their rights to bitch mightily about the unfairness of it all, but even they cannot escape from the discomfitting knowledge that they were asking the wrong people to help them paint the national government in a bad light. Issack Hassan, his fellow commissioners and Ezra Chiloba aren't really interested in helping Raila Odinga fuck up the August 2017 general election with a stupid thing like a constitutional amendment referendum.

The Big Brains of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission don't really know how to deal with Raila Odinga. Truth be told, no one in the Government knows how to deal with Raila Odinga. He is not easily bullied; after all if he could survive unlawful detention in the 1980s, there isn't much the IEBC can do, is there? The more militant members of the National Government don't have the balls to detain Raila Odinga. He knows it; they know it; everyone else knows. They can make his life uncomfortable, but they can't throw his ass in jail.

This makes for a very strange co-existence. Mr Odinga is over the hill in many respects, save the one that counts: large swathes of the populace love him. They love him because despite his flaws, Mr Odinga is not condescending to them. Despite his boorish acolytes, Mr Odinga knows how to articulate what the people who love him want. Added to what his father sacrificed in the '60s, Mr Odinga is the antithesis of the modern Kenyan politician: avaricious, rapacious and randy A.F.

Mr Odinga has made many mistakes and has lusted after the presidency for too long, but not even the idiot section of the ruling coalition thinks of him as simply power-mad; in him they see the possibility of the radical change they have tried, and failed, to bring about and it scares the shit out of them because there is a slightly smarter section that keeps fucking things up for the rest of the gang by stealing like stealing were going out of fashion.

When Mr Odinga returned from Boston in 2014 (or was it 2015), and the talk of referenda was pregnant in the political air, rather than panic over it, the ruling coalition should have let him go ahead with his referendum. Okoa Kenya would have exposed Mr Odinga's partners for the crooks everyone seems to think they are. The ruling coalition would have had the best opportunity of separating Mr Odinga from his seniormost partners, and thereby ensuring that he would not be in a position to cause problems while he rebuilt his strength in the trenches. So what if it would have cost billions to hold the referendum? Kenya seems to lose billions down the back of the sofa every year anyway! This is a price all concerned parties should have been willing to pay, especially the ruling coalition and the IEBC.

The ruling coalition, however, is bereft of strategic thinkers, political chessmasters in Mr Odinga's league and it shows in how panic guides their tactics every time Mr Odinga takes a fancy to something. Mr Odinga is not the hardliner of popular political lore; after all, he took up with President Moi despite their poisonous past, and he took up with Mr Kibaki despite the post-2008 poison. He understands that political quid pro quo might rub some people the wrong way, but it is till the best way to ensure that politics remains smooth. Now that the IEBC has firmly, and foolishly, aligned itself with the ruling coalition, things are about to get mighty acrimonious where Mr Odinga is concerned. Mr Odinga may not win the war, but the IEBC is about to lose a few battles and with it what little credibility it had left.

Never going back.

Have you been to the Maasai Ostrich Farm in Kitengela of late? No? Good. Don't go. Ever! The Namanga Road is bad enough in the daytime - narrow and, on a Sunday, chock-full of "learner" drivers making life miserable for those anxious to sink their teeth into juicy morsels of nyama choma at the Farm. But the Namanga Road is a paradise once you get to the turn-off.

All the way past the Saitoti Farm entrance, the even narrower road is not that bad - provided no Canter is coming from the opposite direction. But once you get to the sign-board that says, "Maasai Ostrich Farm 1 km", don't trust sit one bit. It is NOT one kilometre but fifteen and if you happen to be a happy customer of Toyotsu or whoever that guy near the Nyayo Stadium is and are in possession of a Japanese three-box saloon, turn back and never ever contemplate that outing again. Ever.

The road is not really a road so much as an obstacle course of the Stony Athi crowd and their four-wheelers with thirty six inches of suspension travel. I once drove from Isiolo to Marsabit. It was a bad road. We even lost a tough-as-nails Pajero on that safari. It took us seven hours to get to Marsabit. My bosses were freaking out because I didn't think we needed the GSU escort if we left right after breakfast. That safari was way better than the thirty minutes I spent navigating the surface of the moon that is the murrum road to the Ostrich Farm. It is horrible.

Once you get there, after having choked down half a tonne of dust, and you Japanese jalopy having almost given up the ghost because of the jiggling it has been uncharacteristically compelled to undergo, you would expect a smile, a welcome juice and a hot towel. But no! All they want to know is whether you have a reservation (we didn't) and whether you have been there before (we have). They weren't apologetic about their stupidly bad road. And they couldn't care less that we were the incarnation of those "natives" in the live-action movie version of H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (starring Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone).

Once you locate a place to sit, the waiting begins. By my watch, it took them a whole half-hour to notice that we hadn't been served. It took them another half hour to bring our our drinks and a half hour more before our meat arrived. If it wasn't for the amusement provided by the Chairman and his I-am-one-year-old curiosity, I don't think we would have stayed a second more. The food almost made up for the service and the off-roading. Almost. The flies just ruined it all.

They were everywhere. Not the kinds of flies you see in Nairobi, but the big, buzzing ones you only see in shags and only near the workmen's pit latrine. Put us all off our appetites. Even the Chairman and he isn't old enough to be disgusted by anything yet! The worst part was that Maasai ostrich Farm doesn't seem to have adequate water. It definitely doesn't have enough toilets. I am never going back. It was once a nice place. Now it is a nightmare. I'd rather travel through the Republic of Rongai to Ol'Tepesi or Ole Polos. The service over there is miles better. And you only off-road for a couple hundred metres.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

I am free

As I understand it, "ideology" is
a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy
and "ideas" are
thoughts or suggestions as to possible courses of action
and "ideals" are
 standards of perfection; or principles to be aimed at.
In the pre-Saba Saba Era, but after the gruesome murder of JM Kariuki, when the politics of Kenya became synonymous with the whims and caprice of the President, there was only one ideology: what the President said was true. No. Matter. What. If you didn't like that state of affairs, like the likes of Pio Gama Pinto and Jm Kariuki, you could die or, like Kung'u Karumba, you could disappear, or like Robert Ouko, you could become the star in how not to cover up an assassination, and so on and so forth. Ideology wasn't so much ideas or ideals as presidential autocratic wet dreams.

In that scheme of things the machinery of government, that all-consuming Leviathan that will not be denied, was orientated to ensure that what the president wanted, the president got. So laws were enacted to ban books and films and radio programmes and policemen and bureaucrats in mufti lived to enforce these laws, which were expressions of presidential will. Unless you were one of the tame civil servants that made out like bandits in this era, or a sot-nosed sycophant, you will remember that presidential ideas and ideals about the economy or politics of Kenya were anything but salubrious. Some, like Raila Odinga, would certainly have very strong feelings about them.

What must come as a surprise is that there still exists a cohort of senior bureaucrats who pine for the 1980s and 1990s when banning things, especially ideas, was their core mandate. These people live in a world where they are performing a great public service by reviewing the entire universe of ideas, ideals and ideologies broadcast in Kenya with the intention of weeding out the insalubrious for the protection of the morals and values of the nation and the spiritual and mental well-being of the wee ones.

How anyone can build a wall high enough to prevent the flow of ideas, ideals and ideologies remains the mystery that only these bureaucrats can answer. But it is the sheer arrogance of a mere mortal deciding what ideas will corrupt me, what ideals are unsuited for me, or what ideologies will corrupt my immortal soul that beggars belief. How a man or a shadowy cabal of men can see into my soul is the stuff of Stalin's wet dreams. Today only the naive believe that they can muzzle the internet and the free flow of ideas. Only brutal dictatorships or police states have that capacity, and even then their control is not absolute. Mwai Kibaki somehow managed to prevent the import or distribution of  Michaela Wrong's It's Our Turn to Eat, yet only the indolent or the disinterested haven't read it. The asinine decision to ban The Wolf of Wall Street all but guaranteed that it would be distributed even to the disinterested.

I am a free man. I am free to read what I want. I am free to hear what I want. I am free to watch what I want. I am free to think what I want. I am free to think. No bureaucrat can prevent my mind from knowing, understanding and comprehending, and then drawing conclusions. But there is a man in the machinery of government who seems to believe he has the capacity to prevent my mind from entertaining radical ideas. That man is a fool.

Fatcats and streetlights

Of course there is a link between unemployment, poverty and crime, but that is not to say that all poor people are crooks or all unemployed people will commit crimes, and anyone unable to make those subtle distinctions shouldn't comment publicly about the vandalisation of public facilities and poverty. Why is it so easy for fatcats to dismiss the unemployed or the poor or to blame them for crime?

The rich and the poor do not share many public facilities, and this socioeconomic apartheid encourages the least informed among the upper and middle classes to ignore the plight of the poor (including the unemployed) and to blame them for the breakdown in social values and the decrepitude of public facilities. And yet when we observe some of the reasons why unemployment is at an all time high, the fatcat classes are at the heart of it all, stealing from the public purse, stunting economic development and driving the causes of unemployment and, consequently, crime.

What galls is that when these same people are called out on their hypocrisy, they accuse their accusers of being NGOists, quick with a soundbite and incapable of accepting "facts" that should be plain to see. Ours is not a particularly complex socioeconomic system; real estate capital drives the bulk of wealth creation among the fatcat classes. Our booming apartment-block-building industry is proof, though it is humdrum public facilities like roads, bridges, ports, harbours, dams, bus termini, power-transmission cables and the invisible bits of the digital infrastructure that will drive up employment, especially among the youth and especially in the wealth-generating white-collar sectors (law, medicine, accountancy, entertainment) and manufacturing industries.

The reason why we are building apartments for Russian oligarchs and Italian mafiosi is because the money that we should spend on building a railway network as opposed to a railway line has beenlets be generous and say "reallocated"—reallocated by self-interested public officers with vested interests so embedded that sit makes the vandals of the Thika Superhighway look like chaste members of the church choir. In fact, Kenya is on track to manufacture more laws and apartments for the rich than it needs, instead of spending all those billions of dollars it is borrowing to solve some of the economic problems of its poor and unemployed, like affordable healthcare, housing, tertiary-technical education and vocational training, and recreation.

Kenya isn't unique in this, but the self-righteous myopia  of its ruling class has a uniquely Kenyan tinge to it. Those who blather on and on about how all the problems of Kenya could be resolved by severely punishing the poor and the unemployed for vandalising streetlights are the same ones who will still consume copious snifters of Single Malt with the biggest swindlers in the public service without batting an eyelid in the hopes that they will win fat consultancies for non-existent communications strategies.

Some of us still have a simplistic and academic view of justice; everyone is innocent until proven otherwise. Poverty (and unemployment) may explain some crimes but not all crimes. Some of the biggest and most heinous crimes have been committed by some of the richest people. Anyone who simply fails to acknowledge this is an idiot.

A five-year anniversary

I hope you won't catch feelings...

It's been five years since we got together, you and I, and in that five years, Jesoh! you have made me face some difficult truths. It's our five-year anniversary and all I can think of is leaving you for someone new, because even though I am happy, I have a feeling I could be happier elsewhere. We've invested a lot in this relationship, though, and leaving you now seems like an act of futility because if I do that, chances are I will also leave the other one and the one after that even before the five-year mark.

You have sometimes been an abusive partner, taking advantage of my loyalty for dodgy ends. I forgave you because you were so accommodating of many of my needs, like the fact that I am not a morning person (or a night owl for that matter), allowing me to sleepwalk my way through so many things. You were generous, every now and then, even though you didn't have to be. Remember how on our one-year anniversary you sent me on a six-week holiday Down Under? Or how you thought three months in Accra sounded like a good idea on our three-year anniversary? And how you insisted that I needed to see just how smooth the roads in Arlington, Virginia, truly are last year on our four-year anniversary? I won't forget it.

But by now we know the truth, don't we? I don't love you and you don't love me, but I will always be loyal, even after I move on (because I will move on one day). I'll say good things about you to the right people and I won't get all jealous and shit if you shower gifts and trips on some other guy. I don't know where our relationship is going, but thanks to you, I have grown as a person and I am better at shit than I was when I met you. It's just a bit sad that you haven't changed, though that seems to be the reason so many want to be with you. Whatever. Happy five-year anniversary!

Friday, March 18, 2016

The law is not your friend

When you sue me, or accuse me of committing a crime and have me arrested, what exactly do you expect me to do? Roll over and play dead? If you expect me to let you walk all over e with your writs and affidavits and charge-sheets, you need Jesus more than I do because I will dedicate a substantial proportion of my meagre assets to retain the services of the fiercest lawyer I can afford to ensure that your litigious ass stays as far away from as possible. That is the sum and substance of the justice system.

Why is it so difficult to understand this? When a person is arrested and charged in court, the arrest and charge-sheet are not in and of themselves evidence of wrong-doing. There are many steps to be taken before a person is convicted for the crime he has been charged with. None of these steps should be easy to take, otherwise hundreds or thousands of innocents will be rail-roaded through the justice system. I don't find it unusual that every fat-walletted plutocrat will hire a battery of lawyers to prevent their prosecution, because that is what the law allows.

The justice system is not designed to be fair; it is designed to be just and the two are not even close to being the same thing. In a just world, the law is interpreted by an impartial magistrate and a conviction for a crime is either obtained or it is not based on the evidence presented. In a fair world, bad guys get punished. It is not a fair world and wishful thinking will not make it so. Those prone to wishful thinking seem to be ascendant these days and more so in the world of anti-corruption.

Corruption is a white-collar offence and more often than not it is the patient work of auditors, accountants, procurement administrators, systems analysts and other white collar professionals that lead to convictions. In a corruption investigation, unless the corrupt public official is an armed policeman, there are no high speed car chases, but the patient examination of thousands of pages of documents or lines of computer code. In a corruption prosecution, witnesses will only be led through their evidence of the pages they audited or the code they examined. This is not the place for long-winded leading questions beloved of TV legal dramas.

So it beggars belief that knowing what we know of the Kenyan legal system and its Criminal Procedure Code, the Civil Procedure Rules, the Evidence Act and all those other laws, that there are apparently mature Kenyans who believe that to be accused is to be guilty, and that the guilty should simply roll over and play dead as the police and the public prosecutor notch one corruption conviction after the other. Especially in the case of politically-exposed Kenyans like Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries and heads of parastatals, many Kenyans would like to see them convicted one second after they are accused of corrupt acts forgetting that the law is on these politically-exposed Kenyans' side, not that of the over-zealous accusers.

Now we could alter our legislative and administrative environment be more like the People's Republic of China or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, where the rule of law, such as it is, is fungible and malleable and requires nothing more than "solid" proof of an offence before the accused in kneeling in a courtyard with an AK-47 pointed at the back of his head, mafia-style. I wonder if those bitching about slow prosecutions would approve of that drastic abrogation of the Bill of Rights just to satisfy their moral outrage at "corruption" because once we start fiddling with the law in that way, the number of classes of offenders will grow such that no one will be safe. Ever.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Being boss is hell.

Being the boss is hard, especially when your minions are way loyal and way dumb shits at the same time. I mean, look at this BS over some dude at the coast and his three shitty guns. Like, really? Why the hell are people talking about that shit when there's important shit to be done, like finishing the SGR or giving babies laptops? You want to know why? It's because loyal dumb shits do dumb shit out of loyalty.

Being boss is way harder if many people don't really seem to think of you as the boss and you have loudmouth minions going around town telling people about your anger management issues and similar shit just to show us that you are very boss-like. It's not like with the other guy; guys had known him for the longest time and with him they knew what they were getting. Till he suffered that stroke and it all went to shit because minions with massive axes to grind and deep pockets to fill started doing seriously dumb shit. But he was an OK guy with a command of the situation that worked for him. No one ever said he had anger issues or stupid shit like that.

Being boss is the hardest when you're compared to the hardest boss that came before. Or your hardass dad. And the comparisons are done by everyone, including your friends. They start out all complimentary and shit and then say, But you know what? Your dad did this shit like a boss! What are you supposed to say after that? Thanks? Dad was the shiznit? What?! Don't these a-holes realise that they're undercutting you especially when they go telling people shit like that?

It could be worse, though. People could find out what your minions and kissasses really thought about you. You know they don't think you are all there, don't you? If they did, they'd stop doing stupid shit or saying dumb shit or being so disrespectful to you and your ish. If they really thought you were the boss, they'd stop behaving like little Mussolinis and picking fights with idiots from Mombasa or wherever. They'd definitely not pick fights in public and if they did, they'd win simply because they were better at it. Which they are not. They suck at fighting. They are like the schoolyard bully with a glass jaw against whom one punch and it's lights out.

But they think they have to "protect" you and so they do dumb shit all the time. Did you see how they freaked the hell out over that portrait bullshit? I bet you don't even know whether its a rule or a custom for your portrait to hang all over the goddamn place. And you probably don't care. But you should care some people think you need their "protection". Being boss, boss, is effing hell!

The path not taken

Had I an ounce of grey matter that worked, I would have joined the Provincial Administration as a chief. Not a sub-chief; those people love chicken a little too much. But a chief. I would get a nifty uniform, a pith helmet, a snappy swagger stick, a Land Rover and an armed Administration Police cohort to maintain the public peace. And I would have been good at it.

Obviously I wouldn't go into the business of robbing my location dry of its goats, chicken and calves, and I would definitely stay as far away from wives and daughters of the residents. I'd bring down the mighty arm of the State on bicycle thieves and those random idiots that harvest other people's cassavas or yams.

But best of all, I 'd shine during public holidays like Jamhuri Day or Mashujaa Day because I'd get the chance to read a specially couriered Presidential Speech in front of the local worthies like headmasters and councillors. I'd spend the previous month spiffying up the primary school's playing field and making sure that the flag receives a shampoo wash at the local dobi. My dress uniform would be specially laundered at the district headquarters and it would stay protected in the laundry's jwala until the big day. Muriuki the shoe-shine guy would be on standby just to make sure I can see his reflection in my boots.

All the sub-chiefs would be on their best behaviour: on that day they would stay away from wives, daughters, chicken and goats that don't belong to them. And they would corral the tois from the three primary schools and one secondary school into the playing field. They would make sure that the seven dukas were closed up tight and the shopkeepers turned out in their Sunday best to receive words of wisdom from the rais. Mama Safari would have to shut down chang'aa operations for the day too, even though the teachers and M-Pesa agents who throng her kibanda would cry foul and curse the president and his anti-chang'aa witch-hunt.

I'd practice my official finger-wagging in front of the mirror because, kama kawaida, I'd get the chance to sema kitu kidogo after the president's speech is done. I'd frown mightily at the increasing cases of missing cows and I would warn residents strongly about aiding and abetting strangers in their anti-national activities. I would praise the small primary school near the market for the one B- it got during the Mock KCPE and urge them Onwards and Upwards reminding the five teachers and fifty candidates that, The sky is the limit. I would wind things up by reminding my sub-chiefs to be extra vigilant and thank the councillors for ensuring that the drainage was cleared before the long rains.

Sigh. I would have an excellent chief.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mama Pima is not a kingpin. Yet.

The Eighteenth Amendment to the United States' Constitution imposed a ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages that remained in place from 1920 to 1933, when it was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment. In that period, the rise of the Mafia was assured. Kenya does not have a constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages, but in the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, 2010, it might as well have.

In the past year a war has been raging against the "illicit brews trade" in which millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of shillings in private property has been destroyed. The President is persuaded that the sellers, producers and transporters of "illicit brews" have contributed significantly to social ills, including youth joblessness, crime, a falling birth rate in some parts of Kenya, official corruption and environmental degradation. 
 
This war has targeted both small scale sellers, producers and transporters as well as established medium-scale industrial units an has been prosecuted with avidity by minor political functionaries, elected representatives and elements of the re-branded provincial administration. As happens when the express provisions of law and the wishes of the powers-that-be conflict, the matter has been highly politicised (as it should be) and has invited constitutional litigation (as should have been expected). So far as I can tell, the proposed solutions and the expected solutions have not addressed a fundamental question: what can we do to ensure that only alcoholic beverages fit for human consumption are sold, produced or transported in Kenya?

The web of statutes and constitutional principles that apply in this case are sufficient to properly regulate the alcoholic beverages industry, whether the players are transnational conglomerates such as Diageo or the Mama Pimas operating out of shanties in Korogocho. Diageo, and its local competitors Keroche and KWAL, have their market locked up tight, but their prices and products will never attract the hardcore imbibers of the rotgut produced and sold by many Mama Pimas. It is Mama Pima that has suffered the wrath of the President and his minions, and yet Mama Pima has the potential to revolutionise alcohol consumption while contributing to the serikali revenue bottom line.

Brewing or distillation of alcoholic beverages have not changed in two hundred years; the basic technology remains the same as do the input and process. What has evolved is the statutory environment. For a win/win scenario, the President shouldn't treat Mama Pima as a criminal, but as an entrepreneur and ask himself what this entrepreneur needs: access to capital, technology, technical skills, regulatory support and the like. We are yet to get an assessment of the impact of the Uwezo, Women Enterprise and Youth Enterprise funds, but I bet if part of those billions went to Mama Pima, the ill-effects of "illicit brews" would be substantially mitigated and the national revenue would experience a minor increase.

Whether the President wants to accept it or not, "illicit brews" will always be produced because there will always be a segment of the population that either will never be able to afford more mainstream supplies, will always enjoy the risk inherent in "illicit brews" or will always prefer the immediate potency of "illicit brews." If the President's goal is the safety of these Kenyans, it is in his interest to ensure that at the very least the producers of these "brews" do so in sanitary surroundings using standardised equipment and inputs fit for human consumption. Wars on crime never end. They instead evolve with the evolution of the criminals who fight them. Out of the US's Prohibition Era rose organised crime that branched out to narcotics and illegal weapons. What will Kenya's war on illicit brews evolve into?

Monday, March 14, 2016

The incongruity of Governor Jack Bauer

I would also remind you that in view of this revocation, you are now illegally in possession of the following firearms, Rifle 375 S/No. G10152273, Pistols S/No CHH 692 and VFR 841 and all ammunition thereof.
That excerpt is from a notice sent to a Governor by the Chief Firearms Licensing Officer. I wonder why a Governor feels the need to wander about armed to the teeth like some character out of an action movie.

I don't think my Governor has much to worry from the riffraff with bad intentions. He should focus instead on whether I will support his re-election in 2017. These people have the wherewithal to hire, out of their own pockets, a praetorian guard to keep them from getting assassinated by unsuccessful tender applicants and similarly disgruntled elements, but if they labour under the delusion that the ordinary mwananchi who has suffered the ill-effects of their misrule will be conspiring with similarly misruled residents of the county to murder them as their cavalcades speed past from one Big Meeting to the next, their delusions would seem to have no bounds.

The spectre of armed elected officials should sit uncomfortably with the voters of Kenya. It reinforces the us/them dichotomy that they have struggled to build. They treat themselves as an elite in every sense, yet by their very definition, they are a reflection of the collective us. They are a reflection of our ambitions and desires, but they seem to forget this as soon as they secure high political office. Now some of them may have been roaming around armed to the teeth before they were elected, but there is no reason to fear your voters once elected, unless you lied, cheated and stole your way to electoral victory. If that be the case, all the armed elected officials of this country have a reason to worry. After all bad things happen to bad people.

It has never sat well with me that at least 11,000 policemen are dedicated to the safety of elected leaders. I can understand the need to protect the elected officials of Wajir, Mandera, Turkana and West Pokotwhen they are in Wajir, Mandera, Turkana, West Pokot, Lamu and Tana River, but there is no rationale for these same officials are speeding around in their tax-payer funded SUV cavalcades while on the silky-smooth bits of tarmac in Nairobi. Those 11,000 policemen should be deployed to those bits of Kenya that don't have silky-smooth bits of tarmac and serious national security or public safety problems.

Have you never wondered what would happen if the armed elected official were to discharge a firearm in public? Do you not see the incongruity of, say, a Governor brandishing his Tokarev TT-30 8-round pistol like some movie hero, because his police bodyguards have somehow forgotten their firearms training and close protection techniques in the face of their total failure in threat and risk assessment and have completely failed in their principal task of keeping the Governor safe in his armoured SUV? If you don't, then you, more than the Governor, have a completely wrong-headed idea of what your government is, what it can do and what it should do.

Brutalise the child, brutalise the future

I have no idea how pain or fear are supposed to "educate" a child about respect, responsibility and the ABCs. I may have suffered the wrath of my teachers when I was a boy and I may have turned out reasonably respectful, responsible and fully aware of much of my ABCs, but what stays with me of that period is the fear that some teachers evoked (that means you, Ms Jane) and the shame I felt when I was bent over a desk and that fan-belt imprinted fresh welts on my gluteus maximus. Yet I was quite fortunate; the welts faded and I never suffered broken skin or broken bones. It may have been painful, but it was never life-threatening.

That seems to be no longer the case. Over the past month, schoolchildren have been gravely injured at the hands of their teachers and some have died. This is not even counting the number of children who have been sexually abused by their teachers or by older children right under the noses of their teachers. It doesn't seem to matter whether these offences are taking place in state-funded or private schools; children seem to be in increasing danger from their own schools.

When the Government intervened and outlawed corporal punishment, it was because the violence against children had reached crisis levels. More and more children were being hospitalised because of the violence they suffered at the hands of their teachers and fellow students. There were increasing cases of permanent disability and death because of the violence. Parents were at a loss and the pressure on the Government to do something was intense. Something had to give. What we got was a blanket ban on corporal punishment. Or so we thought.

The Government, the Teachers Service Commission that is, is not as feared as it once was. Videos and eye-witness testimony remind us everyday that children continue to be at risk of systemic violence in their schools. The Government and the TSC continue to ignore what is being normalised: the brutalisation of children and the inculcation of the lesson that violence solves all problems. It is no surprise, really, when children seek, then, to find ways to decompress through high-risk, low-reward acts like under-age alcohol and drugs use, unprotected, casual sexual encounters and other acts of rebellion and incorrigibility. Incidences of children being detained by police in dens of vice are on the increase as are cases not only of teen pregnancies but also teen STIs.

It isn't enough to blame parents for not being available to their children anymore; most parents trust that the adults in charge at their children's schools are well-trained and capable of treating the ankle-biters as the curious and rebellious beings they are, instead of problems to be smashed into submission. Well-trained teachers know never to take out their frustrations in life on children. We seem to be living in a world full of mediocre teachers with poor social skills and terrible child-management training. In this world, male teachers see nothing wrong in caning the bottoms of young girls, female teachers are OK with breaking arm and cracking heads, and heads of institutions are overwhelmed and worried about budget shortfalls and other administrative headaches. No one seems to care that by brutalising children we are brutalising our world too.

There will come a time when we will egret standing idly by as things went to hell in a handbasket. I have a feeling we are on the threshold of a monumental shift in the way children are socialised and how they socialise each other. Mediation of the conflicts inherent in hormonal teenagers will be through the prism of a violence-first psyche. When they become young adults, theirs will be a dystopian adulthood: hit first, hit fast and hit hard in order to just not survive, but prevail. Or you think the violence that mars student elections at universities is bred of the political atmosphere of the country?

They are Legends

A year ago I said something on these pages that I regret. Please allow me to make amends.

Art is a funny thing. It is manifested in music, painting, song, dance, film, sculpture and a myriad of ways. Those of us who grew up in the eighties and nineties can declare with authority to the creation of art by Michael Jordan, His Airness, when he redefined "hang time" as the champion who led the Chicago Bulls. I believe that Stephen Curry's ball-handling for the Golden State Warriors qualifies as art.

Last year we lost two great artists: Amir Mohammed and Jay H.V. Soni. Great artists, you ask? Yes, good people. Great artists.

When I was a student at university, I thought that the British Bulldog rumble of the Aston-Martin DB7 was a thing of wonder as was the 9,000 RPM scream of the S2000. I remember the utter fearlessness of Juan Pablo Montoya when he raced for BMW Williams F1 as almost spiritual when measured against the Spanish hot-bloodedness of Carlos Sainz in his Ford Focus claiming victory after victory on the World Rally Championship circuit. Mr Mohammed and Mr Soni ascended to this pantheon for their attention to detail, dedication to excellence and their fearlessness when it came to putting pedal to the metal. If my friend Hiram is to be believed, and he always is, these two legends defined and redefined road-racing and car-tuning.

It has been a year and I cannot imaging the utter pain their families must feel, suffer, because these two are no longer among us. If it wasn't for their vision and clarity of thought, so much wouldn't have been done in such a short time to legitimate what was seen as a fringe area of motorsports in Kenya and I hope that the fact that we think of them as legends offers their families a measure of comfort. We live on in the memories of our families and friends, and I have no doubt Mr Mohammed and Mr Soni will achieve immortality.

While it is the Club TT Motorsports that tested their mettle as road-racers, I believe that it is the Great Run that defined them as men of honour. They didn't have to do it, but when they did, thy did it with their hearts in the right place. I wasn't enough for them to tell one of Kenya's stories from a different angle, they did it with an honourable end in mind: giving back to the community in which they lived and prospered. Few of us ever get to do the right thing for the right reasons;I believe they did and for that, even more than for their skills behind the wheel or under the hood, they will remain legends for the right reasons to the peoples of Kenya.

I cannot un-say my stupid, insensitive and intemperate words; they shall serve as a reminder never to take things at face value. I can only ask that if they are where we hope they are, that in between oil-checks, tyre-changes, suspension setting-ups, that they spare a kind thought for a fool and intercede on his behalf with the Great Racer Himself. Rest in peace, Sirs, and keep those corners tight and those horizons clear.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Spare a thought for the pay-cheque ninja

A billionaire "investor" thinks that entrepreneurship is tops and wage employment is slavery. I get his contempt for the wage slaves of the twenty first century. He has, after all, lifted himself up by his bootstraps and built an industrial empire that employs thousands...of slaves. Just in case you might have forgotten, "slave" means a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them. He may have meant it to be "a person who is excessively dependent upon or controlled by something" but I don't think so; he is not so subtle and nuanced in his command of the Queen's English.

But I get his utter contempt for wage slaves. He lives off of his capital gains and interest on deposits. He hasn't seen a pay-cheque in over fifty years. Yet, his veneration of entrepreneurship assumes that he is one of the gods of our world that we are supposed to emulate because we are supposed to build things and and turn companies into transnational behemoths. We are not supposed to wake up, go to the office, pay our taxes and die, because that is just...slavery.

In this nabob's world, everybody runs things. There are no employees; there are "partners." I wonder if this is the fault of his limited intellectual curiosity about what motivates some to overweening ambition and others to quiet satisfaction with their place in the pecking order. Ambition is not a bad thing; neither is overweening ambition, in and of itself. Some can only attain Maslow's famed sef-actualisatioon after they have conquered the highest mountains, metaphorically. Some achieve self-actualisation by becoming the best spanner-boys they can be. It takes a courageous person to admit that they do not want to rival Croesus in material things nor that they have the Midas Touch, converting every venture they get into into a gold mine.
 
Even "contractors" work for someone, even if the relationship isn't strictly one of employer/employee. Some of the most important individuals work quietly in the bowels of commercial behemoths, making sure that the light bills are paid and that the tax liability is minimised. Spanner-boys keep the wheels on the bus; without them, without their skills, a lot of things go wrong very fast. The entrepreneur might have the vision, but that vision is shit if he doesn't have the talented spanner-boy, plumber, carpenter, electrician, cabinet-maker, painter or welder to turn it into reality. 

In Kenya today, it is not a badge of honour to describe you as an entrepreneur, especially if your initial start in business came via a dodgy investment with a government insider or as government insider yourself. Many of the men ond women who describe themselves as "entreprenueurs" today have deep ties to some of the shadiest swindles in government history. Some have had a hand in the collapse of venerated state-owned companies. Some are deeply enmeshed in the tender scandals that have plagued every post-colonial serikali. Counting the honest among the bigwigs is proving a task in futility. So spare a thought for the nine-to-fiver, the wage-slave, the pay-cheque ninja; at least we are not holding you up in the dead of night for the gold filling in your molars, not like the "entrepreneurs" anyway.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

From pet to pest

KANU's orphans have famously thin skins, and the smiles with which they hide their blazing tempers seem to be slipping more and more these days. Kenya's "media owners" are very sensitive to this state of affairs and, in particular, the presumptive newspaper of record has demonstrated an acute sensitivity to this state of affairs. It is whispered, though no proof is adduced, that the drip-drip-drip of negative coverage by its journalists is about to be fixed, once and for all. After all corporate bottom lines are at risk if KANU's orphans decide to get even more muscular.

Of all the news outlets, only Gitobu Imanyara's The Nairobi Law Monthly could claim absolute fearlessness when it came to exposing and excoriating the KANU regime in the 1990s. It's reincarnation is a pale shadow of its pioneering past. In the mainstream news outlets, Gado and Maddo, and Whispers, were the satirists who exposed more with their panels and columns than any other reporter or journalist. Some, like Patrick Gathara, have tried to carry on in that subversive spirit, but you get the sense that so long as they help shift copies and not turn the wrath of the ad-buying serikali on their employers, they can do as they please.

KANU's orphans learnt a lot from the Professor of Politics; never come at your adversaries head on, even if you have the power to do so. Hit them where it hurts. It is why they own or control major media empires, which gives them a seat at the table with other media owners, including powerful ones like His Highness the Aga Khan. As media owners, or puppeteers of media owners, KANU's orphans no longer have to kowtow to the established players looking for favourable coverage. They can publish it on their own and they will spend goodly sums to make it so. (If you think that that "free" newspaper is free, you have not been paying attention, my friend.)

It is therefore, not unsurprising that media owners have learnt to leave with a sensitive cabal. Whatever they can do to go along in order to get along, they are prepared to do. So long as the bottom lines remain fat, they will turn a deaf ear to the squeals from their staff about journalistic and editorial independence. One of the things they are absolutely sure is that the people will not rise up in the name of freedom of the media or journalistic integrity. The people all want to get rich; how they go about it will not benefit one whit on whether national treasures like Gado continue to ply their trade in Kenya's presumptive newspaper of record or he finds himself exiled to the wasteland that is the paywall-less internet.

Supposedly brave publishers will continue to claim the mantle of fearlessness that Gitobu Imanyara surely wore with pride, but they will forever be exposed for the charlatans they surely are. It will come as a shock that favoured editors and cartoonists were treated merely as pets and now they are being treated as pests. They never expected to get the Mortein-Doom treatment, but that's the only treatment one gets when the owner of the pet thinks his pet has become a pest.

What a ride

You are either corrupt or you are too stupid to know what's going on in your own firm.—Suits, season 4, episode 1
The Integrated Financial Management Information System, IFMIS, is an automated system that is used for public financial management that interlinks planning, budgeting, expenditure management and control, accounting, audit and reporting. According to the IFMIS website, IFMIS has inbuilt controls and audit trails that clearly indicate transactions from the point of initiation to the end. The system has an approval hierarchy which ensures segregation of duty and internal checks.

That is the rosy picture. The reality is something else completely. The National Youth Service, NYS, which in the 2015/2016 financial year was allocated 25 billion shillings, has been in the spotlight because of a loss that is estimated at between 791 million shillings and 1.6 billion shillings. These sums are claimed to have been embezzled despite the "segregation of duty and internal checks" of the IFMIS. Despite "approval hierarchy" and despite the system's "inbuilt controls and audit trails that clearly indicate transactions from the point of initiation to the end," IFMIS has become a byword for, at best, waste and, at worst, well-entrenched graft.

What IFMIS and NYS have in common is the former Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning, who resigned from office and has indicated a desire to stand in the elections in 2017 for the governor's office of Nairobi City County. She was responsible for overseeing the roll-out of the IFMIS when she consulted at the National Treasury after the 2007 general elections, and the NYS was a state agency under her docket when she was appointed to head the Devolution and Planning ministry.

We may never find out when fraud was discovered in regard to the NYS. She claims that she was informed that a password was being misused and that certain financial commitments in the IFMIS had been made using the password. She laid the blame squarely at the feet of her accounting officer, the Principal Secretary, and "junior" officers in her ministry. The ensuing investigations rounded up contractors paid by the NYS and it has been downhill from there.

At every step she has denied knowledge or involvement and it begs the accusation that Jack Soloff makes against Jessica Pearson, that she is either corrupt or stupid. Those who remember her first major appearance on prime time TV, she responded to a criticism about her strict style by saying, "I cannot stand mediocrity. You have to do your things properly...I am fussy about small things...as well as the big things." So either she is daft or corrupt, both having serious implications. Either way, Kenyans have to wonder how it is that a gauche young man on the make and a former hairdresser could orchestrate an intricate conspiracy to scam between 791 million and 1.6 billion shillings out of the government. It pains me to say that the exact sum of the swindle remains unknown. I wonder how long before we really start to question all the promises that have been made abut corruption.

Why Ezekiel Mutua is wrong

The law is not made for the crooks. The law is made to constrain the government, its officers and its agencies. It is that simple. It is so simple that its salience escapes the men charged with interpreting, enforcing and applying the law. This includes the officers of Government who have arrogated unto themselves the power to eradicate immorality from among the people.

Kenya has a Bill of Rights in its constitution, a Bill of Rights that requires the most elaborate maneuvers to amend it. It is a Bill designed to frustrate Government whenever its instincts get the better of it. Article 24 claws back some of the Bill of Rights' gains, but only slightly, and only an understanding of what limitations are permitted by the constitution will persuade the willfully ignorant that the law constrains and restrains Government, and protects the people from their Government first, and their enemies second.

In this regard, before Government, its agencies or its officers act to address an attack on the moral fabric of this nation, there must be a firm statutory or constitutional foundation to act. It is not enough to draw a tangential line between a perceived threat and ones mandate; the link must be crystal clear. Claims of "cross-jurisdictional responsibilities" will only work for the ignorant and the sycophant; for the skeptical among us, proof of such cross-jurisdictional responsibilities must be adduced to our satisfaction.

The people are usually at the greatest risk of having their rights violated by their government when their government purports to determine what is moral and what is not. It always starts with pornography and by the time they are done, people are being jailed for imagining the death of the president and charged with treason (the enforcers of our Penal Code are very familiar with this kind of reasoning). But in-between the beginning and the end, many suffer because of an overzealous and wrongful interpretation and application of the law, by an unrestrained and unconstrained government that lacks legitimacy or a popular mandate, that governs through fear rather than through the creation of opportunities for one and all, and that benefits an elite few at the expense of the many.

Control of morality usually entails the control of access to information. This is a tall order in the twenty-first century but as the People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have demonstrated, it is quite doable. What is not immoral will be declared seditious and possession of either will land one in jail or get one executed for being an enemy of the state. Kenya, however, even with the quisling Fourth Estate's owners, has a remarkably difficult information environment to control. 

Unless the Government wants Vodafone to divest from Safaricom and Airtel to move out of Kenya entirely, or Jamii Telecom to halt its impressive nationwide expansion, thereby depriving the National Treasury of billions in national revenue, the likes of Ezekiel Mutua and his acolyte will have to make peace with the sad news that they are an anachronism in the Information Age. We have come a long way down the Information Superhighway for Mr Mutua and his fellow travellers to halt our progress, and tilting-at-windmills strategies such as "banning" Project X house parties or attempting to bully Google into removing "offensive" content from YouTube only serves to ridicule the Government, its agencies and, especially, its officers.

Mr Mutua seems to believe that his job is to go after pornographers, instead of restraining his officers from harassing innocent users of information technology or technology companies plying their trade in Kenya. It is a belief that pervades the firmament of Government. It is a wrongheaded belief. It is this belief that constantly stymies our attempts at faster economic growth; we are hounded and harassed as we attempt to sell our products in highly competitive markets by mandarins who see themselves as policemen first and always, not as makers of policy or enablers of entrepreneurship. Mr Mutua could have used the Films and Stage Plays Act and the relevant provisions of the Kenya Information and Communications Act to expand the production and distribution of high quality Kenyan films and stage plays. Sadly, unimaginative as he is, this is not something that is likely to happen today or in the near future so long as he is obsessed with the moral fabric of Kenya.

Privacy

Privacy is not well understood by policemen. Article 31 of the Constitution,
Every person has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have—
(a) their person, home or property searched;
(b) their possessions seized;
(c) information relating to their family or private affairs unnecessarily required or revealed; or
(d) the privacy of their communications infringed.
These are fundamental considerations that the National Police Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions must consider in the light of the increasing cases of violations of Article 31. Importantly too, Kenyans must be educated about their privacy rights, and what is and what isn't acceptable in that regard.

Take the more common case of the unlawful infringement of this right: the invasion by policemen of motorists' vehicles in the guise of enforcing a provision of the Traffic Act. Where a policeman accuses a motorist of committing a traffic offence, if it is the more common minor traffic offences such as "obstruction", "driving without a license", "obscuring the registration number plate", etc, the accused traffic offender has the option of admitting his guilt and paying a fine. If he challenges the accusation, he shall have his day in court.

The mechanisms of paying the fine or challenging the accusation are all founded on a document known as a Notice To Appear, which sets out the alleged offence, the name of the offender, the registration details of the vehicle driven during the commission of the alleged offence, the prescribed penalty (usually a fine), the police station at which the policeman issuing the notice is based, and the court in which the matter will be prosecuted. In either case, there is absolutely no requirement for the motorist to accompany the policeman to the police station and, therefore, there is no requirement for the policeman to ride in ones vehicle to the police station.

Despite all this, daily we are regaled by amusing stories of policemen violating our right to privacy simply because they have accused us of minor traffic offences. They are aided and abetted by the Director of Public Prosecutions who should be alive to the violations taking place even as his officers draw up charge sheets. The only way our right to privacy can be limited is with the authority of the court when they issue warrants. Unless you can persuade me that every traffic policeman has a general warrant to enter each vehicle driven by a suspected traffic offender, I believe that the police are acting with criminal disregard for our rights.

Before you scoff and go, "Stating the bleedin' obvious!" consider this: it is important to describe the offence in precise terms so that we do not generalise our grievances. When the police believe that your car is not a private place, then they can expand the list of non-private personal spaces to include your password-protected mobiles, homes, even your bedrooms, bathrooms or toilets. We must draw the line; I believe it is important to have the line drawn at the privacy of our motor vehicles. If we don't, every time we are detained by the police, they will feel like they have the authority to demand access to our mobile phones or the contents of our wallets. You definitely don't that.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The crocodile tears of a dead religion

Don't bite my head off, but Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God, the Light of the World and the Son of God, declared,
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.Matthew 5:17
There are, of course, those who lived under the illusion that they could trick the Son of Man into implicating himself in some theological scandal so that they could hand him over to the temple authorities for some righteous rapping of the knuckles. So the Great Teacher came up with a clever dodge of His own; He wasn't interested in re-writing the canon law that had prevailed since the beginning of time except to ensure that the spirit of that canon law be fulfilled.

I find it significant that the Christ did not establish Christianity; that was left to the Apostles and their descendants. It is significant because what the Apostles and all those who followed in their footsteps did was, in fact, to "destroy the law [and] the prophets." The early Christians may not have known what would happen to the religion they founded in the name of the Christ, but it bears very little in common with the teachings of the Christ, and in its myriad denominations are to be found the demons that the Christ hoped to drive out from among us.

It has been 8 years since Kenyans were murdered and driven from their homes in one of the worst political crises since the Little General Election of 1969 and the failed coup d'etat of 1982. Not even the 1990-1992 land clashes nor the 1997 ethnic clashes came close to the severity of the 2008 crisis. In those 8 years, with the help of good Christian bishops and apostles, men and women who suborned the murder of their neighbours have been sanitised by the blood of Jesus, declared innocent before the eyes of God and man, freed from responsibility for the deaths of thousands, the displacement and dispossession of hundreds of thousands and the corruption of the due process of the law for those seeking justice in man's courtrooms.

We, the people, have stood silently by as what we believe to be lives of faith are rendered hypocritical by the men and women who speak of the bible and claim to speak the Word of God. We are complicit as we bear witness to the desecration of the Holy Word, the barefaced lies disguised as gospel truth. We enable the marauding of false witnesses, unaware that, though they pretend to be meek in their sheep's clothing they are but ravening wolves intent on tearing us limb from limb. Because we have been silent and complicit, there are families that have never known a night of judicial peace because the courts of law are forever hostile territory for them despite the pain and anguish of their losses. If we are not careful, "Christian" will one day be used as an epithet and on that day claims of persecution will be the crocodile tears of a dead religion.