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Friday, December 30, 2016

Kenya's Biggest Electoral Problem? Not Solving Electoral Problems.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth famously declared 1992 an “annus horribilis”, one which, she said, she wouldn’t look back with undiluted pleasure. For many around the world, 2016 has similarly turned out to be a horrible year. From the deaths of several pop culture icons; to the millions forced to flee senseless killing and destruction in the middle east; to the political earthquakes that were the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the UK, 2016 has been one for the books.

For Kenyans, the year is ending largely as it begun: in uncertainty, fear and with a sense of foreboding.

We were barely through the second week of January when reports begun filtering through of an attack on Kenyan forces serving in an obscure centre somewhere in south western Somalia. El Adde would soon become one of the most familiar Somali place names in the country as the true scale of the tragedy unfolded, despite the government’s best efforts to hide it. With between 140 and 200 Kenyan soldiers slaughtered by the Al Shabaab terror group and another dozen taken prisoner, it was Kenya’s largest military defeat and made a mockery of the claim to being one of the continent’s most effective armies. Following the incompetence and malfeasance on show during the Westgate Mall attack in 2013 and in Mpeketoni and Garissa University thereafter, El Adde was the final nail in the coffin of the Kenya Defence Forces vaunted reputation.

In the final weeks of the year, the air has been thick with more fears, this time of a distinctly homegrown variety. The long-simmering dispute between ruling party politicians and their counterparts in the opposition coalition over the ground rules for next year’s general election has once again burst out into the open. The ugly scenes and reports of fisticuffs in the National Assembly that accompanied the passage of the amendments to the Elections Act as well as the opposition threat to renew their campaign of street protest have raised temperatures and the potential for politically-instigated violence across the country in 2017.

On the face of it, these two situations couldn’t be more different. However, a deeper examination reveals that they spring from the same root: namely the Kenyan penchant for ignoring and postponing problems rather than confronting and resolving them.

At least since Westgate, it had been clear that there was something seriously wrong with how the Kenya Defence Forces conducted operations. And every year since has brought more cause for concern. Yet, whether it is accusations of being engaged in the smuggling sugar into Kenya and charcoal out of Somalia or allegations of indiscriminate shelling of civilian villages both inside and outside Kenya, or of bungled responses to terror attacks, the response has been either denial or a deafening silence. There have been no attempts to hold the military top brass to account for the many failures or, at least publicly, to understand and eliminate the reasons for them. What a senior police officer told the Nation is probably true of the military: “The police service has basically learnt nothing from Westgate, Garissa, Mpeketoni and others.”

Similarly, it has been clear, since the 2013 general election, that there were many serious flaws in the country’s electoral system. From the fact that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission did not know how many voters it had registered, to the preponderance of voter registers, the frozen screens at national tallying centres and the admission by one Justice that the Supreme Court might have ruled differently given more time, the signs of systemic failure were clear.

Yet for nearly three years there were no demands for a comprehensive and independent audit of the system to identify and fix the problems. Instead, as the current furore over the electoral law demonstrates, we have allowed the politicians to hijack the discourse of reform, just as they did in 1997. That, unfortunately, did not turn out well a decade later.

The amendments to the Elections Act passed earlier this year following the street demonstrations initiated by the opposition, mandated that the elections be run on an integrated electronic system, defined as "including “biometric voter registration, biometric voter identification and electronic result transmission system”, which the IEBC was meant to have put in place by December. That has not happened. And so even the current standoff over whether there should be a back up to the electronic system is somewhat moot as there is nothing to back up. 

Yet all parties keep declaring their commitment and fidelity to the electronic system. Even the Jubilee cohorts pushing for a manual back up, keep saying that it would only be needed in case the (non-existent) electronic system breaks down. The truth is, it is all theatre. It is all for show. Instead of dealing with the real issues, the furore is about obscuring them. It is about keeping us focused on the problems of our politicians, not our own.

Nine years ago, Kenya was nearly dissolved in an orgy of killing and destruction that followed a bungled election. The stage for that catastrophe was set a decade earlier when we allowed the push for comprehensive electoral reform to be hijacked by the political class under the banner of the Inter Parties Parliamentary Group. In the end, the IPPG only put a band aid on our gaping electoral wound which was callously ripped off by Mwai Kibaki when he tore up its “gentleman’s agreement” in 2007.

Not fixing our problems is what has landed us in the trouble we are currently in. And if we hope to ensure 2017 is more annus mirabilis than annus horribilis, then that is a habit we must break.

Friday, December 16, 2016

53 Years A Colony

Every nation has its foundation myths. The Koreans, for example, have Tan'gun, the scion of a son of the gods and a bear-turned-into-woman who became the first human king of the people of the peninsula. Kenyans are not to be left out. Whenever national holidays roll around, the air is always thick with talk of forefathers and tales of the dreams that supposedly drove them to found the nation. Believing it has always required a little suspension of disbelief.

This past week was no different. President Uhuru Kenyatta used his Jamhuri day address to remind us about “the unity our fathers believed in, and enjoyed, unity without which they would not have won the independence war.”  Never mind that the Mau Mau actually lost the “independence war” and our “fathers”, and his father particularly, were hardly paragons of solidarity.

If we are called “to honour the heroism of those who won our liberty” as the President asserts, we must begin by being honest about what came before, how the past gave birth to the present and what we must change in order to create a better future for ourselves and for generations to come.

Being honest requires accepting some uncomfortable truths. Our “forefathers” did not found Kenya. It was created and built by the British. Here’s the rub. The state and its institutions were specifically designed to oppress and to extract from the local population and to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of an elite few.

The Mau Mau uprising was the culmination of resistance against this system that dates back to the dawn of colonialism. It is this system the many who went to the forest to fight, and the many who helped them, were committed to overthrowing. However, and this is a second uncomfortable truth, they lost. And though their efforts did expedite the grant of independence, it was not they who would inherit the state. Rather, it was handed over to a new, black elite that had little interest in reforming it.

"Will the elite which has inherited power from the colonialists use that power to bring about the necessary social and economic changes or will they succumb to the lure of wealth, comfort and status and thereby become part of the Old Establishment," future President Mwai Kibaki asked in 1964. In fact, as the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission confirmed, the "Old Establishment" was never overthrown and the colonial state endured.

So a third uncomfortable truth is that independence did not translate to liberty. President Kenyatta was lying when he spoke of “first age of heores” who “joined hands to overthrow the colonial order.” The oppressive colonial state persists to this day and has subverted almost every sincere effort to reform it. The first attempt was via the 1962 Constitution. A paper written 30 years later by the current Attorney-General spoke of a “misguided attempt to harmonise the operations of a democratic constitution with an undemocratic and authoritarian administrative structure. Unhappily instead of the latter being amended to fit the former, the former was altered to fit the latter with the result that the constitution was effectively downgraded."

After decades of struggle, six years ago we embarked on yet another attempt to reform the state.  And, perhaps predictably, the heirs of the “Old Establishment” are again at work trying to do to the 2010 constitution what their fathers did to its predecessor. They have maintained the authoritarian structures, such as the provincial administration, and introduced laws meant to curtail constitutional rights and have consistently operated in ways that either disregard the document or actively undermine it.

Being honest about our past will allow us to appreciate that the struggle against subjugation that begun in the last decade of the 19th century continues to this day.  It will open our eyes to the fact that while our oppressors may have changed color, their methods and aims remain largely the same. It will also allow us to choose which of our “fathers” we wish to emulate. Those who stood up for the rights of the people, or those who became part of the Old Establishment? On that choice, our future will hang. 

Friday, December 09, 2016

Why Striking Doctors Are The Least Of Kenya's Health Problems


This week, the news has understandably been dominated by the countrywide strike by the nation’s health workers. On Monday, doctors and nurses across the land stayed at home in protest at the government’s failure to implement a collective bargaining agreement signed in 2013 that was meant to govern their pay and conditions of service. The strike has thrown an already rickety health system into chaos and contributed to the deaths of several patients and heartbreaking scenes of desperate suffering at health centres.

It is not the first time public health workers have walked off the job. In recent years, the health sector has been plagued by strikes. In December 2011, hundreds of doctors marched through Nairobi streets to demand a larger stock of drugs in hospitals, better equipment and better pay. Three months later, in March 2012, and again in September 2012, they again laid down their tools to demand government spend more money on health services. Similar strikes followed in December 2013, August 2014 and August 2015.

Throughout, the main focus of media reporting has been on the demands for better pay. Little attention has been paid to the complaints over working conditions and the terrible state of the health system in general. Yet the situation is dire despite, total per capita expenditure on health (both public and private) doubling between 2010 and 2014 and government share of that spending growing from 36% to 61% in that period. Kenyans and their government are increasingly spending more on healthcare. So what have we got to show for our money?

The short answer is: not very much. As I noted more than two years ago, according to the 2013 Kenya Service Availability and Readiness Assessment Mapping report, the country’s first attempt to get a comprehensive picture of the health sector, less than 6 in 10 of all health facilities in the country are ready to provide the Kenya Essential Package for Health –a sort of standardized comprehensive package of health services. Less than half have basic amenities and while two-thirds have half the basic equipment required, 59% do not have essential medicines. Only 2% of facilities are providing all KEPH services required to eliminate communicable diseases.

Further, as reported by The Star last year, the WHO Global Atlas of Health Workforce identifies Kenya as having a “critical shortage” of healthcare workers since independence. While the World Health Organization has set a minimum threshold of 23 doctors, nurses and midwives per population of 10,000. Kenya’s current ratio stands at a mere 13. Yet, according to one 2008 paper, the irony is that there is a large pool of trained, unemployed health workers available, but the process of recruitment is cumbersome.

Despite the government trumpeting its free maternity program, maternal health is still in the doldrums. In fact, Kenya is still one most dangerous countries to be pregnant and to give birth.  Nearly 8,000 women die every year due to pregnancy-related complications, while a fifth of babies don’t live to see their fifth birthday. And then there are the scams, such as the recently exposed Mafya House scandal where fraudsters have siphoned off up to Sh5 billion via questionable deals or the prevalence of fake doctors.

Devolution has undoubtedly brought health services closer to many who were previously left out, but even here, problems abound. These range from allegations of tribe-based hiring of doctors and questions over the efficacy of county spending plans to the national government foisting medical equipment on reluctant counties lacking the capacity to utilize it. There are also massive inequalities in access to healthcare facilities and in staffing which manifest in statistics such as a third of counties being responsible for 97 percent of all maternal deaths.  

But perhaps no other area is as neglected as care for the mentally ill. When about 100 patients reportedly “escaped” from the Mathari Mental Hospital on Monday, the media dutifully reported it as a consequence of the health workers’ strike. Yet earlier this year, a report in the Daily Nation indicated that the country’s sole referral hospital for psychiatric care was packed to the brim with patients, some of whom had been sent there by the courts for “failing to understand English, or Kiswahili … or for domestic issues that had nothing to do with mental illnesses.”

Worse, the conditions inside the hospital are appalling, with patients drugged into a stupor, abused, denied food and other basic necessities. In 2013 when 40 patients again “escaped” following a riot at the facility, the Nation reported “it was a case of hunger, abuse, lack of basic services and a fight for survival.” This deplorable state of affairs is perhaps not surprising when one considers that only 0.5% of funds earmarked for health is spent on mental health. This is despite the fact that, according to a 2011 CNN report, “the government’s own figures show that one-quarter of all patients going to hospitals or clinics complain of mental health issues.”


The fact is, even before the current strike, Kenya’s health sector was already in a state of crisis. It will not be cures by appeals to patriotism and fellow feeling or even solely by paying our doctors better. Rather than merely addressing the symptoms of decay, Kenya needs a sober examination and diagnosis of the underlying systemic and structural illness afflicting its health system. Then a similarly credible set of proposals to cure it. The campaigns that are underway for next year’s elections provide the perfect opportunity for Kenyan media and society to force the political class to do both. The question is: Will we take that opportunity? Or will we continue acquiescing to management of health by crisis? 

Friday, December 02, 2016

Why Kenyans Should Rethink Their Hiring Policy

Boniface Mwangi is looking for a job. It may have come as no surprise when, during the launch of his book two weeks ago, he declared he would be running for a Parliamentary seat. But that doesn’t mean we should welcome it with open arms.

Over the last few months we have been treated to similar announcements by journalists, clergy and civil society activists. And it is all depressingly reminiscent of 2002 and the dash for elected positions under the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition banner. And, in the euphoria of giving Daniel Arap Moi the finger, we did not think twice about the future effect of decapitating the organisations that had been instrumental in delivering that moment.

Well, that future was not long in coming. Very soon after the Kibaki administration, packed rafters with “good guys” -the same ones who had told Moi, in the famous words of Kiraitu Murungi, to tend his goats and “watch how a country should be governed” took over the old habits of looting and state-sponsored violence resurfaced. This time, though, the culprits were our former heroes. “Anglo Leasing was ‘us’ – our people”, Mr Murungi would later admit.

The “eating” was all the worse since these were the same people who had formerly stood up to the Nyayo regime and whose rapture into government had hollowed out the civil society and religious organisations that were so critical in holding it to account. So today, as tales of grand corruption fill the headlines, we should reflect upon the experience of 15 years ago and look to keep our “good guys” in the positions where they serve us best and where they can keep government on a short leash.

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed is also looking for a job. The government has proposed her as the next head of the African Union Commission and is spending millions of our tax shillings to lobby heads of state across the continent to give it to her. But she is already contracted to represent and lobby for our common interests abroad and has instead spent most of her time instead protecting the interests of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy, William Ruto.

Despite the clear stipulation in the constitution that “the President may be prosecuted under any treaty to which Kenya is party and which prohibits such immunity”, which the Treaty of Rome does, Secretary Mohamed racked up frequent flyer miles and staked Kenya’s international prestige and interests on a shameful effort to pressure the International Criminal Court into dropping the crimes against humanity charges facing the duo.

Yet she has been conspicuously quiet on the plight of ordinary Kenyans unfairly banged up abroad. Currently, next door in South Sudan four Kenyans have been sentenced to life imprisonment following sham proceedings in which no specific accusations of wrongdoing were levelled against them. Efforts to get Secretary Mohamed to intervene and raise the issue with the South Sudanese government have borne little fruit, despite her frequent travels to Juba to shore up the peace process there and the clear leverage Kenya has over the Juba elite.

Andrew Franklin is also in search of employment. Along with around 750 Kenyans, the former US marine who has been living and working in Kenya for over three decades, applied for consideration as either Chair or Member of a reconstituted Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. Two weeks ago, the selection panel announced it had shortlisted five out of fourteen applicants for Chairperson and another 31 for Members. Mr Franklin did not make either cut. That, in itself, is not troubling. What is worrying is the opaqueness with which the shortlists were developed.

Since last Friday, when the selection panel announced it was suspending the interviews for Chairperson after questions were raised about the suitability of the shortlisted candidates, there has been disturbingly little querying either in the media or by civil society of criteria used to exclude 720 people from the process of public scrutiny. It does not seem to raise eyebrows when the five applicants whose credentials have been put in doubt are still listed among those slated to be interviewed as potential Commissioners beginning this Saturday. That the panel itself has offered no information on this gives rise to suspicions of underhand dealings and political interference in the process. Given our past experience with the consequences of messing with the credibility of electoral bodies, it should give all of us pause for thought.

These three examples evince our dangerously cavalier approach to distributing public positions. Beyond individual desire, the rest of us who get a say in who actually gets hired must think much more strategically about the sort of system we want to govern our affairs. While it is doubtlessly important that we need good people running government, it is perhaps even more so that we have them outside of it. 

And even within government, we have seen the folly of giving one political party all the reins of power. The so-called Tyranny of Numbers today militates against Parliament serving as an effective check on Executive excess. In the prevailing environment, where loyalty to party leaders trumps loyalty to country, and where nominally independent don't act as such, it is better to have divided government with one party controlling the Presidency and the other Parliament. While not guaranteeing good governance, that at least offers the possibility of limiting the damage they can do. 

In similar vein, it is even more critical that we not allow the state to poach our best and brightest from the only other institutions that can hold it to account. For the sake of the country, Boniface Mwangi and others like him should keep doing the jobs they already have. Which is not only to ensure Amina Mohamed and her government colleagues start doing theirs before we spend tax shillings to get them employed elsewhere, but that the likes of Andrew Franklin and 720 Kenyans are accorded a fair hearing for the public jobs they have applied for.

Friday, November 18, 2016

How America Became An African Country

Trevor Noah, the South African comedian and host of The Daily Show, a popular late-night news satire and talk show in the US, once described Donald Trump as America’s first African President.  In fact, Americans could do worse than look to the continent in general, and Kenya in particular, for a preview of what life under a Trump administration would be like.

President-elect Trump and Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta have much in common. Both are fabulously wealthy, the children of privilege with questionable success in business, and both have been accused of fanning ethnic and racial hatreds. Both have risen to head their respective countries in the most unlikely of circumstances and in the face of global opprobrium. While many across the world echewed Trump’s xenophobia and reckless approach to international affairs, Kenyatta had faced similar opposition to his candidacy three years earlier. This was a consequence of his -and his running mate’s - indictment at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in relation to Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence in which over 1000 people died.

Trump and Kenyatta even have similar ideas about how countries should be governed.

Take their shared suspicion and contempt for the media. Where Trump has called journalists “scum”, “illegitimate” and “horrible people” and declared his aim to make it easier to sue them, Kenyatta regularly derides newspapers as only good or wrapping meat, and his administration has introduced new laws meant to stifle independent reporting. It has arrested and beaten journalists who persist in asking uncomfortable questions, and, leveraging its advertising and regulatory muscle, leaned on media houses to fire them or to pull their stories. Just recently, in response to a spate of corruption stories, Kenyatta declared that the media should be required to prove any allegation of government graft they dared to report on or face the consequences.

When it comes to fighting terrorists, their pronouncements are also remarkably similar. Both prefer to speak in vague and bombastic terms and to demonize Muslim refugees and immigrants rather than offer detailed policy prescriptions. Trump says his plan for defeating ISIS is a secret whose details he won’t be revealing to the public any time soon. One hopes he’ll be sharing them with the generals since he claims to know more about fighting the extremists than they do. The Kenyatta administration, after all, has taken more than three years to come up with a strategy to tackle radicalization and is no closer than Trump to articulating a strategy to defeat the Al Shabaab, the Somali based terror group that has murdered nearly 800 Kenyans, most of them after Kenyatta took office.

There is also the question of whether Trump will follow through on his oft-repeated promised to get Mexico to pay for a wall on the US’ southern border to keep out immigrants (which Mexico has repeatedly vowed not to do). Here too, Kenyatta can offer some guidance. Depending on which of its officials you choose to believe, the Kenyatta government is building a wall to keep out terrorists either along the entire 700km border with Somalia, or just on a small section near the border town of Mandera. It may or may not be a physical barrier (there has been some talk of a human wall) whose construction is either ongoing or has stalled.

In addition to the wall, Trump has vowed to round up and deport illegal immigrants whom he says are gaming and mooching off the system, driving up crime, taking jobs and opportunities away from US citizens and depressing US wages. That little of this is true doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot. Similarly, the Kenyatta regime has developed a fondness for demonizing refugees from Somalia, blaming them for everything from terrorist attacks to being a drain on the Kenyan economy, as a way of distracting from its own failures. In 2014, under operation Usalama Watch, it begun rounding up and deporting them, and restricting those that remained to the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in the desolate north. Then, earlier this year, the government declared it would close the Dadaab camp by the end of November and has been effectively dumping hapless and unwilling refugees back into their war-ravaged country ever since. (That effort has now been suspended following an international outcry).

In September 2013, the prolific Ugandan columnist, Charles Onyango-Obbo, wrote that the International Criminal Court “had finally made Kenya an African country”. What he meant was that as the government worked to scuttle the cases against the President and his deputy (and with them any prospect of accountability for the 2008 violence), it had brought the country into closer alignment with authoritarian regimes in vogue across much of the rest of the continent. In similar fashion, it is perhaps not so far off the mark to suggest that with the election of Donald Trump, the US too has become something of an African country.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Lessons For Kenya From The Trumpocalypse


To describe Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s US presidential election as a shocking upset is probably the understatement of the year. It is a seismic political upheaval which will rock, not just the American political system, but the entire edifice of Western liberal democracy, to its core.

Coming just months after the Brexit referendum in which citizens of the United Kingdom voted against all expectations to leave the European Union, which has been the lynchpin of that continent’s peace and prosperity for nearly three-quarters of a century, Trump’s win is, as the Financial Times declared, “another grievous blow to the liberal international order” and “a thunderous repudiation of the status quo”.

Little captures just how thunderous that rejection was than the fact that a national exit poll suggested that as many as 61 per cent of voters viewed Trump as “not qualified” to be President. He is the only candidate to ever be elected who did not have a smidgen of either governmental or military experience.
Over the coming days, there will be much soul-searching and head-scratching over how this came to pass and what it means. But at this early stage one thing is abundantly clear from Brexit and Trumpocalypse: large numbers of people in the West feel they have somehow missed out despite living in the one racial, geographic and ideological polity that more than any other has benefited from the existing globalized system.

Demagogic campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic profited from perceptions that the system was not working for the people, that unaccountable governing elites had signed them up to global trade agreements and policies, particularly on immigration, without their consent.  “Take our country back” was a common rallying cry. Substantial portions of the unhappy population became prey to a narrative that demonized immigrants as terrorists and free loaders and recommended retreat from the global system as a solution to domestic woes.

Trump’s triumph highlights fundamental questions about the structure and accountability of the post-Cold War global order, questions that have for too long been swept under a neo-liberal carpet. As Los Angeles Times’ journalist Vincent Bevins noted, “both Brexit and Trumpism are the very, very wrong answers to legitimate questions that urban elites have refused to ask for 30 years.”

The focus has tended to be on economic growth which disproportionately benefited a few at the very top with little attention paid to widening inequality. In the past, elites have ignored the voices of those who lost out in globalization by, for example, hiding behind high walls and riot police to escape anti-WTO protests in the last decade.

This time, however, they had run out of places to hide.

There are valuable lessons here for Kenya’s elite. Like their counterparts around the world,  Kenya's punditry has predictably reacted with horror at the calamity that has befallen the US. “America does the unthinkable” wailed the Daily Nation, which bemoaned the fact that the US electorate had rejected “a smart politician with 30 years of experience” in favor of “a foul-mouthed casino owner and showman with an alligator-sized ego and, reportedly, the sexual morals of an alley cat”.

However, the fact is Kenyan voters, faced with a system that for 50 years has functioned to enrich a small coterie of politicians at their expense, has been regularly electing local versions of Trump -from a president indicted for crimes against humanity to members of parliament and governors implicated in corruption and drug trafficking. Like their Western counterparts, Kenya’s ruling elite have steadfastly ignored the demands for reform and accountability, the stark and growing inequality and the rumblings of discontent from the masses who have little to show for a half century of independence.

In that time, the political system has largely functioned to legitimize the power of rulers rather than to give voice to citizen concerns. What journalist and constitutional lawyer, Glen Grenwald, wrote of the West following the Brexit vote is just as true here. “Instead of acknowledging and addressing the fundamental flaws within themselves, [elites] are devoting their energies to demonizing the victims of their corruption, all in order to delegitimize those grievances and thus relieve themselves of responsibility to meaningfully address them.” Few will have forgotten President Uhuru Kenyatta’s attempts to fault ordinary Kenyans for the failure of his administration to deal with insecurity and corruption.

As in the West, the increasingly desperate electorate has fallen prey to populist, nativist and xenophobic rhetoric which has tended to blame religious and ethnic minorities as well as refugees. And elections have proven to have little to do with the ability of candidates to actually solve problems but rather seem to produce a rogue’s gallery of the corrupt, the bigoted and the criminal.

Democracy works when governments are evaluated on their performance, and when citizens watch whether governments keep their promises, and oust those that don’t measure up. Such accountability improves the provision of public goods, boosting incomes and welfare and reinforcing the sense of national belonging.

On the other hand, when the citizenry feels disillusioned about its ability to meaningfully participate in decision-making and to hold public officials to account, then politicians are evaluated on much less noble attributes: their capacity for patronage or even to what extent their election constitutes flashing the finger to the oligarchy –their ability to be what film maker Michael Moore described as “your personal Molotov cocktail to throw right into the center of the bastards who did this to you!

Trump’s election is therefore a wakeup call. There is a crisis of accountability and inclusion in democracies around the world and it calls us to engage in the wok of reimagining and reforming our governance systems so they better respond to the circumstances and problems of ordinary people rather than those of the elites who lord it over them.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

What We Must Make Uhuru Kenyatta Do


“What do you want me to do?”

With that statement, two weeks ago President Uhuru Kenyatta seemed to throw his hands up in resignation. The most powerful man in the land claiming to be powerless in the face of the rampant stealing of public resources that has now become the hallmark of his administration.

It surely does seem that everything the Jubilee administration touches turns to loot. Few of the projects it has initiated over the last 43 months -from laptops for schoolkids to the Standard Gauge Railway to the free maternity programme- have escaped the reek of corruption. Anti-corruption crusader, John Githongo, says it is “by far the most corrupt government in our history”.

And he should know. As head of the Office of Governance and Ethics. he famously blew the lid off the Angloleasing scandal, which annihilated the Mwai Kibaki regime’s anti-graft credentials and earned him death threats and exile. Few will have forgotten how in 2004 the then British High Commissioner, Edward Clay, described the gluttonous Kibaki acolytes as “vomit[ing] all over our shoes”.

It is all so very different from the euphoria that accompanied Kibaki’s electoral triumph and assumption of office a year earlier. Then, it seemed, Kenya was well on the way to slaying the proverbial corruption dragon. Kibaki and his National Rainbow Coalition allies, including Raila Odinga, had built their campaign on an unabashedly anti-corruption platform, promising to end the plunder the country had experienced under his predecessors, Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi.

Their campaign against Moi’s “project” to install Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor, brought together many of the leading lights of the decades-long agitation against the KANU dictatorship (and not a few opportunistic politicians). Their sweeping victory raised expectations for change to stratospheric levels. Imbued with the belief that all was possible, that they were “unbwogable”, Kenyans were arresting corrupt policemen on the street and expecting their new government to start doing the same to corrupt politicians.

However, the revelations of continuing theft in high place coupled with the de facto immunity afforded to Nyayo era thieves, would bring such hope crashing down to earth. And there seems no end to the hangover from those euphoric days, each election has bought a government more corrupt than the last.

How did we come to this?

In their insightful book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson identify the nature of a country’s institutions, whether extractive or inclusive, as the primary determinant of its success. But unlike Kenya, where we equate institutions to an alphabet soup of organisations, Acemoglu and Robinson describe institutions as simply the rules, written and unwritten, that influence how systems work. Countries where such rules encourage participation by the masses, distribute political power broadly and subject it to constraint will tend to be successful whereas, as Kenyans can attest to from experience, those where the distribution of power is narrow and unconstrained will end up with systems geared to enrich a powerful few at the expense of the rest.

The primary reason why Kenya’s war against corruption remains little more than words on paper is because we are focused on changing personalities and organisations rather than the rules, or institutions, that underpin the system we inherited from the British colonials. In 1963 it was all about getting rid of the “colonial masters”. Half a century later, it was all about “Moi must go”. As the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission demonstrated, the rules of the game remained mostly unchanged. The government still functioned as a vehicle of plunder, with the only difference being that in place of white oppressors, we had black ones.

The inauguration of a new constitution in 2010 was the first real effort to address this system but here again, form is triumphing over substance. The fact of its passage continues to be hailed as a success (and it is) even as its spirit is crushed. Nominally independent institutions, such as the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions, remain, for all intents and purposes, subservient to the Presidential whim. Parliament, too, is little more than a lackey for the executive. The political sphere still largely excludes participation by most citizens in everyday governance while continuing to be the dominant influence over their lives. Impunity for wielders of political power is still the norm.

Passing the new constitution was just a necessary first step. As at independence, the real work lies in its implementation and in overthrowing the authoritarian substructure of the state to fit the aspirations the document espouses. This is where we are failing. The exclusive focus on prosecutions and convictions (which are necessary) sadly elides this.

It is true that the constitution limits the role of the President in punishing offenders. But this is not the problem. Where the President has been largely absent is in articulating and leading the necessary reform to ensure that the state delivers the system that the constitution he swore to uphold envisages. 

That, Mr President, is what we want you to do.

In the end, however, it is up to the people to insist that their politicians respect the rules and values espoused by the constitution. It is up to us to insist that accountability and transparency rather than secrecy and impunity become the hallmarks of how the public business is conducted. It is up to us to change the political calculus that the Uhuru administration makes.

John Githongo is wrong when he says “the era of fighting graft using public policy reform and technical fixes has ended.” We still need to think through how we make the system work for the masses of the people, and not just for a small elite. But he is right when he says it requires political will. Only what matters is not political will on the part of Uhuru Kenyatta but rather the political will of the Kenyan citizenry to hold him to account.


Friday, October 28, 2016

Sitting Down With The Devil


Kigali is impressive. From its clean streets and new buildings to the ubiquitous sense of safety and order, it is today hailed as a model for capital cities across the continent. Similarly hailed is the Rwandan government, which has transformed the country, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the 1994 genocide into the rising star of Africa.

Last week, a network of bloggers on the continent, of which I am a part, was invited to a brainstorming session in Kigali over how to engage in policy discourses with governments on the subject of supporting digitally-driven innovation across the continent. The Rwandan state has set itself up as a driving force in the field, with its President, Paul Kagame, chairing the board of Smart Africa, which seeks to “accelerate socio-economic development through information and communications technologies”.

Many of the young, globe-trotting, idealistic individuals I met in these sessions were passionate about the possibilities offered by ICT and the need to engage governments in the effort. However, while I did not doubt their sincerity, what I found disturbing was the seeming blindness to the dangers such engagement may pose.

At about the same time, 750km to the east, yet another State House Summit was getting underway in Nairobi. According to press reports, President Uhuru Kenyatta had invited his administration’s “harshest critics” to a televised pow-wow over corruption. Two specified critics -John Githongo and David Ndii- did not honor the summons earning themselves a Presidential rebuke and much ridicule from ruling party supporters. But I think the two experienced hands had seen something that my friends in Kigali seemed unwilling to acknowledge: that “engagement” is a two-way street. 

In Kenya, as Ndii noted in an article explaining his absence, the problem is neither that government is unaware of corruption nor that it is ignorant of the questions raised about its custody of public finances. Its own agencies have documented much of this. The real problem is the lack of will within the governing elite which perpetrates the looting to do something about it. There is no appetite not just to prosecute friends and political allies, but more fundamentally, to restructure the state to eliminate the opportunities and impunity that incentivize graft.

In such an environment, the State House “engagements” would be of limited utility for those demanding reform and accountability while gifting the government a massive propaganda opportunity to burnish its anti-corruption credentials. In the end, the absence of Githongo and Ndii forced the spotlight back on the government’s lack of action rather than on its rhetoric, which dissolved in a flurry of buck-passing led by the responsibility-ducking Commander-In-Chief, himself. #CryBabyPresident was how Kenyans on Twitter summarized it.

In Kigali, there seemed little understanding that the problems of poverty on the continent do not spring from a lack of knowledge or innovation but rather from a lack of accountability and democracy. The poor Africans my friends sought to help were largely impoverished by the very governments they sought to engage; who were stealing from them, fueling the conflicts that displaced them and denying them a say in decisions affecting their lives. Apart from Kagame, the Smart Africa Board is peopled by such luminaries as Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Gabon’s Ali Bongo, South Sudan’s Salva Kiir, Chad’s Idriss Deby, and, of course, Kenya’s Uhuru.

Engagement with such a gang risks affording them an opportunity to hide their sins under the carpet of innovation and broadband access. It risks moving the spotlight away from what they are actually doing to their own citizens and focusing it on their rhetoric of progress and inclusion. It is why, when addressing the meeting in Kigali, Jean Nsengimana, Rwanda’s Minister for Youth and ICT, could bemoan the fact that the continent was not creating billion-dollar “Unicorns” while ignoring that it was very proficient at creating billion-dollar politicians.

In fact, all the talk of transforming communities and making them smarter and more innovative seems to completely elide the fact that it is governments and the states they serve that require transformation. There is little talk of who actually benefits from the ICT Hubs and events established and held across the continent, most in the wealthier parts of capital cities.

And speaking of capital cities, with all its impressive progressive, it is easy to miss what Kigali hides. The unspoken conversations, the disappearances and assassinations, the rounding up of street families so visiting potentates can enjoy a view unblemished by evidence of failure. Yes, Kigali is safe, but safe for whom? Yes, it is clean, but clean for whom? Yes, it works, but works for whom?

These are questions any who purport to be interested in the welfare of the continent’s people, rather than that of “Africa” must be willing to engage with. And while the answers may not necessarily preclude engagement with governments, they will certainly allow us to choose forums that are more likely to deliver real action and change for the people rather than a megaphone for their governments.   

Friday, October 14, 2016

Did Operation Linda Nchi Secure Kenya?


This Sunday will mark the fifth anniversary of the start of Operation Linda Nchi, Kenya’s surprise invasion of Somalia. By the government’s own admission, the October 2011 deployment of the Kenya Defence Forces across the porous border had been long in the planning. A spate of kidnappings of tourists and aid workers in the preceding months by armed gangs based in Somalia, which the state subsequently blamed on the Al Shabaab terror group and which laid waste to the lucrative tourism industry, provided the pretext to launch the first ever major cross-border military operation in the country’s history.

Five years since that fateful decision, and with the Kenyan forces now ensconced within the African Union Mission in Somalia, there has been little public discussion of the wisdom of the incursion and even less of whether the operation achieved its stated objectives.

The Kenyan government had invoked Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which recognizes member nations’ right to self defence as a justification for its actions. And while no one would dispute that Kenya was indeed threatened -and had been severally attacked- by the gangs and extremists on its border, the lingering question was whether sending troops into Somalia was the best way to guarantee domestic safety.

In the short term at least, the decision to invade appears to have backfired spectacularly. Rather than reducing attacks on the homeland, the invasion appears to have opened the floodgates. In the four years following Operation Linda Nchi, terrorist attacks went up nine fold, compared to the four years preceding it. They increased, not just in number, but in ferocity as well. 3 of the 4 worst attacks in terms of lives lost happened after the Somalia invasion. And consistently, the invasion itself was cited as justification for the atrocities.

The aim of creating a buffer zone ad push the militants away from the border similarly remains unachieved. The Al Shabaab are still able to enter Kenyan territory regularly and with relative ease. Attacks on and kidnappings of citizens and security personnel in isolated outposts continue unabated and with impunity.

Neither has the invasion proven particularly decisive in helping to restore order in war-torn Somalia. The government in Mogadishu is as unpopular, riven and ineffectual as ever, popular elections remain a dream and the feckless Somali National Army, which AMISOM is meant to be training up, is little more than a hodge-podge of disparate clan militias. The security situation continues to be dire with Al Shabaab in control of vast swathes of the Somali countryside from where it is able to plan and launch devastating attacks in Somalia and in Kenya.

Nearly a year after the invasion, the Kenyan contingent, now at least nominally directed by the AMISOM Force Commander in Mogadishu rather than the the Ministry of Defence in Nairobi, rolled into the strategic Al Shabaab stronghold at the sea port of Kismayo, to date its most significant achievement.

But even this did not turn out to be the fatal blow many had predicted. Allegations soon surfaced of the KDF engaging in the illegal export of charcoal through the port, a trade that directly benefitted the terror group they were supposed to be fighting. A report by the UN Monitoring Group indicated that Al Shabaab was actually making more money from charcoal after the KDF took over the port.

If anything, the legacy of the operation has been felt much more within Kenya than across the border.  Under the rubric of a country at war, oppressive laws have been enacted which seemed to target internal dissent rather than external aggression. As the Al Shabaab have mercilessly exploited Kenya’s vulnerabilities and exposed security and intelligence failures, “national security” has become a catch-all phrase for the government to avoid accountability. Within the media and the largely silenced civil society, patriotic jingoism has been preferred to sustained scrutiny of the government’s record.

By providing justification for continued attacks on Kenya as well as a cover for government to hide its malfeasance and incompetence, Operation Linda Nchi did little to live up to its billing. On that score, it must be considered a failure.

Friday, October 07, 2016

It's All Fine On Kenyan Roads And Why That's A Bad Thing


This week, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, James Macharia, unveiled the latest government weapon in the war to, in the hackneyed words beloved by our media, “bring sanity to our roads” -instant fines. He gazetted a new list of list of “minor traffic violations” and the corresponding penalties to be paid on the spot without subjecting the motorist to the horror that are Kenyan courts.

For many motorists, any chance to avoid spending interminable hours at the traffic courts for a 30-second ritual where one gets to either admit guilt and be fined an outrageous amount, or deny charge and still get to pay a similar amount as bail, is welcome. In fact, if one was to deliberately design a system to incentivize corruption, it would be hard to beat the combination of our lumbering court system coupled with the humongous penalties prescribed by the traffic act.

But it would be a mistake to take it for granted that the government’s attempt to bypass it is designed to or will actually either ameliorate the dangers on our roads or eliminate the opportunities for graft. History teaches us otherwise. This is in fact not the first time government is using a public uproar over the road carnage as a pretext to institute a new system of fines.

Four years ago, following yet another series of nasty accidents, Parliament passed amendments to the Traffic Act saw a tenfold increase in fines (the very fines the latest regulations are meant to bypass). The bill was signed into law by then President Mwai Kibaki in November and within four months, police were hailing it as a “success”.

Nearly a quarter of a million arrests had been effected and the government had collected half a billion shillings in fines. The number of deaths on the road, however, had barely budged. Kenyans continued dying at a rate of 300 per month even as the state inflated its coffers -such was the definition of success. Perhaps it was the fact that there were expensive election campaigns to be funded rather than the deaths on the roads that was at the forefront of our politicians’ minds when they passed the 2012 amendments. And as another election looms, we cannot discount the possibility that instant fines are just another money grab.

In a statement laying out the case for instant fines, the Director-General of the National Transport and Safety Authority, Francis Meja, noted that one of the challenges the system would inevitably face was in collection of the fines promising the NTSA would push for electronic and mobile payment platforms.

His concerns are borne out by the proceedings of the police vetting exercise conducted by the National Police Service Commissions. The comical attempts by traffic police officers to explain away their astounding wealth and numerous MPESA transactions have been the source of much public merriment and outrage. However, it is unclear how the instant fines will do much more than cap the bribes which will inevitably be demanded – with the unintended consequence of making it cheaper for rougue operators to stay in business.  In 2012, the matatu industry opposed the draconian fines saying they would only result in higher bribes. It is not difficult to see why they are now supporting the new system.

The fate that befell the cashless transit payment system is illustrative. Launched with much fanfare and backed by the best companies in Kenya, it came a cropper, as ably described by Ken Griffith in a 2014 piece, at the junction of crews who must pay matatu owners a fixed amount per day before they get paid and cops under pressure from superiors to hit their MPESA targets. Thus the crews, who are incentivized to do as many laps as possible, need to have ready cash to bribe cops and so would sabotage the cashless system. A similar dynamic was at work when cops insist on manning city roundabouts already governed by traffic lights.

Because instant fines do little to address the structural and systemic roots of the bad behavior on the roads, we can safely predict that they will do little to ease the carnage but will make money for the government. After all, there’s an election coming, remember?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Ezekiel Mutua And Kenya's Language Of Silence

Ezekiel Mutua is at it again. The head of the Kenya Film Classification Board has developed a fondness for showing off the perks that come with his job. In April, he took to social media to boast about using an airport’s VIP lounge and flying business class.

This week, he posted pictures of his diplomatic passport (which, to the schadenfreudic glee of many tweeps, an embarrassed government has since ordered to him to surrender) on his Facebook account to brag that he had received a visa to visit the United States despite his bigoted and illegal crusade against “content promoting LGBT and Atheists culture in Kenya”. "I didn't even have to go to the Embassy for biometrics or pay the visa application fee. It was delivered to my office free of charge," he averred.

Mutua’s immaturity predictably drew a large number of mocking responses which only spurred him on to new lows, petulantly sending insulting direct message calling one “an idiot” and a “bloody fool”. But however disgraceful we might think his antics to be, we should be careful not to be distracted by them. 

It would be a deadly mistake to focus on the theatrics and ignore the real danger. For that lies, not in his braggadocio, but in the silence that has greeted his distorting the law and the constitution in an attempt to impose his views and beliefs on the rest of Kenya. 

Mutua has used the KFCB, which was set up to regulate “the making and exhibition of cinematograph films, for the licensing of stage plays, theatres and cinemas” in ways not contemplated in legislation. He has attempted to police parties, the internet, TV ads and even claimed the power to regulate the content of political shows. Though there is no law criminalizing homosexuality, he purports to declare it illegal and to ban internet videos that celebrate love between same sex couples. He has claimed that atheism is similarly unconstitutional despite the clear constitutional prohibition on establishing a state religion.

Yet few of these outrages have elicited much discussion outside social media. Much of Kenyan media seems to be blissfully unaware or even worse, dismissive, of the threat he poses especially as we head into the election season. If nothing else, one would expect that the idea of a government official prescribing the limits of political speech would have both journalists and opposition politicians up in arms. But it has elicited little more than whimpers and an empty threat to sue from media owners, which Mutua has laughed off.

This silence mirrors a wider quiet, a tendency to focus less on the substantial and more on the superficial. Last week, as the country marked the third anniversary of the horrific attack on the Westgate mall, I noted that official accounts of terror incidents were mostly designed to cover up the incompetence and culpability of senior officials and officers rather than reveal the truth. But the really alarming fact is that the government’s obviously flawed tales do not elicit much commentary or questioning from either the press, civil society or the opposition.

But just as the silence over the mistakes and criminality at Westgate allowed them to be repeated at Mpeketoni, Garissa, Mandera and El Adde, so the silence over Mutua's overreaching only serves to embolden him and spur him on to further violations. Like the proverbial frog slowly boiled alive, we are all imperiled by the failure to raise the alarm over his menacing of citizens and the government attempt to control the lives and opinions of citizens. 

Kenyan novelist, Yvonne Owuor, has described silence as one of our languages, which "plays out in the hasty attempt of the powerful to shut down independent voices that cannot be controlled." From the harassment of bloggers, to the firing of free-minded journalists, editors and cartoonists, this "shutting down" has been particularly evident in Kenya media. But it is not only happening there. Today Mutua is illegally transforming the KFCB into a tool to bludgeon vulnerable minorities -and political dissidents- into silence.

It is a truism worth repeating that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Whether it is about security and terrorism or the diminution of citizens’ rights to free speech and conscience, this silence leaves us all vulnerable. Freedom from predation by terrorists or even by a narcissistic and insecure public official, will only come when we loudly and consistently demand it.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Why Kenyans Must Not Take The Government At Its Word On Terror Attacks


It was a strange incident by any description. According to the police, on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the US, three women entered the Mombasa Central police station pretending to  report a stolen mobile phone. The police say one jumped over the counter and assaulted officers with a knife before dousing herself in petrol and setting herself alight. The others, one of whom was said to have a suicide vest, threw petrol bombs. All three were shot at killed at the scene and within a few hours, three other women, all refugees from Somalia apparently staying at the house of one of the terrorists, had been arrested for links to the attack.

Nine days later, a human rights group accused the police of manufacturing the incident and murdering three innocent women. Coming on the eve of the anniversary of the attack on an upmarket mall in Nairobi in which at least 67 people died, the accusation struck a chord.

Like with the Mombasa incident, much of what exactly happened inside the Westgate Mall three years ago continues to be shrouded in mystery. An award-winning reconstruction of events by Tristan McConnell,  a foreign correspondent based in Nairobi, concluded that “far from a dramatic three-day standoff, the assault on the Mall lasted only a few hours, almost all of it taking place before Kenyan security forces even entered the building.” Much of the information issued by the authorities both during and immediately after the attack turned out to be misleading and blatantly false.

From claims of 10 to 15 attackers led by the famed “White Widow”, Samantha Lewthwaite and armed with belt-fed machine guns that had been secretly placed in the mall a few days prior, to allegations of hostages being held and subsequently freed by heroic security agencies, to the much-ridiculed accusation of the terrorists setting mattresses on fire to distract the advancing forces, much of the government tale turned out to be untrue.

When shop owners returned to find their stores empty and vandalized, and pictures of rows of empty beer bottles in the mall’s bars as well as CCTV footage of Kenya Defence Forces soldiers carrying laden plastic bags out of the Nakumatt supermarket- where most victims perished- emerged, there was little doubt that the “siege” had been a cover for massive looting by the very teams supposedly deployed to save them. A promised public inquiry into the attack never materialized and a report prepared by a joint parliamentary committee, which purported to clear the KDF of involvement in the looting, was tossed out for being “incompetent”. The rub of it is that three years later, there is still no official account of what transpired.

A similar darkness envelopes the Al Shabaab attack in January this year on an AMISOM military base manned by KDF soldiers in which an estimated 200 troops were killed. As with the Westgate incident, again much of the information the government and the KDF put out was later revealed to be false. An Al Shabaab propaganda video of the attack showed no indication of the three truck bombs, “each [with] a force equivalent to the terrorist attack on the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998” as well as “truckloads of suicide bombers” as claimed by the Chief Of Defence Forces, Gen Samson Mwathethe. Further, his promise to answer lingering questions once a Board of Inquiry had carried out a full investigation remains unfulfilled eight months later.

There is thus good reason for scepticism about official accounts of alleged terror incidents, which mostly seem geared to cover up the incompetence and culpability of senior officials and officers. The fact that the police have been unable to produce the suicide vest supposedly worn by one of the alleged attackers in Mombasa as well as the emergence of a video apparently showing two of the women being shot outside the station, even as one of them appeared to have her hands raised in surrender, give credence to such doubts.

This is not to say that there was no attack. Rather it is incumbent upon all of us to be much more critical of the overnment's offerings on terror and to demand independent and public investigation of the attacks that have occurred in the past five years. We must insist that all officials and officers found either negligent or complicit in the commission and cover up of crimes are held to account. Only by doing so, can we ensure that government learns the lessons it needs to learn in order to do a better job of keeping us all safe.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Eating Season Is Here


I have a theory about why our political parties engage in obscene shows of wealth in the midst of the dire poverty that pervades Kenya. In a country where politics has been reduced to an eating competition, politicians must demonstrate to their supporters that they are capable of laying on the buffet.

From the reported 2 billion that the Jubilee Party spent on its coming out party to the fleet of swanky new buses that CORD has unveiled in Mombasa ahead of its ten-year anniversary, the political coalitions are attempting to outdo each other in parading their wealth. During the last campaign season, helicopters became an indispensable asset and as we approach the 2017 poll, it is clear that no politician worth his salt will be seen dead without one. Their importance to the political class can be seen in the oft-cited fact that they are exempted from VAT even when school books aren’t.

For the people, such displays of opulence are meant to signal that the season for feasting has begun. In return for a seat at the table of state where the country is gobbled up, the politicians will dispense their largesse. The choppers and Prados, the buildings and buses, are the promise of that.

The limits on campaign finance spending recently announced by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission will do little to diminish appetites. With Presidential candidates each officially allowed to spend up to Sh5.2 billion, candidates for 337 Parliamentary seats dishing out up to Sh30 million each; potential Governors and Senators for the 47 counties each allowed to serve up Sh443 million, and folks competing to be one of the country’s 2,258 MCAs offering up to Sh10 million each, it is clear that there will be plenty of money rolling around. And that’s only what they officially spend.

Unofficially, you can expect much more will be on offer. Given the ambiguity surrounding the IEBC regulations and lack of clarity about how they are to be enforced, it is unlikely that there’ll be much of a deterrent to exceeding the stated limits. For example, the period covered by the new regulations is the six months prior to August 8, 2017, the date of the next General Election. But five months ahead of the February 8 start date for the official campaign period, the country is already firmly on an election footing and money is already being spent without IEBC oversight.

Clearly, many, many billions will be poured over the next year or so.

The question is: What will these billions be buying? And sadly, for many, it will be silence and acquiescence. For most Kenyans, whose lives have been blighted by governmental neglect, theft and oppression, this is their one chance to get something back from the system which only seems to take. They know, from previous experience, there is little chance that all the promises that candidates and manifestos will make will amount to anything after the polls. They know that the system which their vote will legitimize is already rigged against them; once the politicians are in office, the opportunity to hold them accountable effectively disappears.

For example, although the constitution guarantees that the electorate has the right to recall an MP before the end of his term, it also effectively defeats its purpose by saying those very MPs will “enact legislation to provide for the grounds on which a member may be recalled and the procedure to be followed.” Predictably, the MPs made sure it would take nothing short of a miracle for them to so lose their seats. The law is currently being challenged in court.

For many, the electoral period is their only chance to “eat”. And in return, they will be expected to stay silent as the politicians steal and kill in their name. “You took our money and voted for us therefore you are complicit in our robbing you”.

But it is all little more than a ruse; a false bargain since the people are essentially forced to negotiate with a gun held to their heads. The displays of opulence that inaugurate the start of the eating season serve to hide the violence of the dispossession under a veneer of civility and mutual consent. “Willing buyer, willing seller” as Uhuru Kenyatta famously described it in 2013.

Remember that as you take your place at the national buffet. Bon App├ętit.