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.