Wednesday, December 31, 2014

If New Year Wishes Were Horses...

Yesterday, Kenyan police made a remarkable find. With the help of the public and after combing an overgrown compound in the Rift Valley town of Burnt Forest for three hours, they discovered an aluminium container buried under the ground. Inside were six AK47 assault rifles and about 700 rounds of ammunition.

While the circumstances surrounding the discovery were themselves little short of astounding, a little noted feature of the story was the use of so-called “gun detectors” alongside police dogs. Media footage appears to show police meticulously using the devices to scan the search area for weapons. On closer examination, however, the devices resemble the fake bomb detectors sold to authorities around the world by convicted fraudster James McCormick.

Kenya was one of the first countries to purchase the devices in 2004, and even after they were shown in a UK court to be “completely ineffectual as a piece of detection equipment” and contained no working electronics, our police have kept faith in them. “They are in operation and they work,” declared Nairobi police chief, Benson Githinji, just last year.

The use of equipment that has been shown to be useless is symptomatic of a much deeper malaise that has infected the government’s approach to insecurity, and indeed to many of the problems bedevilling Kenya. Over the past year, it has kept repeating the same actions over and over, and hoping for different results.

Thus the so-called war on terror revolves around the familiar tropes of criminalising entire communities and violation of civil liberties that have previously failed to stop attacks. Instead of rethinking its strategy and adopting new, effective and comprehensive tactics to tackle the security meltdown that terrorists have been taking advantage of, the government continues to bang our collective heads against a brick wall. It has even sought to give its failing methods the force of law through the recently passed Security Laws Amendment Act.

And when confronted with criticism, its preferred response is to shoot the messenger, not pay heed to the message. So when Aljazeera aired its expose about extra-judicial executions of terror suspects, the government’s reaction was to ignore the substance of the allegations and to threaten the media house and its journalists. The new laws target the dissemination of news about terror incidents, essentially requiring police approval of any reports. It is hard to imagine that exposes of state incompetence, such as the KTN investigation into the response to the Westgate attack which provided the now familiar footage of soldiers looting the mall while pretending to fight terrorists, will henceforth be allowed on air. It is worth noting that at the time, the Inspector General of Police was not keen on reporting that embarrassed the government and actually ordered the arrest of the journalists involved.

In other areas too, the government has continued to plough ahead with measures that bring little relief to the common citizen while providing huge opportunities for rents for the elite. Following his predecessor’s lead, massive infrastructure projects, featuring either single sourcing or dubiously awarded contracts, have become the order of the day. Corruption and impunity reign supreme as elites graduate from chai to chicken. Meantime, Kenyans are saddled with poverty, disease and ever higher levels of debt and living costs.

As in Burnt Forest, where no journalists seemed to question the use of the “gun detecting equipment,” the government’s incompetence has been abetted by that of the country’s media houses. What Israeli politician, diplomat and author, Abba Eban, said of the Arabs is true of our press:  they “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Over the past year, the government has rarely been called to account by the press or even had its narrative questioned. It is almost never asked to substantiate its claims of having prevented many terror attacks, of falling crime rates or significantly reduced energy costs. From superficial reporting on the challenges facing the country to the limited coverage of the opposition’s Saba Saba rally, to the parroting of government narratives on various issues, the media has distinguished itself by its insipidness. Coverage, though somewhat improved compared to 2013, continued to be episodic and devoid of context.

Therefore, as we ring in the New Year, I continue to hope that as a society, we will begin to demand better. That we will tire of the mediocrity and mendacity that has become a mainstay of the government’s policy pronouncements and insist on well thought out and well-articulated strategies that actually address our real problems. For example, that we finally decide to address the many weaknesses with the electoral system that were revealed by the last election cycle, keeping in mind that bungled elections have proven to be the greatest threat to our national security. Or that we will question the reality of government pronouncements of a “transformed” education system and insist on more than just superficial actions like the provision of laptops or abolishing of the school ranking system.

In all, I hope that we will go beyond a reflexive shouts about institutionalism and towards a candid examination of the nature of our institutions, the system they engender and the fruits they produce. That we will continue the effort to re-imagine and re-create Kenya as a country that works, not just for a few, but for all her citizens. And finally, that the media will find the courage to lead the nation in this endeavor. I will try to play my part and pray others will as well.

Let this be our common resolve, our resolution for 2015.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Isaack Hassan's Holiday Message To IEBC Staff

Tanzania's Nativity Scene

Throwing The Book At Terrorists

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Press Release: KGWA Fully Supports Changes To Kenya's Security Laws

Nairobi 21st December, 2014. The Secretary General of the Kenya Ghost Worker Alliance, Mr Casper Mwakazi, has expressed the organization's full and unstinting support for the efforts of the Government of Kenya to secure the country from the menace of terrorism.

On Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law a set of tough measures designed to ensure the country can detect and prevent terror attacks. This came after a chaotic session of Parliament passed the contentious Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014.

In a statement sent to media houses, Mr Mwakazi praised the President for taking a principled stand on the issue. He faulted those saying the legislation had been rushed and had not benefited from wide consultations. "I can confirm that the KGWA was one of the organizations consulted by the government over the amendments," he said.

He added that, for the sake of national security, the Association had offered to temporarily fill the position of Inspector General of Police left vacant by the resignation of David Kimaiyo three weeks ago.

“It is unfortunate that some misguided Kenyans do not understand that these measures will exorcise the spectre of terrorism haunting our country,” he said. "Just because the benefits of the law are not immediately apparent doesn't mean they are not there," he said.

He urged Kenyans to maintain trust in their elected leaders, cautioning against selfishness. “The rights we are sacrificing in the interests of national security, are nothing compared to the peace of mind the government will gain,” he said.

He also noted that even though the new law posed a threat to the livelihoods of human rights activists and journalists, that would be offset by the opportunities it would open up for the members of the KGWA.

In this regard, Mr Mwakazi also welcomed reports that the government was considering a fresh head count of public workers. The last recount, carried out a few months ago, resulted in 12,000 KGWA members almost losing their jobs.

“The KGWA remains optimistic that any new recount would vastly reduce the number of our members affected by this draconian measure. We renew our call for a transparent process and dialogue to resolve any outstanding issue,” he said.

The statement concludes with the KGWA motto: “Work by faith, not by sight.”

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Government Knows Best

Barely four years after it was inaugurated with much pomp and ceremony, Kenya’s new constitution is being undone. The Security Amendment Bill introduced in Parliament last week portends the return of the all-powerful, unchecked executive and its intrusion into almost every facet of Kenyans’ lives.

Under the guise of giving the government the tools to fight insecurity, the proposed gives government wide and unchecked discretion in defining what constitutes a threat and taking measures to mitigate against it. It cuts a large swathe through constitutionally guaranteed rights to privacy, fair trial, assembly, information, expression and thought as well as freedoms from arbitrary detention and even torture, in a misguided attempt to respond to rising incidents of insecurity including terrorist attacks.

This atrocious piece of legislation is just the culmination of a long period of Kenyan elites undermining the foundations of liberal democracy in Kenya. The fact is, while the adoption of the new constitution should have heralded the democratisation of government, the logic of tyranny was largely left intact.

In Kenya, as elsewhere, the fight for freedom has primarily boiled down to a struggle against the notion that government and ruling elites know what’s best. From colonial times, the people in power have disguised their oppression under a proclaimed special knowledge and patronising parental concern for those they oppressed. The British claimed to govern in the interests of the native population, to be the altruistic purveyors of civilisation, even as they murdered, looted and repressed.

However, it is plain that many who led the struggle for freedom, did not themselves fundamentally reject this idea. Successive post-independence governments similarly claimed to be “baba na mama” to the Kenyans they were robbing blind and whose rights they were trampling underfoot. For them, it was not oppression that was the problem, but rather who it was doing the oppressing. Following their footsteps, in 2003 the late John Michuki, a former colonial enforcer reinvented as a minister in the government of Mwai Kibaki which ended four decades of despotic KANU rule, suggested that constitutional reforms were no longer necessary since the sole objective had been to unseat the dictator, Daniel arap Moi.

In fact, with Moi’s demise, the struggle ceased to be about principles and increasingly became about power, and between those who had it and those who wanted it. Many of the leading lights of civil society and the church marched straight into government and into the annals of corruption and kleptocracy. Not only was there a failed attempt to foist a bastardized version of a new constitution on Kenyans in 2005, but by 2007, the electoral arrangements that had been negotiated with Moi to ensure a credible poll in 2002, were being rolled back.

Following yet another round of election related blood-letting, a new constitution was inaugurated in 2010 which was meant to change the way our politics worked. But, as last week sadly showed, that is yet to take root. Too many ordinary Kenyans have been seduced into thinking that the government knows best, that it is actually the checks on the arbitrary exercise of power that are the problem, that instead of protecting constraining rogue government, the constitution is making us more vulnerable to terrorism. Despite the fact that it has largely failed to implement the security system as envisaged in our constitution and laws, the government has spun its own incompetence into a narrative of excessive constitutional restraints.

So once again we hear the refrain that “Uhuru Kenyatta is not Moi. You can trust him with power.” The false narrative is propagated that it was Moi, not the concentration of unchecked power in the Presidency, that led to the state-sponsored terror that killed many more Kenyans and destroyed many more Kenyan lives than its religiously and ideologically inspired cousin. We even hear talk that some oppression is actually fine, even desirable, and that Moi, who has today been rehabilitated from oppressive and kleptocratic tyrant to strong and wise leader and elderly statesman, was an effective bulwark against terrorism, even as he massacred and terrorized.

Kenya’s slide into the seductive embrace of authoritarianism has been aided by the silencing of alternative voices, the continuing demonization of civil society and the lobotomising of the news agenda. Its purpose is to keep the citizenry divided, blind and uninformed, only privy to the official truths of government spin-masters. The publication of government press releases as news by the insipid media, and the Church’s support for tyranny demonstrate just how successful the government has been.

The Security Amendment Bill is the fruit of these efforts and Parliament’s rush to adopt it is proof that the idea of the Assembly as a check on Executive excess and not a rubber stamp for its decisions, has also been abandoned.

In the end, it is the people who must do the work of protecting the country from its government, the labour of upholding the constitution. While some, under the banner of “civil society” or “opposition” can take the lead, it does not absolve the citizen from this duty. Just as it is the ordinary Kenyan who will suffer from the worst excesses of unaccountable government, it is we who must resist its re-emergence.

We must not be suckered by the false notion that the government knows best. It doesn’t. And even when we might be inclined to believe its good intentions, history shows, it doesn’t stay that way for long. Those you think are on your side today may very well turn out to be your oppressors tomorrow and the laws being cheered on today will be the yoke of tomorrow’s subjugation. That is the reality that Kenyans will sooner or later have to wake up to. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Kenya's War On Terror Is No Solution To Insecurity

The past two weeks have been pretty horrid for President Uhuru Kenyatta. His decision, after Al Shabaab terrorists last weekend massacred 28 Kenyans in the north-eastern town of Mandera, not to cut short his official visit to the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix, backfired terribly. And when he did eventually return to face criticism for his administration’s seeming disregard for national security issues, his speech blaming the public for rising insecurity (and a mother for the rape of her baby) did not go down well.

Then on Tuesday morning, despite his deputy’s assurances that nearly 100 terrorists, including those who committed the bus attack, had been killed and their camp just across the border destroyed, Kenyans woke up to news of yet another massacre in the same area. This time, the victims were 36 quarry workers, killed in remarkably similar circumstances.

With public outrage and calls for heads, including his, to roll, reaching a crescendo, President Kenyatta finally decided to sacrifice the two people who, more than any other, were considered responsible for the security debacle. He prevailed upon the Inspector General of Police, David Kimaiyo, to resign and effectively fired his Interior Cabinet Secretary, Joseph ole Lenku.

For the moment, this seems to have sated the anger. However, there are more battles on the horizon and it is important that Kenyans do not lose focus.

In the Barry Levinson movie, Wag the Dog, a top-notch spin doctor, is brought in to take the public's attention away from a potentially disastrous presidential sex scandal just days to the election This is achieved by hiring a Hollywood film producer to construct a fake war with Albania. However, the fiction can only last for so long and, to keep the public eye focused away from scandal, has to be continually embellished till the election is won.

Over the last two years, Kenyatta has implemented his own version of this script. In the run up to the 2013 election, with an unsavoury charge of abetting and financing the mass murder of their countrymen hanging over his and his running mate’s heads, his hired guns manufactured a war. They latched on ill-advised warnings about the advisability of electing politicians indicted by the International Criminal Court, accusing the West of trying to dictate the outcome of the election. The duo rode the subsequent wave of faux-patriotism all the way into power (aided by suspiciously incompetent electoral commission and Supreme Court).

Once ensconced in State House, the duo have continued to embellish the tale, mixing both real and imagined fears -from the ICC to Western imperialism to Al Shabaab-  to create an cocktail of fear and an environment where questioning their motives or peering too closely is seen as a veritable act of treason.

On Tuesday, the President came out once again to remind us that Kenya is at war with terror. In a speech reminiscent of George Bush’s address to a joint session of Congress following the 9/11 attacks, Kenyatta declared that “a time has come for each and every one of us to decide and choose. Are you on the side of an open, free, democratic Kenya which respects the rule of law, sanctity of life and freedom of worship, or do you stand with repressive, intolerant and murderous extremists?” Bush had put it more succinctly, “either you are with us or with the terrorists.”

Now, it is understandable why the Global War on Terror trope is so appealing to an administration trying to rescue its flagging legitimacy in the face of constant reminders of its inability to protect its citizenry. It is also, however, deeply misleading.

The President appears to conflate the twin evils of ideologically driven terrorism and violent crime and to view both through the prism of the former. “Terrorism and violent crime are grave threats to our nation,” he avers and then goes on to declare that “we are in a war against terrorists in and outside our country.”

But terrorism does not explain why our women are afraid to walk the streets or ride in public transports for fear of being stripped and sexually assaulted by mobs of men. Or why the poachers exterminating the country’s wildlife are accorded government protection. It does not tell us why Kenya is rapidly becoming a hub for illicit money and illegal drugs, why inter-communal violence rages across the land and, perhaps most pertinently, why security agencies are unable to respond to timely intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks.

The fact is, his declaration of the War on Terror disguises and distracts from a broader and far more consequential breakdown in the country’s security system. It is this breakdown, not our democratic space as some have suggested, that the terrorists are exploiting. According to 2013 police statistics, the same ones the government uses to insist that crime rates have dropped by 8 percent, violent crime, including robberies, rapes and homicides, is actually significantly higher. 

However, the real story is the one that the statistics don’t tell. According to one survey, over 60 percent of crimes are not reported to the police, so their numbers probably severely understate the problem. Worse, police officers and security agents are regularly implicated in these crimes. Who can forget the scenes of looting at the Westgate Mall or the vandalised ATM's at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport following the fire?

Restoring the integrity of the security system is the most important challenge facing Kenyans and this will not be achieved by bombing Al Shabaab to smithereens. Neither is the departure of ole Lenku and Kimaiyo, while welcome, a panacea for endemic problems. In fact, it has proven that the Jubilee administration is amenable to public pressure and this must be kept up to ensure that comprehensive reform of the security sector is not swept under the War on Terror carpet.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why We Should Give Kimaiyo The Benefit Of Law

“The easiest way to gain control of a population is to carry out acts of terror. The public will clamour for such laws if their personal security is threatened.” This quote, regularly attributed to the Russian tyrant and mass murderer, Josef Stalin, should give Kenyans pause as we demand that the government take action to address the massive failure in security that the country is experiencing.

That there has been a near complete breakdown in the security system is beyond doubt. Citizens are being murdered with relative impunity along our borders and at the coast, and the resource-related ethnic violence raging unabated across the north has not spared even security officers. In the capital, women are afraid to walk the streets or take public transport for fear of assault by mobs of men and in Baringo, girls are openly subjected to illegal Female Genital Mutilation. Our wildlife sanctuaries have been turned into killing fields and despite the government knowing the people responsible for poaching, it continues unabated. In fact, according to one investigative report aired on KTN earlier this year, the poaching kingpins are being actively protected by the state.

Our security system is failing, and it is failing comprehensively. But in government circles, there seems to be a real reluctance to admit this. The standard response has been to claim that the security forces are actually doing a great job, that they have prevented numerous attacks (no details provided, of course), that the terrorists have been defeated (whatever that means) and clich├ęd promises of “beefing up security.”

It is clear that these excuses are wearing thin and the public can now see through them. The transparent attempts to pass off public relations spiel as serious security policy no longer works. Across the country, citizens are scared and are demanding that the government get its act together and protect them as it is sworn to do. However, recognising there is a problem is the easy part. Diagnosing what is causing that problem and coming up with a remedy that will not turn out to be worse than the disease is more difficult. The hardest part of all will be getting the patient to actually take the medicine.

Let’s take an example from our past. In the years and decades following the initial euphoria of independence, many Kenyans came to the realization that the state had turned rogue. It had not changed the colonial ethos and remained a parasitic entity, benefitting a few at the expense of the many. Its security forces, while nominally meant to protect the citizenry, in reality continued their colonial function of policing them. The security agencies were implicated in many abuses, including extra-judicial killings and assassinations, torture and disappearances.

As a result, when, following decades of agitation and resistance, the opportunity to negotiate a new social contract was achieved, one of the paramount objectives was to create a system that would make the security organs serve the interests of the people rather than those of the people in power. Thus the new constitution required that the National Police service be independent and gave its head, the Inspector General of Police, security of tenure. The President cannot fire him on a whim. Neither can he direct the IGP in how to enforce the law or tell him whom to arrest and whom not to.

In return, it was hoped the police service would exercise its mandate without fear or favour. In practice this has not turned out to be the case. The patient has refused to take the medicine. Police reforms have stalled and where we have laws, such as the National Police Service Act, they have failed to be properly and fully implemented. Similarly, laws requiring that Parliament authorize any deployment of the Kenya Defense Sources within the nation’s borders, which were designed to avoid the sorts of abuses recorded in the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, have been regularly circumvented.

Thus, it is clear that we have a security crisis and that part of the problem stems from the unwillingness to implement the laws that sit in the books. However, we will need to do some more digging and thinking if we are to understand the scale of the problem we face and to come up with workable solutions. This is why it is imperative that we support the demand made the Occupy Harambee Avenue protesters on Tuesday, that the President fulfil his promise to institute a public commission of inquiry into the security failures. Such an inquiry should take a holistic look at the entire security architecture in the light of the threats and challenges that confront us and make recommendations.

In the desire for results, we must avoid being stampeded back into the era of dictatorship. Some have suggested changing the law to make it easier to fire the IGP, David Kimaiyo. Such a proposal has been made in the National Assembly by the Jubilee Chief Whip, Katoo ole Metito and by the Chair of the Departmental Committee on Administration and National Security Committee, Asman Kamama.

Whatever one may think of Mr Kimaiyo’s performance, we must guard against attempts to reintroduce the imperial presidency. It is better that we insist of the procedure to remove him, which involves petitioning Parliament and the formation of a tribunal, and more important to figure out why the IGP has not taken advantage of the independence afforded to his office to streamline the force and make it more responsive to citizen concerns.

I will end with an excerpt of a dialogue between Sir Thomas More and his daughter's suitor, William Roper, as set forth in Robert Bolt's two-act play, A Man For All Seasons, which I think illustrates the folly of chopping down the laws that protect us in an attempt to get at both the terrorists and the incompetent and negligent officials who enable them.

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Press Release: KGWA Protests Gov't Harassment of Ghost Workers

Nairobi 20th November, 2014. The Secretary General of the Kenya Ghost Worker Alliance, Mr Casper Mwakazi, has protested the continuing harassment of its members and called on the Government of Kenya to engage in dialogue to resolve any issues relating to employment.

Mr Mwakazi condemned the announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning, Ms Anne Waiguru, that the government would fire over 12,000 ghost workers, terming the move “unilateral and illegal”.

“We urge the government to rescind this illegal directive which will have an adverse impact, not only on our members and their families, but also on other state employees,” he said. “The demonizing of ghost workers must cease and we must exorcise the contempt that the government has shown towards these hard-working and transparent civil servants,” said he added.

Earlier this year, the Alliance released a statement objecting to the victimisation of its members during the debate on the country’swage bill.

Mr Mwakazi said he was haunted by the tales of the suffering that the government announcement had caused in the wider community, noting that most KGWA members used their meagre salaries to augment the pay of other government employees, including senior officials.

“We are ready to join our brothers in the Kenya County Government Workers Union in undertaking legal action to prevent this injustice,” he said, claiming that although the Alliance had reached out to the government, promised consultations had failed to materialize. The KCGWU has threatened to go to court over the registration of workers, which led to the dismissals.

He said the ghost workers would also be seeking spiritual assistance and support from the rest of Kenyan society and especially the religious fraternity whose activities have been similarly threatened by the authorities.

“As a society, we must not lose faith in our workers even when we do not see them,” said Mr Mwakazi. 

“Like we do at the KGWA, the government should work by faith, not by sight,” he concluded.

Monday, November 17, 2014

No. Nudity Is Not Your Choice. And Here’s Why It Shouldn't Be

Why are gangs of men allowed to roam our city streets, attacking women with impunity and stripping them of their clothes and dignity? Why is another gang of men roaming the internet and seeking to put women in their place? Why do any of them feel they can arrogate to themselves the authority to dictate to our women how they should dress?

I find it hard to believe that the #NudityIsNotMyChoice crowd are too dim to see the link between the idea that they should have a choice over what women wear and actually doing something to enforce that. They are thus being disingenuous when the claim that they are against the assaults on women. In fact, their leader and spokesman, Robert Alai, has flip-flopped on the issue, first advocating for the stripping of supposedly indecently dressed women and later suggesting that those who do so should be jailed.

His moral acrobatics are illustrative of the intellectual confusion of those who on the one hand protest their belief that women should not be subjected to such indignities while on the other hand insisting that women conform to their ideas of propriety. It is inconceivable that they do not realize that these are two sides of the same coin. That it is the threat of violence that is used to keep women in line, to control them and keep them subservient to the desires and wishes of men.

It is obvious that dress is only the tip of the iceberg. It is also not just about control of women’s sexuality (though that is, a big part of it - more on this below). In the end the furore over hemlines is really about the power of one group of Kenyans to exercise power over another. It is about the power of one group to impose its preferences on another, to value its comfort over the rights of the other.

Viewed in the context of other retrogressive measures introduced in the recent past, such as the attack on civil society and the collective punishment of communities, it is hard not to recognize a wider pattern of rolling back the rights and freedoms articulated in the constitution by groups that perceive themselves as having lost out: the men who feel that their position of power vis a vis women is threatened, the political elite who fear the emancipation of Kenyans will deprive them of opportunities for extracting rents. As I argue here, the violence we see is part of a backlash against the rights of individuals to determine for themselves how they should lead their lives.

Indeed, it is instructive that while those supporting women’s rights ground their arguments in the freedoms espoused in the constitution and on the laws we have in our books, their opponents are at pains to not just qualify these rights, but to demonize their exercise as a harbinger of chaos. One blogger suggests that the debate “is about everything we are willing to give latitude to as a society. The next thing we will be seeing are prostitutes asking for their trade to be legalized and with the latitude we are extending they will get that, then we will stop asking questions when we see underage girls in night clubs and before we know it corruption will so much be within our rights.”

Another appears to argue that even though assault is a crime, that the victims must somehow be responsible for provoking the attack. “Blaming the touts solely for their ‘misconduct’ is, not only subjective, but also outright biased. Before any reaction, then there must be an action. The Embassava touts did not just decide to strip the woman like mad dogs. The woman might have done something to trigger such a reaction,” he declares, suggesting that habitually exercising the right to dress as she wishes makes her blameworthy.

The fact is the online chauvinists share much the same worldview as the Embassava thugs. They see the attempt to hold the latter to account as a collective condemnation of, as one puts it, “(all) men as sexual perverts, sex pests, sexually starved, naughty minds, rapists, misogynists, etc.” They are unwilling to countenance any challenge to the system that privileges their “choice” over the rights of women.

So whether they realize it or not, those demanding a say in how women dress are the online enablers of offline violence against women. Their open contempt for women’s rights offers succor and dubious intellectual cover to those who go even further. So just as we insist that the perpetrators of violence against women are swiftly brought to book, we must not ignore the pernicious ideology of entitlement to women’s bodies that feeds it.

While respecting –and even defending- the right of people to express their views, as abhorrent and stupid as those views may be, we must not cede online spaces to the chauvinists. Those who truly believe that women are human beings, that they should be able to dress in any way they please and walk down our streets unmolested, that no Kenyan should have the right to tell another how they should live their lives, must speak up. We must not accept to be silenced by the demagogues.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Is Kenya Becoming A Nation Of 50 Intellectuals And 50M Illiterates?

In September, 1972, the late JM Kariuki gave a startling speech at Kamusinga, in what is now Bungoma County. In it he called for a re-evaluation of the direction the country was headed in a mere decade after independence. “A small but powerful group of greedy, self-seeking elite in the form of politicians, civil servants and businessmen has steadily but very surely monopolized the fruits of independence to the exclusion of the majority of our people,” he noted before uttering the refrain that he is today most remembered by: “We do not want a Kenya of ten millionaires and ten million beggars.”
Within three years, he would be brutally murdered by agents of that elite but today, it is clear that his words have proven prophetic. We have become one of the most unequal societies on earth, with resources and opportunities percolating to a very few at the very top while a decent standard of living is denied to the vast multitude at the bottom. Despite all the excitement about becoming a middle-income country, a report released earlier this year showed that Kenya today has 31 centa-millionaires, that is individuals with a net worth of more than $100 million, while nearly half the population lives on less than $2 per day. However, nothing illustrates this better than the approach consecutive governments have taken towards education policy.
Undoubtedly, the greatest investment a country can make is in the education of its people. It is the most effective way to create opportunity and move people out of poverty. An educated populace makes healthier and more profitable choices. Educated citizens are better able to hold governments to account, to participate effectively in decision making and to create more equitable societies.
In Kenya, while we spend just under a fifth of the national budget on education and have managed to expand access to all levels of education, the fact is, with quality standards nose-diving, the KANU, NARC and Jubilee governments have all preferred to view the sector primarily as a political and economic cash cow.
From the introduction of the 8-4-4 system to free primary education, the fact is that past government interventions have been motivated less by the long-term needs of students and more by the short-term interests of politicians and corrupt businessmen. This cavalier approach has destroyed our schools, demotivated our teachers and killed any hope of learning. Needless to say, none of the elite making these decisions educate their own children in public schools. In fact, it bespeaks the quality of instruction offered in our schools that up to half of teachers do not bother to turn up for class and that even when public education is nominally free, parents who can afford to have chosen to take their kids to private schools. This has had the effect of driving up the cost of private schooling, and locking the poor majority into the failing public system.
There is an urgent need to begin to undo the damage that politicizing education has wrought but the Jubilee government has singularly proven itself unable to resist the twin temptations of politically-inspired gimmickry and grand corruption.
The ill-thought out proposal floated earlier in the year to have pupils in primary school taught in local languages demonstrated the superficial approach the government continues to take towards education. It is unclear how, if at all, such a policy could be implemented in Kenya’s ethnically diverse counties without entrenching tribal chauvinism and discriminating against minorities. It is the very antithesis of a policy that would build national cohesion and heal ethnic rifts and is reflective of the thinking of an administration that feels it can only perpetuate itself through creating a “tyranny of numbers”.
The other flagship education policy of the Jubilee government has been shown to be at best little more than a PR gimmick, or worse, a scheme to corruptly enrich a few individuals under the guise of improving education. Ignoring the fact that many schools lack even the most basic of amenities including desks, books and even classrooms, the one-laptop-per-child initiative, in common with other proposed mega-projects, is a simplistic concept whose tendering process has been fraught with irregularity, if not outright illegality.
And it is not just Jubilee that lacks seriousness when it comes to education. Their opponents in the CORD coalition have also demonstrated an appetite for short-term opportunistic points-scoring as an alternative to long term solutions.
Take for example, the fate of the 1999 report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Education System of Kenya. The Commission, which was chaired by Dr Davy Koech, was mandated to enquire into the education system and recommend changes and approaches that would help prepare Kenyan society to face the challenges of the 21st century.
Its report, which remains relevant 15 years later, recommended a “goal- and a process-oriented education and training system” as an alternative to the present exam-driven system. Under the rubric of TIQET (Totally Integrated Quality Education and Training), it emphasized lifelong learning and constant improvement not just in learners but of the education system itself, as well an emphasis on quality.
It eschews piecemeal and politically driven approaches, such as the obsession with abolishing of school fees, in favour of a holistic and comprehensive approach to education. Needless to say, the report was never implemented. The then Minister for Education, Kalonzo Musyoka – now a principal in the CORD coalition- declared that it was too expensive. However, he was not above supporting the even more expensive and failing Free Primary Education less than four years later or proposing Free Secondary Education as part of his platform for the 2007 elections.
The truth is, across the political divide, education has been treated as a forum for political grandstanding. However, we as citizens must get serious about fixing the system. We must not reduce or equate education reform to simply providing free schooling.  Otherwise , given the experience of FPE and to paraphrase JM Kariuki, we risk creating a nation of 50 intellectuals and 50 million functional illiterates.
As he advocated, there must be a change, not just in policy, but in the policy-making process as well, so that the interests of all are taken into account. We must come together to demand accountability from the government and to generate serious and comprehensive proposals for reform.
This will require a commitment to squarely facing up to the crisis in our schools and resisting the distractions and gimmicks offered up by our politicians. A good place to start would be would be by insisting on the review and implementation of the recommendations of the Koech report. For, as Derek Curtis Bok, the American lawyer, educator and the former president of Harvard University said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Why I Don't Think Kenya Is Serious About National Security

A version of this article was published in The Star

Security is now firmly back on the agenda in Kenya. The news media is today awash with coverage of the response to the weekend attacks on police and military installations at the coast and the murder of 24 policemen in the marginalized and restive North East. TV and radio talk shows, as well as newpaper column inches are devoted to a discuss ion of the possible reasons for the security failures and with questions over the future employment of the officials in charge of the security system. 

Curiously missing from this explosion of opinion is any reference to an address to “a high level seminar on national security strategy”given by President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday, just hours before the Kapedo attack. In the speech, the President laid out his analysis of the security threats that the country is facing and the priorities that should occupy his government in defending against them.

Granted the speech is not his best effort. Convoluted and rambling, it appears to be more about being seen to say something clever than actually providing clear and succinct analysis and articulation of strategic priorities. Filled with fluff rather than serious policy choices, it is a major speech to senior security officials that reads like a first year undergraduate paper.

So perhaps it is no surprise that no one is seemingly interested in it. However, given that this was a speech meant “to begin a critical conversation on the identification, articulation and pursuit of Kenya’s national security interests,” it deserves more than just the cursory attention it has received in the press.

Here’s a brief synopsis of what he had to say. He first lays out a shaky case for the historical underpinnings of national security which he appears to understand narrowly as the struggle to resist foreign domination (not surprising given his troubles at the International Criminal Court). The threats to this, he avers, stem from the troubled neighbourhood we live in, the need to manage the youthful exuberance of many of our citizens, the poverty and inequality that is characteristic of our economy, the politicisation of national security, threats posed by global state and non-state actors and the weakness of our own state. The President sees the latter as “the leading cause of insecurity of all forms” and thus his preferred solution is to “build a strong state whose actions will be guided and constrained by the spirit and letter of our democratic constitution.”

But how do we actually build this “strong state”? He does not say. His much-touted 10-point plan turns out to be not much of a plan at all but rather a characterisation of what he thinks “strong state” should be able to do do. What is the role of other actors in the security ecosystem such as the armed private citizens we saw at Westgate and that are prevalent across the northern frontier? Or of the private security companies? That national security is not just a matter for the state but involves all of society appears to elude him as does the multifaceted nature of the subject.

In fact he appears unaware that, as demonstrated by the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, the state’s demonstration of its strength has many times been the main driver of insecurity. Also the fact, as Jeffrey Isima of Cranfield University notes, that “in many countries of Africa [including Kenya], the provision of security has long been private in the sense that it was provided as a private good for the protection of particular groups, such as the ruling elite, to the exclusion of or against others, rather than as a public good.”

Further, his specious prescriptions that the state should “delineate the rights and duties of citizens,” or treat threats against “a single ruler or the democratic multitude” as the same, or treat citizen groups as “actors that may be drivers for other agenda” betray his own personalization and politicization of the security agenda, just as we saw him do in the aftermath of the Mpeketoni attacks.

Security analyst, Andrew Franklin, says “the President failed to recognize our refusal to implement the four security related acts even while spending in excess of Kshs 140 billion.” These include the National Police Service Act, which is meant to create a consolidated police service. Mr Franklin also faults the President for claiming that there is no "elite consensus” on national security aims and objectives. “This is false. There may be differences of opinion regarding tactics, short term strategies, methods and means but ultimate objectives --peace and security--are not seriously questioned,” he declares. Here, President Kenyatta’s speechwriters, in their hurry to take a dig at the opposition and civil society, seem to have confused disagreement over tactics with a row over strategic aims.

This pedestrian and cavalier approach of the President to the weighty challenges posed by insecurity demonstrates that his administration has primarily approached them as public relations issues. However, those in the opposition and many of us in the rest of society have not behaved any better. Mr Franklin notes that “to date the opposition offers only platitudes, clever comments and sarcasm. Nobody wants to express definite opinions about anything either because taking responsibility and perhaps being wrong are not characteristics of our collective leadership. Or they are simply uninformed and ignorant but too insecure to admit to any lack of knowledge.” 

 We seem to have forsaken our thinking caps and are only interested in simplistic “action” such as the resignation of officials or a withdrawal from Somalia. We have failed to create –and more importantly, are not seeking to create- an overarching analytical framework within which to understand the systemic and systematic failures in the security system, how they came about and how they can be fixed.

Thus there is little demand for the government to live up to its promise to establish a public inquiry into the Westgate mall attack or to publish the report of the probe into the fire that almost razed the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport; little interest in understanding the roots of radicalisation and disaffection in the historically marginalized communities of the coast and the north; little thought given to the organisation of our security forces or the proper role of the Kenya Defence Forces and the dangers, wisdom and legality of its extended and indefinite deployment within our borders. Even where we have investigated what went wrong, reports such as that published by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority detailing the police failures during the Mpeketoni attacks do not prompt change.

It is time we took our security seriously. Many of the problems we face have deep roots that will not be resolved by playing dress up or bullying communities as the state is trying to do or simply getting rid of one or two officials. We must go back and examine when the rain started to beat us, which as the Deputy President William Ruto has acknowledged, is many years and many regimes ago. We must strive to understand the causes of and reasons for our vulnerabilities, and ruminate over possible solutions. We must invite and consider the opinion and advice of experts both local and international.

In short, on all sides, we must treat the national security problem as an existential threat, not an opportunity to score a few points politically and publicly. We should insist on a well informed debate and, importantly, a comprehensive and public inquiry into our national security system with a view to identifying and correcting the problems, and where necessary, re-orienting priorities. Above all, let us all put on our thinking caps and figure out how we go about the business of making every Kenyan safe. It’s about time the adults came to the table.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why Limiting NGO Funding Is Not Just About The ICC Cases

A version of this article has been published in The Star.

It is easy to dismiss Moses Kuria. The Member of Parliament for Gatundu South has pretty extreme and downright stupid opinions on issues ranging from the effects of foreskin on mental faculties to the relationship between the opposition CORD coalition and the terror group, Al Shabaab. However it would be a mistake to not keep an eye on what he and his ilk are doing in Parliament.

Recently he has vowed to reintroduce an amendment to the Public Benefit Organisations Act to have non-governmental organisations whose foreign funding exceeds 15 percent of their budget classed as foreign agents. In doing this, he is resurrecting a similar bill that was introduced and withdrawn last year that also sought to limit foreign funding for local NGOs to 15 percent of their budgets. The move seems to be part of a determined effort by the ruling Jubilee coalition, whose manifesto does call for such a cap, to bring to heel the organised civil society groups that have been the bane of the UhuRuto candidature and administration. 

The proximate cause of this, as identified by Ngunjiri Wambugu in his Monday column in The Star, is the prosecution of the President and his deputy before the International Criminal Court. Mr Wambugu claims that it is Kenyan civil society that provoked hostilities with the government by “criminalizing the state” though he does not explain exactly what he means by this. Apparently he believes that the fact that the state was itself implicated in the 2007-8 post election violence and the push by civil society to secure accountability for this is equivalent to delegitimizing the state. Thus, he argues, the Kenyan state is responding, albeit in a misguided fashion, to an (unwarranted) attack.

This analysis ignores several facts of history. It was not civil society that opened the door to the Hague. In fact, as the violence was unfolding, the Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement each threatened to institute proceedings against the other at the Hague. Further, the Waki Commission, which was established as part of the National Accord that put a stop to the violence, itself recommended that the ICC be brought in if the political elite was unable or unwilling to establish a local process to try high-level suspects. The loud shouts of “Don’t be vague, it’s The Hague” did not come from civil society either but from the political elite themselves. The Deputy President himself was one of those who rejected a local process to try perpetrators.

Further, as Mr Wambugu notes in passing, the war of the state against organised civil society did not begin in the run up to the 2013 election. It has been part of a wider attempt by the Kenyan elite to avoid any manner of scrutiny and accountability for its penchant to impoverish and brutalise the population. It is important to make this distinction for outside the arena of accountability, the state has actually been instrumental in encouraging the growth of NGOs.

As Jennifer Naomi
 Brass notes in her PhD thesis, titled Surrogates forGovernment? NGOs and the State in Kenya, both local and international NGOs have a long history in Kenya.Since independence, the government has encouraged the development of indigenous not‐for‐profit organizations, self-help societies and community-based organisations. This happened even as the state was seeking to restrict citizen participation in politics and government. In this way, as the title suggests, NGOs did become surrogates for government, offering services where government was not either unable and unwilling to do so. Through them, the reach of the state was extended and “in many ways,” she avers, “NGOs have had a positive impact on government and their existence has helped to make the Kenyan state stronger.”

The government was happy to piggyback on this as long as NGOs stuck to “development” and did not question the goings-on in the halls of power. They were expected to deliver services to the people, but not to introduce subversive and un-African ideas of democracy and accountability. It is precisely when the started to do so, especially with the emergence of governance NGOs in the 90s that the state begun to decry foreign funding and foreign agendas.

Of course, as Mr Wambugu notes, it was a fight the state was doomed to lose. However, the cooption of many of the leading lights of civil society into politics and government in 2003, left the movement floundering and blurred the distinction between the political NGOs and those competing for state power. It is this blurring that has seen civil society, just as happened with the church and to a lesser extent, the media, vulnerable to accusations of being merely a stepping stone to political power and thus of having nefarious schemes of regime change.

In the last decade, though, many governance NGOs have tried to reclaim the pedestal they once had and to refocus their efforts to core issues of governance. However, we still have a political elite, much of it infused with their former colleagues, that is not interested in enduring scrutiny or having its opportunities to “eat”extinguished. This elite has focussed its guns on preventing the re-emergence of civil society as a real check on government excess. The focus, as we are once again reminded daily, should be on “development” and “peace” and that we should guard against foreign agendas lurking around every corner.

In the end, this is what Moses Kuria’s proposed amendments are about. Not just the doomed cases at the Hague, but also protecting the avenues for patronage and enrichment at home. It is clear that the changes are not meant to make the sector more transparent, since all Mr Kuria would need to do is insist that the PBO Act- which already calls for NGOs to publish their audited accounts annually- is gazetted and implemented. They are in fact meant, as he himself acknowledges, to continue the delegitimization of, according to Ms Brass, organisations "the overwhelming
 majority of whose employees, leaders and advocates in Kenya are Kenyans, advancing Kenya‐specific social agendas –
 even when their funding is foreign".

So we should not dismiss Mr Kuria, tempting as that may be. We should take him seriously when he says that the goal of his amendments is to "control civil society".  We should all pay attention if we are to prevent a slide back to the dark days of the KANU dictatorship. As Plato once said, “the price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Mashujaa? Why, Bitches and Kvetches, Of Course!

In her insightful article, Memorialisation and memory of human rights abuses: a Kenyan example, Laragh Larsen notes the importance of memorials in not just commemorating the past but also in sanitising it. She also highlights the importance of alternatives to the official histories propagated by the state: “While official memory of Mau Mau was suppressed through decades of state-endorsed amnesia,” she writes, “published memoirs of former fighters and detainees of the rebellion allowed Mau Mau to stay alive in the public memory.”

As we mark Mashujaa Day, a day which is meant to commemorate the heroes of the past as well as those of the present, it is important that we remember that many of these heroes (and heroines) will not be found in the official rosters put out by government officials. Indeed, many will be offering subversive alternatives to the official truth propagated by government spin doctors and media pundits. Because these narratives will generally seek to debunk the optimistic vision that these are selling, their purveyors are easily branded as inveterate complainers and doyens of negativity.

In fact, complaining has never been particularly appreciated as part of our national democratic discourse. On Mashujaa Day, Machakos Governor, Alfred Mutua had no problems preaching “unity and development free from poverty politics,” to a county with poverty levels of 64 per cent. The very word “complain”carries a negative connotation as do its synonyms, such as moan or grumble. As Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, says, “to complain is always non-acceptance of what is. It always carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain you make yourself a victim.”  It is many times associated with empty, supposedly unconstructive criticism, a capricious exercise of the vainglorious power of the put-down. "Complaint gives you power, even when it's only the power of emotional bribery, of creating previously unnoticed levels of social guilt," writes Robert Hughes, author of Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America.

In a 2001 article for Time, Hughes bemoans “the all-pervasive claim to victimhood,”  and “a juvenile culture of complaint in which Big Daddy is always to blame and the expansion of rights goes on without the other half of citizenship: attachment to duties and obligations. ”

 But the fact is whiners and gripes are critical to the proper functioning of any democracy and any governance and service delivery framework built on the tenets of free consent. They are the ones who alert us to wrong doing and incompetence, who let us know when we are getting a raw deal. An inquiry into the appalling care offered between 2005 and 2008 at the main hospital in Stafford in the UK acknowledged the importance of bellyaching. “In the end, the truth was uncovered in part by attention being paid to the true implications of its mortality rates, but mainly because of the persistent complaints made by a very determined group of patients and those close to them. This group wanted to know why they and their loved ones had been failed so badly,” says the Francis report, which was released last year. The House of Commons Public Affairs Select Committee in a follow up inquiry found “that valuing complaints and supporting people who feel the need to complain should be at the heart of the values which drive public services,” and even recommending that “there should be a minister for government policy on complaints handling.” As the late American novelist, Zora Neale Hurston said, “If you keep silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

In Kenya, it was malcontents and inveterate complainers such as Dedan Kimathi, Bildad Kaggia, Jomo Kenyatta, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Achieng Oneko, Daniel arap Moi and Pio Gama Pinto, who hastened the onset of independence. They took their gripes right to the heart of the colonial edifice. And when the regimes they formed turned to be little different from those of their British predecessors, it fell to moaners like Jean-Marie Seroney, Martin Shikuku, Raila Odinga, Koigi wa Wamwere, Wangari Maathai, Timothy Njoya, Kivutha Kibwana and John Githongo to keep the fire of resistance alive.

Today, these and many others will or should be honoured for what they did. But even as we raise memorials to them, we must beware that which is sanitised, not just the unsavoury past of many of our heroes, but also the contemporary grouches whom we will not acknowledge. In the last few years, despite the “expanded democratic space” Kenyans love to crow about, it has actually become much less fashionable to bitch about and challenge official narratives of progress and development. It has not been easy for those who have sought to develop and propagate other stories and to keep alive memories that the country would rather forget. 

In fact, there has been a concerted effort to silence alternative voices, to generate an atmosphere of unremitting optimism which is oppressive to any suggestions to the contrary. Questions over the utility of the infrastructure projects the government is undertaking are given short shrift as are concerns over its subversion of the constitution to protect the President from trial at The Hague. During his Mashujaa Day address, President Uhuru himself decried what he called "constant negativity" and "endless, noisy and unproductive politicking," urging the country to concentrate on "development." Those who query his government's commitment to values such as justice, the rule of law and equity are accused of being agents of foreign powers, lacking in patriotism. Sovereignty is conflated with uncritical support for the government and love for country with silence over its many shortcomings.

A recent example can be found in the furore over reports that civil society activists had called for sanctions if the government was found to have breached its obligation to cooperate with the International Criminal Court. Putting to one side the fact the the activists in question say they issued no such call, it is curious that concern over the alleged failure by those in authority to live up to the requirements of a treaty that is part of our own laws is controversial; that demanding action against such a government is somehow unpatriotic. Here one is reminded of the calls for economic sanctions by the then opposition during the struggle against the Moi dictatorship. Further, when the Kenya government, which has itself raised matters before the ICC at international fora, including at the UN, expresses concern when others do the same, it arrogates to itself the sole right to fulminate and affirms the view that the official truth is the only one that should be heard.

Yet we need to hear the issues, stories and memories kept alive by the moaners. By the people at Brainstorm, by the refusal of Prof Wambui Mwangi to forget the suffering of our women and Denis Nzioka that of the LGBTI community, by the likes of Shailja Patel, Prof Keguro Macharia and Abdullahi Boru who will not let us forget about Kasarani and the victims of Operation Usalama Watch, the folks at Maskani and Pawa 254 who are generating new and useful conversations about where we are headed as a country. The much denigrated denizens of civil society who refuse to be silenced. These and many others, too numerous to name, both online and offline, are the one who dare to raise their voice, to say it is not all sunshine and roses, to demand equality and justice.

So here’s to the complainers and the bellyaches, the grouches and the gripes, the bitches and the kvetches, the grouses and the squawks. For their non-acceptance of what is, they are my Mashujaa.