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.