The IEBC Chairman

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairman, Isaack Hassan asks rhetorically, “How can you question our integrity and at the same time seek our services?” This question does not need an answer. For, the answer is implied within the question. “We will not give you the services you crave, if you question our integrity.”

Linguists and psychologists have taught us the notion of semantic priming. They talk about implicit memory. Exposure to one stimulus conjures up memory of another. This is because the two tend to go together. Thus if we are exposed to the stimulus “doctor” we are likely to think of “hospital” than “railway station.”

This is also called “associative priming.” Given one notion, your mind is primed to look for other notions associated with it. There could be dozens of notions associated with any one stimulus. For the stimulus “doctor,” some associated notions could be “nurse, medicine, injection, x-ray, clinic and theatre.”

However, Mr. Hassan makes our work fairly easy. He does not subject us to a wide search for association of thought. It is all contained in the self-same construct. In this case, the association is between the notions “question our integrity” and “not get our service.” He is saying, “We will not serve you, if you question our integrity.” Put differently, he is saying, “If you want us to serve you, don’t question our integrity.”

Never mind, if you find things like “semantic priming” too complicated. There is something simpler, which we all deal with everyday. It is called paralinguistic features. You have often heard someone ask, “How can you speak to me like that?” They might even add, “I don’t like your attitude.” Very often, how you say it tells it all. The same words uttered in exactly the same sequence will mean two very different things.

This is where paralinguistic features come in. And what are these features? They are verbal aspects of communication that don’t exactly include words. They include such things as body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, voice pitch, tone, intonation, hoarseness in the voice, loss of voice, breathing, mood among others.

These things can make us read you like an open book. The next time Mr. Hassan goes out to give a press conference, he would do well to think about these things. Paralinguistic features gave Mr. Hassan away as a visibly angry and edgy official. Even less controlled was Commissioner Thomas Letangule, who was with him.

On this particular occasion the IEBC officials were explaining to the Press why the IEBC rejected Cord’s signatures that are seeking for a referendum on the Constitution of Kenya. A million signatures are required. Cord could only garner slightly over 800,000, according to IEBC. Could IEBC have mischievously served Cord a cold dish out of bad blood?

Cord leaders accuse IEBC of foul play. They say that IEBC is the Jubilee Government’s confederate in trying to frustrate their referendum effort. Accordingly, Cord has promised to use “legal, extra legal and extra judicial methods” to meet their goal. I take special note of “extra legal” and “extra judicial.”

An “extra legal” action is an action that is not regulated by the law. In the same manner, an “extra judicial” action is an action that is not legally authorized. Cord leaders are therefore saying that they will now throw the laws to the dogs. They will use all means possible to get what they want, regardless that the methods are lawful or not.

This is where we have reached. The IEBC is telling Cord, “We are angry with you. You have questioned our integrity. We will not serve you.” For its part, Cord is saying, “Fair and square. We will now not even bother with you or with the courts. We will do it our own way. We don’t care what the laws say. We have lost faith in you and in the legal system generally.”

People’s perceptions about your integrity are part of what the philosopher Aristotle calls your personal ethos. They include things like your reputation, moral authority and trustworthiness. Each of us is responsible for cultivating this ethos. Even before you rise to address people, they are already inwardly and quietly saying something to themselves about you. It may be a good thing, or a bad thing. It all depends on the reputation you have cultivated. It could be, “It is always a delight to listen to this lady.” But it could also be, “What does this thief want to tell us this time? Look at the thief!”

We cannot blame people for what they think about us. The trouble begins the moment they tell us their thoughts. An institution like the IEBC’s reputation and that of its officials is unfortunately not a matter limited to their ethos. It is a matter of grave public concern. Expect disaster when a major interested party loses faith in the IEBC.

The world wakes up everyday to appalling allegations that undermine the ethos of IEBC officials. Theirs seems to be a long and sad tale of abuse of office. They have been cited in more scandals than I care to catalogue. They just have to come clean. Public outbursts of anger will not restore their wounded image.

Yet it is not just about wounded images. Perceptions on dynamics between IEBC and Jubilee could sink Kenya. It is instructive that Jubilee politicians treat the commission like a spoilt lapdog. Each time IEBC is called to probity, the first line of defence is invariably from Jubilee. This entrenches the perception that the commission could be a Jubilee instrument. Both Jubilee and IEBC have a duty to remove this dangerous perception ahead of next year’s elections. Pronouncements such as we have heard from Mr. Hassan do not help at all. They only move Kenya closer to the threshold.

In A Few Days

In a few days time, President Uhuru Kenyatta will make his third state of the nation address. The head of state will speak to the joint houses of Parliament and to the country on Kenya’s social, political and economic health. In line with the Constitution, he is expected to show how his Government is adhering to national values and promoting good governance and national unity.

This government arrived to power talking about national unity, the economy and open governance. Naturally the three areas form a basis for assessment of government’s performance. To address national unity, the President and his deputy want to dissolve the constituent parties in the ruling Jubilee Alliance and replace the alliance with one party. Rather than be the harbinger to the much-touted unity, this idea is causing divisions in Jubilee itself, even before they can hope to rope in others. Political parties in Kenya are tribal outfits; each led by a tribal leader. The thinking is that if you replace them with one party, you will achieve national unity.

This is a curious and retrogressive way of looking at things. It is a rollback to the 1960s when Kenya became a de facto one party state. The argument was exactly the same. Tom Mboya and Jomo Kenyatta argued that political pluralism was hurting national unity. That was how competition of ideas was killed and one party dictatorship established. National unity in a multi tribal society is best nurtured through giving all citizens equal opportunities. In this the Jubilee government has failed grossly. President Kenyatta presides over an ethnic duopoly. Even if all the political parties in Kenya were to be dissolved and replaced with only one party, this alone would not create national unity. The face of the Public Service is disturbingly duopolistic. If the President does not dismantle this duopoly and replace it with the face of Kenya, his national unity proclamations remain a pipe dream and a formation of empty words.

On the economy and governance, we are likely to hear statistics of growth and of new targets. We are likely to hear about reduced oil prices and of the visits by President Obama, the Pope and of the UNCTD meeting in Nairobi as indices of good performance. Kenya’s role in regional matters might also come up and maybe a word on devolution, too. This is good. However, sustainable youth agenda remains a challenge. Uwezo Fund seems to be a conduit for corruption, as we have seen what is happening in the Youth Fund. There is no tangible engagement with unemployment among the youth. This is a time bomb. The government must stop paying lip service to the youth.

Equally important is deliberate and sustained exclusion of women. Today President Kenyatta presides over an unconstitutional cabinet. This should not even be a matter for discussion and argument. The gender equation in the cabinet is illegal. Without first correcting this imbalance, the President should avoid talking about the Constitution altogether. Indeed, the Constitution has been failed in several other areas. The National Government continues to cling on to devolved functions because of wanting to control the money that should follow those functions to counties. The catalogue of corruption in National Government is a clear indication of why those functions have not been allowed to go. President Kenyatta should address this or refrain from talking about the equality, the Constitution and devolution.

A related anomaly is that the structure of the Public Service remains unclear. Having created ministries and appointed office holders, the President has failed to show which government departments and parastatals fall under which ministry. Some departments that belonged to defunct ministries do not know where they fall. Now one minister will attempt to lay claim on a certain function, only for another one to say it is his. President Kenyatta should streamline this ahead of the state of the nation address. Once again, corruption and theft thrives under this ambiguity. I would want to believe that this is not deliberate and sinister organized disorganization of government.

Predictably, the President will say many good things about his government, while also finding scapegoats and excuses for the things that have not worked. The President will be mindful that next year is an election year. He is likely therefore to paint a rosy picture and to stretch the reality, both when giving a catalogue of his government’s achievements and explaining away what has not been achieved. In all this, however, the President will do well to remember that he is the person with the instruments of government. He must refrain from scapegoating. In particular, he must allow the Opposition to continue faulting his government while the media faults both. The Opposition, especially, does not exist to praise his government.

Kenyans will expect reliable updates on the standard gauge railway, on the LAPSET project and on the school laptops project. These should not be window dressed to mask corruption that has been alleged in these areas. The latest spin in government is that civil freedoms and liberties and making it impossible for the government to fight corruption. This is garbage. The President should steer clear of this cheap propaganda. Indeed, if he believes that he cannot fight corruption, he must tell the nation why he remains in power and why he needs a second term.

Nonetheless, I expect to hear hard to believe things about the war on corruption. This has been the zone of spectacular failure. Indeed, it is no longer in doubt that one of the businesses and rewards of government in Kenya is corruption. In this regard, both the President and his deputy are most eloquent and angry when addressing those who speak against corruption than they are when speaking about those who loot national coffers.

A Reminder From My Agemates

The lasses who grew up with me in the ‘70s have rebuked me for not mentioning their flowing maxi skirts of that age in my perorations of last week.   The maxi arrived concurrently with the twin names Yves Saint Laurent and of American hippies. We were hearing about them for the first time.
Hippies were the ultimate youthful rebels. They dressed after their own fashion and listened to what they called psychedelic music. Strangely, they loved this overflowing skirt from Yves Saint Laurent. If the Americans thought it was good, then it must be good for us! Striving for space was the midi skirt, newly returned from oblivion, where the revealing and expressive mini skirt had cast it in the 1960s. Now we thought we were more imaginative. We said that we could undress you with our eyes. We left revelation and expressiveness to dull minds.

A common extra were dark glasses, in the fashion of Isaac Hayes and Manu Dibango. Apart from looking the part, it was said that the future was too bright. You needed dark glasses to slow it down a little. When you went dancing at the Inn on the Park, at the Starlight, Hallians or at the Garden Square Restaurant, you never left your sunglasses – for the future was too bright. You even sat in the movie house at Cameo munching and watching, in your sunglasses! Yes, the future was bright. You would think along with the poet William Wordsworth who said of the age of revolutions in Europe, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive; but to young was very heaven – oh!”

The adult population never tired of reminding us that we were “future leaders.” Our day would come – I guess it has come. For we now tell younger generations that they are the future leaders. I have not listened to them to find out about their modish sunglasses. I don’t know whether they also “signify” an excessively bright future that must be tamed with dark glasses. Or do theirs signify a bleak future, which they need to begin getting used to?

La Nouvelle Generation

In 1975, Congolese songster Mbubi Malanda lamented about my generation. He called us La Nouvelle Generation. We were the adolescent generation of the day, a restless new demographic. Like all youth, we thought that we had invented the sun. In fact we thought that we had invented everything under the sun. We knew everything! And we disturbed people like Mbubi Malanda and his producer and saxophonist, Verckys Kiamwangana Mateta.

We were savouring the joys and pleasures of freedom far from the sheltered and suffocating confines of home. Male and female alike, we operated on the fuel of youthful adrenaline. The girls were learning to perfect the art of feminine coquetry while the boys cherished their budding machismo. Our baldheads today carried natural Afro wigs, in the style of James Brown, the American king of soul at that time.

We wore Levis and Lee jeans with slim fit tops, after Elvis Presley. The girls were stepping out boldly in long trousers, to the chagrin of many an elder. The boys displayed their pectorals for all who cared to see. We swung in high-healed platform shoes and bellbottomed flares. We called ourselves “cool cats.” And we liked trendy and dressy role models. Kiamwangana Mateta Wanzela Mbongo was one of them. I often operated under the sobriquet of Mario Matadidi Mabele Bwana Kitoko.

The man Kiamwangana regaled us with one new hit after the other. Having rebelled and defected from Lwambo Luanzo Makiadi’s All Powerful – Tout Puissant – Orchestre Kinshasa (TP OK) Jazz, in 1968, Verckys had gone on to constitute his own Orchestre Veve. Veve would presently begin giving TP OK Jazz a run for its artistic monies. Then came the production house, Editions Veve, the mother of such hits as Matoba, Engunduka, Lukani, Masua, Mombassa – and numerous others, as we remember. We were happy to be young and yes, we thought we had invented the sun.

But while delighting us with these great hits, Verckys and Mbubi left us breathless with Nouvelle Generation. Mbubi said that we were a generation whose ears towered above our heads; “Generation ya sika matoyi eleki moto oh!” he sang. We were hard of hearing. We followed our whims and dreams. Boys and girls alike dropped out of school, to wallow in leisure. Some got into precipitate marriages. They had no idea what awaited them in their ill advised rushed nuptials. Mbula Malanda lamented about the short lived sweetness of our youthful blunders, “Libala oh, libala ya sika elengi mingi!”

The big irony of the day was the verve and gravitas with which we danced to the orchestra and the lyrics of Nouvelle Generation. Never mind that we were the dubitable focus. We danced at school and away. We danced on the roadside and in the alleys. We danced in social halls and, soon enough, even sneaked our way into pubs. We danced! We secretly explored and discovered the meaning of life. And so Orchestra Lipua Lipua thought they should do this number about us, la nouvelle generation of the 1970s.

Yet la nouvelle generation is always there, each imagining like the one before, that it is the founder of the sun, life and the mechanism that produces life. Does every new generation seek to take its youthful exploits several notches higher than all others before? If Mbubi Malanda thought that the youth of the ‘70s were rushing into early marriage, he should know that marriage is today increasingly anachronistic. Transient group binges are more like it. Invitations are sold in the open. They may read in part, “No rules, no regulations. The less dressed, the better. Bring your own high, even grass.” The orgies are recorded and sold abroad, the Film Classification Board says! And the youth say, “Leave us alone! Run after the thieves in government!”

Yet can anything new really happen under the sun? We read of prurient and salacious orgies even in the ancient world. Mathias Schulz has written of Sex in Service of Aphrodite in the ancient world. The foulest act in Babylon was obligatory ritual sex between every woman with a stranger, at least once in her lifetime, in the Temple of Aphrodite – the goddess of love, beauty and pleasure. In the Holy Bible, we read of the Prophet Hosea (4: 9 – 19) raining against the practice of temple prostitution. In 2 Kings 23: 7 we read of male prostitutes in the Lord’s temple.

In the end, the new generation invents nothing. If sexual aberrations and orgies are the hallmarks of freshness and liberation, they bring nothing new. Indeed they take the parties back to the jungle where, in the words of say “Project X,” there would be no rules, no regulations. Accordingly, in the words of the philosopher Voltaire, our youth will crawl on four legs even as they serenade and mould. They will narrow the space between them and wildlife. Mbubi Malanda would say to them, “Sala la vie malembe, na-repete malembe!” Which is to say bite life gently, I repeat gently, it is hot!

For their part, older generations need to ask where they went wrong. If our ears once towered above our heads, we were only too eager to begin families. Where did we go wrong? Why is the product of our towering ears overwhelmed with prurient appetites that have absolutely no redeeming social value? In the end, it cannot be just the youth. Have we failed the test of parenthood? As I said, we danced at school in our time. Sometimes a girl’s school visited and we danced together. Today this is anathema. Do we bottle up the youth so much that when they get a little space away from school they don’t even know what to do with it? Or do they act out of frustration? Do they find life meaningless as a result of absence of opportunities? Are they overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness in a country whose leaders are forever quarreling, stealing and abusing one another? Are they looking for an escape route from daunting reality?

Cheating And Stealing Sits At The Kenyan National Ethos

Graft sits comfortably at the top of Kenya’s national ethos. When President Uhuru Kenyatta says this, we feel uncomfortable. We get very angry with him. The facts, however, would hardly be different if somebody else said the same thing. The only significant difference is that Kenyans expect President Kenyatta to lead in the fight against this horrific culture.

Within the Jubilee Alliance, the political consensus is that they are doing something about it. Elsewhere, the perception is that Jubilee has lost the fight. Some even accuse the government for sponsoring corruption. Last year the president declared corruption a national disaster. He invited every citizen to be enjoined in the war against this scourge. Yet very little of practical import seems to be happening. Yes, names have been floated and a few people have appeared in court. But that is as far as it goes. Given our track record, there is cause to fear that we are going nowhere.

This week’s release of last year’s KCSE results has reminded us that our children are watching us. We are reminded of the saying that when mother cow is chewing cud, the calf looks at her mouth. Soon, the calf will also begin moving its labials in rhythm with the mother. Kenyan children have been watching the eating adult mouths. They have clearly taken up our bad habits. Some 5,101 candidates did not get their results, because of cheating in the exams. The rate of cheating rose by an astronomical 70 percent over the previous year. This is horrendous.

The school is the nursery where our future attitudes, habits and practices are cultivated. Stealing exams casts the school as the breeding ground for future grand thieves. To its huge discredit, the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) kept denying the theft last year. It is puzzling that they should now come out to give statistics of who cheated.
Clearly, all is not well at the KNEC. Even as the Ministry of Education metes out punishment to the children, KNEC officials should also bite the bullet. If the CEO cannot identify the reprobates in his office, he should step down. His officials have failed Kenyans. If he does not know which ones of his officers were involved, he needs to bite the bullet on behalf of the council. He must fall on his sword. He cannot sit well with his conscience as the youth pay for delinquency that began with the KNEC.

The Education Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Fred Matiang’i, brought to the fore another disturbing challenge in the public school system. Over the past three years, the government has spent KShs. 9 billion on equipping public schools. Most of this money has gone towards books. Yet the ratio of books to children is one book for every five children. What this means is that the government’s noble objective one book per child has not been realized. We are still where we were in 2002, when the current public schools book cycle began.

I had the privilege of serving as the chair of the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) at this time. A revised 8 – 4 – 4 syllabus began being implemented in 2003. The rollout matured in 2006. At the start, the target ratio of the book to the child was one book per five children. It was expected that within five years, there would be enough books in schools to see every child allocated a book to himself or herself. Tragically this has not happened.

If my reader is surprised, I am not. As the KPA chair, I raised the alarm bells as early as 2003. By the end of 2004, things were totally out of hand. While the Ministry of Education delighted in announcing that billions of shillings had been released to schools for book purchases, publishers continued to be lumbered with books. Investigations by KPA revealed a conspiracy involving schools, bookshops and omnivorous education officials.

Accordingly, booksellers would invoice schools for books they had not supplied. The schools would authorise the education office to pay. Payment would be made and the loot shared. It was appalling that publishers’ efforts to bring this malpractice to the attention of Jogoo House fell on indifferent-to-deaf ears. Not even the development partners who funded the project to the tune of KShs. 9 billion in the first two years alone were interested in listening to the publishers.

Audits were falsified and false returns made. The cheating and stealing continued. By 2011 the British had woken up to the reality. They demanded a refund of up to KShs. 4.5 billion that had been looted. The government returned the money. Some junior fellows from Jogoo House were paraded in court as the thieves. The matter eventually died a natural death, leaving the taxpayer a couple of billion shillings poorer.

The Ministry of Education’s decision to take a fresh look into the working of the school books supply system is a welcome move, coming a little late – but better late than never. The school books supply system is at once a gravy train and a looters’ paradise. Serious booksellers are now wary of stocking books. For few public schools buy from them. It will surprise the Education CS that the captains of theft in schools sit with him right there in Jogoo House. Their networks run all the way to the schools, through county offices. They are complexly wired to bookshops and to auditors, whose only audit interest is the brown envelope in the head teacher’s drawer.

Yes, when it comes to theft, Kenyans have special honours. I don’t know whether President Kenyatta will hack it. It requires decisive ruthlessness to end this thing. When you discover that the night runners in the village are your relatives and bosom friends, will you disclose your findings to an irate village? This is the question President Kenyatta and CS Matiang’i must confront.