If You Want to Hide The Truth, Hide it From Yourself

The top brass around power is either a cocktail of perfect dissemblers, or they are simply dead. Whatever the case, they are to be pitied. “We are the dead,” Winston Smith says at the moment of rapture in George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four. An invisible metallic voice frightfully echoes him in affirmation, “You are the dead.”

Kenya’s crème de la crème frightens you with the thought that they are dead. Do we seem to have lost all capacity to interrogate things, to see issues in perspective? Or, perhaps, we just never had the ability in the first place? We have always subscribed to the school that says, “Ignorance is strength.” Where we are not genuinely ignorant, we must either feign ignorance, or force it – especially in pursuit of narrow political correctness.

We have watched two appalling claptrap events this week. It does not seem politically correct, of course, to talk about the awkward and anxious moment in Mathira, when the nation’s psyche was on the burial of Governor Nderitu Gachagwa. President Kibaki had had an awkward moment with his speech. He got people of conscience worried.
And I kept wondering where his speechwriter was, or what he had done with the speech. This was no way to treat Mzee Kibaki. He was let down badly. Yet the notables around him went on clapping amidst the awkwardness. The less said the better. Suffice it to say that this serves to demonstrate that we are a claptrap nation. We will clap because we think everybody is clapping.

But Nyeri was nothing, compared to Naivasha and Turkana. President Uhuru Kenyatta was in his element, flying off the handle. At a time when everybody thought that the injurious matter of the doctors’ strike was coming to an amicable end, the President went into a frightful and unprovoked outburst with threats and innuendo. Without weighing the meaning of the new trajectory in the impasse, the crème de la crème assembled in Naivasha went into a frenzy of laudation.

Elsewhere in Turkana, an angry President told the people to keep their votes if they thought they could “blackmail him” with the votes. Their sin was to question the agenda of his government in Turkana. The dignitaries with the President thought that this merited a huge round of applause. Others have gone on to justify this in public space. Such are the people referred to in social science as “useful idiots,” justifying the unjustifiable.

We see such things all the time. The doctors’ strike has been handled very poorly from the very outset. An arrogant government and a rigid union have stuck on to their puerile egos. Such is the reward of having untested and unproven youth in government and in the unions. They lack the temperament to deal with heavy issues.

When they say “the government,” it is not difficult to imagine what they mean. It cannot be the paper tigers that have been meeting with the health union officials. These “tigers” have no mandate to conclude anything with anybody. They have only wasted everybody’s time, knowing very well that they could not close any deal with the doctors, without express permission from the very top. Kenyans have been treated to a futile charade from the Executive. You expect that everyone knows this. Yet we pretend not to.

Either we are plain dishonest, or we have cold porridge where brains should sit in our heads. We have surrendered our intellect to the priests of power and gods of instant gratification. Because of the immediate benefits that we hanker for from those who exercise power, we close our eyes to reality. We shy away from speaking the truth to power.  We wait, instead, to clap when the President goes off the handle with ultimatums that are doomed to fail.
The intellectual population around power has allowed itself to be part of a massive great unwashed. It has sunk into a mob of plebs who genuinely believe that the government has been negotiating with the doctors. What then is the worth of the education we have had? The great scholar will be writing in the press and speaking on TV and radio, praising the President for “telling off the doctors.”

This intellectual is merely a mouth that utters and a hand that writes whatever is demanded of it. If he has any concern, it is limited to finding out what is desired of the mouth to say and the hand to write. This is why the strike has gone on for three months now. University dons, for their part, are in the second month of a strike. This seems normal in our country. Those who should advise the President are meanwhile waiting to read his lips and echo them, to clap wildly and to laugh uproariously.

In the end, we are victims of the culture of official claptrap and dead psyche. Even when it is so obvious that the situation does not merit a celebration of any kind whatsoever, we outdo ourselves. Rational thinking is too dangerous for us. We have, therefore, refused to think. Orwell says of us, “The mind should develop a blind spot whenever a dangerous thought presents itself. The process should be automatic, instinctive. Crimestop, they called it.” The intellectuals around power have therefore consciously surrendered the power of intellectual effort to an instinctive mental block.

Intellectuals have won the victory over themselves and are comfortable in a zombie role, flowing with the crowd. Martin Luther King would say in the essay Rediscovering Lost Values, “Most people can’t stand up for their convictions, because the majority of the people might not be doing it.  Everybody is not doing it, so it must be wrong. And since everybody is doing it, it must be right . . . We have adopted a sort of relativistic ethic.” Orwell caps it, “Sanity was statistical. It was merely a question of thinking as they (everybody else) thought.” If you want to hide the truth, hide it from yourself.

The NASA Moment

This NASA moment bears both the bright character of an epiphany and the dull outlook of yet another false promise – a political de ja vu. What will it be, in the long run? The principals of Ford Kenya, ODM, Wiper and ANC parties have signed a unity pact. Concurrently, they have given Kenya a political promissory note. They are upbeat with super tidings of a super nation in super days ahead. The super alliance is, accordingly, a super promise of a super nation – a veritable epiphany.
The seven-bundled NASA moment should be cause for the nation to hold its breath with pregnant expectancy. Yet this week’s super promise of a super deal between a possible NASA government and the people comes against a frustrating grain of history. Kenya has had numerous false dawns. Should we expect a morning of fulfillment under Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang’ula? Is a super deal possible?
At the dawn of independence in 1963, Kenya had its first whiff of super hope. Fifty-three years later, we still suffer from crippling poverty, suffocating ignorance and basic disease. What went wrong? In 1963, forty years of colonial rule were coming to an end, and with them an overall 68-year period of official British presence. The age of exclusion was ending. Kenyans would determine their own destiny in an inclusive God blessed land, where justice would be our only shield and defender.
The super promise of 1963 talked of the glory of Kenya and the fruit of our labour. This would fill up every heart with thanksgiving. It was an epic moment. Our founders spoke in the mantra of uhuru na kazi. Our credo was freedom and labour. President Mwai Kibaki would later rephrase this as “a working nation.” Historical narratives and photographic records of the age paint a nation overflowing with love and goodwill, across the peoples and their leaders.
Tragically, things began falling apart within months. We got into the house. And the rain started beating us. Within 24 months, we had changed the independence constitution enough times to pave way for corruption and presidential autocracy. We had moved swiftly from a majoritarian parliamentary system of government led by a Prime Minister to an imperial presidency.
The first President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, was not even elected – not even once throughout his 15-year reign. He first became President through political sleight of hand. Tom Mboya did the trick. They simply changed the constitution. Kenyatta became President via the first amendment. They killed devolution, abolished regional assemblies, killed the Senate and moved on to paralyze the Opposition.
At Mzee’s death in 1978, they had killed the independence party, Kanu. They jailed anyone who dared to say Kanu was dead. In between, corruption, political assassinations, negative ethnicity and arbitrary detention amidst segmental autocracy had become the norm. In the words of JM Kariuki – who was killed by government functionaries – we were “a nation of ten millionaires and ten million beggars.” It was an open secret that the demise of the Kenyatta government was keenly awaited.
Enter President Moi in 1978, and the country glowed with hope and expectancy. This was despite the new President pledging to walk in the footsteps of his predecessor. We thought, some of us, that this promise was only a figure of speech. And indeed, give it to President Moi, the first four years of the Nyayo Era were promising.
The macro economic growth was breathtaking – Nyayo Tea Zones, Nyayo Wards, Nyayo Buses, Nyayo Milk, a brand new international airport in Nairobi, two new national stadiums; roads re-carpeted from Mombasa to Malaba and Busia. There were jobs, jobs and more jobs. Towns like Meru, Embu, Kisii . . . had tarmac for the first time. We planted trees  . . .  Education grew by leaps and bounds  . . .  War against corruption . . . Then disaster struck.
Maybe it was the excessive praises we bathed the President in, all the time? Nyayo just refused to accommodate alternative voices. It was all back to the worst of the Kenyatta script. Only the cast was revised. From de facto one-party dictatorship we now legislated one-party absolutism. Never mind that the party was really dead. It came back from its grave as a horrendous monster from the dead.
Kenyans longed for a new dawn, yet again. And they would get several false ones. The single party days went away in November 1991. Still, Kenya did not become a super state. Then we thought all would be possible without Moi. Moi left in 2002, but we did not become a super country. President Kibaki did not give us a super deal, or make us a super people. No. Kibaki gave national cohesion a blow that has left it staggering to date. It was the same old raw deal.
Whatever its flaws, however, the Nusu Mkate regime came closest to giving Kenyans a real deal. A new constitution and infrastructural efforts are there for all to see. Yet, an exclusionary political economy watered down the gains. Besides, Kibaki gave us UhuRuto. An age heralded as digitally transformational has turned into one long night of darkness and horrible dreams. The UhuRuto state is a felonious hydra – an insensitive ethnic-based gremlin that abets theft by public servants. It is quite comfortable working with the suspects.
NASA has a tall order. The leaders must convince us that they herald an epiphany that we can believe in. The Super Alliance must quickly get over monotonous flag bearer issues. They must begin painting super pictures of a super country that we can believe in. Apart from obvious things about past raw deals, they must give us convincing visions of a super deal.
How do Kenyans become one super people again? What will they do to make the citizens feel like a super nation with super dreams? How will our super dreams become super achievements? Here in Emanyulia we have always been super people, nursing super hopes. We want nothing short of a super promise for a super deal. Over to you at NASA, we are waiting and watching.

Leaders jungle dance as Kenyans suffer

The world must laugh at us. Our leaders are suffocating in a wild jungle dance, nervously competing to register voters. It is a matter of life and death. For the past two weeks, Kenya’s political kingpins have been feverishly running amok in their tribal backyards, whipping up aboriginal sentiments, petitioning populations to register.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) kick-started the process in a fashion reminiscent of where the Christian Good Book says, “In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. And all went out to be registered, each to his own town (Luke 2:1).”

“And President Uhuru also went up from State House Nairobi to Central Kenya to be registered. For, he was of the house and lineage of Mount Kenya. And Raila Odinga went out to Kisumu and to Siaya. And Kalonzo Musyoka . . . . (Luke 2 : 4 – 5).”  The country has been cast into an urgent frenzy, hunting for an ethnic tyranny of numbers.

Without the voter’s card, you cannot be allowed to drink. You may not even ride on a hazardous motorbike, christened boda boda. Nor can you take the Christian Holy Communion. A man is not allowed to partake of suspended congress with a woman – not even if she is his lawfully wedded wife. You must be excused to imagine that you are married to a ballot box.

Amidst the frenzy is a two-month old doctors’ strike, with no end in sight. Public universities’ lecturers went on strike a week ago. Nobody seems to be interested in where this will end up. But the pick of the basket is the drought and famine ravaging diverse parts of the country. Millions are at the risk of dying of famine. Compared to the need to register voters, however, these are not important concerns. You can enjoy your congress and crown it with the Feast of the Eucharist, if you want.

Is it the case of the fabled country that had parodies for managers with sleepwalking followers? The country’s public hospitals have shut down for two months. Nobody knows how many people have died as a result. Nobody gives you any figures. Yet the people and their leaders tremble and itch to find out which tribe has registered more voters than the rest.

To paraphrase British writer and statesman, Sir Harold G. Nicholson (1886 – 1968), our political class is “a bunch of mere hucksters in the market of governance, battering the happiness of millions with a scented smile.” For their part, the citizens are sheep staring in the eye of a Zombie Apocalypse, but still expecting to survive. We are the dead.

We are morally, intellectually and emotionally dead. The world is increasingly getting safe for democracy. Yet, as Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) would say,  Kenyans still wallow in “re-robbing the earth’s wormy dynasties in their old gilt, to dazzle anew the globe.”

Hence, President Kenyatta finds the time to sing in mother tongue on a regional radio station, but none to go to Turkana to witness the plight of the famished. When he eventually makes it to Marsabit, it is not to fellowship with the miserable, but to seek votes – from the starving and the dying. He gravitates in the safe havens of the town centres, insulated from the harsh realities of the scorching hunger. Oh, how Kenya must miss Moi!

But if the ruling top brass has upturned priorities, so too is the political opposition. Someday they will be sitting somewhere, wondering how they lost golden opportunities. Kenya’s opposition lacks the killer instinct. When in hard times a country’s unmoved official leadership selfishly sinks into the innermost sanctums of its ancestral strongholds to galvanize an already subservient electorate, an informed opposition seizes the chance to strike.

Raila Odinga and his team lost the chance to descend on Marsabit, Turkana, Pokot and Baringo.  They failed to take relief food to the starving and to glow in the media as Uhuru and Ruto mobilized their relatives to vote for them. I expected them to mobilize food donations from the Cord governors and from other well-wishers, to beat Jubilee at its own game.

Fancy this succession of images. First there is an agitated president and his deputy. They holler animatedly to clannish crowds. They implore them to come out in huge numbers, “to protect uthamaki.”  They call everybody names and issue threats and innuendo.

Then comes a succession of images of opposition leaders, mingling with the wretched of the earth. When they are not in the famine zones, they are visiting hospitals across the country, addressing the plight of the sick. They meet with the striking medics and university dons. They plead with them to return to work. They promise to address the grievances once they ascend to power. With this, they would not even need to mobilize their own tribal mobs. However, wisdom is a lonely orphan.

Parliament began its final session like a moribund institution. It was business as usual. Amidst the crises in the food, education, health and leadership sectors, Parliament did not seek a motion of adjournment, to discuss on the emergencies in the country.

Governments are constituted to guarantee the security and happiness of the citizens. At independence, Kenya’s founders pledged to secure the country against poverty, ignorance and disease. When the country’s health, higher education and food sectors are in a mess, government has clearly failed.

Why do they want you to vote for them when they have already failed the test of leadership? In the words of the 28th US President, Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924), “Peoples and provinces should not be bandied about like pawns in a game.” Yet, everywhere in Kenya, the leaders trade them about with impunity. And their victims think that the presidency is a tribal trophy, an end in itself.

Obama’s departure and lessons for Mother Africa

Barack Obama is easily the happiest and most fulfilled person in the world today. The Obama family begins a new life this weekend, after a successful eight-year tour of duty in the White House. Over this time, Obama has diligently held the American tiger by the tail. He has successfully walked it through a global minefield and handed it over to the volatile Donald Trump.

Barack and Michelle can now sit on the balcony in the evening and watch the sun set over a cup of tea, without the burden of worrying on behalf of their country and the world at large. Such is the triumphal beauty of accomplishment. You can resonate with sage who said, “I have fought a good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.” What happens thereafter is really someone else’s responsibility.

Tragically, we don’t have this wisdom in Africa. Here, our wise rulers want to be kings forever. Alone in the world, they declare themselves life presidents. They don’t know the meaning of freedom, the beauty of a fulfilled life and the joy of living. Theirs is, therefore, a tortuous life of futile struggle and royal grief. They veritably strive for the wind. Africa pounds water in palace mortars, expecting to see a soft pulp. Time rolls by. The world moves on, scaling stratospheric heights of innovation and achievement in science and technology. Africans starve. They die of drought and famine while leaders roam the countryside, seeking power – even here in Kenya.

Palace dwellers, and common yahoos alike, engage in primitive accumulation until the day they drop dead. The Obamas run an eight-year dignified race. They do four years at a time and take a rest. For they know, as the poet George Gordon famously said, “So, we’ll go no more a roving, so late into the night. Though the heart be still as loving, and the moon be still as bright. For, the sword outwears its sheath, and the soul wears out the breast. And the heart must pause to breathe, and love itself have a rest.”

In civilized environments, even love for power takes a rest. This is despite the fact that the man in power may still be as popular as Obama has been. His approval ratings last week stood at 57 percent. However, the law says it’s time to go. And so he goes – in pursuit of happiness. Meanwhile, the African president remains a perennial hunter-gatherer.

His fate is one of permanent anger and unhappiness. Without exception, the African President is an erratic and unpredictable individual. Public outbursts of anger and ventilation of frustration are the only predictable things about him. You cannot help wondering why he must hang on to power, if its exercise makes him so unhappy. Striving for the wind.

You are reminded of the old sage whom Achebe wrote about in Things Fall Apart, “He always said that whenever he looked at a dead man’s mouth he saw the folly of not eating what one had in one’s lifetime.” In my lifetime, I have looked at numerous dead rich mouths. I have wondered with Unoka, “Why didn’t this man stop, at some point, to eat what he had? What was the futile amassing in aid of?  The tantrums, the high blood pressure, the frustration induced alcoholism?”

And so Africa is a foil to civilization, the headquarters of reversals and negations. At the time of filing this column things are coming to a head in The Gambia. Adama Barrow, who won the presidential election last month, was sworn into office in exile in Dakar, Senegal. Former president, Yahya Jammeh, has refused to surrender power. The man took over in a military coup 22 years ago. He once vowed that his dictatorial rule would last a billion years. Having lost the election, he declared a state of emergency. He dug in.

Mercifully, ECOWAS countries have received the UN Security Council’s nod to flush the dictator from the throne. He is now a common crook. At the time of this file, Senegalese troops have already crossed into the tiny Gambia. Nigerian military aircraft has closed the airspace, according to the BBC. More troops from other ECOWAS countries are massing around the borders. Hopefully they can flush out the disgraceful dictator without human collateral. We can only pray.

We are meanwhile reminded that last year Jammeh announced that The Gambia was withdrawing from the International Criminal Court. The Kenya Government swiftly picked up the cue. In the 53rd Jamhuri anniversary address, President Kenyatta announced that Kenya would also pursue this line, citing The Gambia as one of the models.

For the record, in 2014 Jammeh promised to hack off the heads of all homosexuals in The Gambia. He said he would treat them the way malaria carrying mosquitos should be treated. He has killed journalists like flies and outlawed civil society. He has expelled diplomats who have questioned his claims that he can cure AIDS. He is a self-proclaimed exorcist. He can tell that you are a witch, by just looking at you – in which case God have mercy on you.

It is an indictment against Africa that such a psychopath can reign for 22 years. Yahya Jammeh should rot in jail. The psychopath might commit suicide. If, however, he is captured alive, he must account for the thousands of murders that he committed. He has lived too well at the expense of other people.

While people like Barack Obama retire into quiet dignified living, the likes of Jammeh should retire into jail. It is the only way Africa’s primitive accumulators of wealth and sundry hunter-gatherers in Africa’s royal palaces will learn that even love itself must have a rest – for the sword outwears its sheath. And the soul wears out the breast; and the heart must pause to breathe  . . . ad infinitum.

Where There is Justice, Peace Prevails

The season of frantic peace prayers is here again. As usual, it comes fully loaded with hypocrisy and denial. There are whispers of fear and loud pleas for peace, as the clock ticks towards the new year.

People are worried about the likelihood of violence in the electoral season that the new year heralds. Accordingly, there are loud prayers in church houses and fervid pleas to ancestral deities from curious places in the bush, all in search for peace in the election year ahead. Nobody is asking why there could be a breakdown in the established peace order. Praying seems to be our magic antidote to political violence.

Prayer is itself a good thing, as I have kept saying in this column. Yet praying, as I understand it, is a sacrosanct conversation between a private soul and its God. Crowds may, therefore, make all manner of loud sounds and call them prayers, yet nothing useful will come out of them. Such crowds may even call themselves a church, or something close to that (say a crusade), but their so-called prayers will come to naught. For, I will remind you that there are prayers that God does not listen to. Such incantations are classed as useless prayers. And Kenya’s peace pleas to God tend to belong to this category of holy mumbo jumbo.

The country’s divine pleas for peace are of the extraction of the ostrich’s head in the sand. Perhaps the closing of the eyes that we do as we pray is an invitation to shut our eyes and minds to the truth and to the substance that ought to inform our prayers? Accordingly, when praying for peace we do not ask why peace breaks down? We shut out our minds to that.

Students of war and peace studies know that a critical predicate to peace is justice. It may be distributive justice, or restorative justice. How have opportunities been distributed in the society? Conversely, how have those who have suffered social injustice been compensated? Societies that don’t embrace and entrench justice will never know true peace. They may from time to time enjoy some uneasy calm, but not peace. They may therefore make divine noises and call them peace prayers, yet nothing good will flow out of these noises.

As the country makes its way into this election year, Kenyans will want to look at the truth in the eye and accept it for what it is. They will want to recognize the ominous monster that threatens their social order and call it by its right name. They will want to accept that civil strife has always been a factor of injustice or of perceptions of injustice – or even both. If we pray then, perhaps we should pray for justice?

The mere sense of injustice, however, should not necessarily lead to violence. The world is full of people who feel aggrieved over one thing or the other. They have usually sought non-violent means of addressing their grievances. This works only where people have faith distributive and restorative forums, as well as in the instruments of conflict resolution. If the confidence is not there, violence is the natural outcome. No amount of hypocritical prayers can turn the tide against this truth.

Violence is not just a factor of feelings of injustice, but also a people’s surrender to frustration and loss of faith in established institutions and those who run them. That Kenyans are worried about possible collapse of peace in the year at hand suggests a deficiency of faith in institutions that manage elections in the country, as well as institutions that would address any dissatisfaction with the electoral process and outputs.

For a start, the continued stay in office of discredited commissioners is bad for the country. It has been nearly three months since these people were said to have “resigned.” It is of course common knowledge that they were forced to “resign,” after street protests against them by CORD.  There is need for them to go home as soon as yesterday. Their continued stay in office is not useful for building confidence in the electoral process.

When the two houses of Parliament were recently recalled out of season to conduct urgent business, it was expected it would be to vet and confirm new commissioners to take over from the old team. Instead it was about passing laws that have been suggested by individuals who should have moved on by now. This does little to build confidence in the electoral process. It undermines the desire for peaceful elections.

Mercifully the Supreme Court is eventually in place. In the event that the Presidential election ends up in trouble, there is hope that those who are unhappy could avoid the option of violence and go to the Supreme Court, instead. The court itself has the onerous task of positioning itself in the public eye as a dependable arbitrator, in the event of a dispute.

The integrity of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary generally sits poorly for now, with some politicians threatening to discuss High Court Judges in Parliament next month. The tragedy is that these are government leaning politicians who ought to be strengthening public trust in State institutions.

You cannot undermine justice and institutions of public redress and still expect that there will be peace. Going forward, Kenyans will want to seek justice and openness in the impending electoral process at every stage.  There is need for contending parties to be satisfied with the voter registration process, the hiring of election officials, procurement, use of public media and security arrangements around contestants and their supporters. Other concerns include management of the actual voting day events and activities. It matters when the stations open and close, the conduct of the officials and security instruments, the vote counting, tallying, transmission and announcement. And there are many more detailed and nuanced areas for just intervention. If these are satisfactorily addressed, there will be no need to fret about peace. If not, then even prayers will not help.

Photo Credits: www.sayyidali.com

Another Happy New Year ?

Exactly a week from today Kenyans will join the rest of the world in welcoming the New Year.  We will shout away the ending year and shout in the New with the usual pomp. We will even proclaim it a happy new year, as we have always done. Kenyans are ending 2016 in hostile style, with the political class setting the ugly pace and agenda. It is understandable that we should want a happy new year. Yet, is this likely?

The activities of the ending week imbue men and women of goodwill with sadness and despair. When those from whom so much is expected deliver so little, or next to nothing, we have cause to worry. Our context is worse than saddening and worrying. It is frightening. The activities in Parliament are a pointer to the year ahead. We have seen fisticuffs, foul language and outrageous goings on. We have seen Parliament itself summoned at an irregular moment for the irregular business of bipartisan verbal and political violence.  It is violence of an ethnic character, and which defines what you should expect next year. Ethnic tensions are going to be at fever pitch, unless wise counsel prevails. It should not surprise us to see a repeat of 2007/2008. The script will be the same, the cast and roles slightly different, the outcomes the same.

The most critical players are going to be President Uhuru Kenyatta and his nemesis, Raila Odinga of the Opposition ODM and Cord. The two leaders must reign in their troops and exercise personal moderation in their public pronouncements and actions. But they also need to reign in themselves. Ultimately, however, the buck stops with President Kenyatta. He is the person to whom Kenyans have given the responsibility of steering the ship of State. If we run into headwinds we all look up to him for the solution. If we run into an iceberg, he takes the flak. If we prosper, he takes the credit. Eventually, it is his tea party.

The New Year brings us to the homestretch of an election campaign process that began nearly five years ago. We are getting into this phase with a government that openly exhibits symptoms of panic and not so rational impulses. On the other hand is an opposition that is getting increasingly confident and sometimes reckless. That President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party are in political trouble is not in doubt. I have of course seen contrary opinion polls, published by a pollster who has lost all credibility and respectability – and does not seem to care about this anyway.

Ipsos Synovate says that the President’s popularity rating stands at 50 percent. This is laughable. Dr. Tom Wolf is taking our intelligence for granted. However, I appreciate the human factors behind his laughable opinion polling. It is public knowledge about who owns Dr. Wolf’s organization. A powerful individual in government owns big shares in Ipsos Synovate. They no longer exist to do opinion polls, but to influence opinion. I have previously torn apart Dr. Wolf’s below average polls. When we faced off on national TV Dr. Wolf came loaded with computers, books, files and memoranda. However, these did not add any value to his flawed polls. His rating of President Kenyatta at 50 percent should be ignored – and especially by the President himself.

I suspect, however, that the President knows the truth about his rating, which should now be anywhere around 25 to 29 percent – to take an educated guess. As I write, I have recently traversed the Western Kenya and Coastal regions over the past few weeks. The vibes on the ground are not good at all for the President and his Jubilee Party. And I hope they are listening. In the wake of the crowds that throng their meetings, you hear people who have just been shouting “Hosanna in the highest” saying that they will never vote for Kenyatta. His undoing is corruption in government, poor management of ethnic diversity and access to opportunities and a certain propensity towards the puffed-up absolutism of a Medieval Age Russian landlord.

In the emerging scenario, I am not surprised that there is panic and high handedness in Jubilee. But it is the recklessness that is worrying. Away from pronouncements that can only whip up the ethnic sentiment against the President and those he considers to be his people, there is culpable political recklessness of a dangerous strain. Consider the reigning controversy about election laws. The initial memorandum was from the Interim Electoral and Boundaries Commission, submitted to a committee of Parliament, shortly after the negotiated amendment of the election laws.

It is instructive that Jubilee has not only been very passionate about the contentious electoral proposals that came from IEBC, it has also finagled them through Parliament, to give them a legitimate face.  Is it wrong to wonder whether the original impetus may actually not have been from the IEBC, but from Jubilee? For why would Jubilee take over and be so passionate about a proposition that was purely an IEBC initiative? Why would the Presidency cause the Speaker of the National Assembly to publish a Government Gazette notice at midnight, summoning Parliament to rubber stamp these amendments in the morning? Why would Jubilee legislators be given an edict to ensure that these laws go through, at whatever cost?

We are walking into 2017 with these questions and many more on our collective mind. We think of the unresolved questions around corruption in the national and county governments. There is palpable civil unrest and fear among the citizenry over the possibility of political violence. The opposition has promised unprecedented mass action. Jubilee remains recalcitrant with the irksome Aden Duale waving the iron fist against everybody, including the Judiciary. It is difficult to see how 2017 is going to be a happy new year. Yet all is not yet lost. Maybe President Kenyatta could still be persuaded to rise above partisan ethnic politics to provide leadership as the President of all Kenyans. He could still refrain from signing the controversial amendments into law. He could also lead in marshaling dialogue around all the other burning questions of the day. For if President Uhuru does not rise to the challenge of leadership, Kenyans could be headed into a most difficult year. Nonetheless, may I wish you a happy New Year

Kenya Sliding Back to 2007

Receive festive greetings from Mt. Elgon. I am here in this land of wonders, sampling nectar and ambrosia with senior oracles. The oracles here are known to be stumbling blocks to kings and princes. For in the words of the ancient oracle called Isaiah, nobody can teach wisdom to the Great Inspirer of oracles (Isaiah 40: 14).

That was why in the month of October 2007 the oracles pronounced through this page that Raila Odinga would later that year arrive at the seat of power only to find President Mwai Kibaki already seated, proclaiming – like the chameleon who ran faster than the horse – that he had beaten Raila in the race to the throne. And it came to pass.

Later, in January 2008, the oracles proclaimed that Raila Odinga, the Son of the Bull, was a slow punctured politician. It did not matter that afterwards he enjoyed direct oracular intervention. He was set to run out of gas. And he did. The details of his spurning oracular advice in 2012 are with him. The outcome is common knowledge. By the same token, the oracles on diverse dates in 2002 cautioned Mzee Moi about the Uhuru Project but he would not listen. He was told that the project was the poisoned chalice in the Kanu lap. He ignored. What happened to the Baba and Mama party thereafter is common knowledge.

It is not, however the Son of the Bull and Mzee Moi that I want to address today. I want to talk to the Son of the Burning Spear, otherwise known as President Uhuru, Kenyatta. The oracles are saying that things don’t look good at all. If the Son of the Bull has been on a slow puncture, the Son of the Burning Spear could be headed for a tragic political tire burst.

The Elgon oracles are telling him to forget about the lying hired oracles from offshore. These are of the type that is led by Mzungus who speak “Key-swa-hilly.” These people are lying to President Kenyatta through the nose. They are cheating him about his popularity rating in the country. They are tell him that half of the voters in the country would vote for him, were elections to be held today. I am told that the President actually owns the outfit through which a certain Tom Dick Harry is processing this popularity dossier before publishing it in “Key-swa-hilly.”

Hence, they are telling him that at a time when all the public hospitals in the country are under the paralysis of a nationwide doctors strike, Kenyans are very pleased with the performance of his government. At a time when theft by State officers has reached unprecedented levels, a Mzungu oracle is saying that Kenyans are very happy. This offshore oracle is saying that President Kenyatta is going to have a very easy walk back to State House in the next elections. He is either lying straight through the nose, or he has been commissioned to say exactly what he is saying.

Instructively, the sense of nationhood is at its lowest ebb. This is by courtesy of the President preaching the water of nationhood and drinking from the wine goblet of negative ethnicity. The President has succeeded in filling up Kenyans with negative ethnic passions. This includes both those from his tribe and those from other tribes. He is pushing the country back to the mantra of 2007, when it used to be proclaimed, “Forty-one against one.” There is urgent need to arrest this drift and restore the sense of togetherness across Kenyan tribes. Shutting our eyes to it will not work. Cheating the President that things are very good and that he is very popular only makes things worse. When the explosion comes, he will not even know where it came from. The time to tell him the truth is now.

We have sunk so low that legislators are even barred from driving into the precincts of Parliament. Hostile armed characters stand in their way, brandishing guns, daring them to try and drive on. The goal is to intimidate them and everyone else ahead of a bad electoral law being forced through Parliament.

It is instructive that while State House has been very passionate about the contentious electoral laws that Jubilee wangled through the House, the original impetus is known to have come from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Given the passion with which State House and the Jubilee Party have afterwards owned and crusaded for these amendments, should we continue to believe that the IEBC did not, in fact, get the original draft from the Executive?

A very worrying scenario begins emerging. Is the IEBC acting at the behest of State House and Jubilee as the Opposition has claimed time and again? For why would State House be so passionate about a purely IEBC initiative? Why would the Presidency cause the Speaker of the National Assembly to publish a Government Gazette notice at midnight, recalling Parliament to rubber stamp these amendments? Why would Jubilee legislators be given an edict to ensure that these laws go through, at whatever cost?

As happened in 2006 and 2007, the country is getting dangerously polarized over things that could be resolved through sober dialogue. From the doctors’ strike to amendment of electoral laws, all the way to managing ethnic diversity, nothing is beyond dialogical engagement. In all this, the President sets out the direction, the pace and the mood. The preferred path would seem to be that of mutual ethnic hostility and draconian methods, even in Parliament. The oracles see a very difficult year ahead, with every line from the 2007 script.

President Kenyatta’s Style Generates Worry and Fear

In the arts we appreciate both form and content. What you do is just as important as how you do it. Sometimes your style will even say more than what the substance is saying.  Appreciation of this duality is as old as ancient antiquity. Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) elaborately discussed form and content in Rhetoric and in Poetics. And so when President Uhuru Kenyatta is giving his State of the Nation Address on Kenya’s 53rd Jamhuri Day, I cannot help drifting into both the form and content of his message.

His body gestures and movements, the cadence, timbre and nuanced inflections in his voice (especially the non conscious ones), the succession of facial expressions, the involuntary activities that the fingers do, the fumbling with the sheaf of papers that are his official address, as he ad libs – all these and many more little gradations of performance – are just as important as what he is labouring to say. And both the substance and style on this occasion speak to a troubled mind.

My president speaks with the urgency and ire of the aggrieved. Jamhuri should be a happy day. We are marking the most important happening in our togetherness as an independent people, a nation. Our self-determination began on this day, 53 years ago. It is time for national stocktaking; acknowledging our gains and loses as a people and producing our national balance sheet. In the process, we also expect to examine the promissory notes that those who were in charge 53 years ago set aside for the future generations.

Happily for President Kenyatta, he is the second member of his family to lead the nation in this very useful exercise. Between him and his late father, they have led 19 of our 53 celebrations. Perhaps no other father and son will achieve this feat anytime soon. Unless one of the Moi progeny ascends to power. You understand why I expect the President to be happy. But he is not. Even when he rolls out his catalogue of successes – real and perceived – he is still not happy. The triumphal cadence is missing, the victorious facial expression absent.

The celebratory text has the sound of an elegy, a typical poetic lament for the dead. There is a salvo at some detractor here and another one there – people who cannot see the good that this government is doing. Apparently some are planning to bring in foreign money, to mess with the forthcoming general elections. Scheming with foreigners does not end there. There are people – maybe even the same ones – planning to bring back the matter of the International Criminal Court (ICC), from which six Kenyans escaped by whiskers.

Now Kenya intends to pull out of this court, the President says. And he says many other low-spirited things on this day of high celebration. We all go home unhappy. Sad.   Some are sad because others don’t see anything good in what our good government is doing. Others are unhappy because they don’t like what the President has said. There are no winners. We are all losers on the greatest day in our national calendar.

The detached critic of art has difficulty finding the context in which the address is hinged, except the context of unhappiness. And yet am I not getting used to the reality that is President Kenyatta and the Habit of Unhappiness? President Kenyatta and the Habit of Unhappiness? With fitting apologies to departed Cameroonian novelist Mongo Beti, this would be a good title for some book in future. But I digress. Back to my thing, what is making my President so unhappy? What is rattling him?

I am worried because my President is worried. And I share in some of his worries. He has told us that some people are planning violence in next year’s polls. So it is not enough that foregners are “pouring in money” to influence the outcome of the elections? Now someone wants us to fight, too. And yet there will be no ICC to restrain us? So it will be a free for all? Well, this is true self-determination.

Yet, maybe, all this could just be made up stuff? High level scaremongering? You see, there has been far too much talk about corruption. Corruption, corruption, corruption! Every morning I wake up to new narratives of corruption in government. It is as if the thing just thrives on its energy. And I have never seen anyone punished. Now someone has ranked Kenya the third most corrupt country in the world. But I don’t believe him. They must have rigged us out of our number one position. After all the President is telling us that they even plan to rig our elections next year.

But the President has also told us, “We will not accept this.” We will not accept foreigners to rig our elections. So what, exactly, will we do? How exactly will we reject? Does it mean that we will reject the rigged election results? But who are “we,” we who will reject the rigging of our thing? Will “we” reject the same way some people rejected in 2007? This whole thing is confusing. Refusing foreign induced election processes and outcomes, people planning violence, Kenya pulling out of the ICC – it is all confusing.

It is however not just confusing. It is frightening. For in this style and substance, I read panic – I should have used a more politically correct idiom, but I cannot find one. Is there panic in the House of Jubilee? Could they have run out of election campaign agenda? Could all this talk of corruption be messing up their development campaign agenda soup with bad flies?

The test of national unity, in my estimation, failed flat – long ago. There is no redemption here. The test of economic development is going south. They spoke of Uwazi (openness), Umoja (Unity) and Uchumi (Economy). None of these seems able to stand on its feet. Maybe the best thing is to try what has been tested and proven before? ICC and railing at foreigners worked, last time. Maybe it is time to play that card again?

Photo by reuters

Stop Insults and Negotiate With Striking Health Workers in Kenya

We have not handled the health sector well. The ongoing doctors’ strike and its impact is the price society pays for mismanaging a highly sensitive sector. It is a factor of an insensitive National Government usurping devolved functions and funds without intending to give back anything, except cosmetic tokens and official mirage.

We are wallowing in the mess that a people must sink into when Government is about “eating meat” while “others salivate,” as President Uhuru Kenyatta says. Under these circumstances, those who drive the system don’t even believe in it. They don’t have to. It doesn’t matter. The important thing here is “the meat.” The rest is about showbiz, catwalks and allied political drama. Accordingly, none of the government officials in this drama has use for public hospitals. They only go there for photo opportunities and related official cowboy activities.

You cannot expect them to address the issues that doctors have raised for more than three years now. They don’t give a damn, as they say in America. I repeat. That is not why they are here. They are here “to eat meat.” They know that the systems are not working; and they really don’t care. Nor do they care that patients are dying. The only thing that matters now is how to make the doctors look bad in the public eye. If we could blackmail the medics with catch phrases like “insensitivity,” “the Hippocratic Oath,” and allied emotive idiom, we could get them to return to work and ourselves back to business as usual. This matter goes back to June 2013. A brand new Jubilee Government signed a collective bargaining agreement with the medics. They agreed to certain terms. Three years on, they have not delivered. Worse still, they have avoided talking to the health workers on this matter over the period. This is despite everyone seeing the gathering clouds.

Meanwhile on Friday February 7, 2015, the National Government signed contracts with five international companies from India, Italy, the United States, The Netherlands and China for the supply of leased medical equipment for the 47 counties. The leases are supposed to last up to ten years. They will cost Sh38 billion. This was done under secretive and suspicious circumstances.

The equipment was then forced upon the counties, including those that had already made alternative affordable arrangements. If this Government can afford Sh38 billion for equipment that is today lying idle in hospitals across the country, why can it not agree with health workers on their stipend? Sh40,000 per month for a doctor is a cruel joke.

But it also turns out that the leased equipment was sourced through a company owned by a sister to a very powerful individual in the National Government. There was no competitive bidding. Those behind this deal did not even bother about the personnel who would operate the equipment, or if the necessary supportive infrastructure was in place. They did not even factor in repairs and maintenance. The only thing that mattered was to seal the deal. It was all about making a quick business kill. This is what Government seems to be about these days. The doctors’ strike comes in the wake of a Sh5.2 billion mystery about “mobile clinics,” acquired at about 20 times the cost. The procurement was feverish. Even internal audits show that “mobilisation fees” were paid the same day the tenders were issued. Six months later, the “clinics” are lying idle in some yard at the coast.

Health is a fully devolved function, as we have said. Why does this Government cling on it? Why can’t it let go? Consider that for the first two years of the Jubilee Government, the budget lines in the Ministry of Health remained exactly the way they had been before devolution. This is to say that while the services had been devolved, the funds remained with the National Government. Despite keeping the funds, they could not address the wage crises in the sector. In the third year, they removed the devolved budget lines but placed the funds under different budget heads. The question remains, what are they doing with these monies?

In the end, the citizen is a fool. The stupidity of it all begins with the belief that no matter how useless they may be, we must defend the people in power, for so long as they are from our village. Yet even in the little village called Emanyulia, we can’t trust the cook if he will not eat from the same pot with us. Time is nigh. We must re-educate ourselves about the institution of Government and why governments are constituted among men and women.

Governments exist to serve. Those who ask for State office basically apply to be servants. Yet you see them everywhere, shouting at us, angrily. We see people who are veritably drunk with power, abusing those who raise legitimate questions about the performance of this Jubilee Government. You must be forgiven if you begin imagining that the country is the personal property of the individuals in power. The rest of us seem to be their vassals. We are heaps of rubbish. That is why whenever we raise issues, their response is uncontrolled display of anger at public rallies.

The people in power need to wake up to the reality that the country is not their personal property. They therefore need to listen keenly when Kenyans speak to them. Right now health workers are asking to be listened to. The Government needs to engage them in sober dialogue. But this Government also needs to let go of devolved services as well as the funds to support them.

For those who imagine that citizens are just heaps of dry rubbish there is need to remember that all dry rubbish risks catching fire on some windy day. Then some people will know how to shout at rubbish at public rallies, when they should instead be engaging citizens in sober conversation.

Photo Credits: Reuters

Sometimes Good Things Happen

Education Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiang’i and his team caught us all flatfooted. They say that old habits die hard. And ours don’t just die hard. They are bad habits that seem to be only second to our nature. For, we are accustomed to repeated cycles of life, after the same pattern of bad things, year in year out.

We gravitate towards the beasts that George Orwell had in mind when he wrote, “Their life, so far as they knew, was as it had always been. They were generally hungry, they slept on straw, drank from the pool; they labored in the fields; in winter they were troubled by the cold, and in summer by the flies.”  In essence, nothing changes and nothing good happens.

When we seem to stumble into a good thing, it takes the air out of our lungs. That is what the management of national examinations this year – and now the announcement of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) – results has done to us. We are flabbergasted. And rightly so.  Jogoo House knocked us breathless this week. We are used to the results coming out during the last two days of December. They arrive fully loaded with all manner of anomalies and angry exchanges.

There are accusations and counter accusations about exam stealing, cheating, doctoring and a whole cocktail of dysfunctional recriminations. The teachers’ unions are brandishing the fist from one corner and a self-styled parents’ association is making shrill sounds from some other corner. Private schools are complaining over one thing or the other, and some parents and schools are frantically drawing everyone’s attention to the plight of cancellation of their results. From there we move on to a messy selection of Form One candidates, equally amidst a complaints galore. We move on to a teacher’s strike – or a threat about an imminent one. Our life goes on that way, up to the end of the year, when teachers either go on strike or promise to do so as a preface to the next cycle of national examinations.

When they tell us on the first day of December that the results are ready and that Form One selections are set to begin in a week’s time; and every candidate will get their results, we are lost for words. It seems that we should wonder for the first time ever what they have always done with the results in the previous years. Yet, more significantly, there are great lessons to take home. Primarily is the reality that one committed and focused individual can make all the difference.

It is usually unpleasant to attempt to draw parallels between two officials who are serving the same entity and who sit in the same forums as equals. Yet when you have passed through a certain orbit, you must invariably accept to be part of the reference frame. When he came to Jogoo House in the first quarter of this year, Dr. Matiang’i, like Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi before him, had the mien of a no nonsense man. Barring a confounding brush with some universities, Dr. Matiang’i, has been more methodical and consultative than his predecessor and former senior at the University of Nairobi.

Put together with the straight shooting Prof. George Magoha at the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC), the duo makes for a redoubtable two cylinder head engine. Throw in General Joseph Nkaissery from the Ministry of Interior and garnish the arrangement with the rest of the top boys and girls in Jogoo House and you have a team that Kenya has not witnessed in recent times. They have worked with clockwork precision, with dignity and decorum. Which must lead us to ask the question, why is it so difficult for this to become our way of life?

When Kenyans complain about the way things are done in Government, they mean that they expect the kind of service the Ministry of Education is now providing. They have of course had their own challenges in Jogoo House. There was the spate of fires in high schools across the country, the unending agenda of salaries and the plight of exam cheating – the latter which we had almost come to accept as our way of life. Indeed, the fires were said to have been a reaction to new stringent measures against cheating in exams. Jogoo House dug in, regardless. In the end we have examination results that we are likely to believe. We also have a team that we are likely to trust, going forward.

Dr. Matiang’i was the first Cabinet Secretary President Kenyatta named when he began putting his government together. Others followed slowly over a period of almost one month. In the fullness of time, Kenyans begin to appreciate what the President had seen in this Cabinet Secretary. The question remains, however, where is the rest of the Government?

What this country needs are efficient men and women who can give citizens cause to smile because they have a functional government. Regrettably this is not the case. Instead, the place is awash with cantankerous sycophantic characters that seem to think that their role is to antagonize everyone who did not vote for the Jubilee Government. They frolic from pillar to post engaging the nation in arrogant ethnic based invective and still expect that their government can be popular.

If President Kenyatta wants his government to be popular, he now has the answer. If he has been almost tearfully asking what Kenyans want him to do about thieves in his government, he now knows that Kenyans are asking him to provide leadership. He needs to provide political will, provide a new paradigm and lead from the front. A warning shot has gone out to all in leadership and those who would aspire to lead. The bar has been set. And it is a high bar.

In the ended Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams and in all other areas of public service, Kenyans will expect no less commitment and no less efficiency than what the Ministry of Education has demonstrated that it is capable of. As for the Ministry and for Dr. Matiang’i, the last word is that Kenya is watching. We don’t expect anything less than what you have just given us. Congratulations and good luck, going forward.

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