Mount Kenya Photo

It is a Beautiful World We Live

It is a beautiful world we live in, although we rarely enjoy the beauty. We are too preoccupied with unending angry thoughts to cherish the beauty. You look at the high and mighty. You see portraits of unbridled anger. The world is not bending to their will. The only thing they can do, therefore, is to throw up angry tantrums. Perhaps they are unfamiliar with the words of the American Max Ehrmann who famously said, “And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

A beautiful world it is indeed. Yet, don’t we mess it up with daily installments of individual and collective greed? If you have seen the latest reports by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) the world could lose 67 percent of its wildlife, just over the next three years. Just consider that – over the next 36 months, we could lose two-thirds of global wildlife. And all this is because of degradation and unsustainable use of natural resources. Does human activity tend to gravitate toward greed and destruction? Do we even know that this spells doom to all life? Do you care?

Eventually the human being is driven by strong appetite for self-gratification. You want to feed your thirst, hunger and lust. Unchecked by decent social conduct and self-control, it all boils down to bestiality. Self-restraint is what humanizes you. The wise man, Mahatma Gandhi, has often been cited as reminding us about the conflict between our greed and resources. Nature has endowed us with enough resources to satisfy everyone’s needs. But we do not have ample resources to feed everyone’s greed.

Could this be why political leaders – especially – talk as if they will burst a vein? And quite often they burst a vein. And you know the consequences. They have lost sight of the purpose of leadership and reflection on why governments are constituted among men and women. We read in the American Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

This testimony places life, liberty and pursuit of happiness at the heart of the American dream. It goes on, “To secure these rights, governments are constituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organising its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness.”

If governments are constituted among men and women to secure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, do we seem to think in Kenya that this boils down to the scandalous whims of the ruling class? Because of the need to feed the greed of this class, government is constituted to loot? If you have this week followed the mind-boggling narratives of the billions of plundered shillings, then you must understand that there seems to be only one agenda in our government – looting the public coffers. The philosophy, architecture, appointment and functioning all seem to seek only one goal – to steal.

Traditionally, thieves exist everywhere – even in government. Among civilised populations, however, stealing is not the reason governments exist. Theft is the exception to the established order. Thieves will, therefore, be handled with decisive finality. They are not just instantly weeded out of office. They are tried and jailed. In Kenya they are defended with angry words from all seats of power.

You have seen the shocking revelations about the National Youth Service theft. When the story first broke out, it was denied everywhere in Government. The Leaders of the Majority in both the National Assembly and the Senate denied it. The Deputy President was in his element saying it was all about giving the Government a bad name, to bring it down. Even State House denied it.

When the truth could not be stopped, the Leader of the Majority in the National Assembly called a one-man press conference. He disowned a recently fallen Cabinet Secretary. He now described her in appalling idiom. She belonged to Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, he said. Never mind that he had previously defended her most noisily. The Majority Leader in the Senate went silent. You hardly hear him on any matter anymore. His deputy followed suit. Maybe they learnt something useful?

Today we are hearing of another scandal, the theft of more billions from the Ministry of Health. As usual there are denials that suggest it is the right of those in Government to steal. Their best defence comes from their tribesmen, who are weapons of verbal and political assault.   The day that the tribe wakes up is the day that this theft will end. For now we must continue to contend with angry tribal leaders throwing up tantrums because someone has stumbled into their disgraceful activities.

One important thing is not being said in the Ministry of Health saga, however. Health is a devolved function. The National Government, therefore, had no business getting into this dubious procurement in the very first place. Even if the need were so strongly felt, the done thing would be to pass on the funds to the Counties as conditional grants, under Article 202 (2) of the Constitution. Why was this not done? Who stood to benefit from this procurement? What happened to the original urgency that informed the procurement? Why are the goods lying in a depot six months later? Why did a Shs. 350,000 container cost ten million? This greed will destroy us.

Political Rally in Kenya Photo

Political Adrenaline Rush is On

Worrying clouds are gathering over Kenya. They will need to be nipped in the bud. Make no mistake; the country’s political adrenaline is in free flow, our negative energy levels on the rise.

We need to heed the panic bells. From Murang’a to Kisii and Gucha; and from Nairobi to Kirinyaga, the emerging mood is worrying. We will need to manage ourselves and to manage our fears, everywhere in the country. The political class must be told to speak and act responsibly. This class is beginning to engage its usual reckless gear ahead of elections. The only thing that seems to matter to some people in this class is greed and selfishness. And when the greedy and selfish excite us, we act with wild passion.

We have seen angry young people charging at each other in Murang’a. They are ostensibly fighting for the interests of top contenders for the governor’s seat in next year’s elections. The governor, Mwangi wa Iria, is afraid of foremost opponent, Kigumo MP Jameleck Kamau. Wa Iria has the last word on who uses which public playground for what purpose in Murang’a County. Now Wa Iria has denied Kamau the use of public playgrounds for his political rallies. Someone should tell Wa Iria that this is naked abuse of office. But it only gets worse. Kamau has vowed to hold his meetings, with or without permission from Wa Iria. Murang’a, prepare for trouble.

In Nairobi, too, fear is setting in. Some Jubilee gubernatorial hopefuls have gone into panic, too. Former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth has arrived on the scene. He wants to be the governor. Panicky opponents have ganged up, saying they will stop him by all means. What means? They spoke with sinister innuendo. We don’t know where this will end up. Hopefully it will not go beyond verbal display of fear. Experience reminds us to think otherwise, however.

In the triangular zone where the Kisii, Kipsigis and Maasai communities meet, violence is flaring up, on and off. It reminds you of similar happenings ahead of the violent elections of 1992, 1997 and 2007. Elsewhere in Machakos, false and embarrassing alarms went off. The deputy governor’s daughter is supposed to have been abducted by her father’s political enemies. Fortunately the young lady has surfaced. It turns out that she was only enjoying good time with her friends, out of family sight. However, war cries had already begun.  And they came dangerously from very high up.

The pick of the basket is two-fold. On the one hand is CORD’s crying wolf about the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). On the other hand are the angry outbursts from the Presidency whenever the Opposition raises legitimate questions about corruption in the Jubilee Government. Confounding still is that these outbursts deliberately seek to suck in ethnic sympathies. For example, President Kenyatta angrily remarks, “He is saying this water is going to (a certain tribe).”

The IEBC, for its part, is a powder keg. The electoral authority has been in the loop for three and a half years now. The country eventually heaved a sigh of relief when the political class agreed on how to reform the IEBC ahead of next year’s poll.  The commissioners were “persuaded” to resign and make way for a new team. The process of replacing them is underway, in the hands of respected men and women. Hopefully we will allow this team to give us the new commissioners. But even as we watch and wait, CORD has been intermittently making worrying and unsubstantiated allegations against IEBC. The Opposition has even threatened to disrupt the elections. They have said, “We shall declare that it is impossible to create an enabling environment for the conduct of the free and fair elections. The country will then be called to action.” Read that again, “The country will then be called to action.” What action?

But that is not all. CORD has stated further, “There will be no elections unless the entire legal regime, including the use of technology in an integrated electronic system, is fully implemented and the conduct of free and fair elections is guaranteed.” The coalition accuses the IEBC Secretariat of “working in cahoots with the Jubilee administration” to steal next year’s elections. They don’t specify whether this will be at all levels, but we must presume they are focused on the presidential poll.

These are very serious allegations. They amount to shouting fire in a crowded theatre. It would be useful for CORD to provide the evidence and proof. If they cannot, they need to be reminded that they are placing the country on the path to disaster. Questions about the integrity of elections have become very sensitive in Kenya. They have demonstrated that they can destroy the country. Responsible leaders need to weigh their words. You cannot take lightly words like, “There will be no elections,” or better still, “The country will be called to action.”

Meanwhile President Kenyatta’s public comportment continues to disappoint. His verbal eruptions whenever his government is criticized leave you wondering whether he knew what he was asking for when he called upon Kenyans to make him their President. Did the President imagine that we were sending him to a five-year holiday camp to make merry with his friends? Someone, please tell the President that Kenyans have a right to ask him where their money has gone.  They have a right to speak about these things as robustly as possible.

Please, tell President Kenyatta that he cannot stop us from asking him questions about his performance. His role, in such cases, is to give us sober and logical answers that we can buy. These angry outbursts will not wash. And an increasingly condescending Deputy President only worsens the outbursts. The DP seems to be intent on looking loathsome and disrespectful not just to fellow leaders, but to whole communities. When you put together arrogance, suspicion, public outbursts of anger, rumours, threats, abuse of office, innuendo, panic and fear, your goose is cooked. Let us call our leaders back to order.

President Elect Trump Photo

The Americans Have Done It

The Americans have done it. They have given the world Donald Trump. Such is what a combination of fear, hate and narrow nationalism does.  It thrusts on to the global stage mavericks that will leave the world order transformed beyond recognition – for better or worse. Trump’s campaign marked him out as an unpredictable war-mongering maverick. The one thing that I don’t doubt is that the world will never be the same again – for better or worse.

It need not be for the worse, however. We were sophomores at the University of Nairobi when a mild maverick, Ronald Reagan, ascended to power in the United States. Reagan was no Donald Trump. Yet he was a warmonger all the same. He played up American fears and promised to make his country great again. And he took the U.S. to war – everywhere. He arrived in the White House from the movies, via the State of California where he served as Governor.

American prestige had taken a beating on the global market of national self-esteem. The economy was in free fall. Memory of military humiliation in Vietnam was still fresh. The U.S. had lost nearly 60,000 soldiers in a futile and wasteful war. Oil prices were wrecking havoc, complete with shortages that saw motorists queue for hours for the commodity.

The Soviet Union was taunting the U.S. in Cold War propaganda. Then there was the return of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini from eleven years of exile in France and before it the fall of the puppet Shah Dynasty in Iran, the drying up of oil supplies from Iran. America was disillusioned about her image. The country was impatient with President Jimmy Carter, who had narrowly won the 1976 election against Republican Gerald Ford. Ford had himself taken over from Richard Nixon, disgraced by the Watergate Scandal.

Even now the political air was still frowzy with the aftermath of Watergate. Yet then, like now, there were those who thought that the biggest assignment was “to make America again.” While the challenges before them had begun way before Carter’s election in 1976, the rightists saw it fit to blame everything on Carter, a moderate reformer, a political centrist and a man of mild personal habits. They carried the day.

But to what extent can we compare 1980 to today? Then, like today we, the budding scholars, preferred the Democratic candidate. President Carter himself campaigned against Reagan as a dangerous right wing extremist. He was a threat to world peace. He would place America’s global interests at risk. The big irony is that in the end, the Reagan presidency transformed the world. After his reelection in 1984, in which he swept the Electoral College vote – garnering 523 out of 538 votes – Reagan teamed up with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to lead NATO in bringing the Soviet Union and their friends in the Warsaw Pact to their economic knees.

Historians will want to record that Reagan subjected the USSR to an unprecedented arms race. He threw the USSR into an economic spin. He shattered the Iron Curtain of communist states that buffeted the USSR from Western Europe. Under the leadership of the reformist Mikhail Gorbechev, the USSR succumbed to the inevitable. The Communist Party – the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet – was dissolved in 1991. Gorbechev embarked on a policy of openness in governance (Glasnost) and restructuring politics and the economy (Perestroika).

The wind of change that began blowing in the USSR, with the visible hand of Reagan and Thatcher, would sweep right across the world. It led to the collapse of dictatorships and reintroduction of multiparty democracy, everywhere. Here in Africa Kamuzu Banda of Malawi went home. Kaunda of Zambia lost his “One Zambia, One Nation, One Leader” slogan. President Moi of Kenya accepted political competition. South West Africa became independent as Namibia. South Africa’s Apartheid regime collapsed. Military rule ended in Nigeria, Ghana and in diverse nations in Africa. In a word, Reagan changed the World Order. Those who knew how to read the signs, like President Nyerere of Tanzania, found higher ground from the Reagan Tsunami before it could sweep them away. They embraced and managed change before it could embrace and change them.

Every so often, an unpredictable maverick ascends to power somewhere in the world. For better or worse, these mavericks change the world order. Whether they are Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, General Franco, Winston Churchill, Otto Von Bismarck, or Napoleon Bonaparte, Joseph Stalin, or the brazen Alexander of Macedonia, they leave the world barely recognizable as what it has been. The process of varying the order can be most traumatic. The dictators who came to power in Germany, Spain and Italy in the 1930s pushed the world to a wasteful war.

In 1933, Hitler was popularly elected to the office of German Chancellor. He ascended to power breathing racist propaganda, like Donald Trump. He proposed mass deportations of foreigners. If Trump is blaming Muslims, Africans and Mexicans for America’s woes, Hitler blamed Jews and all people he considered outsiders to his fabled Aryan race. He would get rid of them and make Germany great again. Trump has promised to deport foreigners, build walls and make America great again.

Elsewhere in Italy, Mussolini played up the fears and frustrations of his countrymen to bring the country into the firm grip of the Fascists (1930 – 1943). In Japan, in the same age, Emperor Hirohito embraced a policy of foreign aggression to make Japan great again. His country was reeling from economic crises when he ascended to power in 1926. The blending of interests between Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito would fuse them into a deadly Axis in World War II. In Spain, the dreaded General Francisco Franco ascended to power in 1936, enjoying support from Communists and Anarchists. Spain is still paying the price. And now America has done its thing. Is the feast of Armageddon about to begin?

Nothing is Seen Outside The Cloud of Negative Ethnic Energy

Kenya’s political class understands that it deals with a docile nincompoop population. It knows that there are those who will unquestioningly swallow its propaganda. That the African people called Kenyans are incapable of questioning anything the master says.  For, they belong to soft-brained ethnic political fan clubs.

Members of such clubs have no minds. They have surrendered to the politicians their right and capacity to think. Accordingly, they have been zombified into tribal sheep. They can only bleat, “Four legs good, two legs bad.” In everything, they only sheepishly bleat, “Comrade Napoleon is always right.” This is regardless that Comrade Napoleon is President Uhuru Kenyatta, or Cord leader Raila Odinga. The citizen is a ready mongoloid in submissive ethnic tow. Hence the slogans, ” Tuko Tayari (We are Ready),” and “Tuko Pamoja (We are Together).” When the kowtowing mongoloid is not from the immediate tribe, he belongs to a compliant franchise holding tribe.

The leader’s tribal grip is the grasp of mass hysteria. You remain under the spell, even when you are temporarily isolated from the mass. The politician knows that you will nonsensically rationalize anything the master has said, no matter how ridiculous. The first line of attack is by junior politicos from the tribe. Their loyalty is measured in their capacity to ventilate venom against the tribal object of hate. The rare thinker in the tribe is meanwhile extremely afraid of his own tribesmen. He cannot speak his mind. If he dares he will be labeled a traitor and a madman. And it could get worse.

In the circumstances, is there such a thing as objective truth in the country? Is sober conversation possible? It appears that our truth is relative to our tribes. Accordingly we have the Luo truth, for example, and the Kikuyu truth – on the same matter. If the Luo leader tells us that we have an enemy from a country called Oceania, we will believe him if we are Luo and disagree if we are Kikuyu. If tomorrow he tells us that Oceania has never been our enemy – that in fact our enemy has always been Eastasia – nothing changes. Nobody will tell him that he previously told us our enemy was Oceania.

An ethnically docile population such as ours is dangerous to itself, to the country and to future generations. Zombie populations of the kind we are degenerating into will set a church house on fire, to please the leader and the tribe. It will raid a church in Kigali and hack everyone inside to death, just because they are Tutsi and the leader has said all Tutsi must be killed. The next day everybody is ready to deny that such a thing ever happened, again because that is what the leader says. If he says no church was set ablaze, there were no machetes, no poisoned arrows and no mass murder, then there was none.

Our circumstances make the conversation between the Opposition and the Government extremely problematic. Indeed, everywhere in the world the conversation between the Government and the Opposition was never easy. For the Opposition has the posture of a Government in waiting. And quite often it accedes to power – in societies that enjoy functional democracy. The Government, for its part, casts itself as the best thing to happen to the people.

Yet, does the Kenyan condition seem to be in a class of its own? Our political dialogue is informed by blatant hostility and uncontrolled cozenage. Lies and mutual ill will sit at the foundation of all communication between political camps – and therefore their followers. Nothing – and I repeat nothing – can ever be seen outside the cloud of negative ethnic politics. Within such a scenario, a matter of profound national import as the Northern Collector Tunnel Water Project from Murang’a to Nairobi can only cause more confusion and ethnic hate.

The project has been going on for two years. It is supposed to end the thirst in Nairobi – at least for a while. Like any major project of its magnitude, it has implications for the environment. Before such a project is embarked upon, it must be subjected to an environmental impact assessment. The public must be made aware of the intended project. They must know what it is about and the anticipated good. What role will they play, if any? Who is the sponsor? How much will it cost? Who are the contractors? How have they been awarded the contract? Why? Who else tendered for the project? Why did they lose? The answers must be in the public domain.

Cord leader Raila Odinga astounded the nation, this week, with allegations that the water project is going to turn Murang’a and parts of the neigbouring counties into a desert.  What’s more, he says this will happen within the next five years. Moreover, he says the project is being carried out in secrecy. He has even suggested that there is related commercial conflict of interest in high places. The response has been predictable and swift. Not even environmental experts are agreed on the matter. There seem to be no objective experts – only experts for Odinga and for Kenyatta. And they are defined by tribe, or by tribal franchise and alliance.

Such is the tragedy of zombie republics. They are worse than banana republics. Odinga has raised very serious issues. Yes, it is possible that he is being diversionary, as National Assembly Majority Leader, Aden Duale, says.  It is possible that he is diverting public focus from the troubles in the Cord fraternity. Conversely, could he be naively thinking that Murang’a could vote for him? Of course Murang’a will vote for Raila Odinga the day we begin bleeding rocks. You would expect Odinga to know this and the futility of angling for a Murang’a vote. Yet don’t we need a method of addressing issues? Fortunately five years is not a long time to wait for the truth.


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Devolution: Beware Hyenas in Sheepskins

You have heard of the numerous Senators and Members of the National Assembly intent on becoming Governors. As Kenya prepares for next year’s poll, I do not know of any Governor who would like to become a Senator. Nor have I heard of one who wants to go to the National Assembly. The story has been told, however, of one Senator who would like to become a Member of the County Assembly next year.

It all speaks to the clout at the County. Conversely, it is the tale of the massive transformational potential in Devolution. The regular County story is about strife, power struggle and theft. We hear about wasteful and unnecessary “benchmarking” outings and fistfights. This is part of the gravy train and malaise narrative.

MCAs are known to blackmail Governors with impeachment.  Governors must accordingly feed MCAs’ greedy appetites for free things. The saga of impeachment attempts in Makueni, Embu and Murang’a Counties remains fresh. Nairobi, Kwale, Nyeri, Kisumu, Nandi, Kericho, Bomet, Nyandarua, Bungoma, Meru and Kiambu also flare up every so often. And there are numerous other cases. We cannot rule out malice on the part of those either looking for quick cash from the county kitty, or those wishing to replace the Governor.

Gravitating towards the elections, there will be need to bear these realities in mind. Ugly scenes of the kind we have recently witnessed in County Assemblies in Nairobi and Kisumu are likely to be on the rise as election fever overtakes self-control. The county kitty is the target of all manner of marauders. Within this marauding, the truth is lost. It is difficult to tell which Governor could be stealing from the public and which one is the target of sheer malice.

The Senate has been an ambivalent player in this drama. To its credit, it has saved the careers of a number of Governors from the claws of greedy self-seekers in County Assemblies. Governor Martin Wambora of Embu was, however, twice impeached. The Courts saved his skin as many times. And we have lately witnessed unpleasant public engagement between Runyenjes MP, Cecily Mbarire and Embu Senator, Lenny Ivuti. The two were previously political allies, joined at the hip against Governor Wambora. They have now turned the guns at one another, prompted by the tantalizing smell of the Governor’s seat.

Here in Kakamega where I am writing from, there are endless wars between Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Senator Bonny Khalwale. The Governor is the Senator’s regular punching bag. The Senator’s favourite theatre is the free funeral. This is an all-expenses-paid forum. I have witnessed some of this drama. The smiling Senator gambols in self-importantly. He disrupts the funeral service because he has “other important things to attend to.” Of course nobody else in this sad assembly has “other important things to attend to.”

The restless politician perfunctorily utters two sentences of condolence to the bereaved family. It is pure Orwellian duck-speak. The words come from the throat. He then sinks into what has brought him. He now speaks from the heart. It is an orgy of unsubstantiated vitriol against the Governor. Soon there is mike snatching, fisticuffs and an ugly free for all. His hooligans chaperon him to safety. In all this, the truth is lost. Whether there is merit to what he was saying or not, we will never know. In any event, the choice of occasion and manner of execution were both manifestly wrong.

Expect more drama at County level, both between hardcore adversaries and hitherto political friends. They are bound to go for one another in unprecedented fashion, now that we are on the home stretch. Expect even people believed to be thieves to fight to become Governors. The attraction for the one thought to be a thief is possibly the opportunity to steal. The counties have received an annual budget allocation of between 20 and 22 percent of the national revenue, since the coming of devolution. This would attract any high level thief who knows how to abuse power and skilled in cooking the books.

The wars, drama and ugly competition should however not mask the great transformation that is taking place across the country, courtesy of Devolution. Various independent authorities at the heart of Devolution need to give us authentic audits. Back here in Kakamega, it is easy to see the difference even at a basic cognitive level. There are roads, roads and more roads everywhere. Places that were previously impregnable are now easily accessible, courtesy of the County government’s focus on roads. Small towns like Mumias, Butere and others now boast of tarmac streets! We have even seen the occasional streetlight along village roads in our little Emanyulia. And we see massive improvement in healthcare and in educational facilities. Regardless of the Oparanya and Khalwale wars, Devolution is working here in Kakamega.

The story is the same across most the country. Perhaps the last word should come from the Revenue Allocation Authority. Are they happy with the State of Devolution? Are they happy about where their money has gone? I have had occasion to listen to CRA Chair, Micah Cheserem on this subject. Even as CRA Commissioners prepare to exit in December – without anyone going in the streets – they are satisfied that Devolution is transforming communities across the country. This is despite the challenges.
Moving forward, citizens must be careful whom they elect Governor. They should know that there are people whose sole attraction to this office is money and power, both of which they intend to abuse. We need to especially beware of those associated with financial scandals in other places and now crave to be our Governors. We must also audit the Senators and tell apart the good leaders among them from those salivating for the county kitty.

Lords of the Flies Thriving on Campuses

The spectacle at Moi University on Tuesday demonstrates just how low the country’s leadership has sunk. It also shows our endless capacity to sink deeper and deeper still. Sometimes you think that we couldn’t possibly drop lower. Yet someone always proves you wrong.

In the unlikely event that you missed it, two governors and several MPs led rowdy crowds from their tribe in an ugly demo in Eldoret. They issued threats. They sounded ultimatums and brandished innuendo. The venue was the main campus of Moi University. They were protesting the appointment of Prof. Laban Ayiro as Acting Vice Chancellor of what they say is “their university.” Reason? Ayiro is not from their tribe – the tribe of the university.

The rowdy marauders, some complete in three-piece suits and others in wild regalia, threatened to disrupt the ended graduation at the university. A governor “on duty” gave the National Government twenty-four hours to replace Ayiro with his tribesman. It is instructive that this is not the first time this governor has notoriously led rowdy tribal crowds in this region.

Three years ago, he led a mob he called “his people,” in a similar fiasco at the University of Eldoret. He has also been involved in kindred drama at the Moi Teaching Hospital. And when terrorists killed our children at Garissa University, this governor thoughtlessly led mobsters in street protests against physically and psychologically traumatized survivors seeking temporary refuge at the Eldoret Campus.

It would be interesting to know the ethnic balance in the county government. While it is an open secret that all county governments are incubators of negative ethnicity, this particular county must worry us to no end. It will be recalled that it was within this county that the most ugly chapter in the post-election violence of 2007-2008 was written. I will spare you memory of the painful details.

There is nothing particularly edifying in a segment of the country  distinguishing itself for excellence in aboriginal violent provocation. We now stand the risk of profiling certain communities as violence prone. This must never happen. The only way to avoid this undesirable profiling is to talk straight to the champions of ethnic hate and exclusion.  They must be made to feel like the social pariahs that they are.

Kenyans must no longer be shy of talking about the growing tide of negative ethnicity. When leaders stir up their tribesmen, we have not even had the courage to name the involved tribes. We talk of “a certain community,” or “certain communities.” This is in the false belief that covering tribal fire with the palm of our hand will stop the inferno. It has not helped. Instead the merchants of tribal hate have only grown bolder and more arrogant.

The bad news is that ultimately nobody has a monopoly of vile ethnic sentiment. We each belong to some tribe. And if we were honest, we would admit to the occasional wave of negative ethnic emotion. We sometimes all share in some collective tribal grief. This is only normal. For the sentiment is sometimes justified. What matters in the end is whether we can tame the passion and find a socially healthy way to address the situation that drives the sentiment.

We are reminded of Shylock in Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice where he said, “He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at me, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what’s the reason? I am a Jew.

“Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, don’t we laugh? If you poison us, don’t we die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instructions.”

The Bard has reminded us that if we are like you in everything else, we have the capacity to resemble you in your worst conduct. And he concludes that you will be lucky if we don’t outdo you in your bad conduct. This is the reality that we all ought to be awake to, and especially they who are privileged to occupy leadership positions.  Good leadership reminds itself that patience is elastic. Elasticity itself is exhaustible. This is why societies throughout time and space have destroyed themselves. Someone naively mistook other people’s humility and patience for weakness. Everybody paid the price.

Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has a tough assignment. He has to maintain sobriety in institutions that are dyed in the wool of negative ethnicity. The universities have in the main morphed into breeding grounds of the worst ethnic passions. From the administration, through the faculty, all the way to auxiliary staff and the student population, the credo is “We want our people.” Eldoret only seems to lead from the front.

Yet those in leadership must steer us towards more healthy ethnic relations. Regrettably, on going happenings in political leadership do not give us much hope. We are witnessing a hardening of negatively driven ethnic formations in politics. The recently launched Jubilee Party is nothing but a buttressing of negative ethnicity, disguised as an effort to bring Kenyans together. In fact the only thing it can achieve is solidification of the ethnic sentiment both within and without the party. In its wake, the tribes outside the new party are now busy solidifying against the Jubilee tribes ahead of a general election whose preparation looks like a checklist of the Armageddon.

Going forward, President Kenyatta and his Government must come down hard on negative ethnicity. They must begin by weighing their own conduct, actions and words. They must stay above ethnic slurs and distance themselves from reckless ethnic hate mongers. It is the only way to save the country from what sometimes looks like an imminent manmade apocalypse. For if a Jew offends a Christian, what’s the Christian’s gentle reaction?

I Left Ofafa Jericho Primary School 44 Years Ago

I left Ofafa Jericho Primary School, Nairobi, in November 1972. That was 44 years ago. I was a high-spirited youth in Class Seven Tiger. School was fun. Learning was great and it blended well with foolish childish mischief.

I recall receiving six strokes of the best from my class teacher, Samuel Ng’ang’a Mwaura, for posting on the class bulletin board a cutting from a daily newspaper, titled “Save the tiger.” Mwaura’s angst with the poster was lost on me. I understood that naming classrooms after the wildlife was our modest contribution to the conservation effort. Each classroom in the school took its name after one beast or the other. And I was a tiger always ready to pounce. There were many adolescent goings on, however, and they possibly explain Mwaura’s misallocated anger against an innocent newspaper cutting.

A recent visit to the school upon the invite of the PTA reunited me with my classroom, with a blending of nostalgia and sorrow. The plaque outside the door remains, four and a half decades later. But many other things remain, too. The coat of paint on the walls is the same that we left in 1972. The school has not enjoyed a single stroke of the brush ever since this block was constructed in 1970, some 46 years ago. The offending bulletin board has worn out with time. It makes nonsense of the original reason for being there. The blackboard has lost its black. It has picked up potholes allover.

Individual lockable desks with detached chairs have replaced the long desks that we shared between two kids. These, however, are in a sorry state in every classroom. All are at one stage of collapse or the other. Some have no backrest. Others miss a leg or two. These kids do miracles. There is a girl following the lesson while delicately balanced on a two-legged ramshackle of a chair. Elsewhere, a boy is balancing on what is now a three-legged chair. In front of him is a desk without a worktop. Somehow, he manages to listen to the teacher, balance on the three-legged contraption and scribble in his tattered book in the hollow of the desk. Would be that this were an isolated story. Unfortunately, the whole classroom is like this. And it is the same story everywhere in the school. This is a modern school in East Africa’s seat of economic power – Kenya’s capital city that houses State House, City Hall and all that.

A visit to the washrooms is depressing. There is leakage everywhere, I am not sure of what. The place is odoriferous. This applies both to the pupils’ and staff washrooms. Our once immaculate ‘Ofafa Jericho Gorofa Primary School,’ as we loved calling it, is in a truly sorry state. Yet as you walk out, you come across young men from the neighboring boys’ secondary school. Apparently, suffering inadequate space in their own school, it was decided that they should “borrow some space” in the primary school in return for water from their borehole. There have been tales of gross indiscipline involving these high school gents and our prepubescent primary school girls. Where this will end, I don’t know!

Something is grotesquely wrong. But the bad news does not end here. The story of dilapidation is the same in all public primary schools in Eastlands. It is the same narrative at Martin Luther Primary School, Rabai Road School, Dr. Livingstone, Dr. Krapf, St. Patrick, Kimathi, Cannon Apollo, St. Michael’s Jogoo Road, Heshima Road  . . . God, we are in trouble! Decades ago, these were immaculate structures.

We had modern class libraries, equipped with memorable story books. From them, I gathered fledgling language skills. I even began dreaming of the art of writing. I was introduced to the Bronte sisters.  It was here that I met R. L. Stephenson, Jules Verne, R.M. Ballantyne, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Richard Blackmore, Jonathan Swift, Herman Melville, Miguel Cervantes and Alexandre Dumas, among other canonical writers. This was how I met my favourite Lorna Doone and Jane Eyre. I found Pip, Estella, Joe Gargery and Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. I discovered Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in Class Six. I devoured it. Ngugi ravished me in Seven Tiger as did Ferdinand Oyono, Mongo Betti and Camara Laye. Many were the hours passed discussing Jane Eyre, Lorna Doone, Don Quixote and Oliver Twist.

Today these children have no idea what this stuff is all about. How can they? Their circumstances cannot afford them that kind of luxury. Six years ago I visited to make a book donation. Nobody seems to know what happened to the books. But that is not even the issue. The issue is that I had thought that Devolution would make a difference. It has not. In my time, we were served hot lunch from the City Council kitchens in Eastleigh. We called the food “supro” or “burgar.” It kept our intestines calm so that our heads could remain open to study. I had thought Devolution would return some of this. It has not.

I see that Nairobi’s Governor Kidero is asking city residents to vote for him again. I don’t know what he has to show for his four years. I would have thought that our children and their schools would be quick wins for the governor. He has done absolutely nothing for them. Why should a child who has a governor balance delicately on a two-legged chair? Why should she not have a proper toilet to go to when pressed by a call of nature?

The city county leadership has failed our children just as has the National Government. Where is our collective conscience as adults when we subject our children to such adversity? In 1729, Jonathan Swift advised the British that if the children of the poor were a burden to them, they should just sell them as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. Nairobi’s poor children waddle through fresh sewage everyday, even in school. They suffer regular water shortages and walk through dark alleys. Privileged citizens drive on potholed roads and live in stinking garbage. Poor voters go to county dispensaries without services. I sincerely don’t know how Nairobi’s County Government justifies itself. And I see a lot of rich characters out there noisily scrambling for Nairobi 2017. I don’t know what difference they propose to make.

Two things remain. First, for the sake of honour, Governor Kidero should not seek reelection. He has failed us. Second, the rest of the pretenders should demonstrate what they have done for Nairobi – and especially for the poor. If they cannot, they should hold their horses. Meanwhile the National Government should step in to save our children, or show us how to eat them.

RE-MEMBER-RING Maasai Leaders & Elders

I was a young man growing up in a newly independent Kenya. Our Kenyan nation was not yet ten years. We learnt early to follow social and political debates in the country. Stanley Shapashina Oloitiptip of Kajiado South and John Keen of Kajiado North were the foremost Maasai leaders. They could never agree on anything.

Keen was the more progressive and public spirited of the two leaders. He was a populist within the prism of J. M. Kariuki of Nyandarua North. Others in this club were Jean Marie Seroney of Tinderet and Martin Shikuku of Butere. There were indeed a dozen or so other leaders cut from the same cloth. They fought and spoke out for citizens’ rights. This was regardless of tribe, race or any other group identity. Their sole concern was the Kenyan nation.

Keen crusaded for inclusion of the Maasai in a modern political economy, while preserving the essence of being Maasai. Oloitiptip resisted modernity for the Maasai, but not for himself. He came through as a gifted calculating individual. He saw the Maasai as horse. He was the horse owner and rider.  He appeared always concerned about himself and what he could get from the system and the horse.

Keen wanted the Maasai to get out of the Manyatta. He desired them to take their children to school and claim their place in an emerging Kenya. Oloitiptip said no to all this. And so the two often threw heavy brickbats at each other, in the public space. Essentially a systems man, Oloitiptip got to the apogee of his good fortunes in the early years of the Nyayo Government. As Minister for Local Government, he would publicly praise the government and independence with words to the effect, “Independence is sweet. This Nyayo Government is particularly good. Because of independence and Nyayo, I now live in a twelve-bedroomed house in Lavington.” It would later emerge in public that this was a stolen city council house.

That was in 1980. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who had been barred from running in the 1979 Presidential and General Elections, dismissed Oloitiptip as “an avaricious individual” who was “mesmerized with his ill-gotten wealth at the expense of his people.” As Oloitiptip’s fortunes peaked, other Maasai leaders were eclipsed. John Keen, who had featured prominently in the parliamentary probe into J.M. Kariuki’s assassination, was getting steadily marginalized, because of his outspokenness. Justus Ole Tipis, all this time an assistant minister now in this ministry then the other, was a self-effacing phlegmatic individual. He was unflappable to a fault. And that perhaps represented the perception of where those who owned Kenya thought the Maasai should be. They were to be seen and not to be heard; to remain horses that boisterous tribal nouvelle riches like Stanley Oloitiptip could ride to whichever destination they chose.

While Oloitiptip was at the pinnacle of his fortunes, however, you occasionally heard of the Chairman of the Narok County Council. He was a charismatic individual called William Rongorua Ole Ntimamah, a fiery daredevil whom the establishment was keen to tame. He often spoke about Maasai land rights and protection of water towers in the Maasai countryside. He spoke out against charcoal burning in the Mau and of the need to protect the forest. Like John Keen, he wanted the Maasai to take up modernity, while not losing their soul as the Maasai nation. Because of this, the Kanu Government twice barred him from contesting for the Narok Parliamentary seat. The dull natured Ole Tipis was the State’s candidate.

In the fullness of time, Oloitiptip and Ole Tipis separately fell out with the Nyayo Government. They each demonstrated that they could not live without power and went to be with God. Ntimamah rapidly rose to be the new Maasai supremo. Keen had learnt to keep his thoughts to himself. Although he would find his voice again as the Secretary General of Mwai Kibaki’s Democratic Party, the old fire never quite returned. He has since retired from politics and is ageing gracefully, away from the limelight. Like Joseph Murumbi, another prominent Maasai leader before him, Keen observes civic goings on quietly – certainly disappointed with the turn the country has taken, given his previous public stand on issues.

For his part, Ntimamah will go down in history as an enigmatic figure. He could unite and divide with equal zeal and ease. Much has been said about his “lie low like an envelope – or antelope – ” edict. He will certainly feature prominently when the story of the heady social and political turbulence of 1992, 1997 and 2007/8 is properly compiled and written. At this time of mourning him, it is useful to remember Mark Antony’s famous words in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “I have here come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; the good oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.”

Mercifully, both President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga want to claim Ole Ntimamah in his death. It must be for the good that he did in his life. Or it might just be because they are salivating for the Maasai vote – or both. Both leaders, however, threw up unnecessary tantrums at Ntimamah’s burial service. They forgot that this was a sacred church event – a sacrosanct funeral service.

President Kenyatta went on to call a bishop appalling names. He forgot that the bishop was at his altar. Whatever the misgivings, you don’t throw invectives at a bishop in his own space. In such contexts, the men of God must enjoy the benefit of doubt. When we tell them in this forum that they are “stupid,” the gods could take offence. Likewise, we say in Emanyulia that we should not go to funerals to gloat about the meat in our mouth. The gods could just remove it. President Kenyatta’s advisers and ODM’s Raila Odinga’s people of wisdom might want to remind them about sense of occasion – if they can pluck the courage. Meanwhile let’s bury Ole Ntimamah’s bones and keep his words for some other day.

It Is Not Clear Who Jaramogi Could Have Had In Mind When He Moved A Motion In The First Parliament

Today the Jubilee Party will be born. What happens after this birth is anybody’s guess. But one thing is clear. History is about to repeat itself. Georg Friedrich Hegel famously remarked that all great things and personalities appear twice in history. Karl Marx modified Hegel’s aphorism. Writing about the quasi-revolutionary misadventures of Napoleon Bonaparte and his nephew Louis Napoleon over the period 1792 – 1851, Marx remarked, “History repeats itself, first as a farce and second as a tragedy.”

Kenya’s farcical and tragic history is forever repeating itself. The farce of national unity began after independence. It is with us again. Writing in the volume Decolonization and Independence in Kenya 1940 – 93, William. R. Ochieng recalls that opposition MPs from the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) and the African People’s Party (APP) “were lured to join KANU in the government. They immediately strengthened the conservative wing of KANU.” The objective was to muzzle opposition. National unity was the excuse rather than the reason a one party State was imposed.

Migration of the opposition into KANU in 1966 began an odyssey whose impact remains today. It placed KANU’s bigwigs on a political roller coaster. It concentrated power in the hands of the Executive, leading to actualization of Lord Acton’s maxim that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Political detention without trial became normal. Ethnic and religious marginalization and political assassinations came home to stay. The assassinations remain unsolved, decades later. Will the birth of the Jubilee Party make Kenya a better country, or will it open a new phase to a fifty-year-old odyssey?

We have heard the same sound bytes as we did in 1966. In the interest of forging unity among Kenyans, it was important to have one strong political party that included all tribes. Against the grain of history, we can see today that this did not happen. Mzee Kenyatta’s government entrenched negative ethnicity while dishonestly preaching national unity. Subsequent governments have walked in the same footsteps. The country remains as divided as ever.

The big lesson in Kenya’s tribal history is that negative ethnic energy is not a factor of people not belonging to one political party. It is a product of ethnic exclusion and discrimination by those in power. You cannot, therefore, railroad a country into one political party and imagine that you now have a united nation. Kenyans have been brought up in a culturally divisive and ethnically arrogant environment. They need more than party tokenism and political mumbo-jumbo to build trust across ethnic lines.

Let me repeat. Ethnic animosity is almost always a factor of perceptions of ethnic exclusion and injustice. Even where everybody belongs to one party, as Kenyans did in the period 1966 – 1991, hostile ethnic relations will be there, if populations feel left out of social, political and economic opportunities. This, more than anything else, is what President Kenyatta needs to address. Is his government inclusive?

Even as he fuses thirteen parties into one, there remains a preponderant feeling that Kenyatta presides over an ethnic duopoly. For as long as this perception remains, herding people into single parties is a futile exercise as far as nation building goes. We are already hearing people talk of the different ethnic factions in the party to be born today. The factions will be watching the opportunities in the party from ethnic vantage points.

Apart from 1966 and today, political parties fused again in March 2002. This time round Raila Odinga’s National Development Party (NDP) folded to join KANU. If the 1966 merger of parties was a farce, the 2002 union was a tragedy – for KANU. The unfulfilled expectations of the NDP brigade lifted the lid to the activities that led to the defeat of President Moi’s Uhuru Project. They served KANU a blow that has left her staggering, fourteen years on. What are the expectations of those now dissolving their parties to merge into Jubilee? Where will they leave the new party? Time will tell. Meanwhile the Jubilee ownership will do well to remain conscious of the damage that unmet ambitions can do. It should not surprise them to witness discontent and infighting as politicians compete for the same goals and opportunities, under one roof.

President Kenyatta and DP William Ruto will also be focused on taming defections. To address this, they have worked with CORD leaders to pass what they call the “anti-party hopping law.” Here, again, history has repeated itself. Legislators have enacted a law against themselves, just as they did after the formation of KPU in 1966. The new law will return to haunt the lawmakers a few months from now. Just like the 1966 law haunted those who made it, some in the present crop of MPs will fry in their own political fat after Jubilee and CORD sideline them next year. Conversely, defections might begin a short time to come, from both CORD and Jubilee.

As Jubilee juggles the marbles of trying to lock up Kenyans in one political corner, CORD haplessly stares into a major political abyss. Kenyatta and Ruto are busy registering voters in their strongholds through the continuous voter registration process. They have a very clear picture of how many new voters they lap on each month – and where. When they raid CORD strongholds, they know that they will not turn the tables against CORD. But they know that they can grasp a few votes from them. And that is all they want, because it will make a difference. The Jubilee strategy is scientific and foolproof.

Raila Odinga and his brigade may want to change tack. They ought to know, by now, that the crowds that turn up to look at them in their flight visits to Emanyulia and sundry places will not necessarily vote for them.  Are they registered voters? Do they even have national identity cards? Who is managing their registration and sustaining their loyalty? CORD is caught up in panicky knee jerk reactions to Jubilee strategies. When they are not putting up rushed rallies and roadshows in reaction to Jubilee, they are busy fighting in house. They are hapless. They have no strategy, no plan on how to win the coming election. I can tell Raila Odinga for free. Running around the countryside without a strategy and a clear message, except crying wolf and calling people names, does not bring in votes. Wake up and style up now, or you will tell the world the same old post election story next year. Good luck.

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