The Elephant in Kenya’s Room

Brenda Wambui
20 February ,2018

We, the people of Kenya, claim to recognize the aspirations of all Kenyans for a government based on the essential values of human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, social justice and the rule of law. We also claim to promote the values that underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, equity and freedom; and state categorically that our state shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on any ground, including race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth. We lie.

In February 2018, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) launched the Women and Men in Kenya booklet, contrasting the status of women and men in Kenya when it comes to population, health, education, employment, governance, domestic violence, decision-making, and Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). As at 2016, Kenya had an estimated 22,498,000 women and 21,870,000 men (making the total population 44,368,000). According to this estimate, women form 50.71% of Kenya’s population.

However, according to the booklet, women provide 80% of Kenya’s farm labor and manage 40% of the country’s smallholder farms, yet they own only roughly 1% of agricultural land and receive just 10% of available credit. Despite bearing the burden of pregnancy and child rearing, fewer women than men across all age groups have access to family planning messages through radio, television and newspapers regardless of their level of education. Despite this, women bear the burden of contraceptive use, with uptake of the male condom at a measly 0% in North Eastern region, 2% in the Coast, Eastern, Central and Rift Valley regions and 3% in Nairobi, Western and Nyanza regions, while that of injectables (mainly Depo Provera which has been proven to have several health risks for women, such as increasing the chance that they will contract HIV by 49%) for example being 19% at the Coast, 2% in North Eastern, 38% in Eastern, 22% in Central, 27% in Rift Valley, 28% in Western, 29% in Nyanza, and 24% in Nairobi.

362 out of every 100,000 women who give birth die as a result of complications of pregnancy and child bearing. An overwhelming 37% of childbirths are at home, coming second only to deliveries in public hospitals at 46%. The conditions at public hospitals are dismal, and childbirth at home is dangerous. Women who give birth at home rarely have access to a skilled healthcare worker. The reason Rwanda was able to reduce maternal mortality by 77% between 2000 and 2013 is because of the increase in skilled providers (especially midwives) during childbirth. In 2010, 69% of the child deliveries in Rwanda were by a skilled healthcare provider.

It bears repeating that we have yet to pass the Reproductive Health Bill since it was tabled in 2014, yet it aims to provide for the recognition of reproductive rights, set the standards of reproductive health, and provide for the right to make decisions regarding reproduction free from discrimination, coercion and violence. The Bill aims to promote women’s health and safe motherhood, rapidly and substantially reduce maternal and child mortality rates in Kenya, as well as ensure access to quality and comprehensive provision of health care services to women and children. So much for our commitment to SDG 3, which aims for the achievement of good health and well-being (one of the ways is through reducing maternal mortality) and SDG 5, which aims for the achievement of gender equality.

When it comes to diseases, more women than men have been diagnosed with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Women across all age groups and levels of education also have lower comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS (which is a communicable disease) than men.

Men have higher levels of enrollment in all levels of education overall than women. This gap begins in secondary school, where it is slightly under 5%, and grows significantly in university where it is around 20% in public universities. The booklet does not state the cause, but possible reasons include early marriage and teen pregnancy.

Fewer women than men (up to 10% fewer) also apply for and receive loans for education in public universities. There is a 20% gap between men and women when it comes to enrollment in technical institutions, and a 10% gap when it comes to enrollment in TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) Institutions.

The situation is even starker in employment: Men are employed at almost double the rate of women in modern sector employment, where workers are 66% male and 34% female. In wage sector employment, men are employed at over double the rate of women in agriculture (the workforce is 67% male and 33% female), manufacturing (the workforce is 84% male and 16% female), and wholesaling (the workforce is 77% male and 23% female). In public administration wage employment, the workforce is 64% male and 36% female. The only wage employment sectors where there is almost parity are the education sector (the workforce is 53% male and 47% female) and service activities (the workforce is 48% male and 52% female).

Despite the existence of the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act (2015), women continue to experience high rates of abuse, mostly at the hands of current partners (57% of women who have been abused were abused by their current partners) and former partners (24% of women who have been abused). Almost 40% of women aged 15 – 49 have experienced physical violence (for men, it is under 10%), almost 15% of them have experienced sexual violence (for men, it is under 5%), and almost 35% of them have experienced emotional violence (for men, it is just over 20%).

Our Constitution states that women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres. It also states that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender. This has yet to happen, and legislation enforcing this constitutional requirement has yet to be passed despite the Jubilee party having a parliamentary majority and constantly claiming it is committed to the empowerment of women. Across most public and elective posts (such as MCA, governor, deputy governor, senator, member of national assembly, cabinet secretaries, diplomatic corps, Supreme Court judges, and Court of Appeal judges) women are fewer than 33.33%.

The situation is even worse in the private sector. Over 80% of the members of boards of private sector companies, chairpersons of these boards; directors in the registered companies listed at the Nairobi Securities Exchange and the chairpersons of the boards of these listed companies are men.

Women experience high levels of crimes against morality at the hands of men. Men commit up to 80% of the reported crimes against morality (women commit slightly over 20%), and are the key perpetrators of rape (over 80% of all reported rapes, including that of children, are committed by men). Men also commit 80% of all homicides, robberies, theft, offences related to drugs and other criminal offences. Because of this, men account for slightly over 80% of the prison population.

So much for the boy-child being left behind.

These figures paint a stark picture. They explain why Kenya’s Gender Equality Index is 38%. We still have light-years to go before we can live up to the ideals embodied in our Constitution. We have to close the gender gap across all areas: in employment, in healthcare, in education, and in payment for their work (women in Kenya earn 38% less than men on average). We have to strive to end violence against women, and we have to guarantee the representation of women in public and private institutions. Until then, when we claim to promote the values that underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, equity and freedom in our Constitution, we lie.

The Makings of a Fascist State

Brenda Wambui
6 February ,2018

Kenya is now in the unique position of having two “presidents” – Uhuru Kenyatta, the current head of state, and Raila Odinga, the self-declared people’s president. Raila Odinga was sworn in at Uhuru Park on 30th January 2018 in the presence of massive crowds. It was an an oddly peaceful event because the police were not present. In the days following the event, I have observed with much concern the open movement towards fascism by Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto, and the state in general.

If it feels like we’re on the verge of the breakdown of democracy as we know it, it’s because we are. World over, the rug has been pulled from underneath our feet. But for Kenyans, this is nothing new. It’s just more pronounced now. There is no simple, straightforward way to describe fascism. It has its roots in Benito Mussolini’s Italy. In 1919, there was a movement called the Blackshirts in Italy, named after the black shirts they used to wear.

It was built on the disenfranchisement of the every-man by industrialization. Mussolini harnessed this disenfranchisement and diverted it into political action. When he founded the fascist party, he said that fascism “is the wedding of state and corporate power.”  His followers were nationalist and totalitarian, and used violence to consolidate political power in him. The more his power grew, the worse they became. This ideology is fundamentally violent, and praises war and conflict.

Mussolini believed that war was the highest expression of human ability and society, and that life was a continuing conflict between people for limited resources. This same thought was shared by his German counterpart at the time, Adolf Hitler, which is why he wrote a book called Mein Kampf – which translates directly to My Struggle. To fascists, war and conflict are good things. They let nations or “races” decide who the strongest is, and who deserves the already “limited” resources. Yet not all modern day fascism can have direct lines drawn between it and Mussolini’s fascism. Or Hitler’s. It cuts across multiple forms of government, and multiple ideologies. Yet, its traits are always the same.

Fascists are nationalistic. I’ve talked about nationalism and why it’s dangerous here before, as well as the differences between nationalism and patriotism. Fascists believe in the exceptionalism and greatness of their nation for no reason other than they were born there. Everything they do is said to be for the good of the nation. They speak in terms of greatness in past days. For example, Uhuru Kenyatta’s focus on Kenya being a powerhouse regionally and in the continent even when his government does everything possible to undermine this in reality.

In the aftermath of Raila Odinga’s swearing-in, Uhuru Kenyatta and his government have broken multiple laws in the name of national security, and gone against the spirit of our constitution – they allegedly summoned media stakeholders to State House the day before the swearing in for a lecture on why they must not cover the events. When the chairperson of the Kenya Editors Guild brought to light these events and said they would not be intimidated, they waited until the next day and switched off Citizen TV, Inooro TV NTV and KTN – a gross violation of press freedom. After seven days, NTV and KTN were back on air on the 5th of February 2018. However, Inooro TV and Citizen TV, owned by Royal Media Services, remain switched off.

They have outlawed the National Resistance Movement, which amounts to outlawing the opposition, listing it as an organized crime group. Other groups on this list include terrorist/vigilante/militia groups like Al Shabaab, Mungiki, Chinkororo, Forty Two Brothers and the Baghdad Boys. Yet, NRM agitates for electoral reform and the boycott of companies they perceive to be “wedded to the state” (as Mussolini may have described it), while the other groups routinely commit murder.

Arrests were also made of parties involved in the swearing in, such as Tom Kajwang, George Aladwa, and Miguna Miguna. The charge is treason, which attracts the death penalty. Miguna, in particular, was arrested on the 2nd of February 2018 for administering Raila Odinga’s oath and being a member of an outlawed group. The High Court ordered his release on a bond of KES 50,000. He was not released. The court then ordered the police to produce him in court at 2pm on the 5th of February 2018 or risk the Inspector-General of Police and Director of Criminal Investigations being held in contempt of court. He was not produced.

The executive arm of the state seems to gleefully undermine the judiciary, as if to say they do not care about the law – they are a law unto themselves. Fascism cannot operate without divisions. A fascist leader has to create an in group and one that’s the enemy. The in group tends to be a majority that this leader controls and feels he belongs to. The enemy? That tends to be minorities. Which is why under fascist regimes, women suffer. Queer people suffer. Ethnic minorities suffer. Foreigners suffer. Religious intolerance thrives. Sexism thrives. Racism thrives. Xenophobia thrives. Tribalism thrives. Homophobia thrives. Anyone that does not belong to the in group suffers.

This is why, despite harping on and on about it, the Jubilee regime has not made a dent in youth unemployment. Why they have not passed the two-thirds gender bill despite having a parliamentary majority. Why they run around the country screaming “I have been unable to perform because of Raila.” Fascists are able to get away with this behaviour partly because of their charisma – they know how to sell the dream. I remember when Kenyans were convinced we were going to achieve great things when Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto wore matching red ties early in their first term. Adding onto their charisma is their love of controlling and gagging the media. Uhuru Kenyatta famously said newspapers were only good for wrapping meat. Recently, he shut down TV stations and drunkenly kicked the media out of an event they were covering. His regime has been in a covert tussle with the media since he invited them for tea and snacks at the beginning of his first term.

A charismatic fascist will sell you a ticket to hell for twice the price and you will go gladly, thinking you got a deal. How else do you explain Uthamaki, which is a nonsensical concept engendered by older generation Kikuyus (and some very misguided young ones)? How else do you explain the Nairobi Business Community? They believe that leadership is rightfully theirs. That uthamaki belongs to muthamaki (the fisherman). This fisherman being a fisher of men, currently Uhuru Kenyatta. Who is stoking this fascist sentiment? This is why we are forever caught up in tribal politics and clashes. Because every “tribe” ends up wanting Uthamaki.

Fascist leaders, and their states, easily trample on human rights. If you don’t belong to their in group, you may as well not exist. Fascists are terrible for the working classes. Under them, ethnic cleansing is routine, detainment for arbitrary reasons is the norm, and slums and ghettos thrive because they do not care about inequality. We only need to look at the state of our public schools and hospitals, and the high rates of unemployment to see proof. Our public schools are in shambles, with a majority of the children who sat KCSE last year not making the cutoff for university. Look at our public universities, where lecturers are perpetually on strike because of poor pay, yet that is where most can afford to take their children to school. Under fascism, the common man comes last.

Fascists are excellent at corporatism. Everything must be privatized. This is why our president sees no problem with a company he is associated with (Brookside Dairies) basically owning and controlling Kenya’s entire dairy sector. This is also why instead of fixing our public healthcare system, he prefers to entice private investors to offer more expensive healthcare. They love public-private partnerships and corporate takeovers of industries and sectors that have no business being privatized. When a fascist is done, there are little to no public goods and services. Instead, all you have is rampant corruption, fraud, cronyism and corporate greed.

Fascism is contradictory, as it is packaged to appeal to the every-man, yet the every-man is most harmed by it. It is irrational – it does not make sense because it is not supposed to make sense. It merely capitalizes on emotions and societal tensions and directs them towards political actions that the fascist in charge fancies. Under a fascist regime, a drought can be stopped by a president’s prayers for rain. Defying all logic and good sense, people will believe that the president’s prayers made it rain. They will believe that if he continues to pray, a drought, which is man made and curable by policy and not prayer, will end.

Fascist leaders are masters at shifting goalposts. For those who feel secure within the in group but are not in power, or those who do not belong to the fascist’s group of cronies – security is not guaranteed. One minute you are in, the next, you are an enemy of progress. Only the fascist knows where the goalposts are, and he can shift them at will.

This is why fascists are so disdainful of intellectuals and artists. Naturally, these people will call them out on their actions, and they don’t want that. So they berate them publicly, as you may have witnessed Uhuru Kenyatta do many times, and work hard to stifle the creative sector as Ezekiel Mutua and others in the government are doing. They also defund arts programmes, as William Ruto and Fred Matiang’i hope to do. Make no mistake, this is intentional. They have to do this to quash dissent now, and in the future.

How do we counteract this? The first step is recognizing and accepting that we live in a fascist state. Fascists and their followers live in an alternate reality where “alternative facts” exist – we do not have that luxury. Fascism, unfortunately, cannot be fought purely through facts and logic. It is a heightened emotional state. We have to appeal to the people’s emotions, just like the fascist. Why are they afraid? What are they afraid of? Because many times, fascism stems from a fear of the “other.” What is this that is so bad, it makes them hateful and intolerant towards their fellow citizens and human beings?

How do we make them trust us? How do we bring them into our shared reality? It all boils down to trust. The rest of us cannot trust our fascist governments, and the supporters of fascist governments cannot trust us.

What Next For Nairobi?

Brenda Wambui
16 January ,2018

On January 12th 2018, just a day after he had spirited battles with Nairobians online, and just after he impounded cows and asked us what to do with them on Twitter, Polycarp Igathe resigned. He had served as Nairobi’s Deputy Governor for less than six months.

He said, once again on Twitter, “Dear Nairobians, it is with a heavy heart that I resign my seat as elected Deputy Governor of Nairobi City County effective 1pm on 31st Jan 2018. I regret I have failed to earn the trust of the Governor to enable me to drive Admin & Management of the county. Without fear, favour or ill will I step down to avoid abusing or betraying my oath of office to Kenyans, Nairobians and my family. Thank you for the encouraging support given to me so far.”

This brings about questions as to the role of a deputy governor, and the process to replace one when they leave the role for whatever reason. According to the constitution (Cap. 11, Article 180): “Each candidate for election as county governor shall nominate a person who is qualified for nomination for election as county governor as a candidate for deputy governor. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission shall not conduct a separate election for the deputy governor but shall declare the candidate nominated by the person who is elected county governor to have been elected as the deputy governor.”

It goes on to say (Cap 11, Article 182): “(1) The office of the county governor shall become vacant if the holder of the office:

  • dies;
  • resigns, in writing, addressed to the speaker of the county assembly;
  • ceases to be eligible to be elected county governor under Article 180 (2);
  • is convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment for at least twelve months; or
  • is removed from office under this Constitution.

(2) If a vacancy occurs in the office of county governor, the deputy county governor shall assume office as county governor for the remainder of the term of the county governor.” The constitution does not specify what happens when the office of the deputy governor falls vacant.

The County Governments Act (2012) Section 32 that designates the functions of a deputy county governor is also vague, and does not state what should happen in case this office falls vacant. It says: “The deputy governor shall take and subscribe to the oath or affirmation as set out in the Schedule to this Act before assuming office. The deputy governor shall deputize for the governor in the execution of the governor’s functions. The governor may assign the deputy governor any other responsibility or portfolio as a member of the county executive committee. When acting in office as contemplated in Article 179 (5) of the Constitution, the deputy governor shall not exercise any powers of the governor, to nominate, appoint or dismiss, that are assigned to the governor under the Constitution or other written law. The governor shall not delegate to the deputy governor any of the functions referred to in subsection (4).”

The Election Laws Act (2011) Section 18 only anticipates the change of a deputy county governor candidate, as is expected. It says: “A county governor candidate or a political party shall not at any time change the person nominated as a deputy county governor candidate after the nomination of that person has been received by the Commission: Provided that in the event of death, resignation or incapacity of the nominated candidate or of the violation of the electoral code of conduct by the nominated candidate, the political party may substitute its candidate before the date of presentation of nomination papers to the Commission.”

We are in uncharted waters. We have two options – Mike Sonko could either appoint a new deputy, or he could complete his term without one. The law leaves the role of a deputy county governor vague. They appear to serve at the pleasure of the county governor, otherwise the process of replacing one would have been specified. It is unclear the pool available to Mike Sonko from which to select a deputy, which makes this option politically volatile, as it could be used to reward cronies. This option may be untenable, though, as neither the Constitution, County Government Act, nor the Election Laws Act give a county governor the power to do appoint a new deputy. This would likely be the subject of a matter in court, after which we would thankfully have jurisprudence on the issue.

He could also govern until 2022 without a deputy governor, something he has suggested he will do. He has said that he is not ready for dialogue with his former deputy, and that he will consult the electorate and work with other leaders, both from Jubilee and other parties. He also stated that he will work with other elected leaders and professionals to ensure service delivery in Nairobi County.

Now that this has happened, we need to amend the County Governments Act (and perhaps the Election Laws Act) to clarify what should happen when the office of a deputy county governor falls vacant. Until then, Nairobi will likely remain without one.

Kenya’s Killer Roads

Brenda Wambui
2 January ,2018

In December 2017, over 330 Kenyans lost their lives in road accidents while traveling for the holidays. Over 40 people died in road accidents within 24 hours at Sachang’wan and Bungoma. 36 people lost their lives at Migaa on the 31st of December 2017. For purposes of comparison, 148 people died in the Garissa University terror attack.

The NTSA’s (National Transport and Safety Authority) response was to abruptly ban all night travel by Public Service Vehicles (PSVs). This left several hundred passengers who intended to travel on the night of 31st December stranded, since the ban took immediate effect. “In order to review the current measures in place to improve road safety, the authority in consultation with other relevant government agencies hereby suspends night travel for all long distance public service vehicles from December 31. All travel must be scheduled to take place between 6 am and 7 pm.” As a result, PSVs are being driven even more dangerously in an attempt to reach their destinations before 7 pm. Unlicensed, unregulated private motorists have begun offering commuter services between key towns at high fares.

Driving and being driven in Kenya is a high stakes activity. Kenyan roads are hazardous, and each day we make it home okay is a happy day. Because we recognize this, we established the NTSA five years ago, in October 2012, with the vision of having a sustainable and safe road transport system with zero crashes. Their goal is to facilitate the provision of safe, reliable, efficient road transport services.

In Kenya, over 3,000 people, mostly pedestrians, die in road accidents each year. Globally, 1.24 million people die per year on roads, but 90% of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries even though they have fewer motorized vehicles. The age group that is most affected is the 15 – 29 age group worldwide, with road accidents being their leading cause of death. These accidents cost us about 5.6% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year. An agency like NTSA’s existence comes from a place of necessity, however, their interventions seem not to work.

Road deaths in 2015 increased to 3,057 up from 2,907 in 2014. This is an increase of 5.15%. These are people’s lives we’re talking about. Kenya’s goal was to reduce fatalities from road accidents by 50% between 2009 and 2014, yet they have not reduced. The NTSA has yet to provide comparative figures for 2016 and 2017.

Even more worrisome is that instead of measuring their performance in terms of lives saved, they cite how much they collect in fines instead, as if that is their mandate. They impose arbitrary speed limits on highways, which are meant to facilitate the high speed flow of traffic, and hide their speed cameras in bushes so as to arrest errant motorists, as opposed to announcing them with signs to remind the motorist to slow down.

I get it – speeding is the main cause of most road accidents we have, followed by drink-driving, not wearing a seatbelt, not wearing a helmet while on a bike, not using child restraints, distracted driving and so on. As a result, the interventions that follow should be – we must reduce the speeds that drivers drive at, make sure they don’t drink and drive, penalize people for not wearing seatbelts, helmets, using child restraints, using their phones will driving. And so on. Yet we’ve done these things, and they are clearly not working, given that road accident fatalities are not reducing year by year. So what gives?

Enforcement. Do we do these things consistently? Effectively? Efficiently? Let’s take highway speeding, for example. 3,057 people died in 2015. How many of them died on highways? On Thika Road? 70. Mombasa Road? 60. Waiyaki Way? 50. Jogoo Road? 30. That’s a total of 210 people – 6.87%. Yet where are we most terrorized by NTSA about speed? Highways.

The World Health Organization has an annual global status report on road safety. The most recent one is from 2015. Road safety is included under two sustainable development goals. We want to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages: by 2020, we should halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents. As it stands, that would mean our target is to get them down to 620,000. We also want to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable: by 2030, we should provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.

Almost half of the world’s road deaths are those of pedestrians, pedal cyclists and motorcyclists. The average for Africa is 43%. In Kenya, however, they account for 70%. In 2015, 268 drivers and 642 passengers died in road accidents, making up 30%. The rest were as follows: 104 pedal cyclists, 553 motorcyclists and 1340 pedestrians. Only 30% of those who die are inside cars.

It becomes apparent that to reduce fatalities from road accidents, we need to ensure that pedestrians, people on bicycles and motorcyclists are safer on the roads. We need to strike a balance between ease of mobility and safety. In the “Safe Systems” approach, used successfully in countries like Sweden, the speed limit on a section of a road takes into account safety, mobility and environmental considerations, as well as the impact of the speed on the quality of life for people living along the road.

Where motorized traffic mixes with pedestrians and cyclists, the speed limit must be under 30 km/h. This is due to the vulnerability of these road users at increasing speed: an adult pedestrian has less than a 20% chance of dying if struck by a car at less than 50 km/h but almost a 60% risk of dying if hit at 80 km/h. On roads where front impacts with other road users are possible (such as on non-divided rural roads, and two way roads) a “safe speed” will be lower than on highways, where head on collisions crashes are unlikely.

We need to ensure that both the drivers and riders on boda bodas and personal use bikes wear helmets. Many people say that they don’t because of hygiene, so perhaps we need to mass introduce helmet liners and other products that help prevent the transmission of skin diseases through these helmets. As we do this, then, we can also strictly enforce the wearing of helmets as a must by all people on bikes. The quality of these helmets should also be guaranteed, and low quality helmets should not be allowed into the country. There are some that crack as soon as someone falls, regardless of the magnitude of impact. These should not be allowed.

When it comes to drink driving, strict enforcement of the blood alcohol concentration limit/alcoblow should be there. The guys at these stops should be well trained and know the importance of not taking bribes – you take a bribe now, in 20 minutes the drunk driver kills someone, or multiple people. We also know that young and new drivers are a greater risk on the roads, especially if drink driving. They may then enforce lower blood alcohol concentration limits for them, to ensure that they are present on the road. This can then be graduated based on age group and driving experience. The effects of drink driving by commercial drivers (such as truck drivers) and PSVs is even more severe, because their vehicles tend to kill multiple people when involved in fatal crashes.

This means that strict enforcement of blood alcohol concentration limits should be enforced on them, especially on high risk roads, and at high risk times (such as between 5 pm and 10 pm, and during the entire night). We also need to tell Kenyans to stop warning others about alcoblow checks. If you can show them that they are actively contributing to the deaths of others, they may stop this behaviour.

Then there are seatbelts. Wearing seatbelts saves lives, yet it is no longer strictly enforced. We need to go back to doing this, and not just front seat passengers. All passengers should have their seatbelts on. For children, regular seatbelts don’t work as well – they need special restraints. Whether it’s a well fastened car seat, booster seat – have your child in a special restraint for him or her. It increases their chances of surviving a car accident by up to 90%. They should also travel in the back seats of private vehicles as it is much safer.

We need a law that applies an age, weight or height restriction on children sitting in the front seat, and a national child restraint law based on age, height or weight. We also need to make sure child restraints are affordable and accessible. We could have community based education and distribution schemes, maternity hospital loan schemes, voucher programmes and so on. We also need to look into how to enforce this in PSVs – which many people use with their children when moving from place to place. How can we make matatus and buses safer for children?

Then comes distracted driving, caused mostly by mobile phone use. This distraction comes in the form of auditory distraction, visual distraction, cognitive distraction and manual distraction. If one is on a call, for example, one is manually distracted due to holding the phone, and while listening to the call, one may miss audio cues on the road. Texting is even worse – it takes your eyes off the road, your attention is focused on the phone, and you are holding the phone so you are manually distracted. Even when using an earpiece, one is probably still distracted cognitively, which is the most dangerous form of distraction while driving. Drivers talking on a phone are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than those who aren’t. While this number applies to four wheeled vehicles, it doesn’t mean motorcyclists are any safer. Fighting distracted driving should be a key focus of the NTSA.

Vehicles and roads themselves must also be safer. Cars should be crash worthy, and have electronic stability control. This aims to prevent skidding and loss of control in cases of over-steering or understeering, and is effective at preventing different types of crashes (single car crashes, head-on and rollover crashes, and crashes involving multiple vehicles), reducing both serious and fatal injuries. Political will to enforce these interventions also needs to exist. We need to embark upon radically fixing our police force.

We should also have vehicles on roads that consider pedestrian safety. Softer bumpers, better bonnet area clearance and removal of unnecessarily rigid structures are required to reduce the severity of a pedestrian impact with a car. This means that most of the old cars on our roads would not make the cut. Roads themselves need to be safer. Planning decisions are usually made without sufficient attention to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and people on motorbikes – for example, cycle paths and footpaths are frequently not part of our road network. Neither are bridges.

We should optimize the movement of people and goods with road safety in mind. This optimization needs to take into account the mix and safety of all road users. We should also promote non-motorized forms of transport, such as walking and cycling. A good step in this direction is changing the perception that walking and cycling are for poor people. We can do this by separating these different kinds of road use, eliminating conflicts between high-speed and vulnerable road users. This is simple – have pedestrian walk ways, have separate cycle lanes. Look at Kileleshwa and Kilimani, for example.

We also need advocacy efforts to keep road safety high on the government and public agenda. We can do this through public awareness campaigns to increase understanding and support for enforcement measures, and to sustain a high perception of enforcement. This may even incentivize compliance. Until we start doing these things seriously, the NTSA will remain the butt of many people’s jokes, and rightly so.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Brenda Wambui
26 December ,2017

As the year ends, I am reminded of the highs and lows we have been through as Kenyans – two presidential elections (one which happened during the 2017 general election), an election annulment, an election boycott. a doctors’ strike, a nurses’ strike, the election of Kenya’s first women governors, the refusal of parliament to pass the two-thirds gender bill, the collapse of Nakumatt, the ban on plastic bags, extrajudicial killings by the police, to name a few.

As Charles Dickens would say, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. These are the pieces that stood out to us in 2017 [click on the title to read the full piece.]

Our Unlawful Lawmakers: Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Gender Principle

by Marilyn Kamuru

“Whether from ignorance, ineptitude or misogyny, the silence and complicity of these groups means that they lack the moral credibility to offer non-partisan leadership to Kenyans. The current administration’s de facto policy of violating the Gender Principle, and the acquiescent brand of leadership practised by the business and religious community, are largely to blame for our current situation.”

No One Will Save You: Remembering Kenya’s Karl Marx

by Isaac Otidi Amuke

“Karl Marx’s last public engagement was on the evening of Thursday, 5 March 2009. A group of University of Nairobi students witnessed the execution of two men riding in a white Mercedes Benz. The students had chanced on the killings on State House Road while walking back to their hostels. One of the students, assuming that the two, shot at point blank range, were dangerous criminals, asked the shooters, already in flight, why they weren’t taking the men’s bodies off the scene. The usual police ritual is to throw the bodies into a truck and dump them at Nairobi’s public morgue. The shooters, dressed in identical suits, looked like members of an elite death squad. One of them replied that “others” would do the cleaning up.”

My Child, We Thought You Were Home

by April Zhu

“That particular sunset marked the end of that day’s heavy demonstrations throughout Nyanza. And cruelly ironic in its magnificence, it marked the end of another life taken by police brutality. This time, his name was Michael Okoth. At approximately 2pm, the eighteen-year-old died near Kondele in Kisumu City with a gunshot to his neck. At the mortuary, his grandmother wept and wailed, speaking to him over his body. ‘We thought you were home. My child, we thought you were home. We didn’t know you had gone out to see the protests.'”

Beyond “this is Kenya”

by K’eguro Macharia

“In many cases, “this is Kenya” is uttered at a scene of violation and exhaustion: after a demand for a bribe, after being told a file is missing from a government office, after being insulted by a state agent, after attempting to use legal channels and being frustrated, after being sexually assaulted and attempting to seek help from friends and family, after witnessing police brutality, while paying more for food, while struggling to afford private healthcare because the public system is broken, while trying to afford school fees for private schools because public education is broken, while reading yet another report about theft of public land, while reading yet another report about theft of public money, while trying to navigate Kenya’s rape culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s heteronormative culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s misogynist culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s ethno-nationalist culture.”

Why did Kenya’s Supreme Court annul the elections?

by Nanjala Nyabola

“But beyond establishing high democratic standards for elections in Kenya, this ruling was also about reaffirming judicial independence. It put Chief Justice David Maraga in history books as the first African chief justice to oversee the annulment of election results. Less than a year into his term, there were already strong indications during a testy pre-election period that judicial independence was of utmost importance to the Maraga-led court. At least three times in under 12 months, the chief justice and the judicial service commission issued statements defending the independence of the judiciary after attacks from the president and the National Assembly majority leader.”

Forty Billionaires and Forty Million Beggars

by Matt Carotenuto

“In a country where political elites are known by the fancy cars they own (wabenzi­ — those who drive Mercedes Benzes) and roughly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, Kenyans recognize that, while they don’t all have a common language or religion, they share a landscape of growing inequality. “Super highways” in Nairobi cut right through informal settlements that lack running water. Colonial-era country clubs sit against sprawling slums, where golf balls routinely ping off the roofs of makeshift tin shacks. The same elites strolling the nearby fairways often collect rent on the properties behind the concrete barriers.”

Woman, Kenyan and on the campaign trail

by Ivy NyaYieka

“Nairobi was liberated from British colonialism by female prostitutes who procured ammunition for Maumau fighters. However, it has been reluctant since independence to let women into public spaces— let alone political office. The Truth Justice & Reconciliation Commission report developed after Kenya’s 2007/08 post election violence to examine historical injustices puts it eloquently: “Women are over-represented in the poorest social segments of society and underrepresented in decision-making bodies.” Every morning, Nairobi rises on the backs of bent women, opens its eyes hesitantly, yawns, stretches and stands up, looking taller than it is because it has low-income women below its feet. These elections will be a test of whether Nairobi will recognize these women’s contributions.”

*

And these were your favourite pieces from Brainstorm this year:

Kenya and Its Maize Scandals

by Brenda Wambui

“What is it about maize that makes it so susceptible to such scandals? It’s our consumption. Our average maize consumption per person is 60 kg a year, according to our Bureau of Statistics. Maize accounts for a quarter of our food consumption in terms of calorific intake, 56 per cent of our cereal calories and 47 per cent of our starchy food calories. Maize is also the best value for money starch that is widely available. It’s also easy to dispose of as it is a staple food not just in Kenya, but in other African countries as well. As a thief, you can sell it quickly and have your stolen money.”

The Master’s House

by Brenda Wambui

“These sentiments are, to put it simply, elitist. And many people are elitist. It is what motivates most of us in our work. We want to move as far away from poverty and as close to richness as we can. As we do, we develop a disdain (both subconscious and conscious) for poverty. As a result, we do not want reminders of poverty in the nice, clean spaces we believe we have worked so hard for. What are these reminders? Kiosks, matatus and second hand clothes, of course. We forget that most Kenyans continue to have them as hallmarks in their lives, though. Where do the rich expect their workers to buy their supplies, for example? When someone works from eight to six at your home, where do you expect them to shop? Do you feed your workers? If not, where do you expect them to eat? Do you provide private transport for them to and from your home? If not, how do you expect them to get there and go back to their homes?”

The F-word: The Place of Feminism In Contemporary Kenya

by Brenda Wambui

“Our feminism, first and foremost, must target the end of rape culture and violence against women. Why? Because it is intended to limit the extent to which women can participate in society. It is intended to keep women small, and in their place. They can only go as far as men will let them. Venture any further and what happens? Violence. Which is why women politicians are permanently being threatened with rape, stripping and other forms of violence. Why they have to have more security. Why their entourages are heckled and even stoned. It is also why men harass women on the streets, and why the go-to threat for many men towards women is ‘we will rape you.'”

*

As usual, this list is not exhaustive – so much has been written about Kenya or in Kenya in 2017. Any other pieces that we should have included? Share in the comments. Thank you for coming along on this journey in 2017. We look forward to an even better 2018. Happy new year!

The Master’s House

Brenda Wambui
12 December ,2017

“Your Excellencies Gov. @MikeSonko & Dep. Gov @IgathePolycarp, when we moved to Karen, we thought we were climbing up Maslow Hierarchy … But what are kiosks, matatus & mitumba clothes doing here? Where is our Masterplan? Kenya is a Capitalist State. Let Karen be Karen.”

Donald B. Kipkorir

Those words were exhausting to read, mostly because I had just had a debate on a WhatsApp group I’m on about the elitism and disdain for the poor that informs the sentiment that matatus should not be allowed into some (predictably rich) neighbourhoods. No matter that those matatus operate on public roads that we all have paid for and should benefit from.

To justify this unfairness, it was argued that many neighbourhoods do not allow matatus, not just Muthaiga, Karen, Runda and similarly rich areas. It was argued that calling this discrimination was unwarranted and generalizing. It was argued that not allowing matatus keeps the “sanity” in “some areas.” After all, this is the reason people buy property in these areas. It was argued that we love convenience too much as a nation, and that we should be okay with walking a distance for a matatu. After all, ten minute walks cannot kill you. All kinds of straw man arguments were brought in, including that we need to destroy transport cartels first, and that it wasn’t that the people in question feared/disdained poor people, rather, it was the system that was rotten.

So to come on Twitter and see Donald’s honesty about the root of the problem was somewhat refreshing. These sentiments are, to put it simply, elitist. And many people are elitist. It is what motivates most of us in our work. We want to move as far away from poverty and as close to richness as we can. As we do, we develop a disdain (both subconscious and conscious) for poverty. As a result, we do not want reminders of poverty in the nice, clean spaces we believe we have worked so hard for. What are these reminders? Kiosks, matatus and second hand clothes, of course.

We forget that most Kenyans continue to have them as hallmarks in their lives, though. Where do the rich expect their workers to buy their supplies, for example? When someone works from eight to six at your home, where do you expect them to shop? Do you feed your workers? If not, where do you expect them to eat? Do you provide private transport for them to and from your home? If not, how do you expect them to get there and go back to their homes? Is it fair to expect someone to walk four kilometres each day to and from your house, while you have never had to? Is this person still supposed to go back to his/her home and have the energy to enjoy life with his/her family? Given that areas such as Karen, Muthaiga and Runda are (mostly) residential and far from the city, where do the rich expect their workers to buy clothes? And at what time, given that most work round the clock?

Why do we think it is okay to subject people to such treatment, just so that we can forget that some of us are incredibly fortunate while a majority of the country suffers in poverty? Poverty is not beautiful. It is not romantic. This is what it looks like. It is the experience of most Kenyans, and to want to pretend that experience does not exist is elitist. Elitism is short sighted and sanctimonious, as it assumes that the views and experiences of the elite matter more than those of everyone “below” them. It assumes that everyone should aspire to what elites aspire to. Behave as they behave. It privileges one way of being over all others, while ignoring the very real causes behind those other ways of being. It undermines the very fabric of democracy, which emphasizes universal rights and freedoms. People are not poor by choice. No one wakes up one day and decides that they had rather be poor. Yet elitism makes it seem as if this is the case, by excluding others on the basis of this poverty and using it as a marker of the elites’ importance.

Many of us claim to be working hard to change Kenya. Yet, as Audre Lorde said, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. No matter how hard we work hard to change this country, if our actions are informed by any kind of bigotry – be it elitism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, sexism, racism or homophobia – the outcome we create will be similar to what we have now, and it will all have been in vain.

The Citizen vs The Taxpayer

Brenda Wambui
28 November ,2017

Every election year, a sentiment arises that goes something like this: “Kenyans don’t know what’s good for them. They always vote for bad “leaders” who then proceed to loot and plunder our country. This is because many Kenyans don’t really have a stake in our economy because they don’t pay tax. They are not well educated, they don’t have jobs, they don’t pay income tax, and as a result, they don’t feel the pinch. If I had it my way, I’d make it such that only people who pay tax can vote.”

That this sentiment persists surprises me. First, it does not take into account the fact that Kenya’s formal sector only employs about 2.3 million people out of the over 43 million people in our population. 77.9% of our jobs are in the informal sector, which is the largest informal sector in Africa. Informal sectors are notoriously difficult to tax, which makes it difficult for them to contribute income taxes. The burden of solving this falls squarely on the shoulders of the state (not the non-payers of income tax), which should encourage and incentivize formalization. However, our state is far keener on oppressing its people and looting/plundering the country.

Second, it fails to acknowledge that income tax (both individual and corporate) is not the holy grail of taxes. Kenyans pay over 20 taxes, such as customs duty, excise duty, fuel levy, value added tax (VAT), withholding tax, advance tax among others. Most, if not all, people in the informal sector pay at least one of these taxes, so it is disingenuous to accuse them of “not paying tax” and “not having a stake” in the country.

Perhaps the most odious thing about this sentiment is the way it dehumanizes most Kenyans and seeks to deny them their right as citizens.

According to our constitution, every Kenyan citizen (whether by birth or registration) has the right to free, fair and regular elections based on universal suffrage and the free expression of the will of the electors for any elective public body or office established under this Constitution; or any office of any political party of which the citizen is a member. Every adult citizen also has the right, without unreasonable restrictions, to be registered as a voter; to vote by secret ballot in any election or referendum; and to be a candidate for public office, or office within a political party of which the citizen is a member and, if elected, to hold office. Seeking to deny people the right to vote based on their income tax status would be unconstitutional.

It is also dehumanizing because it basically translates to “poor people shouldn’t be allowed to vote.” After all, most people in the informal sector make barely enough to survive. In a country where youth unemployment stands at 67%, this assumes that people are poor because they want to be poor, not because they have been failed by the state and its institutions. This sentiment finds great company in its eugenicist counterpart: “poor people shouldn’t be allowed to have children.” It presumes that it is up to someone else to “allow” or grant poor people their rights, yet they are guaranteed by our constitution by virtue of one being Kenyan.

Which makes me wonder, how do we want to define citizenship in Kenya? Do we want to criminalize poverty and assume that wealthy people are automatically more reasonable and well intentioned than poor people? The evidence says otherwise – the reason Kenya is in a mess is because of its crony capitalist state in which businesspersons and politicians collude. We are here because of rich people – how does denying poor people their rights fix the situation? Do we want to build an exclusive state, in which anything (especially poverty, which people don’t chose for themselves) could be the basis of your rights being denied, or do we want to build an inclusive state in which all our lives matter?

Isn’t it hypocritical to complain about how we are divided along ethnic and class lines while wishing we had a unified national identity, and in the next breath, say poor people/people who don’t “pay tax” shouldn’t be allowed to vote?

The Election Boycott Of 2017

Brenda Wambui
31 October ,2017

On October 10th 2017, Raila Odinga stated that he was withdrawing from the presidential election redo set for October 26th. He cited fears that it would be marred by the same irregularities and illegalities that got the August 8th election result annulled. In doing so, he seemed to grant Uhuru Kenyatta’s wish from the day before for him to step aside if he was not ready or willing to participate. “Kenyans are tired and want to move forward. If you do not want elections, step aside so that the country can move forward,” said Uhuru Kenyatta.

Raila Odinga later called for a boycott of the election by his supporters, as an act of resistance and civil disobedience. He asked Kenyans who value democracy and justice to hold vigil and prayers away from polling stations, or just stay at home. The chairperson of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Wafula Chebukati, had earlier made a statement that seemed to suggest he could not guarantee a credible election under prevailing conditions and with a divided commission. Days before, IEBC Commissioner Dr. Roselyn Akombe had resigned from the commission and fled Kenya for the USA (where she is also a citizen) citing fear for her life, as well as an inability to conduct a free, fair and credible election on the IEBC’s part.

Faced with the very real possibility of disruption and violence, a petition was filed before the Supreme Court to postpone the election until the IEBC could guarantee a credible election, only for the case to be adjourned, with apologies from Chief Justice David Maraga, because of a lack of quorum (the bench needs at least five judges to meet quorum). Only two out of seven judges were present when the court convened. Justice Isaac Lenaola was also present. However, Deputy Chief Justice Philomen Mwilu was unable to attend because her driver/bodyguard was shot shortly after dropping her off at home, in what appeared to be a warning shot to her from unknown persons. Justice Njoki Ndung’u was unable to find a flight back to Nairobi (she was out of town), Justice Mohamed Ibrahim was abroad seeking medical treatment, and Justices Smokin Wanjala and Jackton Ojwang simply said they were unable to make it.

As a result, the October 26th election proceeded as planned. With one hitch – most registered voters failed to show up to vote. Official voter turnout was placed at 38.84% by the IEBC, though others claimed it was less than 35% when the total number of registered voters (19,611,423) is used. On August 8th, turnout was 79.51%, meaning that more than half of those who voted saw it fit to boycott this election. Perhaps it was due to Raila Odinga’s call. Perhaps it was due to fatigue and the desire to “move on” to other things. Perhaps it was because it was clear that their votes would not count based on the events described above. Perhaps it was because of fear of police violence.

Whatever the case, Uhuru Kenyatta won 98.27% of the votes (he garnered 7,483,895 out of 7,616,217 valid votes), even though 25 out of 290 constituencies did not participate in the repeat election “because conditions were not conducive to elections” mostly due to protests and violence. As if their voices and votes do not matter, the IEBC decided that it would not hold elections in those constituencies because doing so would not result in a material change to the outcome, which is a second Uhuru Kenyatta presidential term (regardless of its lack of legitimacy).

Which brings us where we are today – with Uhuru Kenyatta’s supposed popularity coming second only to Paul Kagame’s in East Africa (who won Rwanda’s presidency with 98.6% in the 2017 election), followed closely by Hailemariam Desalegn, who became Ethiopia’s prime minister with 94.9% of the vote. It should concern us that we are headed in the direction of East Africa’s more authoritarian regimes.

Both Rwanda and Ethiopia are de facto one party states where political repression is the norm. Both countries persecute journalists for doing their jobs and have experienced a year-on-year reduction of freedom of the press. They are intolerant to any opposition, be it from citizens or opposition political parties. Extrajudicial killings are routine (they have been on the rise in Kenya too), and civil society/NGOs are constantly under attack for “undermining government.” Their work on human/women’s/children’s rights, governance and peace building is interfered with both directly and indirectly, until they are unable to act meaningfully.

They invade their “unstable” neighbours (Rwanda has invaded the DRC, Ethiopia and Kenya have invaded Somalia), because this empowers them in two ways: it allows them to shut down internal opposition by rallying around external enemies, which then provides them with “threats” through which they attempt to legitimize their autocracy both locally and internationally (which is why Paul Kagame/Rwanda is a darling of the people both in Africa and the west, and why Uhuru Kenyatta is poised to join him). Because such leaders tend to come to power through farcical elections that are religiously held despite prevailing circumstances, they appear to be democratic and in line with global institutions and norms. This delicate balance of “democracy” and repression also enables their supporters locally to defend them, yet they do not follow the spirit of their laws/constitution, and occasionally fail to follow its letter. However, unlike Rwanda and Ethiopia, our economy is suffering, our people are getting poorer, and we are on course to kill our public institutions (such as schools and hospitals) because of greed and corruption.

This reads like a reenactment of Daniel Arap Moi’s 24 year presidency. If it sounds worrisome, that’s because it is. We must resist authoritarianism.

What Happens Now?

Brenda Wambui
17 October ,2017

It has been 137 days since Kenyan nurses went on strike demanding better pay and better working conditions. In this time, the Kenyan central government, county governments and the Salaries Commission have engaged in brinkmanship when it comes to resolving their issues, as if to see who can agitate them and endanger Kenyans’ lives the most, as this seems to be the role of institutions in this country. In this time, mother to child transmission of HIV has increased, polio and leprosy have re-emerged, and children continue to go unvaccinated in many parts of the country, leaving them (and the rest of the population) exposed to Hepatitis B, Measles, mumps, rubella, and a host of other diseases.

As has become the norm, Kenyans continue to die in large numbers, because our lives do not matter to our leaders. I am reminded of the KES 5.3 billion stolen from the Ministry of Health whenever I view images of Kenyans in understaffed hospitals lying on the floor, as we did when the students of Lokichoggio Secondary School were attacked by one of their own. I also have the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report on extrajudicial killings and abusive policing on my mind as I write this. It focuses on the events in informal settlements in Nairobi (Mathare, Kibera, Babadogo, Dandora, Korogocho, Kariobangi and Kawangware) in the aftermath of the shambolic August 8th presidential election in which our fascist in chief Uhuru Kenyatta was said to have been re-elected (this result has since been annulled).

According to this report, “at least 33 people were killed in Nairobi alone, most of them as a result of action by the police and therefore warranting investigation by either the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a special commission or by parliament. Twenty-three, including children, appear to have been shot or beaten to death by police. Others were killed by tear gas and pepper spray fired at close range or trampled by fleeing crowds, and two died of trauma from shock. Two others were stoned by mobs. We received unconfirmed reports of another 17 dead in Nairobi. Added to the 12 killings at the hands of police documented by Human Rights Watch in western Kenya, and five additional killings confirmed by the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission, the national death toll could be as high as 67. Hundreds of residents have suffered severe injuries including gunshot wounds, debilitating injuries such as broken bones and extensive bruising as a result of the police violence.”

At such times, I wonder what it really means to be Kenyan. You are probably born to parents who want the best for you, so they sacrifice everything to take you to a good school. You sit your KCPE, and pass. You get accepted into a district or provincial or national school (bear with me here, this is what they were called when I was in school). You consider yourself lucky, because 84% of the children in Kenya join primary school but only 32% of these go on to enroll in secondary school. That’s right, more than 250,000 children fail to transition from primary school to secondary school. You work really hard in high school, and sit your KCSE. You pass, second time in a row. That makes you one of the 40% or so that score above a C+ and are able to get into university. The other 60%? They have to drop out and find something else to do with themselves. You are now part of the 20% that complete form four after enrolling in class 1 years earlier.

You go to university and do your BA or whatever other degree you’re called to do. If you have the means, you get to go to a private university for your degree. That’s at least 3 more years of school, but you’re grateful to have come this far. You work hard again, and graduate. You are now part of the 1.69% of people that enrolled in class one and were able to go through the whole 8.4.4 system and come out at the other end with your degree. Afterwards, you go out into the world. Chances are that you’re aged 15 – 34.

Your age group makes up 35% of the population, but the unemployment rate for this age group is 67%. The unemployment rate for the whole country is 25%. You tarmack and send your CV all over the place, you’re not as well connected as your peers. Within a year, you get your first job. A job in the formal sector. You may have a starting salary of between KES 20,000 – 40,000, putting you in the same bracket 64.5% of the formal sector workers in Kenya. Your goal is probably to work your salary up to above 100,000. Then, you say to yourself, you can start living. After all, a salary of KES 100,000 and above makes you one of the 2.89% that earns this much in formal employment. It’s not just that you want to be a member of the elite, you need this money to live a comfortable life. The average rent for a modest two bedroomed house is KES 15,000, after all.

Maize flour costs around KES 120 a packet. Bus fare costs anything between KES 100 – 300 a day depending on where you live. And these costs don’t ever seem to become lower. We haven’t even gone into other costs, like education, clothing, entertainment, healthcare. Then, because you’re one of the few that actually are employed in this country, your relatives depend on you. You send your mum and dad money each month for upkeep. Every time there’s a wedding or a funeral, you are called to contribute to the harambee. There’s the harambee that no good Kenyan can say no to – the harambee for medical care. You’re called and told that your cousin Njambi is ill, and she needs money for treatment. Let’s assume Njambi has enough cash for insurance cover, which is rare.

She’s already exhausted all the cash allocated by her cover, both inpatient and outpatient, and she doesn’t seem to be getting better. Her workplace makes NHIF contributions, yes, but somehow no one even knows how to work this cover, so you have to do a harambee. They say she needs to go to India to be checked, because you know hospitals there are cheaper and better that ours. So you do your duty. You come on Twitter and start a hashtag: #StandWithNjambi and set up a paybill number for people to send donations to. Things work out well, and you’re able to raise the money she needs for her treatment. Off she goes to India. She gets there, and they find that she has some obscure cancer. You feel a pain in your stomach, because you remember that the radiation machines had broken down the last time you checked.

How is Njambi going to continue her treatment here when she gets back? Who knows? You just hope for the best. You get home in the evening and turn on the news, only to hear the news of a new mega scandal. You remember the Goldenberg scandal, the mother – the one that opened our eyes to the corrupt nature of our country. How much was stolen that time? USD 600 million between 1990 and 1993. That comes to about USD 1 billion (KES 104 billion) in present day terms. That was Moi’s big scandal. Then you remember Kibaki’s big scandal, the Anglo leasing scandal. How much was stolen then? About USD 1 billion. That was in 2004. Presently, that comes to about USD 1.28 billion, (KES 133 billion). Not forgetting the Chickengate scandal, the Tokyo Embassy scandal among others. Then you remember the NYS/IFMIS scandal, through which up to KES 1.6 billion is said to have been stolen, and of course the Afya House scandal in which we were robbed of KES 5.3 billion.

If they didn’t steal our health money, perhaps Njambi wouldn’t have to go to India? Perhaps she could have had her diagnosis and treatment here? Perhaps no harambee would be necessary in the first place? Perhaps there would be enough nurses, doctors and clinical officers in our hospitals? Perhaps we wouldn’t have to bury people dying of things that can be treated like cholera, leprosy, malaria, the flu, pneumonia, diarrhea, tuberculosis, malnutrition, road traffic accidents…the list goes on and on.

You remember there’s worse to come, because we lose approximately KES 600 billion of our KES 2 trillion budget. What else does it mean when we say it can’t be accounted for? In the financial year 2014/15, we could not account for KES 450 billion shillings. That was a quarter of that year’s budget. And, as our government steals our money, you remember that they also kill us (through the police), just as they killed Thomas Odhiambo Okul, inside his gate. Or Kevin Otieno, outside his. They killed Lilian Khavele and her unborn child when they teargassed her, and she fell and got trampled on by a crowd. They also killed Geoffrey Onancha, who was shot by the police, and his daughter Sharon Imenza who died upon seeing her father’s body. You remember that they shot and killed Stephanie Moraa while she was playing on her balcony.

You realize that no one is safe. Nowhere is safe. So, what happens now?

In The Name Of Freedom

Brenda Wambui
3 October ,2017

On 1st September 2017, Kenya’s Supreme Court made history by annulling the August 8th presidential election. In a 4-2 decision, they determined that the recently concluded presidential election was not conducted in accordance with the Constitution and was invalid, null and void. The election was not transparent, and could not be said to be free, fair and credible. There were also errors in the tallying system that compromised its integrity. As such, the Supreme Court ordered a fresh presidential election within 60 days of the ruling (the date set by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission was originally October 17th, but has now changed to October 26th 2017). This was a win for justice, credibility and democracy; it was also an assertion of judicial independence and a moment of pride for many Kenyans.

Initially, Uhuru Kenyatta seemed to accept the ruling, albeit bitterly, but that has since changed. He held a rally at Burma Market in Nairobi where he called the Chief Justice and other Supreme Court Judges wakora (crooks), and said that they should know that they are dealing with a sitting president. Funny, former Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza was witch-hunted for a scuffle with a security guard in which she told the guard that she “should know people” but the president of Kenya did the same to the head of the judiciary and was met with cheers. I await the witch hunt.

He also said “Let those five, six people know, since the Kenyan people will still decide, they should wait for us to act after the people have made their decision. We are keeping a close eye on them. But let us deal with the election first. We are not afraid.” He has accused the Supreme Court of carrying out a judicial coup and subverting the will of the Kenyan people, and has threatened to cut them down to size and teach them a lesson when (not if, note the confidence) he gets reelected. He has said that there is a “problem” and we “must fix it.”

The Chief Justice, on behalf of the Judiciary, has since responded to these attacks in a statement, saying that they would not allow anybody to dictate to them how to discharge their mandate as given by the people of Kenya under the constitution. He mentioned that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the body charged by the Constitution under Article 172 with the responsibility of promoting the independence and accountability of the Judiciary, took great exception to these attacks, which are a vile affront to the rule of law and must be fiercely resisted.

He further stated that the JSC and the Judiciary would not cower to these intimidating attacks, that they would remain steadfast in defending the judges and the institution from unwarranted attacks, and that they would always be at the forefront of defending the cardinal principle of decisional independence of judges, and would at no time direct any judicial officer on how to decide on the cases before them. He reassured Kenyans that the Judiciary was prepared to handle all election-related disputes, at all levels, swiftly and fairly and without fear or favour, and that they were willing to pay the ultimate price to protect the constitution (since the police had failed to protect them).

In all this, it has become apparent that Uhuru Kenyatta either does not have a firm grasp of the constitution, or that he does and simply doesn’t care what it says. When he accused the Supreme Court of subverting the will of the people and not having the authority to act as they did because they are not elected, I wondered if he was aware that the constitution from which he draws his authority was the same one that creates the Supreme Court. That this constitution reflects the will of the Kenyan people, and that when the courts make a decision, they act on our behalf, with the authority we have vested in them, just as when Parliament makes a decision, they make it on our behalf (this is arguable, though). The constitution that makes declares the president a symbol of national unity (it should read “symbol of national division” in Mr. Kenyatta’s case) empowers the Judiciary to render justice without fear.

The threats by Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party cohorts must also be treated very seriously in this country where lives are disposable, and in which people are disappeared for speaking and acting against the establishment. Coupled with the fact that the Chief Justice has stated that the police are not providing adequate protection to judges (he said that the Inspector General, Joseph Boinnet, had repeatedly ignored calls to act on the threats to the Judiciary), one can only imagine what the establishment has in store for them.

Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of this attack on judicial freedom has been Uhuru Kenyatta’s bold coming out as a fascist. As Rasna Warah states:

In this cut-throat world of wheeler-dealers, wealth and power are concentrated in a few, who re-write society’s rules to their own advantage. Issues such as environmental protection and social justice have become peripheral. Democratic institutions are being weakened and the media and intellectuals are being vilified. Fascism – the feverish exaltation of ethnicity, race, nation or religion above the rights of the individual – has become the new normal.

As a fascist, he finds great company in his contemporaries, chief of all Donald Trump. Both of them are champions of nationalism (ethno-nationalism in Uhuru’s case, in which the Kikuyu are chosen to lead. This is the foundation of uthamaki ideology). Both have a disdain for human rights, and rather than speak for their causes, they rally their supporters behind a perceived enemy (Raila Odinga and the Judiciary in Uhuru’s case). Both are sexists (Uhuru’s sexism and misogyny shines bright in his inability to move the majority he controls both in the Senate and National Assembly to pass the Two-Thirds Gender Bill). Both fight the media (Uhuru Kenyatta has famously said that newspapers are only good for wrapping meat) and are obsessed with militarization and “national security.” Both are known to call to God and religion when it suits them (while acting in decidedly “ungodly” ways the rest of the time).

Both Uhuru Kenyatta and Donald Trump fight for the rights and power of corporations while suppressing the rights and power of the workers. Both have a disdain for intellectuals and the arts (Uhuru Kenyatta’s government is currently overseeing a travel ban for academics), and are obsessed with talk about crime and “punishment” (as you can see from Uhuru’s threats to the Judiciary). Most of all, both are guilty of rampant cronyism and corruption (Uhuru Kenyatta’s government has been said to be the most corrupt in Kenya’s history. He even had the gall to ask us what we want him to do about it).

It is up to Kenyans to take up the example set by the Judiciary and resist our fascist president and his cronies. We have got to be active citizens and stand up for freedom.