by Elizabeth Kabari
You may have seen the hashtag #Repeal162 on your social media feeds recently. Some of you are sure that it concerns you; others are sure that it doesn’t. However, it should concern everyone because it is a human rights issue, and the denial of rights for one is a denial of rights for all.
The #Repeal162 movement is a part of the struggle for the recognition and protection of the rights of the LGBTQIAPK community in Kenya. It consists of 2 ongoing court cases: Eric Gitari v Attorney General & another (Petition no. 150 of 2016) and John Mathenge and 7 others v Attorney General (Petition no. 234 of 2016).
The main purpose of these petitions is to ask the court to declare Section 162 (a) and (c) and section 165 of the Penal Code (Cap 63) as unconstitutional and therefore inapplicable in Kenya.
Section 162 of the Penal Code makes it a felony, punishable by 14 years’ imprisonment, for any person to:
- have carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; or
- have carnal knowledge of an animal; or
- permit a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature.
Additionally, where the above acts are performed without the consent of the other person or where consent was obtained through force, coercion, lies etc, the prison sentence goes up to 21 years.
Section 165 is similar and states that:
Any male person who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another male person, or procures another male person to commit any act of gross indecency with him, or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any male person with himself or with another male person, whether in public or private, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for five years.
Both sections fall under the chapter 15 of the Penal Code which provides for “offences against morality.” The Penal Code we have is basically copied and pasted from 19th Century Colonial English criminal law. This chapter in particular exists to ensure that Christian principles, which were very important in England at that time, could be more thoroughly enforced. This is illustrated by the language used in the chapter.
For example, Section 151 criminalises the “detention of females for immoral purposes” while Section 153 criminalises persistently soliciting or importuning for “immoral purposes”. The phrase “immoral purposes” as used in these sections means a sexual purpose. This conflation of morality and sex is a very Judeo- Christian idea. Furthermore, Section 165 criminalises “gross indecency” between men. The term “gross indecency” is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a term formerly used to denote certain criminal offences, in particular sexual activity between men (before this was decriminalized) and sexual offences against children”. The Judeo-Christian influence shines through here too.
The purpose of the law should not be to enforce morality, Christian or otherwise. Law should be a means by which people’s behaviour is regulated to ensure they do not harm each other and can co-exist peacefully.
What’s the difference? Morality is a fluid and subjective code. Every culture, religion, group has its own moral code, and this code is constantly changing and evolving to suit the needs and context of the people. Therefore, the law cannot be a tool for enforcing morality in non-homogenous societies such as Kenya which consists of at least 44 tribes, at least 6 religions (if you cluster all the various Christian denominations into one religion and traditional religions into another), 3 main economic classes…the list goes on.
With all this diversity, it is impossible that we will all subscribe to the same moral codes, and even more impossible that we will all agree on Christian morality as the way to go. Thus, the law should be neutral.
This concept is acknowledged in our Constitution. We note that one of the reasons we adopted our Constitution is because we are “…proud of our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, and determined to live in peace and unity as one indivisible sovereign nation.” We recognize that to live in peace together, we need to come up with a common set of supreme rules which bind and protect everyone. We accept that we cannot depend on our individual moral codes if we are to co-exist because if we do so, we exclude Kenyans who do not subscribe to the same code from protection and recognition by the law.
In the case of Section 162 and Section 165, we have not only excluded the LGBTQI community from protection by the law, but also justified their persecution.
Furthermore, there is no definition in Cap 63 of the phrase “against the order of nature” which is used in Section 162(a) and (c). If we were to interpret is as lay people, there would also be no way to determine what the “order of nature” is. Nature is as nature does and thus varies from species to species and from time to time.
However, the Kenyan courts have accepted that whatever this phrase means, it includes sodomy, more specifically, anal penetration of one man by another. This interpretation is one that was inherited from England, just like our Penal Code. I used the phrase “includes sodomy” because, from my understanding of the Kambi case referenced above, sex that is “against the order of nature” does not seem to only be limited to sodomy. Hence, case law only gives us a partial definition.
If we are to assume based on this partial definition and our understanding of the origins of the Penal Code, and purpose of Chapter 15 in particular, that the natural order of sex is sex for procreation, then any sex that cannot result in reproduction is outlawed by Section 162(a) and (c). This includes: oral sex, hand-play, anal sex etc. It is irrelevant whether the sex is between heterosexual participants or homosexual participants.
Section 162(c) makes it clear that consent is not a defence as it expressly outlaws consensual sex merely on the grounds that it is “against the order of nature”, that is, against the Christian idea of what sex should look like. Meanwhile, Section 165 criminalises all sexual activities between men regardless of whether there is consent or not, because that is not how Christianity envisions sex. The criminal element in these sections is derived purely from the kind of sex being had, not because there is anything inherently wrong with said sex, but because the Bible decreed it to be wrong.
While there is nothing wrong with subscribing to Christian ideals when it comes to sex or anything else, this is a personal and private decision in which the state should not interfere. Similarly, where people choose not to subscribe to Christian ideals, the law should not interfere. The law only comes in when, in upholding their beliefs, a person goes against the supreme rules that we have all agreed on – the Constitution. For example, in the case of sexual relationships, the law should only come in where a constitutional right is violated, such as nonconsensual sex, which violates the right to human dignity (Article 28) and the right to freedom and security of the person (Article 29).
By forcing Christian ideals on all Kenyans, Section 162 (a) and (c) and Section 165 violate the right to freedom from discrimination (Article 27), the right to privacy (Article 31), and freedom of conscience and belief and opinion (Article 32).
Finally, there’s the issue of enforcing these sections. When addressed promptly and efficiently, it is easy to prove sodomy (in this instance, I use sodomy to mean the nonconsensual anal penetration of one male by another) and bestiality. However, in the case of the consensual sex criminalised by Section 162(a) and (c) and Section 165, how can you prove anything happened?
In the first place, you have no victim(s), thus no complaint to the police and no P3 form. This means no material evidence. And, unless this sex was had in public, you have no witnesses and consequently, no oral evidence. How can you prosecute such a case? You can’t; at least not successfully.
Because of the difficulty in actually proving these cases, the police seldom bother to follow through with arrests made under Section 162 and 165, unless the offence complained of is sodomy or bestiality. However, this does not stop police from raiding gay bars and other gay-friendly spaces to harass patrons, threaten them with charges of prostitution and sodomy, and in some cases, arrest and extort them for money. This is a blatant violation of human rights.
Chapter 15 also leads government officials to believe they have the power to outlaw events that they think promote homosexuality. While such declarations have no standing in law because they are procedurally defective, they are still effective and interfere with the lives of Kenyans generally, be they part of the LGBTQI community or not.
Whichever way you look at it, be it from a validity standpoint or from an enforcement point of view, Section 162 (a) and (c) and Section 165 of the Penal Code have no place in Kenya. They call for the State to insert itself where it does not belong and interfere with Kenyans’ enjoyment of their rights. They also enable the harassment and extortion of Kenyans by police.
Most importantly, they threaten the diversity we cite as a point of national pride in our Constitution. which is why we all need to support the #Repeal162 movement.
Elizabeth is an advocate with a passion for human rights and a love for research and reading.
by Elizabeth Kabari
On 28th December 2017, the Public Health (Control of Shisha Smoking) Rules were gazetted and came into force. These rules effectively banned the manufacture, importation, sale, and use of shisha by criminalising these acts. Anyone found doing any of the above shall, upon conviction, be liable to pay a fine of not more than KES 50,000 or be imprisoned for a term not exceeding 6 months, or be made to pay the fine and serve the sentence. If you continue to repeat any of the above offences, you also get fined KES 1,000 for every additional day you continue to break the law.
The rules were made by the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Dr. Cleopa Mailu. The CS explained that the rules were made to protect public health – he claims that, in addition to being harmful in itself, shisha is a gateway to other drugs such as heroin. He therefore made the rules pursuant to his power under the Public Health Act, specifically Section 36(m).
These rules have caused a lot of uproar both online and offline, with former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga tweeting that the ban “smirks of hypocrisy and dictatorship” and shisha traders moving to court to get the ban lifted. However, what I find most striking about this ban is that it shows that the government still doesn’t fully understand how devolution works. Here’s why:
Eight years ago, Kenyans adopted a new constitution. It was hoped that this constitution would usher us into a new era of citizen-centred governance which focused on human rights, true democracy and equitable distribution of resources. To this end, a key element of the new constitution was devolution; that is, the separation of the government into two levels: the county level and the national level. Powers and functions were then divided between these levels so that we can improve the delivery of public services to wananchi and enable Kenyans to effectively govern themselves.
One of the functions that was devolved was health. The Fourth Schedule of the Constitution devolved health as follows: the national government was tasked with creating health policies and managing national health referral facilities (that is, Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital). The county government was tasked with managing county health services which includes all other hospitals and pharmacies, ambulances, primary healthcare etc. The counties were also tasked with controlling drugs and pornography.
The transfer of the function of health from the national government to the county governments was completed in August 2013. However, to date, many of the laws which existed before 2013, have not been amended to reflect the changes brought on by devolution.
The Public Health Act is one of these laws – it still has provisions that are not in line with the Constitution and therefore have no force in law because the Constitution supersedes all laws. Unfortunately, Section 36 of the Public Health Act is one of these sections. It empowers the CS to make rules where “any part of Kenya is threatened by a formidable epidemic, endemic or infectious disease.”
The function of preventing epidemics is a part of primary healthcare which makes it a county government function. This means that the powers given to the CS under Section 36 are, in this new constitutional dispensation, not actually his to exercise. The only power the CS has is the power to create policy (not law) to guide counties on how they should deal with such diseases.
Even if the above was not the case, and prevention of epidemics was a national function, the rules would still have been based on shaky legal ground. This is because Section 36 of the Public Health Act applies to formidable epidemic, endemic or infectious diseases. To clarify which diseases these are, the Act provides a list. They include smallpox, plague, Asiatic cholera, yellow fever and sleeping sickness or human trypanosomiasis (basically, serious diseases that are be passed by air, contact, being bitten/stung etc).
The diseases caused by shisha include cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems. None of these are diseases that the Public Health Act considers formidable epidemic, endemic or infectious diseases. Therefore, they are not covered by the powers given to the CS in Section 36.
The purpose of the rules, as their title succinctly puts it, is the “control of shisha smoking.” The rules then proceed to define shisha as “…tobacco products that may be flavoured or unflavoured…”. As we all know, tobacco is a drug. In a nutshell, the purpose of the rules is to control a drug. Control of drugs, as we’ve already seen, is a county function. The Cabinet Secretary cannot perform it. The most he can do is issue a policy to guide the counties on how the they should tackle the issue.
Despite all these legal barriers, the rules were made and gazetted into law. Consequently, we now have a law that has been passed by an organ of government that had no power to pass it, which regulates a matter that the organ has no power to regulate. This puts us, as a country, in a very confusing place: do these rules have the force of law? Are we bound by them? Assuming someone is arrested for manufacturing, selling or smoking shisha, can they be tried?
Hopefully, the courts shall answer these questions and give us a precedent for how we should proceed when such circumstances arise (because they surely will). Until then, it seems we’re confined to a life without shisha.
Elizabeth is an advocate with a passion for human rights and a love for research and reading.
by Bethuel Muthee
Food is a personal thing. We have individual preferences to what we eat, where we at, and even with whom. The smell of a food we like engages our memory, we can even taste it on tongues, we think of good times, of people we have not seen in years. In most cultures when people come together, there is food to be shared among those present. Sharing a meal is an act of communion, an affirmation of life, it is welcoming others into what is a highly personal activity and space. It is an encounter with the world that can be as simple as the gesture of breaking bread; to have a plate of food, thus, is also political.
In a country in which food is used as metaphor for political power- kukula nyama, our turn to eat- what does it mean that millions of Kenyans cannot regularly access sufficient and nutritious food? What does it mean that those entrusted with the task of ensuring food security are embroiled in scandals involving food in national reserves? Where “eating” is the denial of basic needs for millions, what does economic justice mean? Food security is more than what is portrayed as a problem of famine, extreme hunger and food aid, it is a problem that means the availability of food, economic, physical and social access to nutritious food for all. It is a human right that ensures that all people are able to feed themselves in dignity.
Article 43 (1) (c) of the Constitution of Kenya is a political commitment in which every Kenyan has a right to adequate food of an acceptable quality The Constitution in Article 21 (2) also gave mandate to the state to take legislative, policy and other measures in order to fully realize the economic and social rights of all Kenyans. In acknowledging the right to food, the government provided a basis for analysis, action, accountability, and continuity even after government change. The government has the duty to respect, protect and fulfil the human right to food and guarantee its enforcement. Kenyans were given a claim with which demand and realise their right to food by establishing procedural and legal means necessary for providing solutions against the state for failing in the commitment to guarantee the access to food.
It is with this in mind that on Sunday 27th August, seven years since the constitution was promulgated, during the Nai ni Who? tour through Eastleigh organised by the GoDown Arts Centre, I sought to observe the daily practices and cultures surrounding food, to immerse myself in the tastes available, in the joy of sharing with others in an attempt to understand what it means to be food secure within an urban context. As we set out from Saint Theresa’s Church, our agreed meeting point, we were handed maps and it is with this that I sought to explore the routes to food.
Famous as a business hub and the second highest earner of revenue in the city after the central business district, Eastleigh is a bustling neighbourhood that offers much to be observed. Following the outbreak of bubonic plague in the early years of Nairobi, Indian traders who had run their businesses from the town bazaar were moved east of the river in what was an attempt at managing hygiene and also a method of racial planning, to what would be named Eastleigh in 1921. Also relocated were a small number of Somalis of the Isaaq and Hawiye clans who had made their way from what was the Northern Frontier District having come with Hugh Chomondely, 3rd Baron Delamere from his hunting missions through Somalia. The small community continued to live there trading and it was after the implosion of Somalia during the civil war that some Somali refugees who were able to move to Kenya and settle in the area and call it home that it earned the moniker “Little Mogadishu”. Somali writer Nuruddin Farah in his essay “Of Tamarind and Cosmopolitanism” writes of the old Tamarind Market in Mogadishu which he describes as:
This [place] was always abuzz with activities, its narrow alleys filled with shoppers. You could see entire families pouring into its alleys and plazas soon after siesta time, some shopping for clothes, others wishing to acquire what they could find in the way of gold and silver necklaces made to order.
The description is one that could still be used to describe Eastleigh, a cosmopolitan place full of shopping complexes dealing in textiles, electronics, gold and silver, and numerous other products from around the country and the world. This same diversity is evident in the food that is available, it is a melting pot and its fragrance and tastes are some of the things that make the place what it is, vibrant and always on the move.
After walking through numerous malls with loudspeakers urging passersby to shop along crowded streets, the group takes a break in a hotel and we are welcomed to an important aspect of daily life in the area, we sit and are served camel milk tea. It is served hot and as we sip slowly, we become participants in what we learn is a way of life, the sharing of tea and stories, shaah iyo sheeko. Camel milk widely available in Eastleigh, is transported daily from Isiolo, Moyale and Garissa and is gaining popularity beyond the area for its nutritional benefits. Rich in proteins, iron, vitamins, and lacking lactose, it is a healthy alternative for those who are lactose intolerant. The milk vendors are women who have organized themselves into groups that work together to ensure sufficient supply, they give testimony to the benefits of camel milk including strong bones and detoxifying the body.
Most butcheries we walk past advertise hilib geeb, camel meat, in addition to goat meat and beef. In most restaurants these are served alongside other dishes. Nyirinyiri are small strips of camel meat which are sun dried and for some make for a hearty breakfast when taken along with black tea. In restaurants such as Kilimanjaro Food Court that offers a broad menu that includes Somali cuisine including deylo, young goat meat that is boiled and lightly fried, aleso which is mature goat meat boiled. From my observation, a lot of meals are accompanied by rice which we see being sold in wholesale in stores. Other meals offered include baasta saldato that is prepared using pasta, spices and sauce.
Making our way down Sixth Street past Hidaya mosque, I sit with Fardosa Ahmed. She sells potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, and fresh fruits as she shields herself from the sun under a fading green umbrella on which the words Day-to-Day can be faintly read. As she packs potatoes into a plastic bag, she bemoans the high prices of food and what it means for her daily sustenance. It is the day before enforcement of the plastic bag ban. She is unsure what that will mean for her business, new alternatives might be more expensive making the cost of things and life in general a little harder. As I walk away she offers me a clean carrot and tells me it will help with my eyesight, it might help see what I am looking for.
Walking through Eastleigh one question comes to mind – where does the food consumed come from? Is it local or imported? If imported – where from? The stacks of rice in the wholesale shops along the streets are imported from Pakistan while other basic food commodities like milk powder and cooking oil come from countries in the Middle East. The cost of importing goods, transporting it and distribution in the market raises the price of food leading to lack of access to those who cannot afford, who also happen to be a majority.
The Food Security Bill (2014) tabled before the Senate is one of legislative means through which the right to food enshrined in the constitution can be implemented and made a reality. It outlines clearly the objectives to provide a framework that promotes realisation of the right to freedom from hunger, the elimination of discrimination of marginalized groups, mechanisms for coordinated implementation of national policy and county programmes, establishment of institutions that will advance co-operative governance. FAO in 2006 recommended five areas of action for the successful implementation of the right to food: advocacy and training with the aim of strengthening the capacity of government to meet obligations and empowering rights holders to demand accountability, providing information and undertaking as assessment to enable the government to identify those who are food needy, legislation, coming up with strategy and implementation through coordination, monitoring and tracking performance.
It is from Keguro Macharia I learn that political imagination is rooted in our daily experience, in the day to day just like Fardosa’s umbrella. In demanding political commitment to the right to food, to implementation of legislation and policy what do we imagine a food secure Kenya to be? Keguro asks
- Describe a typical day in this transformed Kenya in as much detail as possible, from waking up to going to sleep.
- Describe a typical week in this transformed Kenya in as much detail as possible.
- Describe a typical month in this transformed Kenya in as much detail as possible.
- Describe a typical year in this transformed Kenya in as much detail as possible.
- Describe a possible trajectory for your life in this transformed Kenya in as much detail as possible.
By asking political leaders to take up their commitment to ensuring a food secure country in which the right to food is a fact, we must find new ways of imagining the politics of food. It is essential that we come together to co-imagine what Kenya can be and this imagination must be rooted and take hold from the daily lives of those whom this right is denied. This means moving beyond policy meetings in hotels with five-course meals, it means shifting our language from one of dense jargon to a common language rooted in the quest for freedom and justice for all. It means sharing our freedom dreams, building from that base of collective responsibility in which our day to day experience is acknowledged and aligned to a shared goal: food for all at all times.
The issue of food security in an urban context is one that is frequently overlooked by those who have been mandated with the task of ensuring that all Kenyans regardless of ethnicity, religion, political affiliation are able to have a plate of food on their table. The translation of this right into tangible results requires concerted effort of all charged with the responsibility of implementing the law and devising new ways to think of this problem starting from the local, with small communities, empowering people to understand and demand their rights. It means thinking of the children whose growth is stunted as result of not having sufficient food and making it a priority and not simply a knee-jerk reaction to emergencies. A need to re-think economic policy is vital if the goal is to ensure that food is available to all always.
We need to think of sustainable urban food policy and rethinking space. To be hungry is to be constantly teetering on the brink of anger, it is an immense pressure that might explode as has happened in countries such as Venezuela. We must find new ways of feeding our imagination and our bodies.
Bethuel Muthee (BM) is a Kenyan poet.
This is the second part of a series of essays discussing and explaining the songs that have come to dominate this year’s political season. The first of the series (read here) focused on the opposition’s hits ‘Tibim’ and ‘Bindu Bichenjaga’ and the emotional significance of the message they carried for the opposition side. This second essay explores the same, but for their opponents, the Jubilee side. Since writing that article, more has happened than can be summarized here. Suffice to say, the opposition is not in power and Jubilee stands poised to begin a new term in office.
The main reason I had written the essay was to explain the meaning of Onyi Jalamo’s hit song ‘NASA’ (Tibim!) and particularly, its many seemingly nonsensical words and describe what literary meaning they did carry. The obvious reason why it needed explaining was because it was in Dholuo and despite being so popular, most who listened to it (including many Luos) could not discern any meaning from its words. I had listened to the few musical numbers that bore the message and emotion of the Jubilee side and considered them self-explanatory, particularly because they were sung in Swahili. Their meanings were much more literal and open to public understanding and I didn’t think it necessary to explain the obvious. Subsequent events have convinced me otherwise. Music is not a static art. The meaning and significance of songs can change and morph based on context and circumstance, even based on audience, and the results of the presidential election represent a significant shift in the context and circumstance of all the campaign music created in this election season. I shall concentrate on Ben Githae’s ‘Tano Tena’ which like ‘NASA’ was the most prominent of its ilk and explain how its meaning and significance have been affected by the result.
Let us begin with a discussion of its merits and demerits as a piece of music. Music traverses an intellectual and emotional landscape using language as both tool and medium. In the first essay, Githae’s ‘Tano Tena’ is much simple song. There isn’t much to unpack from its lyrics or melodic arrangement, both are literal and truthfully, uninspired. He may as well have read the lyrics straight from a Jubilee manifesto. In fact, therein lies the song’s greatest weakness… the fact that he relays the campaign’s political messaging almost verbatim leaves the song emotionally vapid, a fact that is evident in the faces of the dancers surrounding Ben Githae in the video. They dance and sing with an energy that in many instances is obviously disconnected from the lyrical content. Even Githae’s face doesn’t always seem to reflect belief in what he sings, his dedication to singing it doesn’t waver though.
It is a simplistic song, you might agree with me that it doesn’t warrant much explanation. In the song, Githae seeks directly to convince listeners to vote for the Jubilee party. In fact, its first line states this intention;
‘Kuna sababu nyingi za kupigia kura Jubilee party…
…wakenya twasema, Uhuru-Ruto, tano tena.’
‘Uhuru-Ruto, tano tena’ proceeds to list development projects that Jubilee has been involved in and list them with each being followed by the tano tena refrain. The video features clips from Jubilee activities and the campaign trail including high definition videos of the SGR launch and others of Uhuru Kenyatta trying out the military equipment that was purchased for the security forces just before the election. The latter video clip accompanies a lyric praising Jubilee’s peacekeeping track record- weapons of violence and death alongside a lyric mentioning peace in a video performance by a gospel musician. The incongruity is startling.
The video also attempts to make a small group of people dancing around Githae appear larger than it is. It fails, cramming the group into frame in an unappealing composition and forcing some to peep between the heads of others hoping to appear on screen. It also includes one man whose costume is fashioned after the security forces; a suggestion perhaps that the security forces too are in the camp Githae sings in support of. Indeed in the aftermath of the election result announcement, it is not an unreasonable supposition to make.
Musically, and from the standpoint of literature, it must be stated that ‘Tano Tena’ has few merits. It is no wonder then that Ben Githae was singled out by his primary gospel audience as well as the general public for particular censure for composing and performing it. In one instance, he is invited onto The Churchill Show as a guest for what seems to be the sole purpose of ridiculing him over it. He is well aware of this and takes it gracefully, only seeming flustered when the hosts, in an instance of what might be described as musical bullying, remix his live performance of ‘Tano Tena’ with segments of Onyi Jalamo’s song, specifically the word ‘tibim.’
‘Kuna sababu nyingi za kupigia kura Jubilee party…
From a musical standpoint, The Churchill Show basically endorsed NASA with that action and paid homage to Jalamo’s musically superior composition. That the show did it and got away with it and that the audience found the incident funny says something about the emotional momentum that Jalamo’s song and its message had already built up at the time. Githae might have been left with egg on his face then but as another popular Kenyan musician once asked in a hip hop song, ‘Who is laughing now?’
Then there is the matter of genre. Jalamo’s song is of the ohangla genre and stays true to the genre’s specifications, even in the direction and execution of its two different videos. Githae is a gospel musician but this isn’t a gospel number. It is a secular song, and even worse, it is a secular song that ran the risk of alienating a large section of Githae’s own gospel audience who may not have necessarily carried the same political views. Githae was forced to defend his decision to compose and perform it multiple times and did so by saying that he had a right to a political opinion just like everyone else. This is not a demerit, but it certainly affected the reception of the song. Many accused Githae of putting aside the word of God to make some quick cash from the campaign trail and considering his stature as a musician, one might ask; Was it all worth it? At the last NASA rally, MC Mudomo Baggy hinted at a reason why he was involved. “Baada ya tarehe nane kutakuwa na ofisi ya wasanii pale state house karibu na gate, mimi nitakuwa na ofisi ndogo hapo.” He is a comedian, he might have been joking, but the state of the arts in the country is such that I wouldn’t begrudge Githae for making his bet. I would have warned him however that his audience would not like it.
There are unwritten rules regarding the discussion of political themes using music. Specifically, there is a history of propaganda through music that Kenyans have learned to be wary of and to resist. The kind that was practiced and perfected by the regime of Daniel Arap Moi. This unwritten rule is closely connected to the privacy and exclusivity of local languages and seems to state that songs tackling politics, especially those in praise of regimes or leaders, are only to be trusted if performed in local languages and in traditional genres. The underlying logic relates to both culture and economic class and assumes that music in traditional genres such as ohangla is conspiratorial and private, intended ‘for the house’ and therefore must not be insincere. Any insincerity is considered traitorous and is punishable by something akin to banishment or ostracism by the community who form the primary audience for these forms of art. To see an example of this, just type the words ‘Atommy Sifa exile’ into your web browser’s search window and hit enter. Political music in Swahili and English is perceived by the masses as either propaganda or activism, both thought of as elitist pursuits.
In our political context, Githae’s music is certainly in service of ‘the house’ as the regime whose praises he sings belongs to his community so he is in no danger of any such punishment. However, choosing to do it in Swahili in an attempt to be ‘inclusive’ brought this song uncomfortably close to the ‘Tawala Kenya’ kind of sycophantic PR music that the Moi regime was so famous for and indeed Githae’s fan base has suffered for this. And it isn’t just his language and content that smells of Jubilee PR, his choice of video characters seems tailored to appear ‘inclusive’ with the kinds of amateur dancers who would never appear dancing in any regular music video, even gospel.
This false inclusivity, embodied in Swahili lyrics and an association with gospel music was also evident in the Moi regime’s use of choirs and gospel musicians. I stated in the previous essay that the fact that various cultural performers contributed music to the opposition’s cause was proof that the path to true peace and inclusivity lies not in any national umbrella language but in a greater focus on our local ones. The crowd at Uhuru Park for the opposition’s last rally, mostly Nairobi voters, roared in appreciation when Esther Muthoni Passaris shook herself to the beat and shouted ‘Tibim!’ upon their request. She subsequently trounced Shebesh in their race even though they booted Kidero, a NASA bigwig by all accounts. Passaris is Kikuyu, Kidero is Luo. What the crowd did asking Passaris to dance to Jalamo’s song was not about ethnicity but about class, they requested proof that she was not too elite to enjoy their music and she was humble enough to humour them. I stated in the first essay as well that there is a split between two economic classes, an ‘elite’ class and a group I called ‘the ground’ – or ‘the masses’ to some. It is the elite group that seeks to nationalize identity with language and with religious association, a malady even the opposition elites were guilty of this year. The ground is largely secular, and is welcoming to all languages, ethnicities, and cultures as long as they are willing to try dancing to a new kind of music. To their credit, the opposition succeeded in building a movement to which the masses were ready and willing to invite themselves with their different cultural musics and languages. The Jubilee side failed to inspire the same adoration. If the music of both sides is to be compared, this year, the opposition side embodied the dreams and emotions of the ground/the masses while Jubilee stood for and represented the elite.
In a statement made after the declaration of the contested presidential results, NASA doyen James Orengo cites ‘Bindu Bichenjaga’ as having carried a prayer that the electoral body had heartlessly betrayed. Things did not change – in fact the election seemed to mirror the two before it, including the fact of disproportionate violence meted out against the innocent in opposition strongholds and protesters expressing their disappointment with the manner and result of the election. Perhaps it is fitting that the most prominent of the songs that were produced to express support for the side that was pronounced victorious is Ben Githae’s ‘Tano Tena’ – Five more.
For the supporters of Jubilee, Githae’s song might sound like an anthem of triumph. Five more years of perceived advantage. Five more years of their man (or men) at the helm. For supporters of the opposition though, Githae’s song means five more years of the policies and promises that so many of their songs had cited as failures and expressed disappointment with. Five more years of the ills that had publicly bedeviled the country under the first five years, particularly corruption. And if the response of security agencies and government bodies to the protests that followed the elections are anything to go by, including the recent deregistration and harassment of the KNHCR and other human rights organisations, then it also means five more years of blatant human rights abuses and impunity. And as many pundits and political commentators have pointed out, these things are also reminiscent of another political era whose times no one wishes to revisit. To them, a more befitting hook for the song would have been, ‘Moi tena!’
In a photo of Uhuru Kenyatta published a few days after the contentious presidential result announcement, he can be seen together with the musician, both with broad smiles on their faces. Ben Githae’s gamble, its musical quality notwithstanding, has paid off. Jubilee may not have fulfilled the promises it made to artistes in its first term but if that small office for artists is ever built at the white house, it is more likely to be Ben Githae with a desk there and not Mudomo Baggy. Perhaps in his opinion, that was worth losing a section of his gospel music fan-base to secure.
The thing about campaign music is that if your side loses, its songs risk becoming irrelevant. If your side wins on the other hand, their significance remains, even increases. There is always a contest between the musics of the different sides and this year, Tibim and Bindu Bichenjaga might have put up the grandest show but it is ‘Tano Tena’ that wins. It is ‘Tano Tena’ that remains relevant now, whether it is a good song or not. And after the drama of the election results one is tempted to ask, who cares about merit in Kenya anymore?
Alexander Ikawah is a writer and filmmaker living and working in Nairobi. His work has been published in magazines Jalada, Kwani? and Lawino.
In part 1 of this two part series Alexander Ikawah takes us through campaign music and what it says about us, who we are and where we are. Look out for part 2 next week.
Each political season campaign trucks drive around town blaring music as frenzied youth dressed in campaign merchandise dance in, on, and around them. You might imagine that the choice of what music to play is critical. Inevitably, some songs rise to the top of the pile and come to embody the message of one or the other side of the campaign. In the period preceding the 07/08 election, the song that had come to occupy that spot for the opposition was an ohangla hit called ‘Raila Kar Chakne’ by Onyi Papa Jey. It is a magnificent song. Magunga Williams captures it thus:
“His song “Raila-ODM” did not become a favourite simply because Raila Odinga was currently the heartthrob of the nation, most favoured to win the 2007 election and highly likely to become the 4th Commander-in-Chief of the Kenyan forces. No. Well, maybe in a small part this was also a factor. But to give credit where it is due, this was not just a song. This was a soundtrack to the coming to life of a dream that Luos had longed for, for nearly 40 years. A presidency.”
And indeed the song is epic in scope, covering a multitude of Raila’s achievements but particularly the struggle for constitutional reform embodied by the orange movement. It attempts to rally all the coalition’s allies and acknowledge their support. It urges calm in Kisumu(Beduru mos) and features a soccer game in which Jakom scores the winning goal.
This year, the airwaves are ruled by Onyi Jalamo’s ‘Tibim’ a song you have probably heard. I intend to discuss it because it is the most popular, however, there is another song perhaps more deserving of the limelight that I shall discuss too. ‘Bindu Bichenjaga’ by Amos Barasa. The former appeared on youtube as a grainy video that quickly became viral. As of now, two versions of the original have a total of about a million views. It is the noisiest tune on the streets at every NASA event, the campaign song by popular demand. The latter is a more musically and lyrically complex traditional song by Amos Barasa that made its debut early this year. The most popular youtube version had a modest 271,206 views by the time I was writing this article but I intend to discuss it as well because it is, by my judgement, the best composed of the lot this year and the closest in scope and emotion to Onyi Papa Jey’s classic.
I also wish to discuss something else, the disconnect between two types of voters and two types of musics that the campaign period reveals. These campaign songs are undeniably crucial to the political process and yet they operate in some lesser media space, occupying the airwaves of local radio stations and emerging to seemingly surprise the national media who then do inadequate and token analysis of their meaning and significance, confident that after the season, they shall be irrelevant once again. A cursory understanding of the music scene suggests that these musicians are largely invisible to the media in the period between elections and then if their song becomes a hit, suddenly become news. And the media often neglects to do its due diligence in covering and discussing their role and impact. It is as though there is a caste system in the music world and the election season presents the only chance for a certain group of musicians to achieve national relevance.
In a news story aired this April, Ouko Okusah declares that this season’s hit song ‘Tibim’ is, “one of the lousiest piece of music ever produced in this millennia.” He proceeds to denounce its lyrics as being empty and reeking of substandard creativity. In particular, he singles out the word ‘tibim’ whose meaning he does not explain. He declares the video pathetic as well. He is only half right about the video, but he is dead wrong about the quality of the song. He looks at the video but he does not see what it shows. He hears the music but its meaning is beyond him, so he assumes there is none. And he marvels at the ‘masses’ dancing to the song all over the country. Ouko Okusa is no stranger to ohangla, I am tempted to wonder what it might be that made him miss the meaning of this song, hiding in plain sight. And in this case, in plain lyrics. He ends his story with no insight into the song, and no reasons given for the insults levelled at another’s art. A professional attacks another professional’s work with no reasons given?
Okusa is not alone. Magunga went on to write this after we spoke,
“…every time Raila has offered himself for an election a theme song has to be composed. I cannot remember who sang what in 2013. It was that obscure. In 2017, Onyi Jalamo just gave us this useless arraignment of verse with no meaning whatsoever; a 7-minute waste of time that merely rides on a catchword, TIBIM, invented by former SONU Chairman, Babu Owino. NASA (the song, not the coalition) is, at best, a pile of fermenting garbage. That NASA (the coalition, this time) even chose it to be a campaign anthem is a tragedy. That jingle is so bad it can cause brain decay.”
I wish to shed some light on the song in question and perhaps in so doing, offer Ouko, Magunga, and any others like them a chance to come to a different conclusion about the song. A small service in literature.
Jalamo is singing about what he perceives as the country finally agreeing to unite behind Raila’s presidency. This is precisely the same thematic content that Onyi Papa Jey had tackled with the more acclaimed ‘Raila Kar Chakne’ from the 2007/8 political season. The mood of the song is celebratory. For those who remember Gor Mahia’s unbeaten streak in 2013. And the hashtag #Giniwasekao (we have already taken this thing), Jalamo’s song is in the same vein. A pre-celebration/encouragement message. It is rooted in the Luo culture of ‘pakruok’ –praise giving- to celebrate and encourage heroes, leaders, teams(e.g. sports), and I am sure in the past, armies. It is a cultural song, in the ohangla genre.
‘Tibim’ is not a nonsense word. It has onomatopoetic meaning. It describes the sound of something being struck. A point hitting home. A final blow. It evokes the emotion of triumph after struggle. A striker might be described as hitting the winning shot ‘Tibim!’ and subsequently scoring. Dholuo has words like that. Words with onomatopoetic meaning and Jalamo uses several in this song. ‘Tialala’ might describe the sound of a veil being torn. ‘Riaaa’ is an exhortation. You may shout ‘Riaaa!’ to your hunting dog to encourage it to catch the game you hunt. The bulk of the song is made up of lyrics that name a politician and request the replies ‘tibim’ and ‘tialala’ from participants.
Raila tibim. Tibim!
Wetangula tibim. Tibim!
Obado tialala. Tialala!
Perhaps Ouko does not know but these words had already found use in the political process well before Onyi Jalamo borrowed them to use in his song. They were already being used in campaigns all across Nyanza in precisely the way that Onyi uses them in his song. I was home in Migori for the party nominations and Obado was ‘tibim’ in the red corner, Ochilo was ‘tialala’ in the other. The people Ouko Okusa observes dancing know precisely what the words mean, however repetitive and mundane they sound to him. Onyi Jalamo’s song is deeply relevant to its ohangla audience and that is a mark in favour of its quality.
We often criticize contemporary music based on perceived moral content. Jalamo does not moralise. He does not pontificate. He does not beg you to vote for NASA. He simply celebrates a victory that he wishes to sing into existence. His lyrics are clean. He points out a few of Raila’s finer points.
‘Amolo Odinga, gik ma itimo dongo. Ikelo Democracy.’
Amolo Odinga you do great things. You have brought democracy.
To those who may accuse him of buttering Jakom’s behind, I ask you, are the lyrics untrue? Does Jakom not count among his contributions the very recent and hard-won struggle for a new constitution? Is that not a great thing? And is Onyi Jalamo not entitled to his interpretation of events?
The women leaders of NASA are celebrated equally. He devotes an entire verse to their praise, some names he mentions repeatedly.
Gladys Wanga. Tibim!
Amilo Gesagesa. Tibim!
Again the song scores. In comparison to most recent local hits, even crossing over to the side of gospel, such recognition and praise of women leaders is without comparison.
The song makes a point to be ethnically inclusive, mentioning leaders from all the different parts of the country that NASA has secured alliances within. All the NASA principals are Tibim. Joho is Tibim. Muthama is Tibim. This too is a point in the song’s favour.
It is not a posh composition by any means. One can discern from the sound that it was not produced on a large budget, but it did not need to be. This limited budget is perhaps what Okusa is noticing with the quality of the video. In fact, I do not fault Onyi for the original video quality. I pointed out that Okusa was half right about that because the cameraperson took really bad shots. Onyi Papa Jey’s classic was not the best shot of videos either. These political hits never are when they first appear. They are spontaneous, reactionary, expressions of a groundswell of emotion. The emotion Okusa fails to observe in the dancing masses shaking to NASA.
It is not a perfect song either. Not all of Tibim’s lyrics are happy and celebratory. There is a line, casually dropped but ominous where Jalamo sings, ‘ma kata kochuno to wadonjo gi balangewa’ – If needs must, we will climb in through the rafters.
It is a veiled threat. If Okusa wants something to fault the song on, this is what I would submit as a fault. At the NASA rally on Saturday, this rhetoric was reiterated by incensed politicians on the podium in front of a mammoth crowd and international media. I disagree with this threatening rhetoric. I wished for Onyi Papa Jey’s classic with its more level-headed ‘Beduru mos’ message but unfortunately, this is not his season. A more mature artist, he was wise enough to warn of violence without threatening it.
In the meantime, Jalamo has realized the potential of his song and there is a new Tibim video out with slightly better production quality and more Swahili lyrics than the original. Jalamo wants more Kenyans listening. I would suggest that Ouko revisit this artist and both versions of this piece of art and do another news feature about it except this time, to treat them with the professional courtesy they deserve. NASA(Tibim!) is probably the most nationally significant piece of music that will be recorded in Kenya this year.
Amos Barasa’s ‘Bindu Bichenjaga’ is a humble giant of a song. It is composed with traditional instruments and features Barasa plucking on a litungu as a talented orutu/wandindi offers counterpoint for the lyrics all through and his band backs him up. It is not a big budget production either, but the video is creative and ambitious.
In an interview on K24, he explains the lyrics a little and it is clear that he did not intend it as a NASA hit. Music is alive however and even though it bore a more general message at composition, its meaning has evolved and its key lyric ‘Bindu bichenjanga’ –things change- has found application on the campaign trail and resonated with NASA supporters from Western.
This political season, the Western alliance seemed to present the hardest challenge for Jakom to secure. Seasoned and advanced politicians had to be brought into the fold. It was hard fought but eventually, it was achieved. ‘Bindu Bichenjaga’ hints at the feelings among the electorate in Western that might have motivated the region’s heavyweights to lay aside their own ambitions and back Jakom.
At last Saturday’s rally at Uhuru Park, it was the second most popular tune blasting from the campaign trucks and vans after Tibim. In the video, Barasa seems to track the story of the country, pointing out different things that have changed over time and offering them as evidence that change is inevitable. This desire for change, if the song reflects it correctly, is what consolidated the Western region behind Jakom. ‘Bindu Bichenjanga’ is to the people of Western and NASA what Onyi Papa Jey’s song was to Jakom and Nyanza. In Magunga’s words, “…a soundtrack to the coming to life of a dream.” But whose dream?
WHOSE MUSIC, WHOSE DREAM?
Earlier, I had mentioned a disconnect between two types of voters and two types of musics that the campaign period reveals. I like to refer to these groups as ‘the ground’ and ‘the elite.’ It appears to me that these two groups are as distinctly separated as conflicting tribes. It seems to me that these groups have different musical cultures. ‘The ground’ is rooted in cultural musics, languages, and identities that are often missing from the national mediasphere before election time. ‘The elite’ value and seek national and international identification and acceptance and consume music in ‘national’ or foreign languages such as English. NASA leadership, if they had been given a choice, would not have picked Jalamo’s Tibim song or even Bindu Bichenjaga. They had repeatedly chosen Helena Ken’s ‘Mambo Yabadilika’ for official events and rallies. The NASA principals were announced to this song. A song in Swahili, a national language. Ouko Okusah’s critique of Tibim’s quality is an elitist critique. The ground doesn’t care for video quality. They consume the music from the speakers of radios, whatsapp groups, and roadshow trucks. They choose songs that best represent the emotion they feel, and if that song is missing, they sing it.
Suzanna Owiyo composed her own NASA anthem, an attempt to achieve the same feat as Jalamo. She isn’t the only one. In the run-up to the vote, NASA anthems have proliferated online as musicians from all genres toss their hats into the ring. There is a Kamba NASA anthem, a ragga NASA anthem, a ghipuka NASA anthem, a Benga NASA anthem, a Kalenjin NASA anthem, and there will be more. None of them is produced with stellar quality, but all are popular and widely shared online. This art has not been solicited, it is happening on its own. These artists all see a ground ripe with listening fans and are eager to endear themselves by paying homage to the party. They are betting their futures on NASA and Jakom. Nothing like this is happening with music on the Jubilee side. This is significant.
It is also troubling. It hints at the lack of support and opportunities for independent artists in the country, especially those performing in local languages. It highlights the magnitude of the challenge that candidates who offer no cultural or populist affiliation face in the current political paradigm. And it also highlights a failure on the media’s part to adequately and consistently represent all in their coverage and programming. A debate about the place of local languages and cultural music in the national mediasphere is long overdue.
At Uhuru Park, everyone danced to these local language, cultural songs. Despite the differences in language, they seemed to be unifying factors, not divisive ones. Everyone shared the emotions these songs carry, in the hundreds of thousands. The feeling of being part of the same emotion with so many, it is powerful. It is powerful enough to sway votes and to change minds. Nothing is a better barometer of the sentiment on the ‘ground’ than the music that the ground is singing and dancing to. The IPSOS and SYNOVATE polls may have their numbers but in the musical polls, NASA is winning by a landslide. They say politics is fought and won at the grassroots, ‘the ground.’ I believe the musical polls are a far better barometer of the sentiment on the ground than any opinion poll. If you wish to know what the ground thinks of the presidential candidates as they head to the polls this week, just listen. You will hear Tibim! And Bindu bichenjaga.
Alexander Ikawah is a writer and filmmaker living and working in Nairobi. His work has been published in magazines Jalada, Kwani? and Lawino.
by Dr. Judy Karagania
Kenyan doctors have been on strike since 5 December 2016. That is 79 days. This strike has historical parallels to what is considered the longest strike by medical practitioners in 1994 that lasted 105 days. Three thousand doctors were sacked fighting for the registration of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union (KMPDU) and salary increases.
In the last 2 years alone, there have been 42 strikes in various counties, following the hurried devolution of the health sector in January 2014.  However, this strike is different because we are fighting for the enactment of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that was signed between the doctors and the government in June 2013, yet the government has delayed its registration and implementation for the last three and a half years.
The CBA captures issues varying from doctors’ remuneration, promotions, transfer and training of doctors; improved working conditions such as functioning medical equipment, increase of number of doctors and support staff; benefits to doctors such as ‘workmen compensation and retirement.’ In October 2016, following an 18 month case the doctors’ union had lodged against the government, the Labour court ordered for the registration of the CBA, but the Ministry of Health remains defiant. Our struggle takes place in a context where various government ministries have been mired in corruption scandals by paying for inflated tenders for services and commodities that are rarely delivered. It is with this same speed that doctors want the CBA to be paid, hence the hash tag #lipakamatender which means “pay it like a government tender.”
“Daktari unahitajika ward.” The nurse sounds tired. She is overworked, being one of two nurses there caring for a ward with 80 patients. This is far from the WHO recommended nurse : patient ratio of 1:6/10. I find a patient convulsing, an empty emergency tray and the pharmacist informs me that we have been out of anti-convulsants for more than a month. The patient is dead when her kin returns with the drug from a private pharmacy in town.
For years, Kenyan doctors have been reduced to supervisors of patients’ deaths and we see this strike as the beginning of the path to redemption. One could easily trip over several patients lying on the floor because all the beds already are occupied by two patients. On display are archaic blood test machines and x-ray machines which haven’t been working for the last two weeks. The donated ambulance at the parking lot has also been out of service for the last 2 months. A mother mourns her deceased new-born because she went into obstructed labour at home, and the only means for her to get to the hospital, 60 km away, was on a bodaboda (motorcycle).
It is with an air of irony that doctors noted that the First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta, once again announced her annual Beyond Zero marathon which has been held for the last 3 years to raise funds to improve maternal and child health. Yet her husband heads a government that is constitutionally mandated to address this need and has failed to support its doctors. To add to the irony, the Ministry of Health, using taxpayers’ money, are also large donors to this private campaign. Due to the politicization of the agenda, the First Lady issued a statement cancelling this year’s marathon. The quest to have fully equipped hospitals is constantly hampered by ingrained corruption and government inefficiencies. For example, KES 30 Million worth of medical equipment was returned to its Swedish donors after the donor declined to pay out KES 2 million in kickbacks to have the consignment cleared at the port.
At the beginning of the strike, the Cabinet Secretary of Health, the Deputy President and the President all insisted that there was no money with which to pay doctors. Yet the same government spends KES 16 billion in annual salaries for members of parliament and senators, who are the second highest paid lawmakers in the world after those in Nigeria. They receive 76 times of Kenya’s GDP per capita of KES 86,624, and a further KES 4 billion on their travel allowances. In 2015, the president’s travel cost the taxpayers a whopping KES 1.2 Billion. Adding insult to injury, whilst doctors have been on strike Kenyan MPs have awarded themselves send-off packages worth KES 36 billion and are to receive KES 11 million as “gratuity.”
In light of all this extravagance, the doctors’ demands for the new pay structure will set back the government only KES 8.1 billion annually for 4,500 doctors in public service. Despite this, the government in the last 11 weeks,has undermined the CBA and repeatedly offered a 40% increase in the emergency call allowance and a “presidential gift” of KES 10,000 as a risk allowance. This is very different from what was painstakingly agreed upon in the CBA that involves special banding of doctors’ remuneration, because of the unique nature of our work as civil servants, working odd hours and repeatedly endangering our own health and lives. Furthermore, there is the ongoing suspended prison sentence for the top seven union officials, which has been used to blackmail them to call off the strike.
The integrity with which the government has handled negotiations with doctors has also been called into question. The Telegraph India reported that the Indian government through their Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “sidestepped” a proposal from Kenya to fly doctors from India to fill the gap created by the strike during a state visit to India by Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta. The other proposed source of doctors was Cuba, who have remained silent on the issue. Even though the government has denied these claims, we question the seriousness and commitment that they bring to negotiating with doctors.
The Minister of Finance recently admitted that the reason why they do not want to pay doctors a decent salary in the public sector is because this would cause an influx of doctors from the private to the public sector, hence private hospitals would collapse. With more than 95% of Kenyans relying on public facilities, it should go without saying that health is a public function. From the approximately KES 50 billion our National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) receives, KES 33 billion goes to private hospitals, KES 10 billion goes to India for treatment of Kenyans there and only KES 7 billion goes to public hospitals, of which only KES 4.2 billion goes towards free maternity care.
Government interests are clearly skewed away from catering to the public’s needs. On the other hand, private hospitals are known to exploit doctors, paying them as little as KES 55,000 a month. While the public provision of health services is thus undermined, international investment companies are flocking in, seeking to invest in private healthcare in Kenya, because it is a “honey pot” for a rising middle class. Our very own private facilities are also investing billions of shillings in expansions. Does this mean that access to healthcare will become a privilege and not a right?
The vultures are circling around the carcass that is public health care, but doctors shall continue fighting for the ordinary citizen to have access to the best attainable health in this country.
Dr. Judy Karagania is a Kenyan medical doctor currently working in the largest referral hospital in the region, Kenyatta National Hospital, while pursuing her postgraduate studies in Ophthalmology. She obtained her medical degree from the University of Nairobi and afterwards went straight into the public health service at the second largest referral hospital in Kenya, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, in Eldoret, then later worked at a smaller hospital in Naivasha.
Ed: A version of this essay was initially published on Review of African Political Economy.
 The Star, 8 December, 2016, Kenyan Doctors’ Fight for Better Pay started in 1994. Doctors were deemed un-unionisable then because the law categorized them as being in managerial positions. The Union was only registered in 2011
 Section 138 of the County Government act and part 187 of the Kenyan constitution. The transition authority had advised that devolution of Health should be done slowly, but it was very quickly executed.
 Two recent examples of major tender issuance corruption scandals in Kenya in 2016 alone can be read at: The Daily Nation, 27 October, 2016, Questions raised as Kshs 5 Billion missing at Health Ministry; AllAfricanews.com, 30 September, 2016, Kenya: Sh1.8bn Lost in NYS Scam, Lawmakers Told
 The Daily Nation, July 9, 2016, Donor takes back Sh30m equipment after refusing to give out kickbacks
 Business Daily, July 23, 2013. Kenyan Legislators emerge second in global pay ranking.
 Business Daily, Oct 12, 2015. Uhuru foreign country visits cost taxpayers Sh1.2bn
 KMPDU Secretary General’s Speech January 31, 2017
by Robert Munuku
“We were bundled together in military trucks and taken straight to Naivasha Maximum Security Prison. On arrival, I was locked up in solitary confinement for two months without any communication or reason as to why I was locked up,” retired Airforce Captain, Frank Mũnũku, recounting the 1982 attempted coup d’état in Kenya.
The year was 2012, a time that would later prove critical for my family in more ways than one. It was towards the last part of the semester and I was preparing for my final exams at the University of Nairobi, more specifically, I was reading ‘Philosophy of Law’ (or, jurisprudence). St. Thomas Aquinas defined the law as ‘a certain rule and measure of acts whereby man is induced to act or restrained from acting’. In other words, he saw the law as a disposition of reason, one whose relevance was only actualized in as far as it served the ‘greater good’ for the public. This would also be the same year that marked the 30th anniversary since an attempted coup d’état orchestrated by then Kenya Airforce private, Hezekiah Ochuka. Ochuka and a few others would later become the last Kenyan citizens, to date, to be executed after a death sentence ruling. My father, Frank Mũnũku, was a captain at the Kenya Airforce and was now, three decades on, seeking justice for victimization in relation to the botched coup.
It is said that time heals, I however believe that such a recovery can only be a product where justice is a necessary part of the equation. In my father’s case, recovery was only half done after a three plus decade moratorium and it was finally time to seek reparation for ills done unto him.
My first conversation with him more than showed this, as he narrated:
“When young servicemen tried to overthrow the Government on 1st August 1982, I was not in my Barracks at Embakasi. I was with my battery in Wajir Air Base guarding the airfield and carrying out my duties as assigned. The officers who were said to be the ring leaders were not in my Battery and I did not even know them. I was informed by my radio operator about the coup in Nairobi on that Sunday morning. My first reaction was to call all my officers and soldiers to a parade and tell them to remain calm and await instructions for I had no idea what was happening.
I tried to call my base at Embakasi but could not get through. Inside the Air Force Base at Wajir, there is always an army battalion with its own camp and has its own operational procedure which does not interfere with Air Force operations. During this time it was under the command of Lt. Colonel Thirimu. His deputy was Captain Dan Munene – both officers were known to me.
I decided to go to the Army camp to find out if they knew what was happening in Nairobi. I found the commanding officer and his deputy and they told me that they did not know anything besides what I had heard on the radio. The commanding officer told me to tell my men to remain calm and wait for instructions. I went back to my camp and did exactly that.
My officers and men remained calm as I had instructed them and there was not a single incident of indiscipline. The following day Lt. Col. Thirimu and Capt. Munene visited me at our Air Force camp and informed that he had received instructions from Army Headquarters to disarm my men and I, and carry our interrogation on us to find out what we knew about the coup.
I obliged and ordered by my officers and me to hand over their weapons to the Colonel without any problem. The Colonel then set up one of the rooms for interrogation. ,During the interrogation, the Colonel asked me what I knew about the coup. I told him I did not know anything or anyone who could have planned it. He then ordered for me and a few of my officers to be locked up at the Police Station at Wajir to await transport to Nairobi.”
This was the first encounter I had with what would follow as a series of narratives depicting the dehumanizing treatment my father and other colleagues received at the time. The law is to be obeyed, that is the underlying philosophy of any law or rule. Obedience is usually a functional value and often laws followed lead to a better state of life for those that the laws govern. My father’s description of the insurrection of the 1982 coup, coupled with events that were consequential, is a crystal clear analogy of how the law and its obedience or disobedience oscillates on the same paradoxical axis. My father was actually following the protocol required to escalate a crisis of such a nature but irony would later punish his obedience and respect for the same protocol.
“As a Captain I was earning about KES 3,600 and a Hardship Allowance of KES 1,200 since most of the time I was out in the field. Thus my salary in total was KES 4,800 per month.”
My father eventually got legal counsel and took the government to court. In our country, sadly so, it is not often the case that an individual wins a legal battle against the government even when the facts are as clear as the light of day. One such rare case is that of Judy Thongori, a Kenyan lawyer who successfully sued the Kenyan government for not delivering on the legislated 30% of women representation. Another is that by transgender activist, Audrey Mbugua who, after taking the KNEC (Kenya National Examination Council – a government parastatal) to court, successfully had her name changed on her school certificates. My father too, oddly enough, was eventually successful against the government, 2 years after he had revived past horrors by way of a lawsuit. His ruling read: –
In a nutshell, judgment is hereby entered in favour of the Petitioner against the Respondent in the following terms;
- a) A Declaration that the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment subjected on the Petitioner upon his arrest and being taken into police custody and subsequent detention in the various prisons constituted serious breaches of the Petitioner’s fundamental rights and Freedoms as to liberty, humane treatment, and freedom against arbitrary interference with his privacy, family and home, and right to earn an honest living as guaranteed under the Repealed Constitution and Constitution of Kenya, 2010.
- b) A Declaration that the detention of the Petitioner for eight (8) months with two months under solitary confinement (incommunicado) without arraigning or charging him in Court with any offence known under the law violated the Petitioner’s right of personal liberty under Section 72 of the Repealed Constitution and was illegal and a violation of the Petitioner’s fundamental right to equal protection of the law under Section 70(a) of the Repealed Constitution (now Articles 27(1)&(2) of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010) and further grossly violated the Petitioner’s right to a fair administrative action as provided for under Article 47 of the Constitution.
- c) General Damages of Kshs. 5 Million consequential to the Declarations of violations of the Petitioner’s Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.
- d) costs of this Petition.
- e) Interest at Court rates on (c) and (d) above.
DATED, DELIVERED AND SIGNED AT NAIROBI THIS 1ST DAY OF NOVEMBER, 2013
In the presence of:
Irene – Court clerk
Mr. Amolo holding brief for Mr. Gikaria for Petitioner
The ruling, however, was a short-lived triumph, one that would later prove as a battle, rather than a war, won. The next phase of getting compensation from the government was the real fight and, to date, the government has not paid my father for his false incarceration and torture, the latter being a somewhat abstract thing to compensate – how does one qualify what is a ‘good enough’ compensation for psychological trauma? Initially, when my father had began the process of seeking legal redress, I battled internally with this question: what amount of money would be enough to heal psychological scars or how can one be even compensated for time lost? I then went on to get a detailed account of the psychological experience that my father went through, again, from a conversation with him which he vividly recollected:
“(…) my being locked up was just the beginning of a long and very painful experience. Being the boss, I was locked in a cell alone with nothing but a rug to sleep on. For three days I did not have any food or water. The heat and mosquitoes were beyond human imagination. By the time I was taken out on the third day I could hardly talk. I still have problems with my throat since that day. In the afternoon of the fourth day we were taken back to the camp where we found an aircraft waiting to take us to Nairobi together with the other officers. I was not allowed to go back to my room to pick up my belongings. I therefore lost all my clothes, a camera and a very expensive music system that I had bought in Wajir town.
We arrived at Eastleigh Air Force Base at around 7 pm. On arrival we found many other officers and servicemen. We were bundled together in military trucks and taken straight to Naivasha Maximum Security Prison. On arrival, I was locked up in solitary confinement for two months without any communication or reason as to why I was locked up.
In the third month, I was taken for interrogation. During the interrogation, I was told to tell the panel what I knew about the coup. I told the interrogating officers that I knew nothing and that I was in Wajir when it happened. One of the officers asked me why I was arrested if that was the case. I replied that I had no idea and that they should call Lt. Col. Thirimu and ask him why he arrested me. I was taken back to solitary confinement and kept in incommunicado for another three weeks which seemed like three years due to loneliness. I was treated like an animal. Even the guards who brought me food never talked to me. They would not even respond to my greetings.
After three weeks, I was taken back for interrogation. I was not asked any questions; instead, the officer in charge told me that they had contacted Lt. Col. Thirimu and had indeed concluded that I did not know anything about the coup. I thanked him and, thinking that now that they knew I was innocent, they would release me and I would report back to work. However, I was instead taken back to the cell and locked up, this time along with my colleagues.
Another two months passed and I was still languishing at Naivasha Maximum Security Prison. After the Christmas of 1982, we were transferred to Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. The living conditions in this prison were horrible. Most of us suffered from diarrhea because of the pathetic food we were being given. We remained locked up there until 9th March 1983. That was the time we were released and given one month’s salary to buy clothes as we were still in uniform.
Despite the fact that the interrogating officers found me innocent, I was not released but was instead punished further for no reason at all. When I was released, I found that my wife and child had been evicted by the army from the married quarters which had been allocated to me by the Air Force. Most of my household items were broken or lost during the eviction process. My wife was traumatized as she did not know where I was all that time and whether if I was alive or not.
That week I reported to the Department of Defense to find out if I could go back to work. The officer who received me informed me that I had been fired and that I should report back to him for my certificate of service after a week. I asked if I could see the senior officer in charge to find out why I had been dismissed yet I had been informed that I was innocent. However, I was refused to see him and told to go away. I was so disgusted that I did not go for it until 1990, the same year that my third child was born. That is when I saw that my commission had been terminated for no reason at all.”
The government actually appealed thrice to no avail and the court was adamant that compensation be made as per the initial ruling. As citizens of our country, we are left wondering whether we should obey the law if the government itself, a custodian of the law, cannot. Why should an individual follow the constitution if the government cannot? Should students pay their loans to government if the government cannot pay compensation (of which a court of law has instructed) to those it has wronged? How credible is our government? These questions are but a taste of the stark realities that face Kenyans on an everyday basis, and I, like them, ask the same questions too.
Robert Mũnũku is a visual artist, writer & filmmaker based in Nairobi. Mũnũku is also the founder of Mau Mau Collective which is an organization that seeks to create a strong network of independent visual artists, filmmakers & performing artists on the continent. He also serves as the Regional & International Dialogue Coordinator for the Heinrich Böll Foundation (East & Horn Of Africa). Follow him on Twitter @robertmunuku
by Wendy Okolo
The African Human Development Report indicates that African countries make up four out of the top 10 countries with high levels of women representation in parliament. These four countries are Rwanda, Seychelles, Senegal, and South Africa. It comes as no surprise that Kenya is not part of this progressive narrative (if the ongoing debacle on the gender bill is anything to go by).
The deadline to enact the bill passed on the 27th of August, the same day The Saturday Nation released grim statistics on women’s representation in top public institutions and the political space. According to these statistics, women occupy 26% of President Kenyatta’s Cabinet, while 37% are principal secretaries. The judiciary, argued to be doing better, comprises 39% women. At a quick glance, this looks like a promising gain, though we can’t pop the champagne yet: equal representation is still a mirage.
A closer look reveals that a more women work in the lower courts as compared to the higher courts, an indication of gender bias not only in ranking levels at the judiciary, but also a strong hint to the gender dynamics at the broader social context. Only 32% of the Kenyan population thinks that implementation of provisions on inclusion of marginalized persons is a priority. Thus, it is little surprise that we have made no progress on implementation of the bill.
Numbers always tell stories – through what they show, or what they hide. Here, they show the prevailing situation in as far as measuring the progress of inclusion of women in politics goes. Numbers can also be useful in representation. A good example is the use of quotas to increase the numbers of women in political spaces. This is what the bill aims to achieve – to set a minimum for the number of women that should be included in politics.
Somehow this approach seems to be failing in Kenya, whereas it has been fairly successful in Latin American countries, such as Ecuador, Brazil, and Colombia. Closer home, Rwanda serves as a good example. Yet, before we get excited about the success of quotas, it would be naive to assume that quotas in themselves are effective in addressing the complex problem of inclusion of women in political and public institution spaces.
Certainly, there are wider systems that affect the efficacy of quota systems. A number of studies have shown how characteristics of a country’s electoral system shape the success or failure of quota systems. Structures that that need to be put in place for quotas to succeed. For example, the level of explicitness in setting measures to increase representation of women, measures that make it more difficult to exclude women and active participation of civil society in monitoring implementation of quotas. Scholars have also argued that complementing quotas with public policies create deeper transformation.
Women’s collective galvanizing is useful for creating more room for women to maneuver in political and public institutions. Studies have demonstrated how women’s social movement has been significant in advancing progressive social policy issues, particularly in regard to including women in the political agenda. What is verifiable from these studies is the complexity of inclusion. It is never just about percentages and quotas – there are stories that shape these numbers and stories that influence the success rate of quotas. These are the stories that tease out interesting questions for gender practitioners, because they tell the enabling/disabling factors to inclusion. The inclusion of women in politics and public institutions is a process that is necessary but with no easy solutions – a silver bullet approach simply does not cut it.
In the case of Kenya, there is a history to the lethargy in implementing the gender bill. It is characterized by lack of political good will and the endorsement of internally induced patriarchal structures evident in the sexist discourse in political spaces. Male members of parliament have been on record for rejecting the gender bill on the rationale that this gives room for “people to nominate their girlfriends.” The bid to push the gender bill was lost an account of male parliamentarians who argued that the bill was retrogressive to democracy, and that, passing it was tantamount to giving women free seats.
In a separate report, The Saturdays Nation’s City Girl describes the gender bill as a move instigated to give women unfair advantage. She refers to the sitting women leaders as flower girls who make no substantive contribution in the political space. Her view of women parliamentarians as flower girls is not isolated – male members of parliament have been known to refer to their female counterparts accordingly. These gendered nuances obviously shape the inclusion/exclusion politics of women in the political space.
Not much attention is given to them because they are the story behind the numbers that we see. This flower girl and girlfriend discourse asserts the notion that public space is the space of men. A space structured according to gendered norms and any attempt to transgress these norms is met with strong resistance, or sometimes covert resistance as is the case with MPs boycotting the vote. The vital role of women as equal contributing partners is downplayed by sexist discourse and this has very direct implications of the number of women who enter these political spaces.
The fact that women’s rights to equal representation in the political space and public institutions need to be recognized should not have to be emphasized. As it is, Kenya positions itself as a democratic state, yet the truth is that it cannot speak of democracy without having gender democracy. The gender bill needs political goodwill to get through, but more importantly, its enactment and implementation will require male goodwill that reads against the grain of sexist discourse.
It is important to have men stand in support of women to push this bill through. It is essential that men be part of the change narrative that speaks against sexism and includes more women into the political space and public institutions.
Wendy Okolo is a feminist and a gender specialist skilled at gender analysis and mainstreaming. She is interested in gender inequality, with specific focus on power relations, women empowerment and how these shape social dynamics across various sectors.
In the year 1989, American professor and civil rights advocate, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality. Intersectionality has since grown to take center-stage in feminist discourse, laying focus on the fact that the fight to rid the world of structural forms of oppression cannot be undertaken if we do not first recognize the layered ways in which certain people are stripped of their humanity. Intersectionality has been defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ”the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”
The basic premise of intersectionality is that human beings experience the world differently based on their own perceived identities as well as how society perceives them & their identities. It only then follows, that our political motivations are largely influenced by the politics of identity.
In the current Kenyan context, we can list the following economic demographics that majority of people identify with: the lower class (ma-sufferer), lower middle class (ma-hustler), the upper middle class and the wealthy (sonko/barbie). These intersect with identities tied to tribe, religion, gender, sexuality, age and even geographical affiliation such as urban/rural association (Born city/mshamba).
The explicit expression of the politics of identity and representation has ranged from the controversy that has surrounded the one-third gender rule to the outright disrespect, harassment and violence experienced by women contending for/in public office. We have seen this country battle with the question on identity and belonging – through the cessation politics that have consumed the Kenyan Coast (#PwaniSiKenya).
Further, by clawing on artistic expression e.g. banning material they have considered ‘immoral’ – (a shameless ruse to clamp down on minority groups such as LGBTQIA), the government has centered the ideology of identity politics. In a bid to control and define this thing they call “Kenyan” they have othered, ostracized and caused violence to many. And finally, in critiquing ‘social media activism’ which is one of the primary ways in which the Kenyan middle class participates in public politics – we are asking important questions regarding technology and economic access and how these factors are influencing the face of public politics in Kenya. In a nutshell, across all spheres, the politics of identity is one of the most powerful invisible forces within the electoral politics of Kenya.
I am particularly interested in the participation, role, influence and motivations of the Kenyan middle class in public politics in the face of a deteriorating economy and a government riddled with corruption scandals. There is literature and research devoted to the motivations behind participation in public and electoral politics – is it self-driven, social-identification driven or driven by altruism? There has been further research to understand the motivations of Kenyans who participate in the electoral voting system – are they driven by tribe, class or policies? Furthermore, it has been argued well and often that the middle class (due in part to the privileges and levels of political access they enjoy) has a civic duty toward democratization and the election of good leaders who ensure the protection & utilization of public resources and towards sustainable growth that benefits all.
Dear Kenyans, the politicians live in well-guarded houses, have bodyguards & armoured cars…as they whip up your emotions, hamko pamoja.
— Ory Okolloh Mwangi (@kenyanpundit) June 17, 2014
Assuming access to the internet oft comes with class privilege, then most of those shares and likes were presumably by Kenyans who identify as middle-class. In the face of bad governance will middle class Kenyans lay down their ethnic allegiances for their shared class and economic struggles?
On 31st October 2016, I received a message on one of my whatsapp groups, a message I have since seen doing the rounds on various other groups. The message set off with a list of 25 companies that have closed shop/moved headquarters to a different location and retrenched employees in the period between 2014 – 2016. The clincher of the message is a one-liner, an article whose headline calls to attention the grand allegations of graft that the Uhuru government has faced. What’s worse is the president’s admission that he is unable (unwilling?) to tackle corruption.
In addition, The World Bank reports that most job-creation happens in the informal and low-productivity sectors as well as the fact that Kenya’s economy has had lower growth and higher volatility than its peers in the period between 2013-2014. Inflation in the country is at an 8 month high driven by food items.
In middle-class Nairobi neighborhoods like Jamhuri, Madaraka and Lang’ata one comes up against the lost hopes and dreams of a middle-class life that we were birthed on, fed on and raised against. Buildings sprout on top of each other, survival for the fittest imagined only as a fight for space. There is a sense of suffocation. Everybody is trying to rent out whatever extra space they have. Perennial shortages of water, potholes and sewer/drainage problems. And yet- a government that deals in corruption with impunity and without accountability, a government that steals its own livelihood. Najihurumia kuwa Mkenya.
On social media, the rage is articulated eloquently and with some humor but will this translate to any behavioral change? Will this rage be put to work by changing the way in which middle class Kenya directs their political agency?
Bannon, Miguel & Posner question whether urbanization, industrialization, education, political mobilization, and competition for jobs deepen ethnic identities rather than weaken them, as individuals exploit their ethnic group memberships as tools for political, economic, and social advancement. Further, as the election period becomes more imminent ethnicity becomes more salient amongst respondents. Ethnicity becomes most salient were two or more equally sized groups are competing for power – a case obviously apparent in Kenya, where conversation around politics seems to teeter between Luo or Kikuyu.
Cheeseman argues that middle class Kenya acts as the conscience of the country – not in small part due to privileges afforded by good education & wealth. They are more likely to oppose the status quo and support the opposition. His research showed that while ethnicity determines which political party Kenyans pledge allegiance to (regardless of class), support for democracy was differentiated along class lines – with the middle class choosing to support democracy against authoritarian rule.
Given this context, how will middle class Kenya engage with the 2017 elections? Will they choose to wager a better individual livelihood through advantages brought about by tribal association? Or will they choose to seek for a greater common good – leaders who will work for all, govern towards a better Kenya for all Kenyans?
After all, what are we if not the choices we make?
Brenda Wakiagi is a shoemaker who reads while balancing anxieties about her bank account balance. Find her on twitter @notyourkato
 Time period: 2014- 2016
- Fluorspar laid off workers as Kenya Fluorspar company closed down in April. http://www.nation.co.ke/news/1056-3096142-7jv5q9z/index.html
- East Africa’s biggest broadcaster to close radio and TV stations in Kenya. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/30/nation-media-group-kenya-close-radio-and-tv-station
- Sameer tyre factory closure http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Sameer-mulls-tyre-factory-closure-as-cheap-imports-hit-market/539550-3153442-y9r0hgz/index.html
- Cadbury Kenya closed shop http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Cadbury-to-shut-Nairobi-factory-this-month/539550-2472588-c92n6/index.html
- Eveready East Africa, the biggest dry-cell battery maker in the region, shut its Nakuru factory. http://www.nation.co.ke/business/Eveready-finally-shuts-down-due-to-cheap-batteries/996-2469276-x2kcma/index.html
- Banking giant Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) formally exited Nairobi. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/HSBC-shuts-down-Nairobi-office-in-global-reorganisation/539552-2399560-4fbm1hz/index.html
- Reckitt & Benkiser, Procter & Gamble, Bridgestone, Colgate Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever have all relocated or restructured their operations mostly to Egypt or South Africa
- Tata Chemicals Magadi closed down its main factory in Kenya. http://info.shine.com/article/tata-chemicals-to-lay-off-200-employees-in-kenyan-soda-ash-plant/3603.html
- Coca-Cola Company downgraded its massive regional headquarters in Nairobi and relocated most of its operations to South Africa and Nigeria. http://www.nation.co.ke/news/Shake-up-in-Coca-Cola-leaves-trail-of-anxiety/1056-3297660-9b4hhez/index.html
- Barclays Africa shuts down Nairobi office over redundancy and moves to South Africa. http://www.nation.co.ke/business/Barclays-Africa-to-shut-down-Nairobi-office-over-redundancy/996-3034094-12sl196z/index.html
- Royal media lays off over 100 employees to cut costs. http://www.thespotlightnews.net/uncategorized/breaking-news-royal-media-sacks-100-employees-including/
- Sidian Bank staff layoffs point to a bigger issue with the Kenyan economy. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Sidian-Bank-staff-layoffs-pointer-to-looming-turmoil/539550-3428588-151f209z/
- Family Bank will lay off unspecified number of workers in a bid to cut costs. http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/sports/article/2000218304/family-bank-turns-to-layoffs-to-manage-costs
- StanChart Kenya lays off 167 as parent firm orders cost-cutting. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/StanChart-Kenya-lays-off-167-parent-firm-orders-cost-cutting/539550-3186366-11anaxj/index.html
- EABL to lay off 100 staff at main Kenya subsidiary due to high costs of operations. http://www.nation.co.ke/business/corporates/EABL-lay-off-100-staff-Kenya-subsidiary/-/1954162/2248840/-/15i3ckx/-/index.html
- Ericsson Kenya staff demand to know retrenchment terms (However this affected larger sub-saharan Africa). http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Ericsson-Kenya-staff-demand-to-know-retrenchment-terms/539550-3233736-aqhpucz/index.html
- Telkom Kenya to lay off 500 employees in fresh retrenchment wave Read more at: http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000185589/telkom-kenya-to-lay-off-500-employees-in-fresh-retrenchment-wave.
- Kenya Airways cuts 80 jobs in first phase of layoffs. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Kenya-Airways-says-to-lay-off-80-staff/539550-3284688-vicg4c/index.html
- Kenya Meat Commission lays off 119 employees in it’s rationalization of staff. http://kbctv.co.ke/blog/2016/07/07/kmc-lays-off-119-employees-in-its-staff-rationalization-plan/
- Mumias lays off 100 staff at closed water bottling plant. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Mumias-lays-off-100-staff-at-closed-water-bottling-plant/-/539550/2684890/-/k3yigb/-/index.html
- Equity Bank reports drop in staff costs as 660 workers exit. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Equity-Bank-reports-drop-in-staff-costs-as-660-workers-exit/539552-3108438-1b3wht/index.html
- Co-op Bank sends 160 managers packing in cost-cutting measure. http://www.nation.co.ke/business/Coop-Bank-fires-160-in-cost-cutting-measure/996-2553174-vus32dz/index.html
- Agony for 2,600 workers as Karuturi flower firm shuts down Read more at: http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/business/article/2000200916/agony-for-2-600-workers-as-karuturi-flower-firm-shuts-down-amid-debts
- Oserian flower farm lays off 400 employees. http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2016/09/07/oserian-fl-ower-farm-to-lay-off-400-employees_c1415669
- Airtel lays off 60 employees. https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/ktn/m/video/2000102477/kenyas-second-largest-telecommunications-operator-airtel-kenya-lays-off-at-least-60-employees
by Dr. Sakulen A. Hargura
“In a free state, tongues too should be free.”
Freedom of speech is a fundamental and an inalienable part of all constitutions penned in post-agrarian revolution era. So ingrained is the concept of free speech that to violate it is tantamount to dictatorship. All totalitarian regimes in the past began their control of the masses by muzzling the people, hence violating this right. Only by suppressing the truth and spreading the lies do dictators hold on to power.
Philosophers as well as leaders, more so political leaders, have struggled with the idea of free speech. For the philosophers it is about balancing the line where ones freedom of expression equates to infringing on the rights of another free citizen. Political leaders however do not concern themselves with the ideological concepts and debates but rather have always found the whole idea of freedom of speech wanting. The struggle, though hinged on the same idea, is worlds a part.
To the ruling class, there is only so much the common citizen can say before harming or defaming the leader. In a democracy it is about how truth is told while in a dictatorship it is about whose truth is told. To tell the difference is no rocket science.
However, in modern day democracies, more specifically in stunted African “democracies”, not only has threshold for defamation been set so low but the fibre of tolerance has also been lost to the winds of power. The term for gagging the free minds: Hate speech.
What is hate speech? Is it a form of defamation? Who decides that the words off a tongue contain in them the poison that is hate? Just how is a whole commission constituted to hunt for slanderers while a private citizen can simultaneously sue for defamation or character assassination? What assurances can the laws give that the same cannot be used to bar the free minds from speaking freely? Does truth, however unpalatable to those in power, constitute hate speech when revealed to the unsuspecting public against the will and wishes of corrupt leadership?
These are some of the many questions that go unanswered as many young activists are bullied with arrests on flimsy grounds of hate speech, sued for revealing the truth about those in power.
In the modern day world of super power states and bodies like UN that play the oversight role, outright dictatorship that ensues after a coup is discouraged (if not hindered) by the inevitable embargoes that then erode the gains such crazy leaders could derive from staying in power. The days when leaders attempted coups purely for public interest are gone. These days it is all about self interest or the interest of a third party (that heavily invests in the coup by oiling the war machinery of the soldiers on the ground).
The dwindling numbers of coups should not augur the notion that leaders have somehow lost the urge to cling to power once they set foot in the highest offices. It is not the craziness that is lost but rather the fear of repercussions that is forcing rogue, power-hungry political leaders to resort to less damaging ways to cling to power. It is just a matter of one age-old primitive feeling hindering open expression of the other. Many have perfected the art of modern day dictatorship, which mostly plagues developing democracies. Some otherwise developed democracies such as Russia, and lately Turkey, have also seen a fair share of this.
These leaders prosecute to persecute. They do not ban free expression but bring libelous suits to silence their critics, mostly activists, in the name of defamation. With money and power, they intimidate the critics. They also maximize on all opportunities to crash their opposition, including the free press (which is not loyal or perceived to be a hindrance). Erdogan of Turkey, for example, has filed over 2000 lawsuits for defamation and closure of multiple media houses, and caused the arrest of many journalists.
Our own leaders have recently resorted to these tactics to not only silence their critics but also curb free discussions regarding their corrupt deals. There is a commission (the NCIC) used to subjugate the voices of reason with words such as “hate speech” freely thrown around. The aim is obviously to drive fear into the hearts of activists, many of whom have no means to defend themselves against such law suits or even a possibility of an inquiry by a commission.
The repressive media bill by Kenyan parliament was also one such awful step in the wrong direction. It was an arrow tactfully placed in the quiver of the leadership that wants to defile our already malnourished, juvenile democracy. It set to lower the threshold for tolerance and fertilize the ground for totalitarian leadership to prosper. We may not be there yet, but all the ingredients are in the kitchen. The same tactics of fear-mongering to dissuade critical yet poor minds with hefty financial penalties have been used as a deterrent for the oppressed poor.
While there is no absolute freedom of expression, because of obvious violation of individual rights, the threshold for “hate speech” should be set high enough to accommodate the free unwavering minds and pens. Those in positions of power, more so political leaders, should be subjected to a much higher scrutiny since they are trusted with national coffers. Those that bravely wade in darkness to reveal truth that is of public relevance should not therefore be approached with “guilty until proven otherwise” attitude by the police or any other body that wields the power to investigate and prosecute. In fact, the law should set bar of tolerance way higher for criticism of those holding public office and the political leaders.
Sakulen Hargura is a medical doctor presently pursuing masters in surgery in Turkey. He loves to read, and writes poetry as well as a weekly opinion piece for the Marsabit Times.