Ergo, Ego: On the Division of Revenue Bill

Michael Onsando
16 July ,2019

“So please restrict yourselves to the functions that have been allocated to the county. And they are here. When we read them, you think we are demeaning you, but it is not us. It is the people of Kenya who gave you these roles like animal control and welfare, licensing of dogs and facilities for the accommodation, care and burial of animals.”

Of course the County Government does more than bury pets. And it would be unwise to let a little political banter (no matter how brutal) get us all twisted. But it is definitely worth looking into an issue that might have the country at a stand still if it isn’t resolved – The Division of Revenue Bill.

The problem began when President Uhuru signed the Appropriation Act 2019 before the stalemate of the Division of Revenue Bill was solved. A stalemate that has turned to the Supreme Court to be resolved, as the rest of the country wonders how much more of the 2019/2020 financial year will move with county governments unable to pay for drugs, water, electricity and development projects.

But why did Ras one sign the bill despite so much contention around the country?

First, the bill was signed late June, meaning that the president probably waited till the last minute to sign. It would also help to remember that many counties still misappropriate funds (remember Waititu’s peace keeping in South Sudan funding?). Also that a lot of money goes back to the government at the end of the financial year, although this might be chalked up to the complications in the exchequer process. So it makes sense that there have been some questions raised as to the amount of money that the Senators proposed for the counties.

On the other hand, that this issue is holding up services is also a bit absurd. The initial proposal by the Commission of Revenue Allocation was for KES 335 Billion before the National Assembly slashed it to KES 310 Billion – a difference of about KES 25 Billion. Which averages at about 530 million per county (it’s unlikely that the money will be divided equally but yeah). Which is what makes it absurd because Nairobi county has over a billion shillings allocated for “General Administrative Services.” And this isn’t even to challenge the necessity of that expense. Rather I want to ask – are we going to grind everything to a halt because of an amount of money that is half of the administrative services? Is this work by the National Assembly really tantamount to an “onslaught on devolution” as claimed by Wycliffe Oparanya, Chairman of the council of governors?  Take this from his statement issued yesterday:

“In this second term, devolved governance is being attacked by denying County Governments their much needed resources. The National Treasury continues to hold counties hostage by always deviating from the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) recommendations and by constantly delaying disbusrsement of funds to counties”

I’m not going to go into delaying of funds. I’ve heard the rumours about the exchequer process being more complicated than a rube goldberg machine. But is this, strictly speaking, true? Sure, the CRA has recommendations but isn’t parliamentary oversight the reason that they are recommendations and not laws?

Are the CRA’s recommendations meant to be accepted without question or challenge?

Budgeting seems to be an extremely practical question. Moving money from here affects there and moving money from there affects somewhere else – and it’s not like the country has been doing fantastically anyway with Henry Rotich’s latest budget talk showing that about 61% of the country’s 2019-2020 budget going to servicing debt

So why are we being held hostage by this clash of egos? And we know it is a clash of egos because when it comes to discussing it we delve into trivialities like burying pets and licensing of dogs. Meanwhile two weeks have gone in the financial year and work is yet to begin officially. 

“There is a problem. A big one for that matter. It can only be solved when people sober up” Kwame Owino, Director, Institute of Economic Affairs

The National Assembly says it must be KES 310 Billion. The Counties move to 327 – is it that difference worth pulling the brakes on the county machinery? Is this ego contest worth the delay?

Ethics and Perspectives

Michael Onsando
9 July ,2019


“And I’m the asshole in the room?”

Miles Ahead, a movie on the life and times of Miles Davis, opens up on a moody Miles Davis locked up in his house, listening to session tapes and nostalgic on what is described as past glory. It is 1964, five years after Miles release “So what,” that took the world by storm. When a writer claiming to be sent from the studio comes to write about his “comeback” Miles flips. He drives all the way to Columbia records to demand his pay where he pulls a gun on an overzealous Artists and Repertoire executive who claims to own his music. As he pulls the gun he also ends up unwravelling the web of perception around him where the records are holding his money, the writer isn’t from the records and a young producer is trying to use the moment to give his own artist space to shine. Finally having his fill he leaves with the line “And I’m the asshole in the room?”

I go back to this scene every time I find myself coming up against a wall of perception (whether the wall is from me looking out or outside looking in). Anyone walking into the room would see a man with a gun. Instead the story unravels to show a man tired of dealing with layers of deception, trying to find the truth (and struggling with drugs)

“Honestly, ethic mayne – ni nini mbaya na nyinyi?”

I’m always worried about what it means when we decide that one side of a narrative must be correct. That certain people acting must be perceived as acting in a certain way, and that their violence is always viewed through a lens of of erratic, without reason or just plain ghetto. And how these assumptions create the worlds where we exist.  

I wonder, for example, how quickly the guilty verdict was arrived at. The question asked was not “what’s happening here?” “what has happened?” “why are you behaving like this?” Implicit within the question was the fact that assumptions made were not about the issue in question. Rather, “nini mbaya na nyinyi?” implies that there is a consistent wrongness. Not that this action is seen as wrong but rather this action is seen as a pattern of wrongness that is inherent within the question. In asking nini mbaya na nyinyi we are immediately drawn into a certain framing of the issue. The framing that shows Ethic as a group of rowdy young men out for trouble and directly implies them as on the wrong in this particular situation.

I wonder (some more) if the reaction would have been as loud, as blatant and as publicly shaming if it had been any other group or individual at the centre of the trouble. For sure, the issue would have been handled (violently even, it was, after all, a violent moment) but would the concert have been shut down? Would the MC’s voice blare over the speakers at the whole stadium about the problem? Would the DJ have hidden their computer?

Or would there have been some “technical difficulties” as everything was sorted out?

“But if he’s scared of me how can we be free?”

– Boogieman, Gambino

I’ve been trying to write this piece without falling in defense of anyone – I’m not privy to what happened. As such, there are words and places I refuse to go because the aim of this piece is not to level accusations or defend actions. I’m trying, instead, to talk about how we deal with what we see and whether we question why and how we are responding to things the way we are. Because if not aren’t we just going around projecting our fears onto the world? And if we are creating a world shaped by our fear then are we doing the work?

Twisted fates: On the Complications of Legacy

Michael Onsando
2 July ,2019

It’s interesting watching the TL today discuss Bob Collymore’s death. There’s the side mourning him because he was a pretty affable fellow and the side who feel that death shouldn’t shield him from his actions including his role in rigged elections, national CCTV fiasco etc

It’s in the murk of death that things come to light. Somewhere in the aftermath of demise people either gain the courage or realize they have no more time left to say what they wanted to say – to do what they wanted to do. Like the way we hold our breath at the funerals of business tycoons waiting for the second wife to show up with her family. When someone dies we know that the unexpected is on the way – especially when the person has a public profile.

On 1st November 2010 Bob Collymore took over as the CEO of Safaricom. He came in to run the ship in a company where Michael Joseph had made the position of Safaricom CEO a rock star position in the public persona. Somewhere amidst the launching of M-pesa and their IPO, Safaricom had won over the hearts of Kenyans. Millions of us were holding on to the stock that had started off at 5 shillings. In many ways, Safaricom had already become the company that is almost synonymous with Kenya. It is this ship that Bob was given to steer.

And the former Vodafone Chief Officer of Corporate Affairs did not skip a beat. From music videos with Jimmy Gait to Blaze to Capture Kenya the man was on a charm offensive with a country, seeking to woo the nation – an offensive that worked so well that 9 years later the man earned an appointment to the board of the National Cancer Institute.

On July 1 2019 he died.

There’s no ignoring the hero/villain dichotomy that exists – especially when it comes to here. Here where it takes amplifying the worst of oneself to make it to the top we know to be wary of those who have succeeded – the same could be said of Bob Collymore. Already the accusations are flying hard and fast and all we are waiting for is the proverbial baby at the funeral.

And this is where I want to play.

Because I’m not sure if I have much more to say about that. I met the man once or twice but not sure I had enough information to tell you what kind of person he is – and I’ve recently grown wary of judging people based off what makes it through the well of whispers.

“Legacy, legacy, legacy, legacy

Black excellence, you gon’ let ’em see”

  • Jay Z, Legacy

Rather, I’m interested in the things that we leave behind. And whether they take the shape that we think they’d take – that we hoped they’d take. Following Binyavanga Wainaina’s death social media was awash with noise attacking his life, and then there was the noise defending him. Somehow in the moment we seemed to be reduced to binaries Binyavanga was a gay man, hence he was a bad man. Bob was a wealthy man, hence he was a good man. Bob was running Safaricon as the CCTV scandal happened; hence he was a bad man.

Somehow stories do no labour towards showing us the sides of the human, instead they are carefully picked out to show what the teller is trying to demonstrate.

And this makes sense because the court of public opinion needs heroes and villains. It needs people to be held to absolutes so that we can take stances. It needs personalities to be flattened and journeys be judged based on decision points that the public has no information about. In Binya’s case we see heavy othering as society retreats to the safe place of tried and tested homophobia. And then we see heavy romanticizing in the “genius nationalist” In Bob’s case we see the same dichotomy. Bob the hero who knew half of twitter by name and showed up in music videos and Bob the villain who headed one of the largest monopolies in the country (And, possibly the region?).

Legacy is complicated and its pursuit has been known to bend and break even the strongest of us. When you’ve been pursuing legacy it’s easy to ignore the needs of the few for the larger picture. And, as Thanos showed us, sometimes the larger picture doesn’t justify the immediate action.

But maybe, just maybe, we’ll eventually realize that there are no heroes and villains only good ideas, bad ideas and willpower. Till then, I leave you with Anyidoho:

And when it is all over

we shall once more inherit

a generation of cracked souls

for whom we must erect new

monuments and compose new

anthems of praise and the eternal hope of life

beyond the recurring stupidity of war heroes.

To African Excellence and Beyond

Michael Onsando
25 June ,2019

And when the time comes,

as all times do,

may we remember

that the power

came from within.

Africa’s Sun

Tetu Shani’s Africa Sun is nothing short of brilliant. A testament to African excellence through ambition and hard work, the energy he creates is electrifying. A jam, a bop, a something to play in your headphones all the way on loud as you head to do something challenging.

And that’s about all there is to say about this.

But there’s some more to say about some other things. Like how while we do the work of complaining about how badly the country is torn there is a generation of labourers dedicated to making it better. Like how the future, when it finally arrives will be populated by scores of people who tried and tried again to bring it closer so that the rest of us can see that it is beautiful.

Please don’t jealous me

  • Tetu Shani, Africa’s Sun

If you put one crab in a bucket, it can claw its way up and out – return to the wild and be free. But the circumstances change when you put a bunch of the things in a bucket. If one of them tries to climb out the rest pull it back into the bucket. What’s more, if the crab tried to climb out a second time the other crabs will gang up on the poor liberator once more and could even try to break its claws to completely hinder the process. In effect, none of the crabs end up escaping the bucket, which is great for lunch.

Not so great for the crab that chose freedom.

I keep wondering about what would happen if the crabs turned that destructive power into collaborative effort. If it would be possible for them to create a chain,  for example, and effectively get every crab out. It’s difficult to imagine the things that crabs have to overcome before they can see their fellow crab as a friend not a foe.

Kenyans are not crabs.

And I’m always wary about the things that perceive as holding us back. Is it deliberately holding up because it causes us to pause to consider? Is it deliberately holding us back if it forces us to do more in our craft? Is it holding us back if it forces us to consider the needs of our audience or if it allows our audience to express their relation to the work – even if it isn’t a linear (good or bad) relationship?

I decided Imma be me

Same when you see me,

Beard and a beanie

Kwani iko nini?

Kwani iko nini?

Blinky Bill, Kwani iko nini?

But we can be crabs. When we come up against something that is growing in ways we don’t understand we cut it down, we try to stop it, to shepherd it into the spaces we understand. Rather than expand ourselves into the space created by this new thing we insist that this thing become smaller. That it fits itself into our own ways of seeing the world rather than engage with how it is moving through the space.

But if he’s scared of me how can we be free?

I imagine that before the crabs can gain a collaborative mentality one crab would have to convince another. And the two would need to gather a third and so on and so forth until all crabs were on board. And I would like to imagine the convincing would go beyond showing the skeptical crab the logic of the plan. I imagine it would have something to do with building belief, building trust, building hope and eliminating fear. And that in order to do these things it would begin by studying the bucket, the human hand and other crabs, by having intimate knowledge of the circumstance and how to navigate it (or at least an idea). So if (and when) this labour is done and the time comes that the crabs are free and roaming the wild, I wonder if there will be space to remember that it all happened because one crab believed.

Creating Better Escapes at the Book Bunk

Michael Onsando
11 June ,2019
If the future won’t come we have to go get it.


“We imagine that public libraries can be steered to become more than just repositories, acting as sites of knowledge production, shared experiences, cultural leadership and information exchange. We see them as sites of heritage, public art and memory.

Our formation as an entity is inspired by this core belief – that our shared spaces are more essential than ever to our collective Kenyan imagination.”

The Book Bunk

I still remember the day Sylvia Plath died. I was walking down the street talking to my friends about something that seemed to matter at the time when I quoted  ‘the Bell Jar,” which I had been reading. Somewhere amidst my ramblings I mentioned that I would love to meet Plath one day – maybe she could tell me more about the book in person.

“Didn’t Sylvia Plath died in 1963?” a friend responded.

I was crushed. To me Plath had not died until that moment. She had been casually killed as I was walking down a parklands road by a man in faded jeans and an oversized t-shirt.

The thing is, Plath had been a comfort to me in my high school years – our school library having a collection of poetry that featured her alongside some other old white greats. Somehow she had stayed with me until that sunny afternoon in my 2nd year.  And it wasn’t just her. I had received more guidance in my youth from Worsdsworth, Dickens, Kipling, Poe and Yeats long before I even knew to turn to Ruganda, Abacha, Soyinka or even Mailu.

“Democracy in a country where the public is uneducated is no different from having a dictatorship or an elected king.”

– Zulfu

There is enough written about the importance of an informed and educated public to a democratic state have a fighting chance (worth it given democracy itself might be fundamentally flawed). As such, I’ll spare you the sermon on why we must educate. Today I’m interested in curiosity, history and identity and how these things are kept alive.

The 8-4-4 system of education has been repeatedly criticized for its focus on exams, creating students who are more focused on getting past the exam than understanding. Removing of the arts and humanities, which are process oriented, has been widely attributed as a part of this problem. Students who are not exposed to humanities have a harder time with lateral thinking and curiosity pursuing than others. Although it makes sense that a system that was built to create

And if we don’t start with art – how are we supposed to carry it with us into our adulthood? From whence will the innovators, creators and inventors spring? Where will we train our minds to see beyond the recurring nonsense of answer this one question using this formula for these results? Where will a lost child find Plath?

Plath here stands for the places we escape to. The places we retreat to deal when the world is too much. Like a lost child sitting in the corner of a library to avoid bullies. Or wandering into Tribeka because the traffic in town is too much and nobody needs to deal with it. Where are these places that we go to unlock the secrets within ourselves – and what do these places give us?

Currently there is little option beyond bars, brothels and theatres. You could go to a park but there’s little there that can keep the mind engaged. The museums are mainly archaic and their lens isn’t shaped to create an image around memory and identity. Precious books and artefacts are consistently misplaced (what happened to our moon rocks?) and there is little to no public space dedicated to the mind and the psyche of the people.

So this is why I dedicated today to talking about the Book Bunk. Angela Wacuka and Wanjiru Koinange came together to try and find a way to create these centres of knowledge production, shared experiences, cultural leadership and information exchange. They have partnered with the government and currently been allocated three libraries to start renovating, a job they have been doing for about a year now. So far they have done public tours, held events and initiated a “hepa jam” programme, turning the Macmillan library into a refuge for those who don’t want to sit in traffic.

And I’m here because I think every child needs a library to hide in and read Plath. Or find out about the solar system. Or figure out what life looked like in the country throughout history. To escape into a space that can them shape a story or shed perspective around who they are and what brought them to the library in the first place.

Check out the Book Bunk on Social Media (twitter:  @TheBookBunk facebook: The Book Bunk) and find out how you can support them. They are making a space for everyone – and they need everyone’s help.

A Victory for the Players

Michael Onsando
4 June ,2019
Survivors

14-10 at half time and 19-17 at full time we all held our breath as South Africa contained a fighting Australia to top their group. With just two points between Kenya and the Challenge Trophy this is the closest we have been to relegation and a far cry from that triumphant evening in Singapore in 2016.

“I don’t want to a part of when guys are saying, this is the bunch of players that took us to relegation”

Jeffrey Oluoch on Planet Rugby

Besides marathon running rugby 7s is perhaps one of our more successful sports endeavours as a country. We might not be dominant as the large Fijians, as free flowing as the All Blacks or as physical as our African counterparts, South Africa – but we have something going on there. We are the underdog that always has a fighting chance. The team that will ensure you keep on your toes or suffer a shock defeat (sounds like a certain Ruiz I know). We’re quick on the counter, strong in the breakdown and have wheels for days. Simply put, we have some top-notch rugby players in the country.

And everyone knows it.

“I mean it’s sad traveling and living in all the 5star hotels and coming back home to a locked house because you haven’t paid rent, I mean how do you expect results with this kind of environment??”

Willy Ambaka, on twitter.

I’m not going to go into the struggles at the Kenya Rugby Union at length. We all know that there is not much resource available for the sport and whatever is left is squandered, mismanaged and misdirected, leaving players to rely on their passion for victory as the main driving force. As soon as the passion begins to meet real life (injuries, bills and the like) the players are dropped, discarded and forgotten. Because we have a deep(ish) talent pool, we’re sure we will have someone to replace said player, even if the replacement will have less experience and will take a while to be skilled enough to play at that level. When players go on strike their patriotism is questioned. It really is a messy situation.

Knowing that there will always be players to play and a sevens circuit to attend is perhaps how we got here. Being a core team, the team just has to perform at an average level to keep the people in KRU happy. They are delighted with the victories but, as long as there is no serious trouble they are happy to continue to keep players unpaid for months on end – even though the average athlete can consume up to 5 amounts the food an average person does. Take this from Carey Baraka:

“According to Simiyu, the problems in Kenyan rugby are obvious, and one does not need a rocket science degree to point them out. First, he feels that there is a lack of proper governance within Kenyan rugby. The leadership is irrational, has issues with their integrity, and the people at the top have bought their way into the leadership of the game. Furthermore, Simiyu argues that several of the clubs are briefcase clubs (either owned by a company, or run by a few individuals, and, sometimes, just one individual), and the people use their clubs to advance their personal ambitions. “It will be more about sharing resources. That’s what happened with Kenya Sevens. They used the national team as a kitty to share, to secure votes, so that they can get elected.”

Stuck in a Ruck: The Perpetual Crisis of Kenya Sevens’ Rugby

And that electoral politics is at the heart of the issue is not particularly surprising. The single point of elections is a craze we have with 2022 presidential elections being one of the key conversations on the larger political scale. It’s like we move from election to election without any real focus on what matters, the work in between cycles. It is this kind of failure of policy has seen a series of rash decisions, each worse than the last, that has led Kenya7s to where it is today.

And let’s remember, that it is the playing unit that bears the brunt of the public outcry and consequences. We’ve seen quality coaches sacked for political matters with no back up plan in sight, pre-season training schedules have been torn up and key players suspended because they didn’t salute at the right people. The management of rugby 7s seems to be about everything else except what goes on during the 14 minutes in the 100 by 70 grid.

So today I want to spend some time celebrating the 30 or so men that are consistently rotating in and out of the sevens team. The men who spend hours in the gym, even when they are off the team, to ensure that we always have a supply of talented, fit players. The men who watch and rewatch every game, every step and every tackle on their own time with their own bundles, looking for an opportunity to exploit come the next time they face an opponent. To celebrate the players who take hits of up to 20gs of force, get up and run at their opponent once more.

I celebrate this because this weekend was not a victory for Kenya rugby – Kenya rugby is performing way below it’s ability. No, this weekend, 12 men took to the pitch and decided to impose their will on fate, despite the odds being stacked against them, and they triumphed.

And to those men today I have only one thing to say – thank you.

Why can’t we end corruption?

Michael Onsando
28 May ,2019


State capture creates a two-government country: “there is an elected government, and there is a shadow government – a state within a state.”

State Capture: Inside Kenya’s Inability to Fight Corruption

“Yes, I signed the agreement after being compelled to do so by dark forces who claimed that a Kikuyu can’t be elected and that foreigners will suspend aid to Kenya.”

Uhuru Kenyatta, 2012 (Later became president)

It seems like every other week there is a corruption scandal in the papers. So much so in fact that “The Predictable Nature of Corruption in Kenya” is one of the most read pieces here on Brainstorm. So we know corruption exists, and we know where it is and how we respond to it – why can’t we seem to stop it?

This is the question that Africog tries to go into with their latest report State Capture, Inside Kenya’s Inability to Fight Corruption –(available for download here). The report looks at major corruption scandals that three of our four presidents have faced, the steps they have taken to counter them, and how these steps have affected the general environment in Kenya.

I’ve written here before about institutional memory and how corruption became a language embedded in the halls of power that govern Kenya.  If stealing money from this place is the only thing that you can agree on that agreeing upon stealing money becomes how you speak. The Africog report goes deeper and talks about key false assumptions in the fight against corruption. Take this for example:

“The touchstone of much anti-corruption reform in Kenya is the assumption that government is trying to govern but is somehow side-tracked by corruption, understood as a malignant institutional failure that frustrates the governing effort. Therein lies the problem: anticorruption programmes ‘pathologise’ the relationship between corruption and the state, deploying medical terms like ‘cancer on the body politic,’ a ‘disease that we must cure’ or ‘a pervasive ill’ potentially responsive to curative interventions(…) What if we assume instead that governing is not the government’s objective?”

 So if not governing then what? The report goes into detail about this thing called state capture. State capture occurs when public resources or repurposed for private benefit. This definition from page 7 lays our state capture in Kenya:

“Successful state capture networks in Kenya have had two elements. On the bureaucratic side, there is usually a coterie of favoured officials who are allowed to accumulate, concentrate and exercise power in completely unaccountable ways, often behind the shield of presidential privilege, state security or defence procurement. On the business side, there is often a clique of local businessmen allied to political insiders, or alternatively, the favoured groups are shadowy, international companies whose shareholders are usually unknown. Capturing and controlling the Presidency – the source of power – and the Treasury – the source of money – is essential to fashioning the ‘criminal web’ necessary to repurpose government for the benefit of rent seeking elites“

Having this defined is great because we all know about the “shadow government” or the “dark forces” that make things happen. The people who continue to be protected by the government because their interests have been too intertwined with those of the people in power. But how does a shadow government work? How is it installed? And how does it persist despite our continuous efforts towards fighting corruption?

Well, first off, our fight against corruption isn’t real and tangible. This is something we already knew. We throw tribunals and commissions of inquiry but little to no action is taken. And even when action is taken it follows a certain script that is designed to placate public temperatures but give no actual results. Eventually we fall back into the same patterns. The report argues that this is not because we lack ideas or tools to effectively eradicate corruption but rather that deep reforms would loosen the ruling elite’s grip on power and severly subvert the game of politics in Kenya. As such the people often given the power to fight corruption lack the incentives to do so. And because the space is already organized as a corrupt space the few that have the willpower are often bullied, squeezed and pushed out.

There are two key points through which the corrupt bodies have Kenya by the throat. First the electoral bodies are consistently compromised allowing the shadow government to effectively control transitions and thus ensuring that key principles are always aligned to the corruption agenda. Second law enforcement (judiciary and police) and undermined and stripped of all credibility. This means that in the instance of any corruption allegations the chances of consequence are minimal – at best a scapegoat will fall and the patterns fall back to what they always have been.

“In fact, state capture theory assumes just the opposite; namely, that once the state has been captured it is possible for a transition to abort halfway to democracy and acquire a stable, sub-optimal equilibrium with the façade of democracy, but not its substance.”

One of the things that the report touches on is the collective action perspective. From this perspective high corruption environments generate widespread expectation of widespread corruption. Which is basically because we have been corrupt and continue to be corrupt we expect that corruption is something that will continue. The problem with that, becomes not only the consistent misdirection of public resources, but also an erosion of public trust in a functioning government, creating a sub optimal balance that is not really democracy and allows for corruption to thrive. In this case Kenya ends up being not only corrupt but unable to achieve full democracy.

“[The] process whereby citizens become able to defend themselves andtheir interests by political means. It is “democratization”, not in the sense of establishing formal democratic institutions for their own sake, but rather in the sense of broadening the range of people and groups with some say about the ways power and wealth should – and should not – be pursued, used and exchanged.”

So why can’t we fight corruption? There is no hope in the Africog report. While they do a good job of looking at methods that failed in the past (Uhuru just fired 1000 procurement officers, kind of like Kibaki did in 2003) there is little innovation. Most of the solutions are reliant on a form of implosion like a debt fuelled crisis or unsustainable growth. But one solution is interesting. They talk about a powerful anti-corruption coalition overwhelming the capture elite – something we have said for a while. As long as the people who are within the same social class as those taking away from the country make a stand the marginalized can only make noises from the side. Whatever solution we decide to chase one thing remains clear we will not go anywhere with this fight if we keep making roadside declarations and establishing commissions of enquiry.  

Download the Africog report here.

All for a cup of coffee

Michael Onsando
21 May ,2019

‘ This is because the decision making process is not guided by research or even stable projections, rather they are made to serve the egos and needs of the people who hold public resource either creating a conduit for siphoning or to fulfil an impossible promise so no one “looks stupid.”’

Considering the Public in Policy

The problem with continually writing about systemic problems is you get to see the same problem unravel itself in many different ways. You notice pervasive errors in thinking and how those errors permeate. Eventually you begin to question whether there is logic to these errors. 

On that front, perhaps one of the biggest failings of the jubilee government has been great sounding Africanisms. And by Africanisms I mean falling back on “decolonize” ideas that sound great without any real grounding in ability and possibility. One such concept was laptops for schools – it would be great if every student had a tablet but how, which, why, when and so forth were left to the gods. And the gods had other things to do.

Another such project, it seems is the Crop Ammendment Bill 2019, sponsored by Gatundu MP Moses Kuria. The bill proposes that all coffee grown in Kenya undergo processing, production and packaging locally. According to a source at the Business Daily:

‘ “Buyers are refusing to sign orders for clean (American green) coffee as they do not know what will happen in the future, with fears that they are likely to lose out on their orders,” said an official at NCE who sought anonymity so as to speak freely. ‘

Alarm over barring raw coffee export

Here’s the thing about Kenyan Coffee – it’s expensive. The Arabica that is predominant here is very pure(not sure pure is the coffee term, but sources spoken to within the industry spoke to a high grade level) which means that, in most markets it is blended with other coffees to create whatever then goes into the Starbucks cups.

Anyway, expensive is good yes? More money! Why give the money to others when we can make it directly? Buy Kenya sell Kenya – and other great sounding Africanisms.

Well, in 2016, Nyeri based Gikanda Coffee pursued these Africanisms and bought 30 bags of clean coffee to be processed and packaged for sale locally. A 50KG bag cost the cooperative KES 18,000 making the total investment worth about half a million shillings (before processing, packaging or marketing). As of August 2018 500KG (of 1.5 tonnes) had expired in their stores.

What happened? Take this from the Nation:

“According to the society’s chairman John Ngure, the lack of a market and strategies to earn from their produce led to the expiry of the coffee that has been stashed in 10 cartons in their stores.

“We also did not have a marketing strategy that would promote the consumption of our coffee,” he said, adding that the society suffered a loss of more than KES700,000.”

Don’t get me wrong. There is definitely a need to “seize the means of production” in a Marxist way and bring the power closer to the labour to ensure the farmers get more value for their crops. That being said the words of the chairman of this society continue to ring true. To go half cocked into a battle will always get us the same results. Had no one told the Gikanda coffee experts that it takes muscle to break into a market? That consumers are buying brands they trust and a new brand needs strong run time to gain the foothold it needs to hold steady?

Following this failure what is the driving force behind bwana Kuria’s ideas? Well the problem he is responding to is real. With six factories already closed down to “reduce operational costs,” farmers threatening to sell raw materials straight to a dutch company and the steady decline of coffee production over the last 20 years there is a need to rehabilitate the coffee industry. And so the pressure behind the bill makes sense.

We need to do something.

But this doesn’t mean just do anything. As the Gikanda coffee society learned, market penetration and brand building takes time and capital. What’s more because the local coffee needs to be blended to create the blends that other markets are used to local production would also involve importation of different coffee to process – do we have the capacity? Do we have a go to market plan? Do we know where the coffee will be sold and for how much? Or are we spewing and pursuing great sounding Africanisms without doing the legwork necessary, leaving our farmers even more vulnerable in the name of progress?

Semenya, Imali and women who run

Michael Onsando
14 May ,2019


“Two Kenyan sprinters have been dropped from the team for the IAAF World Relays championship in Japan this week, after blood tests showed high levels of testosterone, Athletics Kenya said Friday…  “We could not risk travelling with the two athletes after the recent IAAF ruling on the restriction of testosterone levels on female runners took effect on May 8,” Athletics Kenya (AK) director of competitions Paul Mutwii told AFP.”

In 2009 Caster Semenya won the world 800m gold in Berlin in 1 minute and 55.45 seconds and ever since the IAAF has been pondering a question that gender studies has been grappling with for a while – where does gender begin? Where does it end? Let’s get a few things out of the way before we begin. First of all it is oddly suspect that these questions are particularly raised with respect to black women though the muscly Jarmila Kratochvílová (to name but one) wasn’t tested in her time. Also, remember all the people saying Serena Williams is basically a man?

But that this is a specific and direct attack on black women isn’t necessarily what I want to focus on. I’m not even particularly interested in the fact that while South Africa stood with their champion we’re busy “not risking the travel.”

Perhaps it was inevitable that sport was where the gender debate would occur. For categories to exist there must be clear cut boundaries. This ends here, this begins here. Before we saw gender as fluid we were really depending on genitals to tell us who sits where. The only people who have known, for a long time, the fluidity of gender are the LGBTQI community. People who have never really felt comfortable in their category – choosing to identify as differently placed along the gender spectrum. This phrase “identify as” has been turned into a weapon of the right wing conservatives to trivialize identity politics as a feeling – an imposition. It has been used to reduce the entire movement down to people who are either childish or out to manipulate a situation to their advantage.

“For the first time, I encountered the vast literature written by advocates of women’s sport who oppose the exclusion of women athletes with naturally high testosterone for both scientific and ethical reasons: scientifically, because biological sex and athletic ability are both far too complex for scientists to reduce to measures of testosterone, and ethically, because these regulatory efforts have always been characterised by considerable harm to the women athletes singled out for testing.”

Which is why the positions are all out of wonk in this situation. We have, overwhelmingly, conservative people coming out in support of the judgement showing this as a victory for women’s sport (despite several sportswomen coming out against it). Meanwhile the liberal position seems to be “let her race!”

I’m not going to claim to know enough about the science of sex to understand how many testosterones it takes to make a man. And I’m not trying to conflate gender and sex rather I am trying to dance in the space where they are interlinked. How would we react to any of these athletes if they identified as male and perhaps made different decisions around their “difference?” We don’t know. Are there male athletes that will now be asked to compete with women cos of their competitive disadvantage in men’s sports? Are trans, gender inclusive Olympics about to become a thing?

“I am so happy the way God made me to be.”

  • Maximillia Imali, 400M record holder – dropped from squad

“…Cas(The Court of Arbitration for Sport) urged the IAAF to create a procedure where athletes should not be excluded as a ‘consequence of the natural and unaltered state of their body’”

I know the answer here is more complicated than ‘stick the outties in one place and the innies in another.” So I am not trying to prescribe solutions. The discussion on gender and sex is long and complicated yet also new to the public front. A lot of people are struggling with how to handle the new information, where to place it in their memory categories and how to properly pronoun people. What I hope, besides that Kenya could stand behind it’s athletes, is that maybe this opens up the conversation a step further – beyond Ze labeled bathrooms.

Getting Devolution Right

Michael Onsando
30 April ,2019

If there was ever a silver bullet that was supposed to save Kenya from wallowing in whatever the news decides we will wallow in every week it is devolution. Having suffered under the thumb of extreme centralization of resources (one big pot to steal from) we hoped that devolution would ensure two things. First, it would spread the resources and opportunities – reducing the incentive for rural to urban migration. Second, it would bring accountability closer to the people, effectively giving them a voice in a situation where they didn’t have much say as to how their money is used.

I’m not going to go into whether or not devolution is working – it’s been about over a decade of the stuff and it was brought in to solve problems that have been entrenched for over 50 years at least. Take rural to urban migration it’s hard to know what the numbers are. We would know if the government had focused their energies on a general census (like they are SUPPOSED TO this year) instead of the hudumizer number. However, according to this report  from the British Council, we know that the youth continue her around urban centres with Nairobi and Mombasa alone accounting for over 45% of the total youth population. As to accountability 25 of 47 governors were sent home after the 2017/2018 elections and a whopping 179 of 290 MP’s lost their job in the same election. So, even if only psychological, it is clear that there has been some impact on the space (something that Uhuruto have continued to shout about  – how well everything is going).

Of course it was a chicken and egg situation as many people who argued against devolution said. Imposing this idea on our current political patronage system would only lead to more of the same. Take this report from the international crisis group:

Patronage politics that marked the former centralised system has been replicated in the new counties, making government even more inefficient and expensive. Though political leadership is now local, power is closely held, and leaders are suspicious of both national and local rivals. Certain regions, communities and many youth still feel marginalised. Political devolution has deflected but not resolved grievances that fuel militancy, which continues to be met by hard security measures driven from Nairobi. Greater inclusion and cooperation within and between county governments, as well as national-county dialogue, is needed to maximise devolution’s potential and ensure militant groups, like Al-Shabaab, have fewer grievances to exploit.

Contrary to popular belief not all ideas are good. Knowing this it is easy to understand why the control of resources that exist for the public good is limited to a select few individuals who (hopefully) are qualified by experience or (preferably) some form of institution in the art of understanding and balancing. The system of political patronage does not allow for this to happen. Rather it rushes people through systems that can give them “indicators of qualification” that they may pass the bare minimum required to appease the public. Once they pass the minimum the assumption is a good PR effort will allow their status as “close to resources” to elevate them to the office they need (who needs to know if you actually know anything). And so power continues to be handed down almost monarchically.  It is these little monarchies that that begin the organization that becomes the larger power replay that is the Kenyan government. Understanding the existence of these little monarchies allows us to understand how billions end up going missing. Like an accountant dealing with thousands of offices you realize just how much money the company looses due to pens being stolen (or how airlines charge for trivial things to keep costs down).

This is why the silver bullet that is devolution was supposed to be so powerful. It was supposed to wrestle the power away from these little monarchies rather than further establish them. It was supposed to allow the people to reject patronage. And, while it might still be too early to tell, it seems like a good time to ask the question – is there any environmental labour is being done to ensure that devolution survives? Or are we waiting for it to create a hybrid monster that we cannot stop?