Liberty and Demagoguery for all

Michael Onsando
11 December ,2018

“People should stop panicking about my traversing the country saying it is 2022 campaigns, I’m yet to start my campaigns because when I start they will be in for a rude shock”

“Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka now says he will be Kenya’s next president after Uhuru Kenyatta.”

The year is 2018. We had not one but two elections last year, finally Kenya gets the time it needs to take its mind of the divisive nature of electoral politics and focus on unifying, restoration.

“You mentioned democracy, earlier. I have qualms about the nature of our democracy itself. It did not matter whether one went to the polls or not; the ruling class had its own agenda and we were there to make sure it was the legitimate agenda. I dispute the idea that the vote was the ultimate culmination of a citizen’s civic responsibilities, that after this event, one was required to do little else for five years.”

It was Socrates who questioned the idea of the democratic vote by talking about how voting is a skill and should be taught to the masses. And only those who are educated in this sense would get a right to vote. Given the current elitist nature of education (and how horribly the electoral college seems to be doing for the US) this might not be the most popular of ideas. But Socrates didn’t believe that this (civic) education should be for a narrow few, rather he was more afraid of creating a system of demagoguery where leaders would gain popularity by exploiting the prejudice and ignorance rather than reasoned deliberation towards possible solutions. Or, the politics of tibim and ngai! versus politics that look towards creating solutions that work in the long term for the betterment of society.

This is definitely what it feels like is happening, and has been happening for a while. We have developed a politic that is centered on gunning for the top job and waiting for our turn to eat. Which is why the year after an election still somehow has the news focusing on the next presidency. The current presidency seems more set up as the president and leader of opposition on one side – and brother Samoei on the other. The dynamics of which point towards a conversation around class and heritage.

And this isn’t the first time we see this kind of manipulation. Every presidential election sees coalitions, political parties and allegiances built and dissolved based on winning probabilities (tyranny of numbers anyone?). Often these combinations are revised machines of what we saw from previous elections. Even further, across all sides we often see the same faces in different places. One can confidently say there hasn’t been a really new face at the top level of politics since independence. Somehow, despite battling for freedom, constitutional reforms and numerous hashtags and protests we seem to be in a semi stable, semi monarchy – and 2022 is the first time (at least it seems) that there’s little to hold the kingdom in place.

Which explains why everyone and their laptop thinks that this is the opportune moment to gun for the presidency.

The problem with demagoguery is that it puts aside current issues in favour of the flavour of the month. Rather than focus on looking for ways to fix problems and to find ways to grow us towards a sustainable future we have leaders caught on the current issue. Every week there’s something new to focus on (we’ve written about this before – the cycle of rage). The worst part is even if a leader came in with a proper agenda, where would they begin?

The problem, Socrates shows, is the public’s appetite for immediate answers. He uses the example of a debate between a doctor and a sweetshop owner. The sweetshop owner would simply claim that their product makes you feel good (skimming over the long term effects of excessive consumption of sugar) and it would be hard for the doctor to explain that their solution, while difficult to swallow would be better in the long term.

Perhaps the nature of the campaign has something to do with it. The labour of solving difficult complex societal problems demands one type of person, while the showmanship of the electoral campaign demands another. Rarely do  we find these two people in the same body. Maybe it’s our failing education system that leaves the larger population exposed to this type of manipulation.

“As a result the only source for any kind of idea is “I have seen this somewhere maybe it will work at home.” This leads to ideas such as this one, that stem from seeing a (largely) orderly situation and assuming its replication will come from just that – replication.”

Whatever it is, when your goal is the job rather than the solution policies come last. It’s like the idea is first get the money and get in, second pay it off and then finally try and fix some problems so you can get voted in again. And this kind of thinking leads to myopic ideas that won’t really fix anything in the long term. Rather we get debt for flashy but useless projects, roadside policies and a generally shortchanged public. So maybe for a year or three we focus less on who is going to be president think about how to enough go forward momentum as a country that the next time we try and change presidents the space doesn’t grind to a halt

Trusting that Kenya will Kenya

Michael Onsando
20 November ,2018

“Fresh produce growers are expected to be the main beneficiaries of trade deals that President Uhuru Kenyatta will sign on his visit to China next month.” 

Farmers set to reap big from China trade deals

 “Juzi mheshimiwa rais ameenda China amefungua soko, sasa tukona mkatgaba maalum ya soko ya kuuza mali yetu China. Na sisis watu wa sehemu hii, itabidi tumejipanga vizuri. Na wale watu wa China hawanunui mahindi, hawanunui miwa. Wanataka kahawa, wanataka chai, wanataka nyama, wanataka mambo hio”

 William Ruto

Perhaps one of the consequences of devolution is regional leaders are being held accountable more rigorously. Having been so publicly stated that the resources and power are in the hands of the county government the “big man has refused” excuse has been taken away. Of course devolution hasn’t worked like a charm as expected (ask the folks in the health sector, they’ll tall you a thing or two).

Especially in this second term presidency with campaigning haven started literally the year after elections and Okiya Omtatah calling for the polls to be brought forward by one year, most leaders are under pressure to show how they are best positioned for the reshuffling of the cards come 2021. In the absence of an incumbent for the uthamaki train, Jubilee might have Ruto as a front runner (or he’ll go start his own thing). Whatever happens, the political playing field is more open than it has been in a while – and this has every politician fighting for dominance, a swipe at the throne.

Maybe this is why Mwangi wa Iria turned to put the squeeze on Nairobi for 25% of the revenue from selling water from Ndakiani dam. Under pressure to, at least, show residents of his county that he is pursuing resources for their protection, this was one of the great ideas that came to him.

“The stranger here is not somebody we do not recognize but somebody that we recognize as a stranger, somebody we know as not knowing rather than somebody we do not know.” 

Who knows, knowing strangers and strangeness Sara Ahmed

“In essence then, belonging to a nation is simply the sense of connectedness with people one does not know and is unlikely ever to meet. The intellectual problem of the study of nationalism is understanding why and how people develop or fail to develop this belonging. Of note, the fact that this connectedness is not necessarily unproblematic.” 

Kenya is a cruel marriage, it’s time we talked divorce David Ndii

I’m not sure whether nationalism is the answer (because reasons ) but I am fascinated by identities, how they are created and what they mean for the things that we hold onto. And, in holding onto this Kenya, how bringing together of the 44 cultures and identities through a cohesive process. Especially since the borders didn’t naturally evolve through bargaining, conquest, allegiances and disagreements, we find ourselves in a bind fueled by the question “where do my interests lie? To whom does my self belong?”

Devolution, increasingly insists that the answer to this question is “look up, look around.” Which creates the pressure on local leaders to ensure that the county can squeeze the next county for money on water.

But what are the elements of identity other than the things we choose to agree to see as true, as common between us? And, in reaching for the things that are true – what do we find?

“Ni nchi ya kitu kidogo, nchi ya watu wadogo” 

Nchi ya kitu kidogo, Eric Wainaina

So maybe a more interesting question begins with the assumption that there are no things that exist to hold us together. Rather looking at the truth and asking, what “Kenyanisms” have we accepted as who we are? And how do these Kenyanisms affect how we interact with the things we hear, the things we understand? 

“Nandi Hills MP, Alfred Keter, and his Chereng’ani counterpart, Joshua Kutuny, alleged Ruto was advising farmers to abandon maize farming and start growing avocado and other crops because he wanted to monopolise the local maize market.”

Rebel Jubilee MPs claim Ruto is growing 500,000 acres of maize in Congo, Tuko news

It’s difficult to talk about trust when it comes to the political circus. Who does one trust, how does one trust? But increasingly what I’ve been wondering is how does the lack of trust stifle efforts? And what must be done to fix it?

This is one reason I’m very interested in this return to Michuki rules and the process currently ongoing on the streets. Because currently we trust the government to shake us up for money to pocket. We trust all the cops to be bribed for freedom. We trust that when the state moves to serve personal interests, rather than the common good.

Devolution creates a “common” and an “other.” So when I hear Ruto asking rift farmers to invest in different plants for export to a market in China I desperately want to hear a leader who is looking for opportunities for their people. But then I am taken back by how quickly and easily I believe a story (with no evidence) about a farm somewhere in the Congo. And, in that moment, I can’t help but wonder – how do we create systems we can trust? How is trust cultivated? And, in its absence, how can we build towards a together?

Why private prisons are not the answer

Michael Onsando
23 October ,2018

“It establishes the Kenya Prisons Enterprise Corporation, a State Corporation, which is mandated to expand the scope of the prisons work programs with the aim of unlocking the revenue potential of the prisons industry and ultimately turn it into a reformative and financially self-sustaining entity.” 

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that the country is really struggling with its finances. Between the Uhuru Chinyatta debt memes (apparently the post Uhuru period will be Post Ma-Loan) and the increased taxes on everything, the states flailing financial state has had far reaching effects that everyone has felt in someway or the other.

So when Mr. Freedom decided to sign the Kenya Prisons Enterprise Corporation Order Of 2018 one can almost see where his pressure is coming from. Having announced his Big four agenda for his second term (the legacy run), private prisons kill two birds with one stone. They can count as job creation, plus the increased supply of (almost free) labour for can help in the steps towards industrialization.

“Many of us have had the police arrest us at spots on the road they have deliberately set up to shake us up for bribes. We have been arrested for merely being out at night. We have had the police accept bribes of KES 500 – 1000 from matatu drivers who have no business being on the roads, with no regard for the 14 – 48 people who may be in the matatu. They have allowed sexual harassers and assaulters to get away scot free even when they could have done something. The police have also been known to mete out brutality against those they believe are lesser than; those whose pain they think they can get away with causing; whose lives they consider disposable.” 

Police Brutality in Kenya

It’s difficult to imagine that private prison systems will work better here than in most places, especially given our affinity for corruption (haki ya mungu – itaisha). And it has been proven that private prisons increase the likelihood of incarceration and of higher sentences for pettier offences. And we know (because we know) that the burden of this need will fall on the marginalized in the society. We know that these extra arrests will come for reasons such as looking at a building suspiciously with intent to litter.

“If private prisons make their profit from criminal society, its goes against business sense to reduce criminality.”

The Problem with Privatising Prisons

The argument against private prisons is not a new one, creating a profit incentive for prisoners creates a demand for this labour and demands must be met. According to most news sources the Kenya Prisons Enterprise Corporation will be wholly state owned – maybe that means that they will be as deliberately bad at their job as most state offices but betting on inefficiency seems like a losing struggle. Especially when it comes to managing 86 prison farms with over 18000 acres of land.

Before the establishment of this corporation the Kenya Prisons Farms Fund and the Kenya Prison Enterprise fund handled the production and sale processes. According to a press release from the PSCU

“The two funds will be merged to ensure the new Corporations operated under a typical business model purposely to spur economic growth in the Prisons Department”

So state corporation or not profit is emphasized. And any good company that needs profit must find labour – this cannot be said enough. The creation of private prisons creates a need for prisoners.

Even as we wonder how we’re going to pay off the close to one trillion shillings that we owe the Chinese we must ask ourselves – just how much money will private prisons make/save the state, at what cost and is it really worth it? Then again, that might be asking for good ideas and, as we’ve seen, all we can really get from this government is tough talk.

Changing Landscapes

Michael Onsando
28 August ,2018

“The thing about saying something is happening is that change comes to everyone in its own time. And so to say that something is happening is to forget the millions that it is yet to happen to. It is to forget those who will die before that thing happens. And if the thing that was supposed to happen doesn’t happen in time for you – then did it happen?” 

It’s been particularly well known that, while Kenyan elections run on tribal math, this has always just been a narrative used by people in power to maintain their status as the ruling class. Still, tribe has been to blame for most of the problems facing Kenya’s political landscape. So much so has tribe been at the root of our problems that “tribless Kenya” is a movement hoping that, in organizing across tribal lines we can work towards a united country.

It makes sense that we can be herded around using tribe. The concept plays on our base ideas of “us” “ours” and a “sense of belonging.” (and participates in creating “them,” “theirs” and a “sense of unbelonging.”)

“In this narrative, corruption becomes a machine for the redirection of resources back to the people (idealized). Of course, in the absence of a colonial overlord, it just becomes stealing the meat from your own soup and serving it to the dogs. But institutions remember, and so corruption becomes the embedded language of the August house.” 

So what happens when the tribal numbers stop making sense? When it increasingly becomes apparent that “our man” will not help us?

“When my competitors are through with(mon-sun)sponsored headlines, paid opinion polls & fake news they are welcome to the real contest based on real mwananchi issues SGR, roads, connecting people to electricity, equipping our hospital &Tivets and matters water. Nawangojea huko.” 

The narrative changes.

“Siasa ya 2022 imengoa nanga (…) hii siasa si ya monarchy ukiamka asubuhi enda kwa huyu, jioni kwa huyu, kesho kwa huyu – hapana. Hata sisi maskini tutazaa kiongozi wetu maskini 2022 William Samoei arap Ruto” 

Mohammed Ali

It’s impossible to ignore that sanitizing effect that the defection of Mohammed Ali has on William Ruto’s character. How can you claim that a person is corrupt if the very person who was voted into government to fight corruption has aligned themselves with them? Buildings are destroyed, commissions are called, rumours are started, reports are written, life moves on – we forget about corruption.

Instead we focus on kiongozi wetu maskini.

Wetu.

The new narrative is the same old narrative. Just the objects that hold space of fearing the “other” have been changed. We begin to see battle lines drawn along the story of the people versus the empire.

“As three generations of firstborn sons, our childhoods couldn’t have been more different. One lived through the early years of colonialism. The next through the Emergency years. I lived through the austerity years of Nyayoism, in the dying embers of the political revolution that begun in the early 80s. Did that define our chosen crafts? From a health officer to a teacher to a writer?” 

It’s worth understanding why these narratives are sticky. One theory states that the independence struggle, while won, took its toll on the country. The only hope left on the other side was catching up with an ever-moving world. In this sense the goalposts shifted from self-determination to gathering resource (I imagine because it became more apparent that resource was the key to this self determination). It is from here single career stories were birthed (be a lawyer doctor engineer or embarrassment to the family). This kind of thinking thrived strongest in the Moi error where following a template and keeping your head down was a surefire way to success. But time passed and we are looking for different definitions of freedom, beyond the pursuit of capital to sustain a life that hadn’t been chosen. Increasingly people are looking for agency over their decisions and looking to where this agency will take (would have taken) them. And the gaps in infrastructure are becoming more apparent.

And the people are getting impatient (Africa is rising, why are we being left behind please?)

Juxtapose this emotion onto the landscape with dwindling tribal numbers and the stage is set for the class to thrive as a key driving story.

And it’s not that hard a story to sell. Kenyatta the first’s government systematically grabbed and redistributed resources amidst the political elite. Every government that has come after has participated, to some degree at least, in this tradition of creating wealth for the elite. And this wealth never translates into proper economic growth because it is not created with a plan or structure but rather through pilfering public funds and redirecting public resources.

So in this way, the Kenyan populace remains vulnerable to the “working president” as a narrative. Change looks like having a president who did not come from legacy and has no ties to empire to the Kenyan people because this is something we have no experience of.

Elections, however, are in 2022 and this is only 2018 – a lot can happen in 4 years. And it is impossible to say the age of political patronage is over. But it might be worth pointing out that it will not be enough to get by on “my people” alone moving forward. Already loud declarations are being made about holding the value of labour over identity so much so that the president had to say that he will not protect his brother if found guilty (he said he will, whether he will well…)

So how can the current landscape be used to the advantage of the people?

First, as already explained the narrative is strong because it is true. Kenya is long overdue a leader that is not part of empire (that leader is not the guy who stole land from a primary school or sold the country’s grain). Look around and find ways to support the leaders you think are actually working.

Second, use the narrative and circumstances to create pressure for the people currently in power. Remind them that the tribal numbers won’t help them next time and that it is the current scorecard that matters. Keep track of the things you and members of the community need done and present them to the people who need to get them done (you can email, tweet or whatever). Make sure your issues are heard – then watch for who is listening. If the battle is for who is listening to the people – then speak your truth.

Kenya’s Media Problem

Guest Writer
14 August ,2018

by Robert Munuku

When I turn on the television, I am not sure whether I am watching the news or a travesty of the same in the name of a glorified show of beautiful men and women dressed up in dashing tunics and layers of make-up smiling before our screens telling us what we should care about. I fear for journalism in this country, and flinch at the thought that the deterioration of one of society’s key institutions will be to our detriment.

Mainstream media in Kenya is far from politically neutral and this in itself is enough stir concern. A quick recap at the major mainstream media houses in our country: The Nation Media Group (which owns The Nation and NTV, Mediamax Limited (which owns K24), Royal Media Services (which owns Citizen TV and Radio, among other radio stations), the Standard Media Group (which owns The Standard and KTN), and Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).  I am intrigued by the ownership of these media houses, their board constitutions and their implied affiliations.

The Nation Media Group (NMG) is owned by the Aga Khan Foundation, founded in 1959 by his Highness the Aga Khan. At face-value this seems okay, after all, the foundation is more or less an autonomous entity. But when we take a look at the board members of NMG we see some familiar faces; allow me to pick one – Professor Olive Mugenda. Prof. Mugenda served as the Vice Chancellor of Kenyatta University (a public university) and was later appointed by the current President, Uhuru Kenyatta, early this year to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). This may not mean anything and one could say she was vetted and therefore qualifies for the job. However it is often the case that such nominations are done based on trust and a history of loyalty.

The Kenya Television Network (KTN) was founded by Jared Kangwana, a close ally of retired President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi for years. This affiliation was accentuated in a land donnybrook four years ago where Kangwana stated that the former President had allocated the land to him.  Going by the former President’s endorsement of our current President in 1997 as KANU’s (Kenya National Union party) presidential flag-bearer, it would not be a far-fetched assumption that KTN and its mother company, Standard Media Group, leans more towards government. The former Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) parastatal boss, Dr. Julius Kipng’etich, also sits as a board member of the Standard Media Group.

K24 TV is owned by the Kenyatta family to the best of the public’s knowledge; no need to say where their loyalties lie. The same goes for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) which is not only the pioneer media house in the country, but also a parastatal run by the government. We are left with one more mainstream media house to look to for authentic unbiased journalism – Royal Media Services or, if you prefer, Citizen TV.

In the 2013 general elections in Kenya, the owner of Royal Media Services, Samuel Kamau Macharia (popularly known S.K. Macharia), was seen standing next to the former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, in a press conference at which the election results were being contested. Moments after the famous press briefing, several articles arose from independent media houses claiming that he was in fact using his media house, Royal Media Services, to support the former Prime Minister’s election bid.

Fast-forward to 2018, Royal Media Services conducted what is arguably the largest poaching drive in the industry’s history, literally milking-dry all their competitors, especially KTN and NTV (Nation TV of Nation Media Group).  Among those poached were KTN former Managing Editor, Joe Ageyo, whose new role is not clear yet given we have seen him intermittently reporting features for Citizen. Joe Ageyo was also one of the 2 journalists who moderated the 2017 Presidential Debate alongside the then Nation T.V. Managing Editor, Linus Kaikai. It is worth noting too that Asha Mwilu, an award-winning journalist who worked closely with Joe during his stint as Managing Editor at KTN, was poached together with him to join Royal Media Services. Another personality to note among the poached is Yvonne Okwara-Matole, from KTN. Like Joe Ageyo, she too was a moderator for the running-mates’ debate in the 2017 general elections.

Linus Kaikai, Larry Madowo and Ken Mijungu were summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) headquarters for allegedly refusing to comply with a directive regarding the airing of the former Prime Minister’s ‘swearing-in’ ceremony. One month later, Larry Madowo resigned from his post at the Nation Media Group. Linus Kaikai, who was accosted with him, also resigned shortly after the summons to CID headquarters. He later moved to Royal Media Services.

It is said that “grand alliances between two great powers are generally the least effective.” Could this apply to the infamous ‘handshake’ between our President and former Prime Minister? Would it be so absurd to entertain the possibility that the shake-up in the media is connected to this?

When I turn on the news, all I see is tragedy; rape at Moi Girls Secondary School, the recent demolitions by NEMA, hordes of corruption cases from that of the National Youth Service (NYS) to the more recent of supposed misuse of office by the former governor of Nairobi. I know when a dog bites a man it is no news and ‘news’ would only constitute the opposite, but have we taken ‘bad news’ too far? Has our news been reduced to insensitive sensationalism of even the most tragic moments of our times? Do journalists care about telling the truth – about sharing honest stories from the same masses that the media fraternity serves, or is winning an award for a story more important for them?

Has mainstream journalism in our country been co-opted by the political elite?

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. Follow him on Twitter @robertmunuku

When something has to give (or, towards hope)

Michael Onsando
24 July ,2018

“The system adopted in Kenya is African Socialism, but the characteristics of the system and the economic mechanisms it implies have never been spelled out fully in an agreed form.”

  • Sessional Paper No 10 of 1965, Part I, 6

“There are two African traditions which form an essential basis for African Socialism—political democracy and mutual social responsibility. Political democracy implies that each member of society is equal in his political rights and that no individual or group will be permitted to exert undue influence on the policies of the State. The State, therefore, can never become the tool of special interests, catering to the desires of a minority at the expense of the needs of the majority. The State will represent all of the people and will do so impartially and without prejudice.”

Perhaps the imagining of an idea must always happen at it’s purest. Perhaps there was more room to be optimistic at the birth of the nation. Whatever it is I always feel a sense of possibility when I read article from around post independence Kenya. There’s a feeling of thought and deliberateness from the collective on what things should mean/how they should be.

The story of the Ndungu Report is one of systematic perversion of established procedures meant to protect public interest for political gain and the unjust enrichment of a few. It needs to be told.”

Ndung’u Land Report

Still, the story itself is in the telling. It’s also around the time that these ideals were being spoken of that the country was being divided amidst anyone who could afford to be in the room (or, as legend has it, according to how long mzee Kenyatta slept).

“Corruption scandals have become a “fact of life” for many Kenyans, who have come to regard them as just another facet of Kenyan life, alongside high taxes, poor service delivery, our “cult of personality” approach to politics and religion, and the misfortunes occasioned to us by terrorism. These burdens seem to be ours for the long haul, and we seem to have accepted them, albeit half-heartedly. It is tiresome to watch or listen to the news; even being on Twitter at a time when one was not prepared for shock or disappointment can derail one’s entire day.“ 

Maybe it is the rise of report realism, maybe it is the coming out of 24 years of repression under Moi or maybe the writers are just often in a bad mood. Today’s tone is less hopeful, less believing. It’s impossible to go through the papers without sensing the despair. There is no hope, looking for hope or trying toward hope. Only a resounding cry of how deep in it we are – and how much deeper we are going.

A theory I’ve heard floating around involves institutional memory. This narrative begins with Kenya as an idea that was imposed upon these 43 peoples. Not through war, territorial battles and forging of trusted relationships are we bound, but by subjugation. In this narrative, corruption becomes a machine for the redirection of resources back to the people (idealized). Of course, in the absence of a colonial overlord, it just becomes stealing the meat from your own soup and serving it to the dogs. But institutions remember, and so corruption becomes the embedded language of the August house.

A friend writes on email,

“At some point many of the people who start off working against corruption end up in the very positions of power that dictate that they steal. Because people have failed to realize that politics is not a subjective game. You don’t come into it with your feelings and try to change it. The people who have been the greatest change factors have always done so outside of the political system – especially when the issue was corruption.” 

There must be more at play here.

Another friend of mine talks about how it is not what power is but rather what it is about spaces (obligations, responsibilities and roles) and how those spaces shape us. To come up against institutional memory is to have an institution remind you what you are coming up against.

“If they want to fight drug barons if they want to fight the al shabaab, if they want to fight crime – they can do it. But they can’t fight crime, they can’t fight al shabaab, they can’t fight barons because everyone has a cut in it.”

Mohammed Ali

“In a video, the angry youth called out Moha for betraying the trust they had on him by associating with the Jubilee government despite corruption scandals rocking the government from within.” 

“The ultimate objectives of all societies are remarkably similar and have a universal character suggesting that present conflicts need not be enduring. These objectives typically include— 

(i) Political equality;

(ii) Social justice;

(iii) Human dignity including freedom of conscience;

(iv) Freedom from want, disease, and exploitations;

(v) Equal opportunities; and

(vi) High and growing per capita incomes, equitably distributed.”

Perhaps, when working towards this goal, and in defining this goal – we lost sight of what it looks like.

“We must see killability as too high a price to pay for development, for peace.” 

  • Keguro Macharia

And maybe we’re tired of paying the price.

Are Kenyans Over-represented?

Brenda Wambui
17 July ,2018

Before we passed the 2010 constitution, we voted for the president, and members of parliament for our respective constituencies. After 2010, a Kenyan voter now has to elect the president and their deputy (on one ticket), the governor and the senator for their county, the woman representative for their county, the Member of Parliament for their constituency, and the ward representative (also known as the MCA) who sits in the county assembly. The first time this took place was in the March 2013 general election.

Kenyans who voted elected six representatives per person (if we consider the president and deputy as one representative – the presidency). If we had felt under-represented before, this was no longer the case. We have one president (who comes attached to a deputy president), 47 governors (and their 47 deputies), 67 senators (47 elected by counties, 16 nominated by their parties, 2 members representing the youth, and 2 representing persons with disabilities), 349 members of the national assembly (290 constituency representatives, 47 woman representatives, and 12 nominated members of parliament). We also have 2,526 MCAs. That’s 2,990 members (if you count all the deputies, it becomes 3,038). We have 43 million Kenyans. That’s one representative per 14,000+ Kenyans.

This over-representation shows in our public wage bill. In 2014, our public wage bill was 8% of GDP, which in that year was USD 61.4 billion. This increase in our number of representatives reflects in the jump in the wage bill, which was KES 249 billion in 2010, and KES 418 billion in 2014. Much of this jump was caused by the introduction of county governments. The average annual growth rate was 14% between 2010 and 2014, yet the average annual growth rate of GDP was only 5%. Where are we magically getting this money?

Debt.

This is why public borrowing is out of control in Kenya. In 2015, our public debt was USD 32.54 billion, which was 52.8% of our GDP. In 2016, our public debt was USD 38.9 billion, which was 54%. In November 2017, our public debt reached USD 45.8 billion, which was 57% of our GDP. In 2018/19, our debt to GDP ratio is projected to rise to 59%. Each Kenyan owes KES 100,000 worth of national debt to external parties. We borrow to survive. We don’t make enough to live on.

In the year ending June 2015, we spent KES 11.2 billion on Senate and the National Assembly, up from KES 9.2 billion in the year ending June 2014. Each year, as shown here, they have increased their pay. In April 2013, the Speakers (the highest paid Members of Parliament) earned a monthly salary of KES 990,000. In April 2017, they earned KES 1,320,000. Regular members of parliament increased their monthly from KES 532,500 in April 2013 to KES 710,000 in April 2017.

On average, Kenyans spend 55 million shillings per Member of Parliament (both senate and national assembly). This is about 2% of our national budget. For comparison, the global average is 0.57% (this is for countries with a population between 10 and 50 million, which is what we are). That is almost 4 times more. Why do we spend so much? South Korea’s GDP per capita (this is GDP per person per annum) is USD 27,538.81. Japan’s is USD 38,894.47. The USA’s is USD 57,466.79. Ours is USD 1,455.36. Yet, per 1 million people Kenya has 9.18 representatives, while South Korea has 5.9, Japan has 0.4, and the USA has 1.7. Nigeria has 2.6 representatives per million people, Ethiopia has 7.1, India has 0.6, Venezuela has 5.3.

The first resort for most is to suggest the scrapping of quota seats for women, youth, persons with disabilities and other minorities. In many discussions, women representatives are said to be unnecessary, yet this is untrue. The purpose of woman representatives is to increase the representation of women in parliament, in line with the two thirds gender law which requires that no one gender have more than two thirds of elective seats. We still have not met this requirement. Only 19% of the national assembly seats, 27% of senate seats and 6% of county assembly seats are held by women.

Yet, even with these numbers, women representatives have spoken actively about the budget, education, health, security, agriculture, women, youth, water, land and so on. They have sponsored major bills, such as The Victim Protection Bill (Millie Odhiambo), The Access to Information Bill (Priscilla Nyokabi), The Protection Against Domestic Violence Act (also by Priscilla Nyokabi) The Kenya Aids Control Authority Act (Rachel Nyamai), The Food Security Bill (Beatrice Elachi), The Reproductive Healthcare Bill (Judith Sijeny), among others.

This translates to 8% of the National Assembly Bills and 18% of the Senate Bills in the last parliament. Quite good for a contingent that only made up 21% of the 2013 parliament. The answer is definitely not to reduce the number of minority representatives in parliament. Having more of these minorities represented can only serve to enrich our society. A discussion on minority representation should not only focus on women representatives, but on all minority representatives, and it is crucial moving forward, especially since we already didn’t meet the August 2016 deadline to have a framework in place to ensure the enactment of the two thirds majority rule.

The solution is clearly not to scrap these positions. It is to have a ratio of legislators to general population that makes sense. In the words of James Madison, “However small the Republic may be, the Representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and however large it may be, they must be divided to certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude.” Deciding on an optimal formula is tricky. A parliament with too few representatives won’t be democratic enough, and can lead to an unstable political system. It can also lead to political violence.

Too many representatives lead us to where Kenya is now. There are many social costs, as well as financial costs. They interfere too much with how our markets operate (see our real estate market), increase bureaucracy, and they create many opportunities for rent-seeking activities and corruption. It is important to ensure that the general population is reflected in parliament, but this comes with many direct and indirect costs.

According to our Auditor General, Edward Ouko, we need 290 MPs (both senators and members of the national assembly), not the 416 we have now. That is a 30.28% reduction of MPs. In turn, we would save KES 6.93 billion a year. To show the effect of this under current situations, let’s assume this money would be used to pay for free day-school secondary education for children. Currently, each child has an allocation of KES 12,870 (up from KES 10,625), so the KES 6.93 billion would educate 538,461 secondary school going children each year. Assuming it was used for free primary education, it would also make a huge difference.

In 2014, the government increased FPE allocation per child to KES 1,420 (from KES 1,020) to cater for enrollment of about 10 million children in over 23,000 public primary schools. Annually this costs KES 14 billion. KES 6.93 billion would educate 4,880,281 children each year. Here, we are assuming that we are only reducing the number of MPs. What if we reduce them and reduce their salaries? Each of them currently takes home over KES 1.1 million in salaries and allowances monthly. If we reduced it to what he proposes, which is KES 931,000 per month, we would save even more!

When it comes to MCAs, 1625 are elected and the rest, 1901, are nominated representing the minorities we discussed. We can further reduce the number of wards to reduce the wage bill. Perhaps we can change the smallest unit of governance in the county from the ward to the initial divisions we had back when we had 72 districts. At their most, they were once 262 divisions. Even when we include nominations, the number of county representatives would not be more than 500 given the current ratios. That way, we would come down from 2,526 to 500 county representatives, and from 416 to 290 MPs.

Of course, to do so would require a referendum, but it is necessary. Our government is bloated.

The Problem With Lifestyle Audits

Brenda Wambui
26 June ,2018

Uhuru Kenyatta recently announced that all government officials and their families would undergo a lifestyle audit as part of his war on corruption, starting in July 2018. This would include him and his deputy, William Ruto. Those found guilty of corruption would be sent to jail regardless of their status, and he would not intervene, he said. Days later, his partner in handshake matters and People’s President Raila Odinga said that he and his ODM Party would no longer serve as whistleblowers, but instead they would partner with Kenyatta in the war on corruption. He too would undergo the lifestyle audit.

Lifestyle audits are tests that tend to be used by forensic auditors to determine whether a person’s lifestyle matches up with their known income stream(s). Because corruption, fraud and money laundering tend to leave little to no paper trail, they are difficult to detect, and many times only a sudden, inexplicable shift in lifestyle can signal to them. For example, Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Achesa believes that Raila Odinga needs to explain how he built a KES 1 billion home in Kisumu while he was Prime Minister, when his monthly salary was KES 1.2 million and his mortgage was KES 40 million. Allies of William Ruto have come out to claim that this audit targets him, and politicians such as Kimpchumba Murkomen have claimed the exercise will expose politicians as “poor”, and no one likes a poor politician.

Indicators of lifestyle tend to be public: the houses, cars, companies and properties one owns, one’s entertainment preferences, the schools one’s children attend, the size of one’s bank accounts and the transactions through these accounts, among others. However, even then, this cannot be taken as conclusive evidence of fraud, corruption or money laundering – it is merely an indicator, and sometimes the person being audited can explain it.

During the police vetting exercise, for example, one police officer said he was worth KES 20 million because he relied on loans. Another said he was wealthy because he was paid to escort a Hindu god around town for religious processions, while others credited their hardworking wives. It is also not unheard of for people to claim having inherited large sums of money. It is worth noting that this exercise has yet to be completed, and that no police officer has been prosecuted yet as a result of a lifestyle incongruous with their income (although some have been sacked). And yet, this does not ensure justice to the people of Kenya, and it goes against our constitution.

Chapter Six of the Constitution of Kenya (2010) speaks about leadership and integrity. The guiding principles of leadership and integrity include selection on the basis of personal integrity, competence and suitability, or election in free and fair elections; objectivity and impartiality in decision making, and in ensuring that decisions are not influenced by nepotism, favouritism, other improper motives or corrupt practices; selfless service based solely on the public interest (demonstrated by: honesty in the execution of public duties; the declaration of any personal interest that may conflict with public duties); accountability to the public for decisions and actions; and discipline and commitment in service to the people.

State officers are expected to behave whether in public and official life, in private life, or in association with other persons, in a manner that avoids any conflict between personal interests and public or official duties; compromising any public or official interest in favour of a personal interest; or demeaning the office the officer holds. A person who contravenes this shall be subject to the applicable disciplinary procedure for the relevant office; and may, in accordance with the disciplinary procedure referred to in paragraph (a), be dismissed or otherwise removed from office. A person who has been dismissed or otherwise removed from office for a contravention of the provisions specified is disqualified from holding any other State office. It further states that a State officer shall not maintain a bank account outside Kenya except in accordance with an Act of Parliament; or seek or accept a personal loan or benefit in circumstances that compromise the integrity of the State officer.

In addition to the constitution, we have the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act, Public Officers Ethics Act, Income Tax Act, Leadership and Integrity Act, and Proceeds of Crimes and Money Laundering Act, among others acts of parliament that dictate the conduct of public officers and other citizens, and define financial impropriety and its legal outcomes.

Given that these are the dictates of our constitution, and that there are other laws that have been passed to enforce these dictates, it is a wonder that the police officers sacked after the lifestyle audit/vetting exercise have not been taken to court, and it serves as an indicator of the outcomes of Uhuru Kenyatta’s vetting exercise. Some people who are implicated in this process may argue that they are being victimized, and that their constitutional right to own property is being contravened.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), the body that would be tasked with investigating those found to be inexplicably living beyond their means, itself worked hard to stop its staff from being vetted. How can it be relied upon to investigate these public servants and take them to court? Vetting of the staff at the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) also stalled after junior staff threatened to expose the dealings of senior staff. Before the 2017 General Election, over 100 people running for office were found to have failed the standards of leadership and integrity. They were not barred from running. There is simply no political will to carry through with these exercises, and one wonders why that would suddenly change.

For as long as we rely on such gimmickry instead of enforcing a culture of servant leadership and integrity in public service as envisioned in our constitution, we will continue to find ourselves here, because the proceeds of corruption far outweigh the costs in Kenya.

A Health Agenda in Jeopardy

Guest Writer
5 June ,2018

by Dr. Sakulen A. Hargura

Universal health care is a noble idea that is long overdue. For it to bear fruits and build a permanent home in our system, certain fundamental pillars that must be erected. The most important are sound healthcare policies, and adequate expertise to execute the plan contained in those policies.

Kenya has never been short on laws and policies (our constitution attests to our ability to formulate laws and policies). However acceptance, implementation and execution of these laws and policies has always been our weakness. Health is a basic human right. The post independence regime, and subsequent ones as well, laid the foundation for self sufficiency in health. The walk to self sufficiency, however, has been painstakingly slow. So much so that 55 years after independence, we do not have a fully functioning health care system (the kind of which Cuba is renowned for).

Kenya has had shortage of doctors since independence because for a very long time, it relied on only one institution (the University of Nairobi) to train both general physicians and specialists. This hampered the efforts to attain sustainable health care and ensured a constant injection of a low number of doctors into the system, which tried to maintain the distribution of specialists and general medical officers to all corners of the country.

Through remuneration that was commensurate with work environment, for example hardship allowances, and prioritization of doctors in hardship areas for masters study scholarships, the government gave doctors an incentive to move to the far off areas. These scholarships were systematic and deliberate so as to ensure not just constant supply of specialists, but to give the government the leverage to post the new graduate specialists to areas of need as well, be it in the major cities or rural areas. All the original blue print needed was expansion of capacity by giving more universities the resources and mandate to open medical schools in order to expand the inadequate human resource.

The change the Kenya’s public health care system needed to thrive finally arrived at the turn of the millennium with “parallel” degree programs. Medical degrees are long and expensive, and most public universities opened Schools of Medicine to benefit financially. Just as the first batch of these new graduate doctors joined the system, devolution happened. While devolution was meant to attain equity in resource sharing, it was mired by political hogwash that resulted in decisions that were not entirely aligned with the spirit of our constitution. Health was earmarked for devolution, but how to do it without deflation of the existing weak healthcare infrastructure and systems hadn’t been well thought out.

Kenya’s health care was a casualty in the territorial wars pitting Uhuru Kenyatta’s national government against the 47 county governments. To devolve health in its entirety, including human resource, without first holding forums to educate the governors and county health executives on the internal workings of Kenya’s health system was a wrong move. What county government needed was the control and management of the health facilities and infrastructure, as well as the health workers sent to their hospitals by the central government. The core hiring, distribution and training of health workers should, however, have been left at the Ministry of Health until such a time when devolution had been tested and matured.

Right after the hasty devolution of health, many doctors (especially specialists) exited public health care. Many of the counties affected have yet to attract them back despite concerted efforts. The chaos that followed resulted in a disgruntled work force as salaries delayed, the state of health facilities worsened, and the agreements signed with central government prior to devolution were disowned. The county governments not only failed to absorb new graduate doctors churned out by our universities but also refused to release those selected for masters study scholarships. The result was unnecessarily long strikes as central and county governments quarreled over who was responsible

At the moment, we are in a debate about the Cuban doctors joining our healthcare systems. While their credentials and proficiency are not in question, does Kenya need the Cuban doctors or does it need their healthcare system?

Kenya has a shortage of doctors, yet governors have persistently failed to absorb new graduate doctors who have completed their internships leaving them jobless. The same governors have refused to release countless doctors who have been given scholarships to study for their masters to add to the dwindling specialist numbers, with the excuse that they will be absentee employees. This not only denies citizens access to health care, but also derails Kenya’s ability to reach sufficient specialist numbers in the future. The system borne of hurried devolution is gutting Kenya’s public health care.

The Cuban doctors may be appealing, but their presence will not contribute to Kenya’s long term plans of sustainable universal health care. According to the government, they will serve at the grassroots level. This means they will not contribute to systemic education of new specialists in the country, nor will they help drive national policy at the helm. What happens after two years when the Cuban doctors bid us farewell? Do we then have the same program with India?

To bring in Cuban doctors with our existing system, or lack there of, is to transplant a branch of a flourishing tree onto a dry tree. Moreover, to base Kenya’s universal health coverage on a borrowed work force is to throw the seeds of a noble idea on to the rocks.

I believe that Kenya needs to restore the pre-devolution health care system in terms of training and distribution (posting) of doctors so as not to leave the fate of Kenyans in the hands of individual governors. Only then will we see the fruits of the increased numbers of doctors in the country. A body like the Health Service Commission (HSC) could be put in place as a bridge between the county and central governments to enable smooth movement of doctors through the two arms of government for training and posting.

We also need to borrow Cuban health policies, and some of their policy-makers, to duplicate their health care system. If at all their specialists are also brought in, they should be posted to universities and teaching hospitals to help train our doctors, not just to counties where upon the expiry of their tenure they will leave little in terms of long term impact.

Uhuru Kenyatta’s intent and will to implement his big four agenda should be well-informed and concerted. Instead of this public relations exercise, those entrusted with the duty of implementing this agenda should dig deep and consult concerned stakeholders so as to bring holistic and sustainable policies that will see us through another half a century.

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.

The Kenyan Middle Class

Brenda Wambui
8 May ,2018

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) recently announced that it would begin licensing cooking gas firms to operate piped gas systems in residential areas. This would mostly make business sense in gated communities and flats, where Kenya’s middle class tends to reside. This led me to think about our middle class.

The middle class is the class between the upper and lower classes, said to live by their wits rather than by their labour, which was easy to distinguish during the industrial revolution when the term came about. The people who did manual labour at factories were the working class. Those who did clerical work were the middle class, and those who owned these factories were the upper class, better known as the rich. As we have progressed, the markers of a middle class lifestyle have changed, and they vary across countries and cultures.

As we have moved to a knowledge based economy, where the focus has shifted to services, one’s role at work is not the only indicator of class. Today, a person working a low wage or low salary job may not have to perform manual labour, but that does not make them middle class. So we see other markers begin to arise. Chief of which is earnings. Or income. This income then dictates where you live, what you eat, what you wear, the places you go, what car you drive, if at all you do. Then it becomes apparent that there can’t just be one monolithic middle class. We have the upper middle class, for whom richness, or being a part of the upper class, is just around the corner. Then we have the lower middle class, many of whom are a disaster or two away from being working class. Perhaps there is a middle middle class?

According to the African Development Bank, Africa’s middle class is defined as such: Individuals or households that fall between the 20th and 80th percentile of the consumption distribution or between 0.75 and 1.25 times median per capita income, respectively. Or, Individuals who have a daily spend of between USD 2 – USD 20 per day (that is, between KES 200 – KES 2,000 at the current rate). That is 313 million people, or 34.3 per cent of the continent’s population. According to them, 44.9 percent of Kenya’s population is middle class.

On the other hand, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) says that a Kenyan middle class person spends between KES 23,670 and KES 199,999 each month. This seems more reasonable than a claim that 44.9% of Kenya’s population is middle class. According to KNBS, as at 2015, only 68,676, or 2.89 per cent, of formal sector employees in Kenya earn more than KES 100,000 per month. 64.5% earn between KES 20,000 and KES 40,000. The Institute of Economic Affairs found that there are about 272,569 middle class wage employees in Kenya, with another 74,337 wage employees taking home more than the middle class. On the other hand, 2.13 million employees take home less than KES 49,000. It’s fair to say that Kenya has a small middle class.

What is the function of the middle class in a country? In a growth economy like Kenya’s, much emphasis gets paced on the middle class. A growing middle class is a sign of a robust economy. It shows that upward mobility is possible in a country, and this upward mobility is an antidote to income inequality. Which is why “middle class” is such a catchphrase in Kenya. It is there, but it should be larger.

A lot of blame gets placed at the feet of the middle class, such as “the middle class doesn’t vote, they just tweet” or “the middle class finances its lifestyle through loans, it is fake.” There is no shortage of hot takes deriding the middle class. In Kenya, they are powerful and powerless at the same time, and instead of looking at how to expand the middle class from a systemic perspective, we instead place blame on this middle class for its stagnation, as if there is much it can do about this. To expand the middle class, we have to boost the productivity of our economy and encourage investment.

What boosts the productivity of an economy, and makes investors invest? There are multiple theories, but they can all be condensed into five factors (as described by Heather Boushey and Adam Hersch). One: The level of human capital and whether talent is encouraged to boost the economy’s productivity. Two: Cost of and access to financial capital, which allow firms and entrepreneurs to make real investments that create technological progress to use in the economy. Three: strong and stable demand, which creates the market for goods and services and allows investors to plan for the future. Four: The quality of political and economic institutions, including the quality of corporate governance as well as political institutions and a legal structure that enforces contracts. Five: Investment in public goods, education, health, and infrastructure, which lays the foundation for private-sector investment.

The middle class is important in each of these five factors. First, human capital. A strong middle class promotes the development of human capital through a well-educated population. Second, the cost of and access to financial capital becomes lower and more, respectively, in countries with a larger middle class because of reduced risk. Third, a strong middle class creates a stable source for demand because they have enough disposable income to spend on what matters to them.

Fourth, a strong middle class supports political and economic institutions, and has the power to rally behind them since gift politics that may appeal to the working class have no incentive for them, while the rich are the ones buying and influencing these institutions. Lastly, a strong middle class creates and fosters the next generation of entrepreneurs, since they have an adequate social and financial safety net to enable them to start businesses. It is clear that this group is very important to our economy, so it should worry us that it is so small yet we continue to claim that we are a growing economy.

Much of this growth is contributed to by the increasing wealth of the rich at the expense of the middle and working classes, hence the income inequality in this country. We have a Gini coefficient of 0.445 (for perspective, 0 represents complete equality and 1 complete inequality).

Yes, more of us should aspire to go to university, work in formal employment so that we can pay income tax. More of us should not have to take personal loans to get by, or to buy home basics. More of us should not have to buy second hand Japanese cars because public transport in Kenya is a sham. More of us should not have to take our children to private schools because public schools are in shambles. More of us should be able to own houses without selling our souls for a mortgage.

Yet here we are. Whose fault is it that we do not have access to affordable financial capital? Whose fault is it that so many businesses fail in Kenya? Whose fault is it that human capital, better known as talent, is underdeveloped and not as skilled as we need to be to become a developed country? Whose fault is it that we have runaway inflation, especially of food? Whose fault is it that people cannot afford basic goods? That our political and economic institutions are held hostage by an elite few? That we do not invest enough in public goods, education, health, and infrastructure? Definitely not the middle class.