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 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.
Having the perfect handshake is one of those things we are taught to obsess about. How we shake hands reveals who we are. Handshakes are very political. Hands themselves are not. Hands simply carry out the will of the mind, express what has been felt. Perhaps this why handshakes are seen this way – hands, carrying the will of two minds meet and, depending on what they learn of each other in that moment, they may never meet again.
The handshake above is one we are all familiar with by now. Following a closed door meeting at Harambee house Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga spoke and shook hands in front of the press for all to see. The president(s?) spoke about the ideas of building a better future and putting a final end to the ethnic division in the country.
Of course, we remain wary when two men meet and tell us that the solution to all our problems has been found. A point that was driven home in the several speeches given by NASA co-principals before they fell in line with the conversation sometime yesterday.
“Through its research and hearings, the Commission identified several causes and drivers of ethnic tension in the country.”
“This process has reminded us that as a nation there are more issues that unite than divide us. We have been reminded that we must do all in our power to safeguard our peace – that is the foundation of our national unity, social cohesion, economic growth and political stability.”
Watching the two speeches alongside each other one can’t help but notice how Raila has changed. His dynamic, almost upbeat body language in the 2008 video is more comparable to what Uhuru looks like now, while his current speech, read and delivered in a monotone is more like Mwai Kibaki’s body language from the earlier video.
The one thing that doesn’t seem to have changed is the idea that this is a process that need to be started afresh.
That Kenya needs a fresh start, a platform from which to launch ourselves into the future. This begs the question – what happens to all the work towards cohesion that has been done? Do we cast it aside and start again? Do we imagine that the TJRC report doesn’t exist and clearly outline the things we should address? Do we not talk about the Ndung’u report on land allocations? And, if we do, how does that affect the nuances and the parties involved?
How does this process of social change that will ‘find solutions that will (…) give us a life cycle that is beyond the five years that we have established for ourselves’ actually work? How deep will this introspection go? And what makes it different from other introspections that we have had in the past?
In the speech the president(s) called for the moment to be seen as a moment that we should view with hope for our country. This was impressed heavily upon us under the invocation of independence and the metaphor of a sinking ship. This moment, they say, is to be seen as the moment when, led by the two, Kenya was moved into a better future.
I am hopeful.
But not that much will come of this process. Rather I am hopeful because of the what we have been through over the last half year or so. I am hopeful because we saw the elections annulled, we saw the cracks in the systems, we saw how firmly people held their positions, and we have seen how easily that these things change. I am hopeful because there are mixed feelings about this meeting – and Kenyans are disappointed. I’m hopeful because we are asking questions and refusing to take this ‘resolution’ at face value.
It’s here that I choose to place my hope.
“It is not forgetfulness, but the state in which it is deemed necessary or at least desirable to go through a process of forgetting.
Through this process, issues and people are washed clean of their identity and significance.”
But even this hope is frail. Given our history with memory one can only wonder if this time we will remember to hold ourselves, and our leaders, accountable to the betterment of this country. Or whether this handshake will slowly slip its way into the past as we fill our hard drive with unread PDFs.
While handing the flag to the Kenyan national boys and girls golf team, which was heading to Casablanca for the All Africa Junior Golf Championship, Uhuru Kenyatta said he wanted golf introduced in public schools as a way of developing the sport. He urged the ministries of Sports and Heritage, Education and Interior to finalize the development of a curriculum that will see golf introduced to public schools.
I could not believe it – our very own Marie Antoinette with a 21st Century “let them eat cake” moment.
Golf is an expensive sport to play. Golf clubs are expensive. The proper clothing and shoes are expensive. The set up and maintenance of golf courses is expensive. Everything about golf worldwide sets it up to be exclusionary. Golf club membership is expensive. Learning how to play takes time and money. Golf is thought of as a businessman’s game because chit chat about “business” is what tends to happen on the course.
Contrast that with the state of public schools. The Kenyan government under Mwai Kibaki introduced free primary education in January 2003 in order to make primary education accessible to all children irrespective of their economic backgrounds. However, this endeavor has been fraught with challenges. The unavailability of physical facilities, school furniture, equipment, teachers, and other resources has led to overcrowding in classes and overburdening of teachers. This has a negative effect on the quality of education, and further deepens inequality between those who attend private and public schools.
The Kenyan government under Uhuru Kenyatta introduced free secondary education in January 2018. This was one of the pledges the Jubilee party made while campaigning for re-election. Schools selected for this program, such as Kenya High School, Lenana School, Buruburu Girls High School, Dagoretti High School among others began accepting day students as part of this effort to increase secondary enrollment (the goal is a 100% transition from primary to secondary school), and delink admission from bed space in order to increase form one enrolment. Students are not required to pay tuition fees – they only buy uniform, pay for lunch (and those boarding pay boarding fees ranging between KES 40,000 and KES 53,000). However, just as with free primary education, there aren’t enough teachers, classrooms and materials at secondary school level. This will lead to a poor standard of education.
Arguably the most important aspect of a school, other than its infrastructure, is its teachers. Kenya currently has a pupil to teacher ratio of 57:1 (according to UNESCO, this should be no more than 40:1). Primary schools have a shortage of 40,972 teachers, while secondary schools have a shortage of 63,849. We need 104,821 more teachers if we are to meet our education goals as a country. This is expensive. To begin with, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) asked the Treasury for KES 16 billion to recruit 68,000 intern teachers as a temporary measure to address this shortage created by government policy. They also asked for KES 5 billion to recruit 12,000 teachers to address the current shortage and an additional KES 3.6 billion to hire another 5,476 to cater for the 100 per cent pupil transition from primary to secondary schools. These budget items have yet to be approved.
Perhaps the starkest indicator that the president is getting ahead of himself is the implementation of the new curriculum, which was supposed to be rolled out in January 2018. The 2-6-3-3-3 curriculum involves children spending two years in pre-primary and six years in primary school. In lower primary, they will learn Kiswahili, English, Literacy, and “Mother Tongue”, Science, Social Studies and Agricultural Activities. In upper primary, they will learn Kiswahili, English, Mathematics, Home Science, Agriculture, Science and Technology, Creative Arts, Moral and Life Skills, Physical and Health Education, and Social Studies, with an option of a foreign language (French, German, Chinese and Arabic).
Junior secondary will take three years, and students will study Mathematics, Kiswahili, English, Life Skills, Health Education, Social Studies, Integrated Science, Business Studies, Religious Education, Agriculture, Sports and Physical Education. They will also select one or two subjects that suit their career choices, personalities, abilities and interests. Senior secondary will also take three years, and students will focus on either Arts and Sports Science; Social Sciences; or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). After this, students can either go on to three years in university, or three years in a vocational training centre.
As is to be expected, the rollout of free secondary education at the same time as a resource intensive new curriculum, while requiring 100% transition from primary to secondary school without investing in school infrastructure and the hiring and training of teachers, has caused a mess. The teachers have not been trained adequately on the new curriculum, and TSC’s budget for doing so has been affected severely by budget cuts of up to 75%. Teacher training had been estimated to cost KES 900 million, while training and monitoring implementation of teacher performance appraisal in all public institutions was estimated to cost KES 200 million. However, their budget for this was reduced by KES 423 million of the operation and maintenance budget, limiting service delivery.
Schools have yet to receive teaching materials for this curriculum, leaving teachers confused. Since the government is distributing text books directly to schools, they have no option but to wait. Why? Because the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) relies on four printing firms to publish curriculum designs, and their printing materials are exhausted after the bulk printing of new curriculum materials. The paper used to print these materials is imported, and has taken long to arrive. So the children and their teachers can either wait, or revert to using 8-4-4 materials.
Even as all this happens, Uhuru Kenyatta, perhaps as a catalyst of some kind of Kenyan revolution, thinks it is important for golf to be introduced in public schools. The tragedy that is Kenya continues.
Kenya is now in the unique position of having two “presidents” – Uhuru Kenyatta, the current head of state, and Raila Odinga, the self-declared people’s president. Raila Odinga was sworn in at Uhuru Park on 30th January 2018 in the presence of massive crowds. It was an an oddly peaceful event because the police were not present. In the days following the event, I have observed with much concern the open movement towards fascism by Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto, and the state in general.
If it feels like we’re on the verge of the breakdown of democracy as we know it, it’s because we are. World over, the rug has been pulled from underneath our feet. But for Kenyans, this is nothing new. It’s just more pronounced now. There is no simple, straightforward way to describe fascism. It has its roots in Benito Mussolini’s Italy. In 1919, there was a movement called the Blackshirts in Italy, named after the black shirts they used to wear.
It was built on the disenfranchisement of the every-man by industrialization. Mussolini harnessed this disenfranchisement and diverted it into political action. When he founded the fascist party, he said that fascism “is the wedding of state and corporate power.” His followers were nationalist and totalitarian, and used violence to consolidate political power in him. The more his power grew, the worse they became. This ideology is fundamentally violent, and praises war and conflict.
Mussolini believed that war was the highest expression of human ability and society, and that life was a continuing conflict between people for limited resources. This same thought was shared by his German counterpart at the time, Adolf Hitler, which is why he wrote a book called Mein Kampf – which translates directly to My Struggle. To fascists, war and conflict are good things. They let nations or “races” decide who the strongest is, and who deserves the already “limited” resources. Yet not all modern day fascism can have direct lines drawn between it and Mussolini’s fascism. Or Hitler’s. It cuts across multiple forms of government, and multiple ideologies. Yet, its traits are always the same.
Fascists are nationalistic. I’ve talked about nationalism and why it’s dangerous here before, as well as the differences between nationalism and patriotism. Fascists believe in the exceptionalism and greatness of their nation for no reason other than they were born there. Everything they do is said to be for the good of the nation. They speak in terms of greatness in past days. For example, Uhuru Kenyatta’s focus on Kenya being a powerhouse regionally and in the continent even when his government does everything possible to undermine this in reality.
In the aftermath of Raila Odinga’s swearing-in, Uhuru Kenyatta and his government have broken multiple laws in the name of national security, and gone against the spirit of our constitution – they allegedly summoned media stakeholders to State House the day before the swearing in for a lecture on why they must not cover the events. When the chairperson of the Kenya Editors Guild brought to light these events and said they would not be intimidated, they waited until the next day and switched off Citizen TV, Inooro TV NTV and KTN – a gross violation of press freedom. After seven days, NTV and KTN were back on air on the 5th of February 2018. However, Inooro TV and Citizen TV, owned by Royal Media Services, remain switched off.
They have outlawed the National Resistance Movement, which amounts to outlawing the opposition, listing it as an organized crime group. Other groups on this list include terrorist/vigilante/militia groups like Al Shabaab, Mungiki, Chinkororo, Forty Two Brothers and the Baghdad Boys. Yet, NRM agitates for electoral reform and the boycott of companies they perceive to be “wedded to the state” (as Mussolini may have described it), while the other groups routinely commit murder.
Arrests were also made of parties involved in the swearing in, such as Tom Kajwang, George Aladwa, and Miguna Miguna. The charge is treason, which attracts the death penalty. Miguna, in particular, was arrested on the 2nd of February 2018 for administering Raila Odinga’s oath and being a member of an outlawed group. The High Court ordered his release on a bond of KES 50,000. He was not released. The court then ordered the police to produce him in court at 2pm on the 5th of February 2018 or risk the Inspector-General of Police and Director of Criminal Investigations being held in contempt of court. He was not produced.
The executive arm of the state seems to gleefully undermine the judiciary, as if to say they do not care about the law – they are a law unto themselves. Fascism cannot operate without divisions. A fascist leader has to create an in group and one that’s the enemy. The in group tends to be a majority that this leader controls and feels he belongs to. The enemy? That tends to be minorities. Which is why under fascist regimes, women suffer. Queer people suffer. Ethnic minorities suffer. Foreigners suffer. Religious intolerance thrives. Sexism thrives. Racism thrives. Xenophobia thrives. Tribalism thrives. Homophobia thrives. Anyone that does not belong to the in group suffers.
This is why, despite harping on and on about it, the Jubilee regime has not made a dent in youth unemployment. Why they have not passed the two-thirds gender bill despite having a parliamentary majority. Why they run around the country screaming “I have been unable to perform because of Raila.” Fascists are able to get away with this behaviour partly because of their charisma – they know how to sell the dream. I remember when Kenyans were convinced we were going to achieve great things when Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto wore matching red ties early in their first term. Adding onto their charisma is their love of controlling and gagging the media. Uhuru Kenyatta famously said newspapers were only good for wrapping meat. Recently, he shut down TV stations and drunkenly kicked the media out of an event they were covering. His regime has been in a covert tussle with the media since he invited them for tea and snacks at the beginning of his first term.
A charismatic fascist will sell you a ticket to hell for twice the price and you will go gladly, thinking you got a deal. How else do you explain Uthamaki, which is a nonsensical concept engendered by older generation Kikuyus (and some very misguided young ones)? How else do you explain the Nairobi Business Community? They believe that leadership is rightfully theirs. That uthamaki belongs to muthamaki (the fisherman). This fisherman being a fisher of men, currently Uhuru Kenyatta. Who is stoking this fascist sentiment? This is why we are forever caught up in tribal politics and clashes. Because every “tribe” ends up wanting Uthamaki.
Fascist leaders, and their states, easily trample on human rights. If you don’t belong to their in group, you may as well not exist. Fascists are terrible for the working classes. Under them, ethnic cleansing is routine, detainment for arbitrary reasons is the norm, and slums and ghettos thrive because they do not care about inequality. We only need to look at the state of our public schools and hospitals, and the high rates of unemployment to see proof. Our public schools are in shambles, with a majority of the children who sat KCSE last year not making the cutoff for university. Look at our public universities, where lecturers are perpetually on strike because of poor pay, yet that is where most can afford to take their children to school. Under fascism, the common man comes last.
Fascists are excellent at corporatism. Everything must be privatized. This is why our president sees no problem with a company he is associated with (Brookside Dairies) basically owning and controlling Kenya’s entire dairy sector. This is also why instead of fixing our public healthcare system, he prefers to entice private investors to offer more expensive healthcare. They love public-private partnerships and corporate takeovers of industries and sectors that have no business being privatized. When a fascist is done, there are little to no public goods and services. Instead, all you have is rampant corruption, fraud, cronyism and corporate greed.
Fascism is contradictory, as it is packaged to appeal to the every-man, yet the every-man is most harmed by it. It is irrational – it does not make sense because it is not supposed to make sense. It merely capitalizes on emotions and societal tensions and directs them towards political actions that the fascist in charge fancies. Under a fascist regime, a drought can be stopped by a president’s prayers for rain. Defying all logic and good sense, people will believe that the president’s prayers made it rain. They will believe that if he continues to pray, a drought, which is man made and curable by policy and not prayer, will end.
Fascist leaders are masters at shifting goalposts. For those who feel secure within the in group but are not in power, or those who do not belong to the fascist’s group of cronies – security is not guaranteed. One minute you are in, the next, you are an enemy of progress. Only the fascist knows where the goalposts are, and he can shift them at will.
This is why fascists are so disdainful of intellectuals and artists. Naturally, these people will call them out on their actions, and they don’t want that. So they berate them publicly, as you may have witnessed Uhuru Kenyatta do many times, and work hard to stifle the creative sector as Ezekiel Mutua and others in the government are doing. They also defund arts programmes, as William Ruto and Fred Matiang’i hope to do. Make no mistake, this is intentional. They have to do this to quash dissent now, and in the future.
How do we counteract this? The first step is recognizing and accepting that we live in a fascist state. Fascists and their followers live in an alternate reality where “alternative facts” exist – we do not have that luxury. Fascism, unfortunately, cannot be fought purely through facts and logic. It is a heightened emotional state. We have to appeal to the people’s emotions, just like the fascist. Why are they afraid? What are they afraid of? Because many times, fascism stems from a fear of the “other.” What is this that is so bad, it makes them hateful and intolerant towards their fellow citizens and human beings?
How do we make them trust us? How do we bring them into our shared reality? It all boils down to trust. The rest of us cannot trust our fascist governments, and the supporters of fascist governments cannot trust us.
“Disposability is a long word. It speaks about the value of an object within a certain space. Say, for example, the wrapper of the chewing gum that you just had. That is very disposable. Unless you collect chewing gum wrappers. The idea of disposability of people within a community works the same way. How can society work with or without, say, you? Are you collectible, or disposable? Do you have value?”
One only needs to google “Kenyatta Hospital Screenshots” to read about the atrocities that have been happening at Kenyatta Hospital recently. But, if you don’t want to google, and are yet to hear, there are allegations of all sorts flying at the hospital. These allegations have nothing to do with poor services rendered (something that we can talk about), but of robbery, people being drugged and rape. There’s something especially wrong when we are discussing whether you are safe at a hospital (before even discussing whether they are getting treated).
Still, this is where we find ourselves.
Disposability shows its face in many ways. When a place is made for you, it is created to enable your continued survival. To be disposable is to speak of the attitude of the state towards a people. It is more than neglect, because if it was neglect, the state would at least acknowledge the responsibility held. To be disposable is to live in a state where the assumption of responsibility itself does not exist.
“We wish to state that there is no mother or patient who has reported being raped or attempted rape at Kenyatta Hospital”
““Did you report?” as the first thing a victim is asked does not address what the victim has just gone through. It does not deal with the violation. It does not allow the sexual assault victim control of what happens next. Reporting will only help a victim if they are allowed to make this decision.”
But, what do we want? By the time the screenshots were hitting peak circulation KNH had responded. In typical fashion blame was shifted to the victims but an investigation was promised. We are now in the stage where we wait for some action(and forces push for something to happen). We can speculate that this will go round on social media, pressure will be increased and soon the public declarations by government officials will start. Once this has happened a report will be generated that will be given to parliament, who will discuss this report over 90 to infinity before it slowly slips out of the public conscious. Part of a Facebook post reads:
“My wonder, after 6years, is this. If the KNH story hadn’t been told on social media, not many would have known nor cared. Ignorance has been blissful. Pia, inakaa Akili nyingi imeondoa maarifa mengi. (…)Those that need that social revolution the most, are not ardent social media users. Aren’t nearly well-enough read to comprehend this post. And yet we, who have that luxury. We talk. Sensationalize issues for a bit; months, even. Then, more often than not, forget. “
This reminds me of the discussion we had a few months back about travel. We see a series of road accidents, then national outcry, followed by a decisive declaration which is soon overturned because it really isn’t a policy. Even with the NTSA – we saw them on the road, then a quick sudden death meant they aren’t on the road anymore.
Is anything really being thought through?
I ask this in light of Sonko’s various squads as well. Who is on these squads? What is their mandate? (especially because one squad is also meant to help with security. Do they use force? Under whose authority?) I ask because women aren’t safe going to give birth. Because this isn’t really even a large policy question – rather a simple question of security and efficiency. How, and when, will we demand to receive the services that we need?
“Yet what is baffling to me is that we continue to think of these moments as glitches; flaws in the system that runs Kenya, as opposed to proof that it is working exactly how it was designed – to keep the majority poor, hungry and desperate, never with enough time to realize that their dignity is inherent; that they are deserving of rights; that it has never been about tribe, but about class and power, and that ultimately, the power was always theirs to use and give. We continue to sacrifice our nation’s most vulnerable at the altar of corruption and anyhowness, and we can only get away with it for so long.”
- The Wrath of the gods, Brenda Wambui
As I write this essay, I realise that I am working towards showing the nuance in something that, honestly, isn’t quite nuanced. It is important that the oldest and, arguably, most accessible hospital in the country be safe. Hospitals are the place we go when our bodies have failed us. When we are at our weakest. I’m not equipped to do it – but I’ve heard that giving birth is hard and both physically and mentally straining. Surely, we need not add insecure and unsafe to, what is already, extremely difficult.
It’s 2018, the city is Nairobi and we’re discussing mothers giving birth without being raped. Seriously though, how is this even a thing?
On January 12th 2018, just a day after he had spirited battles with Nairobians online, and just after he impounded cows and asked us what to do with them on Twitter, Polycarp Igathe resigned. He had served as Nairobi’s Deputy Governor for less than six months.
He said, once again on Twitter, “Dear Nairobians, it is with a heavy heart that I resign my seat as elected Deputy Governor of Nairobi City County effective 1pm on 31st Jan 2018. I regret I have failed to earn the trust of the Governor to enable me to drive Admin & Management of the county. Without fear, favour or ill will I step down to avoid abusing or betraying my oath of office to Kenyans, Nairobians and my family. Thank you for the encouraging support given to me so far.”
This brings about questions as to the role of a deputy governor, and the process to replace one when they leave the role for whatever reason. According to the constitution (Cap. 11, Article 180): “Each candidate for election as county governor shall nominate a person who is qualified for nomination for election as county governor as a candidate for deputy governor. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission shall not conduct a separate election for the deputy governor but shall declare the candidate nominated by the person who is elected county governor to have been elected as the deputy governor.”
It goes on to say (Cap 11, Article 182): “(1) The office of the county governor shall become vacant if the holder of the office:
- resigns, in writing, addressed to the speaker of the county assembly;
- ceases to be eligible to be elected county governor under Article 180 (2);
- is convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment for at least twelve months; or
- is removed from office under this Constitution.
(2) If a vacancy occurs in the office of county governor, the deputy county governor shall assume office as county governor for the remainder of the term of the county governor.” The constitution does not specify what happens when the office of the deputy governor falls vacant.
The County Governments Act (2012) Section 32 that designates the functions of a deputy county governor is also vague, and does not state what should happen in case this office falls vacant. It says: “The deputy governor shall take and subscribe to the oath or affirmation as set out in the Schedule to this Act before assuming office. The deputy governor shall deputize for the governor in the execution of the governor’s functions. The governor may assign the deputy governor any other responsibility or portfolio as a member of the county executive committee. When acting in office as contemplated in Article 179 (5) of the Constitution, the deputy governor shall not exercise any powers of the governor, to nominate, appoint or dismiss, that are assigned to the governor under the Constitution or other written law. The governor shall not delegate to the deputy governor any of the functions referred to in subsection (4).”
The Election Laws Act (2011) Section 18 only anticipates the change of a deputy county governor candidate, as is expected. It says: “A county governor candidate or a political party shall not at any time change the person nominated as a deputy county governor candidate after the nomination of that person has been received by the Commission: Provided that in the event of death, resignation or incapacity of the nominated candidate or of the violation of the electoral code of conduct by the nominated candidate, the political party may substitute its candidate before the date of presentation of nomination papers to the Commission.”
We are in uncharted waters. We have two options – Mike Sonko could either appoint a new deputy, or he could complete his term without one. The law leaves the role of a deputy county governor vague. They appear to serve at the pleasure of the county governor, otherwise the process of replacing one would have been specified. It is unclear the pool available to Mike Sonko from which to select a deputy, which makes this option politically volatile, as it could be used to reward cronies. This option may be untenable, though, as neither the Constitution, County Government Act, nor the Election Laws Act give a county governor the power to do appoint a new deputy. This would likely be the subject of a matter in court, after which we would thankfully have jurisprudence on the issue.
He could also govern until 2022 without a deputy governor, something he has suggested he will do. He has said that he is not ready for dialogue with his former deputy, and that he will consult the electorate and work with other leaders, both from Jubilee and other parties. He also stated that he will work with other elected leaders and professionals to ensure service delivery in Nairobi County.
Now that this has happened, we need to amend the County Governments Act (and perhaps the Election Laws Act) to clarify what should happen when the office of a deputy county governor falls vacant. Until then, Nairobi will likely remain without one.
In December 2017, over 330 Kenyans lost their lives in road accidents while traveling for the holidays. Over 40 people died in road accidents within 24 hours at Sachang’wan and Bungoma. 36 people lost their lives at Migaa on the 31st of December 2017. For purposes of comparison, 148 people died in the Garissa University terror attack.
The NTSA’s (National Transport and Safety Authority) response was to abruptly ban all night travel by Public Service Vehicles (PSVs). This left several hundred passengers who intended to travel on the night of 31st December stranded, since the ban took immediate effect. “In order to review the current measures in place to improve road safety, the authority in consultation with other relevant government agencies hereby suspends night travel for all long distance public service vehicles from December 31. All travel must be scheduled to take place between 6 am and 7 pm.” As a result, PSVs are being driven even more dangerously in an attempt to reach their destinations before 7 pm. Unlicensed, unregulated private motorists have begun offering commuter services between key towns at high fares.
Driving and being driven in Kenya is a high stakes activity. Kenyan roads are hazardous, and each day we make it home okay is a happy day. Because we recognize this, we established the NTSA five years ago, in October 2012, with the vision of having a sustainable and safe road transport system with zero crashes. Their goal is to facilitate the provision of safe, reliable, efficient road transport services.
In Kenya, over 3,000 people, mostly pedestrians, die in road accidents each year. Globally, 1.24 million people die per year on roads, but 90% of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries even though they have fewer motorized vehicles. The age group that is most affected is the 15 – 29 age group worldwide, with road accidents being their leading cause of death. These accidents cost us about 5.6% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year. An agency like NTSA’s existence comes from a place of necessity, however, their interventions seem not to work.
Road deaths in 2015 increased to 3,057 up from 2,907 in 2014. This is an increase of 5.15%. These are people’s lives we’re talking about. Kenya’s goal was to reduce fatalities from road accidents by 50% between 2009 and 2014, yet they have not reduced. The NTSA has yet to provide comparative figures for 2016 and 2017.
Even more worrisome is that instead of measuring their performance in terms of lives saved, they cite how much they collect in fines instead, as if that is their mandate. They impose arbitrary speed limits on highways, which are meant to facilitate the high speed flow of traffic, and hide their speed cameras in bushes so as to arrest errant motorists, as opposed to announcing them with signs to remind the motorist to slow down.
I get it – speeding is the main cause of most road accidents we have, followed by drink-driving, not wearing a seatbelt, not wearing a helmet while on a bike, not using child restraints, distracted driving and so on. As a result, the interventions that follow should be – we must reduce the speeds that drivers drive at, make sure they don’t drink and drive, penalize people for not wearing seatbelts, helmets, using child restraints, using their phones will driving. And so on. Yet we’ve done these things, and they are clearly not working, given that road accident fatalities are not reducing year by year. So what gives?
Enforcement. Do we do these things consistently? Effectively? Efficiently? Let’s take highway speeding, for example. 3,057 people died in 2015. How many of them died on highways? On Thika Road? 70. Mombasa Road? 60. Waiyaki Way? 50. Jogoo Road? 30. That’s a total of 210 people – 6.87%. Yet where are we most terrorized by NTSA about speed? Highways.
The World Health Organization has an annual global status report on road safety. The most recent one is from 2015. Road safety is included under two sustainable development goals. We want to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages: by 2020, we should halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents. As it stands, that would mean our target is to get them down to 620,000. We also want to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable: by 2030, we should provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.
Almost half of the world’s road deaths are those of pedestrians, pedal cyclists and motorcyclists. The average for Africa is 43%. In Kenya, however, they account for 70%. In 2015, 268 drivers and 642 passengers died in road accidents, making up 30%. The rest were as follows: 104 pedal cyclists, 553 motorcyclists and 1340 pedestrians. Only 30% of those who die are inside cars.
It becomes apparent that to reduce fatalities from road accidents, we need to ensure that pedestrians, people on bicycles and motorcyclists are safer on the roads. We need to strike a balance between ease of mobility and safety. In the “Safe Systems” approach, used successfully in countries like Sweden, the speed limit on a section of a road takes into account safety, mobility and environmental considerations, as well as the impact of the speed on the quality of life for people living along the road.
Where motorized traffic mixes with pedestrians and cyclists, the speed limit must be under 30 km/h. This is due to the vulnerability of these road users at increasing speed: an adult pedestrian has less than a 20% chance of dying if struck by a car at less than 50 km/h but almost a 60% risk of dying if hit at 80 km/h. On roads where front impacts with other road users are possible (such as on non-divided rural roads, and two way roads) a “safe speed” will be lower than on highways, where head on collisions crashes are unlikely.
We need to ensure that both the drivers and riders on boda bodas and personal use bikes wear helmets. Many people say that they don’t because of hygiene, so perhaps we need to mass introduce helmet liners and other products that help prevent the transmission of skin diseases through these helmets. As we do this, then, we can also strictly enforce the wearing of helmets as a must by all people on bikes. The quality of these helmets should also be guaranteed, and low quality helmets should not be allowed into the country. There are some that crack as soon as someone falls, regardless of the magnitude of impact. These should not be allowed.
When it comes to drink driving, strict enforcement of the blood alcohol concentration limit/alcoblow should be there. The guys at these stops should be well trained and know the importance of not taking bribes – you take a bribe now, in 20 minutes the drunk driver kills someone, or multiple people. We also know that young and new drivers are a greater risk on the roads, especially if drink driving. They may then enforce lower blood alcohol concentration limits for them, to ensure that they are present on the road. This can then be graduated based on age group and driving experience. The effects of drink driving by commercial drivers (such as truck drivers) and PSVs is even more severe, because their vehicles tend to kill multiple people when involved in fatal crashes.
This means that strict enforcement of blood alcohol concentration limits should be enforced on them, especially on high risk roads, and at high risk times (such as between 5 pm and 10 pm, and during the entire night). We also need to tell Kenyans to stop warning others about alcoblow checks. If you can show them that they are actively contributing to the deaths of others, they may stop this behaviour.
Then there are seatbelts. Wearing seatbelts saves lives, yet it is no longer strictly enforced. We need to go back to doing this, and not just front seat passengers. All passengers should have their seatbelts on. For children, regular seatbelts don’t work as well – they need special restraints. Whether it’s a well fastened car seat, booster seat – have your child in a special restraint for him or her. It increases their chances of surviving a car accident by up to 90%. They should also travel in the back seats of private vehicles as it is much safer.
We need a law that applies an age, weight or height restriction on children sitting in the front seat, and a national child restraint law based on age, height or weight. We also need to make sure child restraints are affordable and accessible. We could have community based education and distribution schemes, maternity hospital loan schemes, voucher programmes and so on. We also need to look into how to enforce this in PSVs – which many people use with their children when moving from place to place. How can we make matatus and buses safer for children?
Then comes distracted driving, caused mostly by mobile phone use. This distraction comes in the form of auditory distraction, visual distraction, cognitive distraction and manual distraction. If one is on a call, for example, one is manually distracted due to holding the phone, and while listening to the call, one may miss audio cues on the road. Texting is even worse – it takes your eyes off the road, your attention is focused on the phone, and you are holding the phone so you are manually distracted. Even when using an earpiece, one is probably still distracted cognitively, which is the most dangerous form of distraction while driving. Drivers talking on a phone are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than those who aren’t. While this number applies to four wheeled vehicles, it doesn’t mean motorcyclists are any safer. Fighting distracted driving should be a key focus of the NTSA.
Vehicles and roads themselves must also be safer. Cars should be crash worthy, and have electronic stability control. This aims to prevent skidding and loss of control in cases of over-steering or understeering, and is effective at preventing different types of crashes (single car crashes, head-on and rollover crashes, and crashes involving multiple vehicles), reducing both serious and fatal injuries. Political will to enforce these interventions also needs to exist. We need to embark upon radically fixing our police force.
We should also have vehicles on roads that consider pedestrian safety. Softer bumpers, better bonnet area clearance and removal of unnecessarily rigid structures are required to reduce the severity of a pedestrian impact with a car. This means that most of the old cars on our roads would not make the cut. Roads themselves need to be safer. Planning decisions are usually made without sufficient attention to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and people on motorbikes – for example, cycle paths and footpaths are frequently not part of our road network. Neither are bridges.
We should optimize the movement of people and goods with road safety in mind. This optimization needs to take into account the mix and safety of all road users. We should also promote non-motorized forms of transport, such as walking and cycling. A good step in this direction is changing the perception that walking and cycling are for poor people. We can do this by separating these different kinds of road use, eliminating conflicts between high-speed and vulnerable road users. This is simple – have pedestrian walk ways, have separate cycle lanes. Look at Kileleshwa and Kilimani, for example.
We also need advocacy efforts to keep road safety high on the government and public agenda. We can do this through public awareness campaigns to increase understanding and support for enforcement measures, and to sustain a high perception of enforcement. This may even incentivize compliance. Until we start doing these things seriously, the NTSA will remain the butt of many people’s jokes, and rightly so.
As the year ends, I am reminded of the highs and lows we have been through as Kenyans – two presidential elections (one which happened during the 2017 general election), an election annulment, an election boycott. a doctors’ strike, a nurses’ strike, the election of Kenya’s first women governors, the refusal of parliament to pass the two-thirds gender bill, the collapse of Nakumatt, the ban on plastic bags, extrajudicial killings by the police, to name a few.
As Charles Dickens would say, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. These are the pieces that stood out to us in 2017 [click on the title to read the full piece.]
by Marilyn Kamuru
“Whether from ignorance, ineptitude or misogyny, the silence and complicity of these groups means that they lack the moral credibility to offer non-partisan leadership to Kenyans. The current administration’s de facto policy of violating the Gender Principle, and the acquiescent brand of leadership practised by the business and religious community, are largely to blame for our current situation.”
by Isaac Otidi Amuke
“Karl Marx’s last public engagement was on the evening of Thursday, 5 March 2009. A group of University of Nairobi students witnessed the execution of two men riding in a white Mercedes Benz. The students had chanced on the killings on State House Road while walking back to their hostels. One of the students, assuming that the two, shot at point blank range, were dangerous criminals, asked the shooters, already in flight, why they weren’t taking the men’s bodies off the scene. The usual police ritual is to throw the bodies into a truck and dump them at Nairobi’s public morgue. The shooters, dressed in identical suits, looked like members of an elite death squad. One of them replied that “others” would do the cleaning up.”
by April Zhu
“That particular sunset marked the end of that day’s heavy demonstrations throughout Nyanza. And cruelly ironic in its magnificence, it marked the end of another life taken by police brutality. This time, his name was Michael Okoth. At approximately 2pm, the eighteen-year-old died near Kondele in Kisumu City with a gunshot to his neck. At the mortuary, his grandmother wept and wailed, speaking to him over his body. ‘We thought you were home. My child, we thought you were home. We didn’t know you had gone out to see the protests.'”
by K’eguro Macharia
“In many cases, “this is Kenya” is uttered at a scene of violation and exhaustion: after a demand for a bribe, after being told a file is missing from a government office, after being insulted by a state agent, after attempting to use legal channels and being frustrated, after being sexually assaulted and attempting to seek help from friends and family, after witnessing police brutality, while paying more for food, while struggling to afford private healthcare because the public system is broken, while trying to afford school fees for private schools because public education is broken, while reading yet another report about theft of public land, while reading yet another report about theft of public money, while trying to navigate Kenya’s rape culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s heteronormative culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s misogynist culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s ethno-nationalist culture.”
by Nanjala Nyabola
“But beyond establishing high democratic standards for elections in Kenya, this ruling was also about reaffirming judicial independence. It put Chief Justice David Maraga in history books as the first African chief justice to oversee the annulment of election results. Less than a year into his term, there were already strong indications during a testy pre-election period that judicial independence was of utmost importance to the Maraga-led court. At least three times in under 12 months, the chief justice and the judicial service commission issued statements defending the independence of the judiciary after attacks from the president and the National Assembly majority leader.”
by Matt Carotenuto
“In a country where political elites are known by the fancy cars they own (wabenzi — those who drive Mercedes Benzes) and roughly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, Kenyans recognize that, while they don’t all have a common language or religion, they share a landscape of growing inequality. “Super highways” in Nairobi cut right through informal settlements that lack running water. Colonial-era country clubs sit against sprawling slums, where golf balls routinely ping off the roofs of makeshift tin shacks. The same elites strolling the nearby fairways often collect rent on the properties behind the concrete barriers.”
by Ivy NyaYieka
“Nairobi was liberated from British colonialism by female prostitutes who procured ammunition for Maumau fighters. However, it has been reluctant since independence to let women into public spaces— let alone political office. The Truth Justice & Reconciliation Commission report developed after Kenya’s 2007/08 post election violence to examine historical injustices puts it eloquently: “Women are over-represented in the poorest social segments of society and underrepresented in decision-making bodies.” Every morning, Nairobi rises on the backs of bent women, opens its eyes hesitantly, yawns, stretches and stands up, looking taller than it is because it has low-income women below its feet. These elections will be a test of whether Nairobi will recognize these women’s contributions.”
And these were your favourite pieces from Brainstorm this year:
by Brenda Wambui
“What is it about maize that makes it so susceptible to such scandals? It’s our consumption. Our average maize consumption per person is 60 kg a year, according to our Bureau of Statistics. Maize accounts for a quarter of our food consumption in terms of calorific intake, 56 per cent of our cereal calories and 47 per cent of our starchy food calories. Maize is also the best value for money starch that is widely available. It’s also easy to dispose of as it is a staple food not just in Kenya, but in other African countries as well. As a thief, you can sell it quickly and have your stolen money.”
by Brenda Wambui
“These sentiments are, to put it simply, elitist. And many people are elitist. It is what motivates most of us in our work. We want to move as far away from poverty and as close to richness as we can. As we do, we develop a disdain (both subconscious and conscious) for poverty. As a result, we do not want reminders of poverty in the nice, clean spaces we believe we have worked so hard for. What are these reminders? Kiosks, matatus and second hand clothes, of course. We forget that most Kenyans continue to have them as hallmarks in their lives, though. Where do the rich expect their workers to buy their supplies, for example? When someone works from eight to six at your home, where do you expect them to shop? Do you feed your workers? If not, where do you expect them to eat? Do you provide private transport for them to and from your home? If not, how do you expect them to get there and go back to their homes?”
by Brenda Wambui
“Our feminism, first and foremost, must target the end of rape culture and violence against women. Why? Because it is intended to limit the extent to which women can participate in society. It is intended to keep women small, and in their place. They can only go as far as men will let them. Venture any further and what happens? Violence. Which is why women politicians are permanently being threatened with rape, stripping and other forms of violence. Why they have to have more security. Why their entourages are heckled and even stoned. It is also why men harass women on the streets, and why the go-to threat for many men towards women is ‘we will rape you.'”
As usual, this list is not exhaustive – so much has been written about Kenya or in Kenya in 2017. Any other pieces that we should have included? Share in the comments. Thank you for coming along on this journey in 2017. We look forward to an even better 2018. Happy new year!
It’s been less than a week since Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as president and already we can see the questions slipping slowly into the past. The NSE has been steadily gaining the shilling growing stronger and the political discussion is shrinking. Even the arrest and release of David Ndii didn’t seem to get as much circulation as it would have a few weeks ago.
Soon names like baby Pendo and Chris Msando will disappear as well. Just like the names from the previous elections have. It won’t be long before we begin to classify this election as “not that bad” or “could be worse” even as families continue to count their losses.
Eventually (if not already) we will make peace with the fact that the country is largely mismanaged and, save for the periodical cycle of scandals, all will be back to “normal.” I return to forgettingness:
“It is not forgetfulness, but the state in which it is deemed necessary or at least desirable to go through a process of forgetting.
The kind of forgetting in forgetingness is not a mere slipping away from memory, but rather a process of extraction from being.
Through this process, issues and people are washed clean of their identity and significance.”
In essence it seems moot to try and insist that we remember when there’s little evidence that we actually will – and even less that it will make a difference.
Instead it seems important to talk about what politics is. Because it is around this time that we begin to lose interest in politics. As if somehow politics is this cage match between two principles and we come out to fiercely show our support and, once there is a winner, we go back to our apolitical lives.
But there’s no such thing as an apolitical life.
Because politics is not abstract – politics is tangible, measureable and important. It is access to a steady water and power supply. It is a question of how well schools will be equipped and how much they will cost. It is a road outside your house that is repaired every 3 months – because it breaks every three months. It is whether you can go to sleep knowing that were you live is secure. And, in this sense, politics is never over (and neither should our engagement with it be)
Do you know who your MCA is? Have you asked them about the sewer that’s always bursting and flooding the roads? Have you asked them about why your water is always being rationed? Have you asked your governor what they are going to do to better improve your living environs for yourself and your loved ones?
It is this kind of self-centered approach to politics that will allow us to build stronger societies. If it is about negotiation of need and proper allocation of resource to meet those needs then, have you made your needs known?
Writing this is not to say that we have, or are working with, the most competent, efficient government. Known for questionable procurement methods and faulty accounting one can’t say that Uhuru had a brilliant first term – and odds are not high that he’ll have a great second one either. And maybe this is exactly why we can’t stop engaging. Consistent pressure and letting the government know that we are watching and are aware of what is happening (in large numbers) is one way to insist that we get at least some of the things he promised.
And, even as bleak as that sounds, even ‘some of the things’ might be too much to hope for. The school laptops, youth development centers and stadia from 2013 are yet to be seen. This without even mentioning the several scandals that plagued the administration, with the president himself wondering what can be done about the problem.
So it is not without knowledge of how helpless the whole process can feel that I write this. Letters to your local government will probably go unanswered for a while. And you are not guaranteed that your complaint will be passed on by whoever you speak to on the phone.
What I’m proposing is that we give these people who we leave in the past significance. Significance in the shape of actively participating in the building and strengthening of institutions that safeguard against this in the future. In ensuring that your politician passes whatever law needs to be passed in order to have better computer systems – and avoiding another Msando during the next election. In ensuring that police reform and training programmes are supported within your county so that another Pendo is not shot. In questioning the legislative actions of your member of parliament and asking whether they align with your position, with your beliefs, with your values (and the compromises you’re willing to make – because without compromise there is no such thing as a shared space).
We can’t change the things that have happened. It is impossible to bring people back to life – or undo the trauma and the violences that we have seen and heard. But perhaps it is about time we began to think about how to create an environment where they won’t happen. To properly equip ourselves with the tools we need to create stability and some form of habitable peace – otherwise we’ll be right back here in 2022, mourning yet another series of unnecessary deaths.