“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.”
“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”
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.”
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.”
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?
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.
by Robert Munuku
It is expected for governments to be corrupt. This is a reality, not a vindication – of course corruption is wrong. But at the very least no one gets a heart-attack from surprise upon hearing that government is corrupt.
The most injurious things are those that are an unexpected, because they go unseen then untreated as they operate from the shadows. Corruption in Kenya is not a government phenomenon, but a nationwide one, pervasive in social life and hence all institutions. To deal with corruption we have to deal with many things, preferably at a micro-sociological level. To attempt to deal with it (as we are now) at a macro-level would be futile because at the macro-economic/political levels, corruption is guarded by the very same people/institutions with the power to do something about it. It’s like going to a Kenyan police station to report police brutality and expect results
We as the Kenyan population are also not organized enough, willing enough & politically neutral enough to unite and mobilize towards a fight to end corruption. The middle-class is busy trying to get richer so that they can join the elite upper class, so any malcontent with corruption is often a front to show they care, when they really only care about upward social mobility. Likewise, the elite is more concerned with protecting their already acquired wealth.
Once we accept that corruption in Kenya is not unique to government, we also need to remember that the institutions that traditionally had more muscle than the individual to fight corruption are themselves corrupt – this is what some call the civil society. Civil society in Kenya has been tainted by the commercialization of activism. It is marred with self-interest often hinging on foreign funding. Cartels now too exist in civil society because they need to keep securing funds to keep their NGOs functional, and what better way than to ensure that there’s a constant state of chaos?
Civil society may come in to support a fight against corruption, but this is because their interests shift with the tide that pays their bills. Today it’s climate change, tomorrow it’s the girl-child, the next day it’s water and sanitation, and the next week its poverty reduction. Those who fund civil society from outside the country don’t do so because they love Kenya so much, but because they too want to front foreign agenda to African states like ours, which is a form of neo-colonialism.
The media have one of the most powerful tools – voice, and distribution channels of the same. However, journalists often also fall victim to corruption themselves, being paid off to steer conversations in a certain way (brown envelopes) or to outright kill stories. This is not surprising, because the media houses are owned by individuals who are often politically aligned. Perhaps non-mainstream media & independent journalists are the ones we can count on
Religious institutions are also participants and beneficiaries, because political leaders are usually aligned with one (or more) of the religious denominations in the country, leading them to shy away from harsh criticism.
I believe that the fight against corruption is a one we all need to deal with at first as individuals. But that can only happen if we truly believe it’s wrong. But do we? Or do we wish we were privy to the same wealth that it brings, and only fight it out of spite?
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
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!
On the night of Monday, 12th June 2017, a seven storey building collapsed in Kware Pipeline in Embakasi. This building had been condemned by the National Construction Authority (NCA), and marked with an X on the outside to indicate this. The tenants in the building had been warned of its collapse, and most of them had evacuated it. They did so after cracks opened up in its walls and it was visible that the building would not survive much longer. However, they said “two to ten or more people were missing” having refused to leave the building when they were warned.
By Tuesday morning, St. John Ambulance established that 15 people were missing. The owner could not be traced. They only knew him by one name – Karanja. A Nairobi Lands executive said that Kware area was unplanned, and that no developments were allowed there. However, most of the developers there “were brought” by politicians. In the rubble, one could see many personal belongings, such as jerricans. Residents of Kware, angry about the slow pace at which government operators were carrying out the rescue mission, threw stones. In turn, the police fired tear gas at them, slowing down the whole operation. This is not the first time that buildings have collapsed in Kenya, killing people in the process.
On the night of 29th April 2016, during the heavy rains season, at least 12 people were killed when a six storey building in Huruma collapsed, and over 130 people were injured. Rescue teams were late to the scene of the collapse, no doubt leading to more people dying, because of traffic jams on the roads due to flooding. The day before that, a wall collapsed on Lenana Road, killing four people. In 2015 alone, eight buildings collapsed killing 15 people. This led to Uhuru Kenyatta ordering a buildings audit, which covered most parts of Eastlands, Dagoretti, Kasarani, Zimmerman, Roysambu, Githurai 44 and 45, Garden Estate, Thome, and Kilimani. This audit, carried out by the NCA, found that 58% of the buildings in Nairobi were unfit for habitation. In early 2015, it was also found that about 60% of buildings under construction in Nyeri, Muranga, Kirinyaga, Laikipia, Embu and Nyandarua counties risked being demolished because they did not comply with the National Construction Authority Act 2014.
The fact that it continues to be possible to put up multi-storey death traps is something we need to question. To begin with, most of these buildings have inadequate foundations vis a vis their size. The owners/developers of these buildings cut costs by not having solid/deep enough foundations, because they are generally costly. In many cases, they also do not consider the solidity of the soil in the area in which they are building. Buildings end up being built in swampy areas, and collapse as a result.
Then, the materials used in construction simply can’t bear the load of some of these buildings. Counterfeit materials are used, and sometimes scrap metal is even substituted for steel. Even when steel is used, it is weaker than what is required to carry the load of the building. The concrete in many of these buildings also tends to be substandard. Even when the right materials are available, sometimes the workers make mistakes, many of which can be attributed to poor training and lack of skills. Badly mixed concrete, for example, even when it is of the correct quality, may still be unable to carry the load of the building. The reason these workers are hired in the first place yet they lack the skill is because building owners/developers want to cut costs.
This is the same reason why many of these buildings tend not to have involved an architect or engineer when being constructed. As a result, we get buildings that are structurally weak, and that will eventually collapse. The strength of these buildings also isn’t tested, yet this is supposed to happen according to the law. This happens for the same reasons that these buildings are able to be constructed in the first place – at every stage of construction, there are many building owners/developers looking to cut corners and save money, and willing bribe takers that are part of the system supposed to enforce our regulations who enable them by looking the other way. The people who die when these buildings collapse are victims of greed and corruption.
It would seem that much of the available housing that is unfit for habitation is in low income urban areas. Buildings in middle and high income areas are mostly safe. It becomes apparent that we do not care about poor people in this country. This is why people in the slums do not have running water; why the hygiene in their neighbourhoods is poor, and sanitation facilities scanty. Why we don’t care that they can’t afford cleaner forms of fuel and have to use charcoal to cook. Why we are only concerned once something disastrous happens. Like flooding, or a fire. Or a building collapse.
The collapse of the building in Kware, and the many others before it, is a direct consequence of the corruption and greed that we allow to run our country. It is proof that corruption kills. It is an indictment of our systems and institutions, and until we change them, Kenyans (disproportionately the poor) will continue to die.
Kenya may be in the middle of yet another maize scandal. How did we get here?
We are still experiencing food inflation, and part of the reason for this is the drought we’ve had since 2016. We have a scarcity of sugar, and a 2kg packet is currently retailing for KES 400, up from KES 250 in late 2016. More importantly, up until May 17th 2017, a 2 kg packet of maize meal was retailing for KES 150 to 200, up from around KES 90 in late 2016.
The price of maize meal has been blamed on two factors. One is the poor harvest from last year. Maize production dropped to 37.1 million bags in 2016 from 42.5 million bags in 2015 because of decreased rainfall, high cost of farm inputs, and diseases and pests that affected the maize. The second factor that has been blamed is hoarding by farmers and middle men as they wait for prices to go up. Kenyans, however, are slow to believe the second factor because we have had maize hoarding in the past and it has mostly been by the elite, who cause these scandals.
To ease this inflation (which for a while meant that chapattis, thought to be a luxury in many homes, were cheaper than ugali since wheat flour was retailing for KES 110 – 150), KRA (Kenya Revenue Authority) lifted an import ban on both white and yellow maize, and opened a window for their import duty free. On May 4th 2017, KRA published a notice setting rules for the importation of duty-free yellow and white maize meant to counteract the deficit. The only fee or tax these importers are required to pay is the Import Declaration Fund, charged at 2.25% of the total cost of the imported goods, as well as the 1.5% Railway Development Levy. The window was initially open until July 31st for white maize and August 31st for yellow maize, but it was extended to early October 2017.
However, on May 10th 2017, a cargo ship said to be from Mexico docked at the port of Mombasa carrying 335,000 bags of maize. This maize was to be distributed to millers, increase supply and thereby cause a drop in maize meal prices. How did it get here so fast? It is not possible to sail from Mexico to Kenya in 3 days. This would take between two to three months. The Mexican government also came out and denied directly selling maize to the Kenyan government. Instead, it said it had been selling high quality non GMO white maize to private businessmen, who initiated the deal.
On the 15th of May 2017, Transport PS Paul Mwangi went on record to clarify that the maize had been imported to South Africa from Mexico in 2016, enabling the quick turnaround. The maize was from surplus old stock that South Africa had from when it experienced a food shortage in 2016. It was sold to Kenya by Inter Africa Gains PTY, and three milling firms – Kitui Flour Mills, Pembe Flour Mills and Hydrey Limited – were the importers of the consignment. The ship carrying this consignment of duty free maize, MV IVS Pinehurst, left South Africa on May 4th 2017, the same day that KRA opened the window for duty-free maize imports, leading to suspicions of a scandal in the offing.
Initially, the price of maize meal did not ease given that in April 2017, the government opened a window for the release of one million 90kg bags of white maize at KES 3,000 per bag with the aim of bringing the cost of a 2kg packet down to 115 bob. The price instead remained at KES 150 – 200. However, with this recent haul, the government assured Kenyans that KES 90 per 2kg packet would be the price from May 17th 2017, once the subsidies took full effect. This has not been the case in many areas.
All this is curious because we are in an election year – incumbent governments in countries like ours go to great lengths to retain their power, and that includes state capture. Many Kenyans are rightfully suspicious that this may be a scandal to put money in the hands of our elites, presumably for election campaigns. While these remain suspicions, this would not be Kenya’s first maize scandal. Our first major post-independence scandal was a maize scandal, which got Paul Ngei suspended from his post as Minister for Cooperatives and Marketing.
He was accused of manipulating the Maize Marketing Board (the predecessor to the National Cereals and Produce Board) as well as smuggling and exporting surplus maize, which led to the shortages we experienced in 1964 and 1965. He was able to do this because he was also chair of the board. The commission of inquiry found that he coerced the board into allocating maize to companies run by his wife Emma Ngei – namely Emma Stores and Uhuru Millers. However, as you would expect in Kenya, he was absolved of these charges, and came back to Jomo Kenyatta’s cabinet. He also served in Daniel arap Moi’s cabinet.
In 2009, another maize scandal happened, this time hitting the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB). According to a World Bank report, the Kenyan people lost an estimated KES 23.4 billion in subsidies and taxes. In 2008, the NCPB was meant to sell maize directly to millers at below market prices, yet again because of a shortage. Ideally, what happens is that the NCPB will buy maize on behalf of the government in times when there is a surplus harvest, store it, and then when the harvest is low, sell this maize. This is meant to ensure that the price of maize doesn’t fluctuate wildly, and that Kenyans have steady access to their staple food. However, in 2008, the NCPB sold maize to brokers, who then sold the maize to millers at a profit, defeating the whole purpose of this intervention. These brokers were known politicians and businessmen.
This scandal pushed the price of maize to double what it was internationally. Here, maize was KES 30 per kg. Internationally it was KES 15. Some of this maize even found its way to South Sudan, where it was being sold for KES 6,000 per 90 kg bag, that is, KES 67 a kg. Many parallels can be drawn between the situations in 1965 and 2009 and the one we have now.
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.
We continue to see the ways in which our lives are disposable in Kenya: our elites have no problem stealing money for healthcare, and stealing our food. It is almost as if they want us to die, but in silence. Once we have voted. Watch. Listen. Read. Resist.
Though widely thought to be taken from the Hippocratic Oath, the phrase as we know it does not appear in the historic document. The Oath instead says “I will utterly reject harm and mischief.” However, this phrase remains a key guideline for medical professionals – when faced with a problem, it is better to do nothing than to cause more harm than good. When acting, or failing to act, we must consider the possible harm of our actions or lack thereof. We must weigh the inherent costs against the benefits, of which many times we are not certain.
This principle of non-maleficence has been ringing in my head for a month now, no doubt due to the doctors’ strike that is now in its sixth week. Of course, some will feel the need to interject here to let me know that the strike is doing harm, but I would argue differently. To be complicit in the government of Kenya’s constant dehumanization of citizens by agreeing to anything less than the CBA would be to do more harm than good, especially in the long run.
We have made inquiries into the state of health in Kenya, one such taskforce was led by Mutava Musyimi, and the report they generated, like many others, collects dust in some government office somewhere. In many cases, the problems in Kenya should be able to seed their own solutions, and indeed they have, but there exists a maleficence, or incompetence, or lack of incentives to solve them. An oft repeated saying is “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” However, stupidity has a sort of hapless quality to it – stupidity makes one cause harm to others while deriving no personal gain (sometimes, one even incurs losses). Think of the Trump voters who are now shocked that he actually wants to revoke their Medicare despite him saying so over and over on the campaign trail. That is what stupidity looks like.
Our leaders, however, are not stupid. They do derive benefit from our suffering. Nothing binds Kenyans together like our suffering. Our country suffers corruption, poverty, flooding, diseases and epidemics, fire outbreaks, senseless road accidents, terrorism, drought, famine among many others. These are mostly as a result of gross negligence on the part of our leaders, as well as lax systems that don’t work as they should, and as often as they should. As a result, the quality of life in Kenya is reduced, our infrastructure destroyed, our economy disrupted, and our resources wasted. This is how we remain underdeveloped.
We are currently in the throes of yet another drought. It may be argued that drought is a natural phenomenon, but it is not one that comes by surprise. Only 20% of our country receives high and regular rainfall. The other 80% consists arid and semi-arid areas. Because of low annual rainfall, drought regularly ravages these areas. In 1997, we had a drought that affected the lives of 2 million people. In 2000, Kenya had its worst drought in 37 years. It affected 4 million people, who all needed food aid. In 2004, the long rains (which we normally expect between March and June) failed, leaving 2.3 million people in the need of aid. In 2005, famine was declared a national catastrophe, affecting 2.5 million people in Northern Kenya. In 2010 and 2011, we had our worst drought in 60 years. Across Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, 13.3 million people were affected. In 2014, we had a drought that affected 1.6 million people. In 2015, approximately 1.1 million people needed food aid because of rainfall shortages. It is 2017, and we are doing it all over again – this time, 2.7 million people are affected.
Drought can be predicted – we even have a National Drought Management Agency (NDMA) and an early warning system to boot. Yet every time we have drought, famine is never far behind. While drought is a natural phenomenon in which there is an extended period of dryness, famine is entirely man made, because if it comes after drought it indicates a failure to plan and prepare. Due to this drought, we have had reduced rainfall, leading to maize yields falling by 50%, beans by 40 to 50%, and sorghum by 30% when compared to 2015. Some places have experienced as much as a 70% drop in crop yields. This is what causes famine and hunger, as maize is Kenya’s staple food.
Famine is just one of the many examples of harm that are inflicted upon us by our leadership and poor systems. Only that in this case, they are caused by inaction – the money for interventions to solve these crises is likelier to get diverted into the bank accounts of an unknown cabal before it is used to do good for Kenyans. And on days like this, I despair, because in my life I have yet to see this country in a functional state – the only baseline I have for when things used to (kind of) work are stories from my parents and their peers. And I ask myself why.
Why and how we find ourselves co-opted into the perpetuation of our own suffering, especially in this election year where the message was basically that “you may be dying because doctors are on strike, but make sure you register to vote!” Perhaps we are refusing more and more – we had a much lower registration turnout than was expected. Perhaps we are finally standing up against a system that impoverishes us and the people who perpetuate it. Moving forward, it would be beneficial to us all if we weighed every course of action in this way – does it cause more harm than good to the collective? If so, we are better off not pursuing it.
I am interested in seeing a Kenya that does what is good for its people, as opposed to what is expedient, or good for a few.
In the year 1989, American professor and civil rights advocate, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality. Intersectionality has since grown to take center-stage in feminist discourse, laying focus on the fact that the fight to rid the world of structural forms of oppression cannot be undertaken if we do not first recognize the layered ways in which certain people are stripped of their humanity. Intersectionality has been defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ”the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”
The basic premise of intersectionality is that human beings experience the world differently based on their own perceived identities as well as how society perceives them & their identities. It only then follows, that our political motivations are largely influenced by the politics of identity.
In the current Kenyan context, we can list the following economic demographics that majority of people identify with: the lower class (ma-sufferer), lower middle class (ma-hustler), the upper middle class and the wealthy (sonko/barbie). These intersect with identities tied to tribe, religion, gender, sexuality, age and even geographical affiliation such as urban/rural association (Born city/mshamba).
The explicit expression of the politics of identity and representation has ranged from the controversy that has surrounded the one-third gender rule to the outright disrespect, harassment and violence experienced by women contending for/in public office. We have seen this country battle with the question on identity and belonging – through the cessation politics that have consumed the Kenyan Coast (#PwaniSiKenya).
Further, by clawing on artistic expression e.g. banning material they have considered ‘immoral’ – (a shameless ruse to clamp down on minority groups such as LGBTQIA), the government has centered the ideology of identity politics. In a bid to control and define this thing they call “Kenyan” they have othered, ostracized and caused violence to many. And finally, in critiquing ‘social media activism’ which is one of the primary ways in which the Kenyan middle class participates in public politics – we are asking important questions regarding technology and economic access and how these factors are influencing the face of public politics in Kenya. In a nutshell, across all spheres, the politics of identity is one of the most powerful invisible forces within the electoral politics of Kenya.
I am particularly interested in the participation, role, influence and motivations of the Kenyan middle class in public politics in the face of a deteriorating economy and a government riddled with corruption scandals. There is literature and research devoted to the motivations behind participation in public and electoral politics – is it self-driven, social-identification driven or driven by altruism? There has been further research to understand the motivations of Kenyans who participate in the electoral voting system – are they driven by tribe, class or policies? Furthermore, it has been argued well and often that the middle class (due in part to the privileges and levels of political access they enjoy) has a civic duty toward democratization and the election of good leaders who ensure the protection & utilization of public resources and towards sustainable growth that benefits all.
Dear Kenyans, the politicians live in well-guarded houses, have bodyguards & armoured cars…as they whip up your emotions, hamko pamoja.
— Ory Okolloh Mwangi (@kenyanpundit) June 17, 2014
Assuming access to the internet oft comes with class privilege, then most of those shares and likes were presumably by Kenyans who identify as middle-class. In the face of bad governance will middle class Kenyans lay down their ethnic allegiances for their shared class and economic struggles?
On 31st October 2016, I received a message on one of my whatsapp groups, a message I have since seen doing the rounds on various other groups. The message set off with a list of 25 companies that have closed shop/moved headquarters to a different location and retrenched employees in the period between 2014 – 2016. The clincher of the message is a one-liner, an article whose headline calls to attention the grand allegations of graft that the Uhuru government has faced. What’s worse is the president’s admission that he is unable (unwilling?) to tackle corruption.
In addition, The World Bank reports that most job-creation happens in the informal and low-productivity sectors as well as the fact that Kenya’s economy has had lower growth and higher volatility than its peers in the period between 2013-2014. Inflation in the country is at an 8 month high driven by food items.
In middle-class Nairobi neighborhoods like Jamhuri, Madaraka and Lang’ata one comes up against the lost hopes and dreams of a middle-class life that we were birthed on, fed on and raised against. Buildings sprout on top of each other, survival for the fittest imagined only as a fight for space. There is a sense of suffocation. Everybody is trying to rent out whatever extra space they have. Perennial shortages of water, potholes and sewer/drainage problems. And yet- a government that deals in corruption with impunity and without accountability, a government that steals its own livelihood. Najihurumia kuwa Mkenya.
On social media, the rage is articulated eloquently and with some humor but will this translate to any behavioral change? Will this rage be put to work by changing the way in which middle class Kenya directs their political agency?
Bannon, Miguel & Posner question whether urbanization, industrialization, education, political mobilization, and competition for jobs deepen ethnic identities rather than weaken them, as individuals exploit their ethnic group memberships as tools for political, economic, and social advancement. Further, as the election period becomes more imminent ethnicity becomes more salient amongst respondents. Ethnicity becomes most salient were two or more equally sized groups are competing for power – a case obviously apparent in Kenya, where conversation around politics seems to teeter between Luo or Kikuyu.
Cheeseman argues that middle class Kenya acts as the conscience of the country – not in small part due to privileges afforded by good education & wealth. They are more likely to oppose the status quo and support the opposition. His research showed that while ethnicity determines which political party Kenyans pledge allegiance to (regardless of class), support for democracy was differentiated along class lines – with the middle class choosing to support democracy against authoritarian rule.
Given this context, how will middle class Kenya engage with the 2017 elections? Will they choose to wager a better individual livelihood through advantages brought about by tribal association? Or will they choose to seek for a greater common good – leaders who will work for all, govern towards a better Kenya for all Kenyans?
After all, what are we if not the choices we make?
Brenda Wakiagi is a shoemaker who reads while balancing anxieties about her bank account balance. Find her on twitter @notyourkato
 Time period: 2014- 2016
- Fluorspar laid off workers as Kenya Fluorspar company closed down in April. http://www.nation.co.ke/news/1056-3096142-7jv5q9z/index.html
- East Africa’s biggest broadcaster to close radio and TV stations in Kenya. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/30/nation-media-group-kenya-close-radio-and-tv-station
- Sameer tyre factory closure http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Sameer-mulls-tyre-factory-closure-as-cheap-imports-hit-market/539550-3153442-y9r0hgz/index.html
- Cadbury Kenya closed shop http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Cadbury-to-shut-Nairobi-factory-this-month/539550-2472588-c92n6/index.html
- Eveready East Africa, the biggest dry-cell battery maker in the region, shut its Nakuru factory. http://www.nation.co.ke/business/Eveready-finally-shuts-down-due-to-cheap-batteries/996-2469276-x2kcma/index.html
- Banking giant Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) formally exited Nairobi. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/HSBC-shuts-down-Nairobi-office-in-global-reorganisation/539552-2399560-4fbm1hz/index.html
- Reckitt & Benkiser, Procter & Gamble, Bridgestone, Colgate Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever have all relocated or restructured their operations mostly to Egypt or South Africa
- Tata Chemicals Magadi closed down its main factory in Kenya. http://info.shine.com/article/tata-chemicals-to-lay-off-200-employees-in-kenyan-soda-ash-plant/3603.html
- Coca-Cola Company downgraded its massive regional headquarters in Nairobi and relocated most of its operations to South Africa and Nigeria. http://www.nation.co.ke/news/Shake-up-in-Coca-Cola-leaves-trail-of-anxiety/1056-3297660-9b4hhez/index.html
- Barclays Africa shuts down Nairobi office over redundancy and moves to South Africa. http://www.nation.co.ke/business/Barclays-Africa-to-shut-down-Nairobi-office-over-redundancy/996-3034094-12sl196z/index.html
- Royal media lays off over 100 employees to cut costs. http://www.thespotlightnews.net/uncategorized/breaking-news-royal-media-sacks-100-employees-including/
- Sidian Bank staff layoffs point to a bigger issue with the Kenyan economy. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Sidian-Bank-staff-layoffs-pointer-to-looming-turmoil/539550-3428588-151f209z/
- Family Bank will lay off unspecified number of workers in a bid to cut costs. http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/sports/article/2000218304/family-bank-turns-to-layoffs-to-manage-costs
- StanChart Kenya lays off 167 as parent firm orders cost-cutting. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/StanChart-Kenya-lays-off-167-parent-firm-orders-cost-cutting/539550-3186366-11anaxj/index.html
- EABL to lay off 100 staff at main Kenya subsidiary due to high costs of operations. http://www.nation.co.ke/business/corporates/EABL-lay-off-100-staff-Kenya-subsidiary/-/1954162/2248840/-/15i3ckx/-/index.html
- Ericsson Kenya staff demand to know retrenchment terms (However this affected larger sub-saharan Africa). http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Ericsson-Kenya-staff-demand-to-know-retrenchment-terms/539550-3233736-aqhpucz/index.html
- Telkom Kenya to lay off 500 employees in fresh retrenchment wave Read more at: http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000185589/telkom-kenya-to-lay-off-500-employees-in-fresh-retrenchment-wave.
- Kenya Airways cuts 80 jobs in first phase of layoffs. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Kenya-Airways-says-to-lay-off-80-staff/539550-3284688-vicg4c/index.html
- Kenya Meat Commission lays off 119 employees in it’s rationalization of staff. http://kbctv.co.ke/blog/2016/07/07/kmc-lays-off-119-employees-in-its-staff-rationalization-plan/
- Mumias lays off 100 staff at closed water bottling plant. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Mumias-lays-off-100-staff-at-closed-water-bottling-plant/-/539550/2684890/-/k3yigb/-/index.html
- Equity Bank reports drop in staff costs as 660 workers exit. http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Equity-Bank-reports-drop-in-staff-costs-as-660-workers-exit/539552-3108438-1b3wht/index.html
- Co-op Bank sends 160 managers packing in cost-cutting measure. http://www.nation.co.ke/business/Coop-Bank-fires-160-in-cost-cutting-measure/996-2553174-vus32dz/index.html
- Agony for 2,600 workers as Karuturi flower firm shuts down Read more at: http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/business/article/2000200916/agony-for-2-600-workers-as-karuturi-flower-firm-shuts-down-amid-debts
- Oserian flower farm lays off 400 employees. http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2016/09/07/oserian-fl-ower-farm-to-lay-off-400-employees_c1415669
- Airtel lays off 60 employees. https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/ktn/m/video/2000102477/kenyas-second-largest-telecommunications-operator-airtel-kenya-lays-off-at-least-60-employees
I saw you in the news recently, looking visibly frustrated and complaining about corruption, as you like to do. I must say, you have really nailed the act. Well done. The delivery was quite sympathetic, and for a moment there, I almost fell for it. Allow me to quote you for reference.
“As president, if there is one issue that has frustrated me, it is this issue. And I will say why. Because the pressure is on me…Show me any one administration since independence that has taken action on corruption like I have done. I have removed everybody. I have done my part, at great expense also, political, by asking these guys to step aside…Then where do we go from there? They say, ‘I am innocent’. I don’t know where they are innocent or what, move aside…
I have taken the actions that I can take, within the Constitution. When we sit down, and I challenge all the agencies here, they say we don’t have the resources, we don’t have this and that. I challenge them here to stand up and say we have been denied the resources we need …The Judiciary, I even have no role. I challenged them and they went…but yet I stand accused that the executive is not doing enough. Ladies and gentlemen, what do you want me to do?
We have the Auditor-General who says Eurobond money had been stolen… What do you want me to do? I did not appoint you, I can’t even sack you. Corruption is just being used as a political circus. Do you expect me to go and set up a firing squad at Uhuru Park so that people can be happy? Are we not a country that respects the rule of law…? If we as Kenyans want to make progress, then we as Kenyans must do our part. The only question we should ask is, have we been given resources we need. And the answer is yes. Even in the last budget, we added you money…
And those charged with investigating. Stop the blame game…do your job.”
As you can imagine, people didn’t take this well. But I saw this for what it may actually be – a cry for help, and thought I should answer your questions.
It is true that this issue frustrates you. That is, if your facial expressions whenever you address the issue are to be believed. What is not true, however, is that there hasn’t been an administration that has taken action on corruption like yours has. You see, in the work most of us do, we measure outcomes to establish effectiveness. Thus your colleague could have worked for 2 hours and she generates 20 sales, while you worked for 5 and generate only 10, and you would not be able to tell your boss that you work harder than she does. Because that doesn’t mean anything for the bottom line. It’s sad, but that’s how things work. You sir, have corruption at between 25 and 27, (out of 100) based on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index. This is similar to Daniel arap Moi’s era, which many (including myself) would call a dictatorship. Do you work harder than Mr. Moi? Perhaps. But your results are the same, and given the direction we are going in, yours are getting worse. This is not a comparison we should even be able to make.
You are quite adept at pointing fingers and shirking personal responsibility, and you have done this with the Judiciary, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Auditor General, and your employer – Kenyans. You are one of the few people in the world who is able to fail to meet most of your performance targets (that you set for yourself, lucky you) and still get to keep your job, enjoy its benefits AND blame your employer. Imagine for a minute that the guards at State House let in thieves (oh, the database was down, CCTV wasn’t working) and blamed it on you. You’d laugh, right? These things could be true, but it is still their job to ensure that you and your staff are safe. They should be scrappy and figure out a way to do this anyway. That’s what you pay them for. You’d probably even fire them. So how come you don’t get this about your role?
You ask repeatedly what we want you to do – we want you to do your work. And that is the work of leadership. We are facing multiple challenges as a country – corruption, poverty, insecurity, inflation, poor infrastructure, unemployment, poor healthcare and education, violence against women – and are desperately in need of serious leadership to help us solve them.
You need to be able to have a bird’s eye view of the problem as opposed to being on the ground pointing fingers with everybody else. You of all people do not get to do this. The people have vested their power in you – you are the head of state, and you lead the executive branch of government. You do not get to complain like the ordinary citizen given all your power – that is patently unfair and quite possibly immoral. Once you have a bird’s eye view of the problem (by being on a higher ground), you will be able to spot the patterns that have brought us to this sad, sad place. These patterns may be operational, or they may be strategic. Can you imagine that by doing this alone, you will be able to identify the “mashetani dark forces” that plagued you in 2012? Not so bad, hey?
You are called to do greater than get caught up in the field of action – your work is that of a visionary. Do our value systems need to change? Our work systems? You need to set the stage for radical change, and set the people and events necessary in motion. You will inevitably run into a lot of pushback, and cause many people who benefit from the status quo distress. But that is how you actually know that what you’re doing is working. Your work is now to balance the levels of distress with the work that needs to happen. To ensure that people understand that with their positions in government, there are tradeoffs that will have to be made for progress. For each of them.
The first to go is the idea of exulted leadership. You and your staff instead need to embrace the idea of servant leadership, and realize that you serve at the pleasure of the Kenyan people, and are their agents. You need to unify them on this principle, rather than divide them by pointing fingers at them – that is no way to lead. You need to imbue them with the confidence to do their jobs. You need to protect the leadership and the voices of those that come from below you. Since you are the president that means everyone else in your government.
There are well meaning, effective people that are good at their jobs in government. Many. The reason they are not felt is because you have not given them the confidence, and the assurance, that you will have their backs as they do their jobs, even when their work means painful consequences for the powerful and those close to you. How do I know this? Because you may have asked people to step down, but what happens after that? Do they get arrested? Do they get prosecuted? Do they get jailed? Why is that? We haven’t seen you saying this at every event you attend: “Arrest, prosecute and jail corrupt public officials!” Why?
Instead, you fly to Israel to represent us, your employers, and call us “experienced in stealing and perpetuating other crimes.” How do you think this makes you look as the leader of such people? Especially given that members of your own family have been implicated in a multi-billion shilling theft scandal from the Ministry of Health? Or are you going to say you didn’t know? How can you have your lackeys busy saying that it is your family’s right to transact with government when it clearly goes against the law of the land? When companies like Safaricom are running competitions, they do not allow the relatives of people working in the organizations putting the competition together to participate, because they realize that there is a conflict of interest. Is Kenya not greater than Safaricom? Why are you so keen on hustling backwards?
You may say that what I ask of you is hard, but it has been done before. Successfully. There is no shortage of role models. You just need to look around our continent to see them. You have Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, and my favourite, Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara.
Thomas Sankara, who ruled for only four years and was only 37 when he was assassinated, embodied the transformational, accountable and revolutionary leader we need in our country today. He embodied the vision he had for the Burkinabe himself. He had high integrity, and thought deeply about the role of women in his society (he outlawed polygamy, FGM, forced marriages, and hired women to top positions in his government) and climate change (he launched a tree-planting program to stem the advance of the desert on fertile land, and more than 10 million trees were planted in its first year). He also fought actively against corruption and indebtedness to our former colonizers. He was a man of letters, who clearly articulated his thoughts and hopes for his people, and he was extremely committed to the spirit of nationhood, and to his people. (Please note that this doesn’t mean wearing a Kenyan-flag-themed wrist band and leaving it at that).
He believed strongly in the self-reliance of the Burkinabe, and of other African states. He eschewed foreign aid, fought for debt reduction and cancellation, reduced the IMF/World Bank footprint in his country, and championed local production and consumption of these goods/services over importation. He enabled every village in Burkina Faso to build a medical dispensary, and over 350 communities to build schools using their own labour. He built almost 100 km of rail with little external assistance, and total cereal production rose by 75% between 1983 and 1986 (they were plagued by food scarcity before that).
Thomas Sankara knew that leadership started with him. He was disciplined, and voluntarily declared his assets and handed over to the treasury the gifts he received during his travels. He also made it clear to his relatives that they were not going to receive special treatment because he was president. He also did not engender any fanfare due to his presidency – and was keen to lead an average life. He even slashed his salary to US $450, making him the lowest paid leader in the world at the time. This is not to say that he was not without flaws – he had many, but he also took responsibility for them. Nobody wants you to be perfect, either.
This is the kind of leadership our country needs if we are to have a chance at becoming the people we say we want to be. If we are to live the dream the Mau Mau fought for. Our freedom is not free – many lives were lost so that we could have this country, and each day our country operates as it does is another day we spit on the graves of those who died, and in the faces of those who fought that are still alive.
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
You need to take up the mantle of accountability yourself. We need a great leader, and there is still enough time for that to be you. Remember that history is very unforgiving, and will judge you harshly for your failings of the Kenyan people. What you will have done and failed to do will not be undone. There will be no one singing your songs, and we will see you plainly for who you were, and there will be many others to compare you with. Some who, like Thomas Sankara, chose greatness. I hope you do the same.