The evolution of man has seen us explore various ways of existing – from hunting and gathering to feudalism, to capitalism as supported by democracy, which is where we currently linger, wondering what comes next, because this no longer seems to be working. According to Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, we are first and foremost concerned with our survival, thus making the first law of nature self-preservation. The second law is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
This forms the basis of the social contract, where he concludes that it is rational for human beings to give up some liberty in order to gain the security of self-preservation. In the modern world, this security is provided by the state. There is a mutual transference implied here: citizens of the state give up some of their natural right and live under a prescribed framework in return for security/self-preservation. The prevailing system for this is the democracy, which is built upon social contract theory (government of the people, by the people, for the people). Democracy can be thought of as freedom institutionalized – defined and enforced.
To this end, we have the arms of government: the legislature to represent the people and make the law, the executive to administer it, and the judiciary to adjudicate and interpret the law. In Kenya, the legislature and executive have long been known to be corrupt, but recently, we have learned that this rot is extensive in the judiciary as well. In January 2016, it was reported:
The Judiciary was yesterday jolted by claims that a senior judge received money to influence a case at the highest court in the land… Justice Tunoi is alleged to have received two million dollars (Sh200 million) in order to influence an election petition against Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, filed by election challenger Ferdinand Waititu.
In February, additional reports surfaced that stated:
In a tweet on Saturday, senior counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi called the Supreme Court’s integrity into question, when he claimed that more judges of the highest court in the land may have benefited from the alleged bribe. Abdullahi said via Twitter on Saturday evening that the bribe “is not $2million (Sh200m). It is about $3m (Sh300m)”. He further claimed that Sh200 million was for four judges, whereby two were paid separately.
It is worth noting that Kenya’s Supreme Court consists of a bench of seven: a Chief Justice, a Deputy Chief Justice and five other judges. If Ahmednasir’s claims are true, then the Supreme Court, the greatest court in our state, is deeply tainted by corruption as more than half of its judges have taken bribes.
Just this week, the Deputy Chief Justice, Kalpana Rawal, was named in what is currently the largest leak of confidential documents, the Panama Papers, as a power player dodging tax obligations through the use of tax havens. The papers say:
Rawal and her husband were directors of two companies based in the British Virgin Islands, prior to her joining the nation’s Supreme Court. The family used other offshore companies to buy and sell real estate in London and nearby Surrey. Montague Real Estate SA was used in 2004 to buy a London flat for $1.12 million, which they sold in 2006. Innovate Global Limited was used to buy a house in Surrey for $2.74 million and a London apartment which they bought for $967,000 in 2004 and sold for $1.62 million in 2013. Through Arklyn International Limited, they bought another two London apartments, one bought for $1.66 million in 2005 and sold for $2.23 million in 2011, and the other bought for $1.57 million in 2005 and sold for $2.15 million in 2012.
This comes after our Chief Justice, Willy Mutunga, who is about to retire, characterized Kenya as being a bandit economy. Whoever is fighting this battle against Kenya’s institutions/government is surely winning, because if even the courts, which as recently as 2013 had to decide the outcome of a general election petition can be corrupt, then who in power isn’t? Where can Kenyans turn? Who can be believed? How do we fix our country? Or is David Ndii correct when he says that Kenya is a cruel marriage, and it’s time we talked divorce? Because our state is clearly not delivering on its end of the social contract, and we may just be in it because of duress, or nostalgia.
The state of our judiciary, and indeed our other arms of government, leaves me with many questions. Are the Kenyan people really sovereign? Do we really consent the government of those in power? Is what happens in Kenya majority rule – is this what most people want? Do people who are not part of this majority have protected and guaranteed rights? Is everyone in Kenya entitled to basic human rights? Are we equal before the law, or are some people more equal than others as in Animal Farm? Are our elections free and fair – can our judiciary guarantee this? Are we guaranteed due process when senior-most members of our judiciary are implicated in corruption when they are supposed to be beyond reproach? Are we moving back into the 1990s when we had an almost totalitarian state? If we are unable to answer all these questions in the affirmative, then we have a major problem. Perhaps it’s time we rethought our social contract.
It has emerged that the amount of money lost in the NYS scandal (according to a report seen by The Nation) could be as much as KES 1.66 billion, up from the previously reported KES 791 million. The extra amount, as much as KES 869,000,000, is thought to have been paid to an additional 15 companies, and is currently under investigation by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), though we all know how that will probably go.
According to an affidavit sworn by one of the accused, Ms. Josephine Kabura, the Banking Fraud Investigations Unit (BFIU) of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the EACC, two of the bodies charged with investigating this theft, took part in committing the crimes and/or covering them up. Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) has now been drafted into the government created taskforce to investigate the matter (taking over from the DCI and EACC), and claims that the amounts owed by companies mentioned in the NYS theft for income tax and value added tax chargeable on payments are KES 352 million and KES 850.4 million respectively.
It may be hard to visualize what the amounts that are constantly being mentioned in the media as having been stolen from Kenyans by their public officials can do. Perhaps this is why we haven’t seen more sustained public action regarding these thefts: either we are fatigued by the cycle of corruption in Kenya, or do not really understand how much of our livelihood is being taken from us by people we elect, and the people they appoint to serve us. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is also currently investigating or prosecuting 88 high profile cases that involve theft of public property in one form or another.
To illustrate the impact of this theft, I will show what KES 1.6 billion (since this is the scandal that will define Uhuru Kenyatta’s first term as president) can do for this country based on a manifesto presented to us by the Jubilee coalition when they went around the country asking for our votes. We will see how many of their flagship projects could have been achieved already with prudent management of our money.
One of the goals the Jubilee coalition had was to resettle the remaining internally displaced persons (IDPs) resulting from post-election violence, the Mau Forest eviction, among other Kenyan tragedies. KES 1 billion was released to go towards resettling the last 5,261 households still in the camps, after which the camps are to be closed. The money stolen from us in the NYS scandal would comfortably have paid for this, and left KES 660 million in spare change.
To improve our security, the Jubilee coalition set as one of its goals the improvement of police pay and conditions of service. This would improve the service they give, and perhaps reduce the brutality occasioned on Kenyans by unhappy/uncaring police officers. According to a new salary structure proposed late last year, a police constable would earn a basic pay of KES 32,880. The 1.66 billion stolen from us would be enough to pay 4,207 police constables for a year. Given that Kenya needs a minimum of 95,000 police officers, up from the current 50,000 (to satisfy the one police for every 450 citizens ratio recommended by the UN), this would reduce our shortage by almost 10% in a year. Their goal in the manifesto is to recruit 15,000 police officers a year, and this would get them 28% closer to that goal. The government also said it intended to spend KES 25 billion improving security. As at July 2015, a quarter (KES 1.6 trillion) of the 2014/15 budget could not be accounted for. KES 25 billion would be 1.56% of this amount. The manifesto put special emphasis on CCTV as a means of improving security. The stolen KES 1.66 billion would be enough to cover 11% of the KES 15 billion tender awarded to Safaricom towards the installation of 1,800 damage proof CCTV cameras, as well as 60 LTE base stations in Nairobi and 20 in Mombasa, connecting 195 police stations in both areas to high speed internet to ease communication.
Health and education are also important pillars of the Jubilee manifesto, with improved pay packages for doctors and other medical practitioners mentioned as one of their goals. Based on a collective bargaining agreement arrived at between the doctors’ union and the government, the lowest paid doctor was supposed to earn KES 180,000 in basic pay per month, up from KES 60,000. KES 1.66 billion would be enough to pay 768 such doctors the pay they deserve for a year.
They also resolved to provide free mosquito nets to all families who need them. Mosquito nets are estimated to cost KES 255 (USD 2.50), last for 3 – 4 years, and protect an average of two people. KES 1.66 billion would be enough to buy over 6.5 million mosquito nets, protecting over 13 million Kenyans from malaria, and saving between 26,000 and 130,000 children’s lives.
The Jubilee coalition set as one of its goals the decrease of the student – teacher ratio to 40:1. Given that we have a shortage of almost 150,000 teachers, and that the Ministry of Education estimates that it would need KES 15.4 billion to recruit 40,000 teachers, KES 1.66 billion would be able to hire 4,311 teachers, leading to a 2.9% reduction. They also set out to provide free milk to every primary school going child, which is estimated to cost up to KES 154 billion per annum for about 12 million children. At an estimated cost of KES 12,833.33 per child per annum, KES 1.66 billion would provide 129,350 primary school children with milk for a year.
To improve social welfare, they set out to provide guaranteed free water supplies to those living in informal settlements pending slum upgrades. As at July 2015, according to UN Habitat, 56% of Kenyans live in slums. Since our population is estimated at 47,217,197 people, this would mean that 26,441,630 people live in slums. The average home uses about 100 litres of water a week. If buying in jerricans, this costs KES 50 per 20 litre jerrican, making it KES 250 a week, and KES 13,000 a year. If buying from a water ATM such as the one in Mathare slums, the cost reduces to KES 2.50 a week, and KES 130 a year. KES 1.66 billion would provide (assuming water ATMs are installed in all informal settlements) 12.77 million households with free, clean water for a year.
These are a few of the ways in which we are robbed by public servants; this is how they steal from us and leave us to die. When will this change? When you and I decide that enough is enough. Until then, the hustle continues.
Kenyans have long accepted the torrid nature of the police service, with the 2014 Transparency International (Kenya) East Africa Bribery Index Report ranking them as first in Kenya on a composite index (resulting from five different indicators of the survey: likelihood of bribery, prevalence of bribery, average size of bribe, share of national bribe and impact of bribery. The range of the index is between 0 and 100). They scored 68, up from 60 the previous year. Second was land services at 55.
Having experienced horror at the hands of the Lands Office, the fact that the police service was 13 points above them on the scale was shocking, until I thought about it carefully. Harassment and brutality by the police is a common occurrence in Kenya. To the extent that it has become like a droning background noise that one gets so used to, it’s almost as if it isn’t there. Except that it is.
Many of us have had the police arrest us at spots on the road they have deliberately set up to shake us up for bribes. We have been arrested for merely being out at night. We have had the police accept bribes of KES 500 – 1000 from matatu drivers who have no business being on the roads, with no regard for the 14 – 48 people who may be in the matatu. They have allowed sexual harassers and assaulters to get away scot free even when they could have done something. The police have also been known to mete out brutality against those they believe are lesser than; those whose pain they think they can get away with causing; whose lives they consider disposable.
Kwekwe Mwandaza was one such person. At 2 am on August 21st 2014, Kwekwe, aged 14, was shot dead while she slept at her home in Mwawewu Village, Kinango (Kwale County). Eight police officers raided their home looking to arrest her uncle, George Zani, an alleged murder suspect. The officers claim that she attacked them with a panga, suggesting that they killed her in self-defense. Apparently, she injured one police officer (whom they could not identify) and damaged a gun. They with their guns, against a child with a panga. Her two cousins who were in the house at the time gave a different version of events, recounting how the officers broke their door and threw teargas inside. As the family choked, they opened fire. Kwekwe died in her bed according to her then eight year old cousin George Mgandi. She had attacked no one.
She was buried hurriedly at her father’s homestead without her mother’s consent, yet her mother was her guardian since she and Kwekwe’s father separated. Her body had to be exhumed for a post mortem, which happened only after much protest from lobbyists and her family. The two officers were later arrested and charged for her murder after orders came from the Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) office.
In February 2016, Kinango Divisional Criminal Investigation Officer (DCIO) Veronicah Gitahi and Constable Issa Mzee were found recklessly negligent for shooting in darkness without establishing who the victims were, and found guilty of manslaughter. They were both handed 7 year jail sentences. Justice Martin Muya, who handed out this sentence, considered it to be a statement against police impunity and misuse of guns against innocent civilians. The State, in one of its few displays of integrity, however plans to appeal this sentence because it finds it too lenient (the State had charged the two officers with murder).
Indeed, statements such as these against police impunity and brutality towards civilians are desperately needed. On January 19th 2015, pupils at Langata Road Primary School protested against the grabbing of their school’s playground by “private developers.” Some adult well-wishers joined the protest, and when the police came to disperse it, they thought it was appropriate to throw teargas at innocent children who were holding a peaceful protest. The officers also brought dogs. Several children were injured in what was an unnecessary and excessive use of force by the police.
On February 15th 2016, Kelvin Macharia, who was 16 years old, was shot outside a chemist in Embu as the police tried to disperse a crowd that had gathered to lynch a pastor who had been found sleeping with a local businessman’s wife. Kelvin was taken to Embu Level 5 Hospital, where he died as he waited to be attended to. One wonders why the police had to use live bullets to disperse the mob – was this excessive use of force necessary?
Because of the banality of brutality and harassment by the Kenyan police, perhaps we do not often enough think about the irreparable effects it has on our society and our way of life. We live our lives knowing that we are one tragedy away from the fates of Kwekwe and Macharia. You could be in your bed sleeping, or outside a chemist waiting for your medicine while you meet your death at the hands of the police. No one is safe – even your privilege can’t save you from a stray bullet.
The psychological damage on the families of those affected, those present at the scenes of these incidents and the nation at large is untold. These people experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety attacks, substance abuse or even suicidal tendencies, and given the state of mental healthcare in Kenya, their needs tend to go unmet, yet it is agents of the State who have inflicted this pain, so the State has an obligation to provide for those needs.
The resources that end up being spent on investigating these cases could be put to better use, especially in a country that is in Kenya’s economic state, and the damage to property that Kenyans have worked hard to own is entirely unavoidable, if only the police treated all Kenyans as deserving of human dignity, and not as disposable bodies.
To counter this breaking of our spirits and our bodies, it is important that it be imparted upon the police the importance of non-violent approaches (unless there was none at all they could use, and even then, they should use minimal force). It cannot be that it is acceptable for the police to teargas and kill innocent children, or anyone else for that matter. They must also be taught ethics, which would serve to guide them as they do their work.
We must clearly define what meets the threshold for police brutality and punish it accordingly. In Kwekwe’s case, the officers involved insisted that their shooting was necessary, and that the force had not been excessive. It is time we accepted that police brutality and harassment in Kenya is a big issue, and took conscious steps to solve it. The consequences of police brutality and harassment should also be dire (such as long jail sentences), and applied uniformly regardless of the stature of the victim. This will deal with the notion that some Kenyans are disposable. We must uphold the humanity and the rights of all Kenyans, chief of which is the right to life – a right that police brutality directly interferes with.
Corruption scandals have become a “fact of life” for many Kenyans, who have come to regard them as just another facet of Kenyan life, alongside high taxes, poor service delivery, our “cult of personality” approach to politics and religion, and the misfortunes occasioned to us by terrorism. These burdens seem to be ours for the long haul, and we seem to have accepted them, albeit half-heartedly. It is tiresome to watch or listen to the news; even being on Twitter at a time when one was not prepared for shock or disappointment can derail one’s entire day. A useful activity (for me) has been to see if these scandals follow any particular pattern. Indeed, they do.
A source leaks to the media/the judiciary/the ombudsman/an external authority some information that is supposed to shake us to the core. For example:
The Judiciary was yesterday jolted by claims that a senior judge received money to influence a case at the highest court in the land… Justice Tunoi is alleged to have received two million dollars (Sh200 million) in order to influence an election petition against Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, filed by election challenger Ferdinand Waititu. (The Standard)
It is now official, the National Youth Service (NYS) lost Sh791 million in a scandal allegedly involving six companies. Devolution and Planning Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru, under whose docket the NYS is placed, said she received a reply letter from the Director of Criminal Investigations attesting to the fraud following submission of her probe request in June. (The Standard)
Based on the report(s) in question, Kenyan people collectively lose their minds, wondering how public servants can be so corrupt/callous/immoral/brazen, and do not hesitate to express these views on any platform that has a text box and a submit/comment/tweet/send/update button. To witness this phenomenon in action, one only needs to visit the comment section of any newspaper website (especially on the articles that cover such scandals) or have a Twitter or Facebook account. If one is more old school, this can be witnessed on Nipate, Wazua or Mashada, as well as call ins to radio and TV station polls.
This is not to say that the outrage is not valid, or important; it is. Only that we are in a state of permanent outrage, because Kenyans offline and online get worn out screaming themselves hoarse about one corruption scandal to the next, leaving us with little energy to pursue matters to completion and hold corrupt officials accountable as they should be.
At this stage, the accused and those partial to him/her come out to vehemently refute the claims, and make accusations of their own. For example:
Embattled Supreme Court Judge Philip Tunoi on Monday sought to clear his name in the wake of allegations that he received a Sh200 million bribe to influence a ruling in an election petition. In an affidavit filed with a special committee of the Judicial Service Commission, Justice Tunoi said the allegations against him were “fiction” and that they were made by “elements within the Judiciary” who did not wish to disclose their identities. (The Nation)
The embattled Devolution and National Planning Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru has ruled out stepping aside over the National Youth Service scandal. Speaking on Citizen TV on Tuesday night, Ms Waiguru said people do not step aside because they have been told to step aside on the street. “How can they ask me to step aside when I blew the whistle? I’m the one who called CID,” said the CS, adding that just because an organization has been touched by corruption doesn’t mean that its head must resign. She added that all state organs and private companies have in one way or the other been touched by corruption allegations. (The Nation)
It is important to deflect blame to parties that cannot and must not be named that are invested in tarnishing your name because of your good work. You must offer an alternative explanation that boggles any sane mind, and stand by it without breaking into laughter.
The Pretense of Justice
This is the stage at which organs of the state pretend to care about what happened and attempt to “get to the bottom of the matter.” Tribunals/committees/commissions of inquiry are formed, and investigations proceed promising justice to Kenyans for the vast sums of money that have undoubtedly gone missing. For example:
Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) CEO Mumo Matemu has revealed that investigation on various Anglo-Leasing contracts were still on-going. Matemu said the operationalization of the law on Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) would assist the commission to broaden its investigations into the matter. He affirmed that whatever else happens the investigations must not be compromised but instead be brought to a logical conclusion leading to prosecution of the perpetrators. “Investigations are at a critical stage and I cannot discuss particulars without giving hints to the people we are investigating because we know they are good at that because we do not want anyone running faster than us.” (The Standard)
Kenya’s anti-graft agency is on the spot over its handling of the ‘chickengate’ scandal given that it is now more than a year since a London court convicted the British directors who paid out bribes codenamed ‘chicken’ totalling Sh53 million to Kenyan electoral and examination officials. The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is still asking for more time to carry out investigations, yet the Southwark Crown Court in London has already jailed the Smith & Ouzman (S&O) executives who gave out the hefty bribes. (The Business Daily)
At this point, it is important for the people tasked with solving the issue to blame factors beyond their control and ask for more time, hoping (this has proven to be a very successful strategy) that we forget after some time.
The Getting Away With It
After giving many excuses, the people tasked with “getting to the bottom of the matter” ultimately fail, as we have come to expect. Investigations hit a brick wall, there is lack of cooperation/evidence from key parties, or, the people mentioned in the scandal are acquitted in the courts. For example:
Goldenberg architect Kamlesh Pattni on Friday walked out of Milimani Magistrate court a free man after all criminal charges against him were formally terminated. Criminal charges against Pattni were terminated by the Magistrate court following the judgment by High Court that absolved Mr Pattni and his associated firms from the Goldenberg scandal. The case was struck out by Chief Magistrate Waweru Kiarie following Mr Pattni’s application that the court terminates the case in compliance with High Court orders. (The Business Daily)
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) has cleared former Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Kimemia of allegations that he had allocated himself and his close relatives 31 government vehicles. In a statement, EACC Chief Executive Officer Halakhe Waqo said the commission had recommended that the file containing the charges be closed due to lack of evidence. (The Business Daily)
This is when the parties accused of corruption/terrible behaviour utilize the media and anyone who will give them space to clean up their image and attempt to get back into the public’s good graces. Television appearances are made, especially at prime time, for maximum effect. Newspaper opinion articles written by the accused are published, and hashtag battalions are deployed on the internet to achieve maximum rehabilitation. For example:
Deputy President William Ruto on Tuesday evening used a live television show to defend himself and the government from allegations of corruption and insecurity. Appearing on the “Big Question” on Citizen TV, Mr Ruto accused political detractors of being “jealous” of his political success and insisted the Jubilee government was working to deliver on their manifesto. From the chaos at the anti-corruption commission to the saga of Lang’ata Road Primary School and back to the scandal at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Mr Ruto maintained the same line of innocence, accusing political opponents of dragging his name and that of the Jubilee administration into the scandals. (The Nation)
The Political Career
At this stage, given the millions worth of free coverage the accused has received from traditional and new media, and given the adage “All publicity is good publicity/there is no such thing as bad publicity”, the parties mentioned are ready to vie for political office, and the worst part is that they usually get elected. For example:
Former Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru has said she is yet to make a decision on her gubernatorial bid in 2017. Waiguru said she is consulting with experienced politicians who have approached her, businessmen and religious leaders before she clears the air on her said candidature. Speaking after attending a church service in Komarock, Nairobi Sunday, the former CS said her plan is to interact with the youth and women in their communities in order to know their needs and desires before making an informed decision. “Being a governor is a job for the people. So one cannot just wake up one day and decide to run. With the counsel from politicians and other leaders, I will be able to let the people know of the outcome,” she said. (The Standard)
After this, these corrupt persons acquire even more power and become godfathers and mentors to future thieves, creating pipelines for themselves (and their cronies) to continue draining this country of its wealth in exchange of zero work performed. The fact that corruption in Kenya runs on this predictable script is worrisome, and boring, and puts us at a high risk of state collapse due to indifference in some Kenyans, admiration of the corrupt in others, and exasperation in the majority. As Chief Justice Willy Mutunga said, we are living in a bandit economy, it’s about time we changed that.
On Saturday, 12th December 2015, Kenya celebrated 52 years of being a republic. We had our usual annual celebration where Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the nation and expressed a sense of optimism that is becoming more and more scarce as we continue to awaken to just how badly we are doing as a nation – socially, politically and economically.
He cited many triumphs, remembering the forefathers who build our nation, and the youth who have since inherited said nation. Except that most of the people who fought for our freedom (that are still alive) live in poverty, and the Kenyan youth aged 15 – 34, who make up 35% of the population, have an unemployment rate of 67%. The troops he celebrates for their bravery and integrity, and their work in the “liberation” of Somalia from terrorism are often accused of profiting from the same illegal trade deals that also financially support Al Shabaab. These are the same troops that were accused of looting Westgate Mall in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
He named our athletes and innovators as shining examples of our excellence, forgetting that these athletes are robbed of their potential glory by sports officials in acts that his government conveniently ignores, and that we are becoming mired with failed doping tests which his government is just beginning to take seriously. The innovators he hails for developing new technologies and business models are still crippled by poor financial policy such as the VAT Act 2013 and lofty assumptions in the 2015/16 budget that may not become a reality.
National income per head is said to have grown to more than 13 times what it was fifty years ago, yet inflation has outpaced it at 7.32% by November 2015, yet 50 years ago it was – 0.10%. Hardly comparable. He hailed us as one of Africa’s most attractive investment destinations, something some scholars have disputed with good reason. In 50 years, our life expectancy has only increased by 12 years, compared to countries like India and Ethiopia, whose life expectancies have increased by almost double that figure (23 years).
He went on to speak about how we have made strides in education. Quantitatively, this is true: almost 10 million children are enrolled in primary school, we have more than 7,000 secondary schools now as compared to 151 in 1963, and we have more than 60 universities now as compared to zero in 1964, according to his speech. However, what is the quality of this education? We have written about this before on this site.
While Uhuru Kenyatta did apologize for the wrongs committed against each other on behalf of the Kenyan government in his State of The Nation address earlier in the year, to dismiss the pain and anger that many Kenyans feel and urge us to look forward is to be asleep to how much we have suffered, and what we are feeling. Indeed, one only needed to watch the TJRC proceedings to witness this pain, and realize that there is a case for reparations in Kenya, and that they are more urgent than we think. He apologized so that we could “accept and move on.” If only it were that simple.
He claimed that his administration was implementing the constitution quickly and decisively, yet he and his government have severally flouted the same constitution. The one thing we cannot argue with is the rate at which electricity connections have increased, from 28% to more than 50% in three years, with primary schools being the main target. We have also added 280 MW of geothermal power to the national grid. He spoke of the contentious Standard Gauge Railway being 60% complete as an achievement for Kenya, despite there being good arguments for the inefficiency and marginal utility of this railway.
Uhuru mentioned the benefits of devolution, such as the 24 hour economy in Kisii after the installation of 300 solar lights, the feeding programme for children up to Standard Three in Mombasa, the first C-section in Mandera, and the opening of the first medical training college by a county government in Kapenguria, West Pokot. I found this interesting, because his government has been accused of undermining devolution often.
In his spirit of “accepting and moving on” he mentioned that Garissa University would be reopened soon, never mind that not enough has been done by the President and his government to help the nation move on from the pain caused by that attack. He made promises to do all that is within his power to protect us and defeat the enemy, but given that he is one to always have the right response but not act in the right way, I am not quick to feel safe.
Perhaps the saddest yet most laughable part of the speech was when he spoke of corruption, a monster we seem unable to defeat in Kenya. He was right in saying that corruption is corrosive; that it brings with it destructive ethnic politics that associate public office with accumulation of wealth; that corruption kills. However, that is where we part ways. He declared a national campaign against corruption, and the whole time I asked myself, “how sir, when the culprits play right under your nose? Do you mean to tell us you cannot see them?” I feel we are being taken for yet another ride.
To attempt to list all the corruption scandals that have occurred since he took office in 2013 is to seek exhaustion – the poor state of our nation is known by heart by almost every Kenyans except those who are cushioned by their wealth – many of whom have acquired it illegally. He claimed that KES 2.24 billion of corruptly acquired money and property had been frozen or recovered. This sounds encouraging until you realize that Kenya cannot account for KES 450 billion (a quarter) of its 2014/15 budget. He stated that 337 corruption related cases were in court, and that 68 of those involved powerful people, but which powerful Kenyan has ever gone to jail for corruption, even within his term so far?
He claimed to believe in media freedom, yet as we remember, he is the same one who said that newspapers are good for wrapping meat. He attempted to play victim to the media, claiming that lies and sensation for the sake of sales hurt our economy, our cohesion, and our nation’s name. No sir, bad governance is killing our country. Lack of leadership is killing our country. Corruption is killing our country. Tribalism is killing our country. Most of all, poverty is killing our country. Work on fixing them as opposed to embellishing the state of Kenya.
On Friday the 30th of October, in the morning, I was driving through the traffic from Syokimau headed towards Mukuru via Mombasa road and turning to join Enterprise Road. On a normal day, it would have taken 15-20 minutes. On this day, however, it took me 45 minutes to arrive at the Enterprise Road junction and even longer to reach Mukuru, where I was to host one of my mentors and a very important guest to my organization. As I approached the General Motors stage, I could see an unusually high number of policemen at the junction (normally, it is one cop on a motorbike) checking cars, insurance stickers and pulling trucks aside. I thought it was a normal operation; certain that all my documents, tires and car were in mint condition, I had no reason to worry.
In the process of stopping cars at a junction at rush hour, traffic was bound to be slow and as a result, the lane joining Enterprise Road was jam packed. Exiting Mombasa Road onto Enterprise Road required changing lanes towards the left until one got space to pass. Little did I know that the operation by the police was a decoy to cause traffic jam and ultimately arrest motorists for “changing lanes and causing obstruction.”
If this sounds weird, it’s because it is; that’s what I was charged with and it messed up my whole day. Had I done the usual (allowed the cop into the car, driven off a few meters, negotiated a bribe and then dropped him off so that he could arrest another motorist and return to base) this would not have been the case.
Instead, I questioned the rationale for my arrest, offered to drive back and re-enact the scenario to be corrected lest I was the one who didn’t go to a proper driving school, asked for a summons to appear in court, and then asked for the option of bail. All were denied. Instead, the cop insisted and opened the door without permission and rode in my car.
On my ride with the sergeant, I tried to reason with him. The more I showed him that there were better ways of being a good cop who maintained a good relationship with the community, the more he got annoyed. He said “Unajifanya mjuaji? You will not even get the cash bail, it is not your right. I can decide whether to give it or not give it.” That’s how my fate was sealed. Two other cars that had been instructed to go to Industrial Area police station along with mine never reached the station. I wonder what happened to them.
I arrived at the booking desk and was made aware that there was still the option of “kuongea na ofisa mzuri”, meaning that I could pay a bribe before my name was written in the Occurrence Book (OB). I was not in the mood for this; my day had already been ruined and I wanted to test the system and see what happens when one goes all the way to the court. While locked in a holding cell, I reflected and came to the conclusion that our justice system is so complicated that it propagates corruption, and that even the strong (who would normally say no to corruption) are tempted to bribe multiple times.
While in the holding cell, I overheard several conversations with the boss. Some policemen would come to argue on someone’s behalf, the boss would receive strange phone calls, and one by one, people were released and I was left with only three other offenders.
I was arrested at 8.04 am and was in a holding cell until after 10.00 am waiting for the pick-up’s capacity to be reached before we could be taken to court. I was the first person to be locked up, and 10 other people joined me in the cell, but by the time we were reaching the Milimani Law courts, we were only three. One person (a Ugandan truck driver) was released enroute to the court. It was so comical that even the police who were guarding us found it amusing. “How can they release him here? What if someone has a camera and takes a photo or video? Can’t they find even somewhere hidden? It’s even better for them if they reach the court and come back with him if they have been “sorted”, let them not involve us in this and it is them who know what they have received.” The “they” referred to here are the driver and the senior officer who were sitting at the front.
While at the basement of the Milimani Law Courts, I got to experience the court holding cells. Before entering the cells, numbered 1-10, you have to go and relieve yourself, because there is no other opportunity. The toilets are filthy, and the stench hits you immediately you enter the basement.
At the reception area, the policemen there approach different people with the offer to make their charges disappear, or make them not have to stand trial. I was approached by a lady who told me “Your case is simple. Depending on the mood of the magistrate, you could be fined KES 10,000 – 20,000. So why go all the way to the court? You might be held here for up to three hours, then once you get to court, you will waste two more hours. Basically, your day will be gone. I can talk to the lady who brought you in and your file can be withdrawn.”
The two others we were arrested with found their freedom this way, and were escorted from the basement to the outside of the courts without standing trial. What does this tell us? For every Kenyan appearing in court for a traffic offence, it is possible that nine others were arrested but bribed their way out or used people in higher authority to free themselves. On that Friday I was that one.
I hope there are a thousand others who are willing to stand by their principles and say no to corruption. Sadly, I am made to understand that what I suffered is a ritual.
Every day, there are targets for the number of people to be taken to the court no matter what happens. There are those who must bribe for the weekly target to be reached, and there are those who are released without paying a cent because the cop has been called by a friend, a relative or someone from above. The targets for weekends, end month, or when the schools are about to open are much higher than those for normal days, I have learned.
Who do we blame for this? Is this how we want to run our justice system? Is this how we want to run our country? No wonder a government official can openly admit that all three arms of the government are corrupt with almost no consequence. We need to go back the basics. Let us unlearn this culture of corruption. Let us teach our children about corruption and the ills it brings into our society. Let us have courageous people who can say no to corruption.
Dennis Ochieng is a development worker and an Acumen East Africa Fellow, 2015. Follow him on Twitter @OchiengKOpiyo
Mythology has it that human life is priceless – this sentiment has been reinforced as long as I can remember and is taken as a basic human truth. It is echoed in the Bible when King Solomon had to determine the mother of a child and did so by ordering that the child be split with each woman claiming the maternity of the child receiving half. The true mother of the child pleaded that the child not be cut in half – she preferred that it be given to the other woman rather than die in such a manner – while the other woman saw no problem with the splitting of the child. The child’s mother got her child due to her acknowledgement of the pricelessness of her child’s life.
Closer home, the pricelessness of a life – especially a Kenyan life – has never been more in question. I am reminded of several times when I have been in a matatu which has been caught on the wrong side of the law, and when stopped by the police, the driver offers a bribe of no more that KES 1,000 and gets away scot free, putting the lives of 14 to 30 people at risk. In this case, the value that has been placed on each of their lives ranges from KES 33 to 71. I am reminded of rumours that Kenyan passports have been sold to non-citizens for as little as KES 100,000. Perhaps some of these buyers go on to commit crimes such as Garissa attack, which kill 147 students. What is the value of a Kenyan life then? KES 680?
I am also reminded of when Pastor Ng’ang’a, a prominent Christian leader, was accused of driving while drunk on the wrong side of the road in a car whose insurance had expired and hitting a car in Limuru, killing a woman and leaving her husband seriously injured. He allegedly fled from the scene of the accident, having been rescued by his friends, and bribed the police to be released (and to cook up a terrible cover up). The story became that the car was being test driven by someone else under a General Dealers License, with valid insurance, when the accident occurred. This goes contrary to all eye witness reports of the accident. This story came directly from the Inspector General of the Police Service, who seemed to have forgotten his mandate to serve and to protect Kenyans. Pastor Ng’ang’a was then hosted on Citizen TV’s prime time TV show to give his side of the story. The victim’s family received no such privilege. I wonder what the value of her life was.
In economics, there exists a measure known as the Value of a Statistical Life (VSL). It is based on several factors, such as health, safety, environmental regulation, attitudes towards risk, wage premiums for risky jobs, among others. This value is a cost-benefit analysis of how much it costs to save a life. In his paper, Variations between Countries in Values of Statistical Life, Ted R. Miller finds that the VSL of a person is usually around 120 times the GDP per capita of the country they live in, with some variation. The GDP per capita of Kenya is US$ 1,358.30 as at 2014, bringing the VSL in Kenya to US$ 162,996 (KES 17,171,547.10). There exist other models to establish the VSL, but few make it so simple to compare countries across the board. Why is it that a Kenyan life is theoretically valued at a price that has not been reflected anywhere in how Kenyans are treated? Why is it that everywhere we look, we are met with signs that we are disposable, that our lives do indeed have a price – and it is negligible?
The normalization of corruption, violence and death has brought us to a place where we have lost our humanity, and our sense of empathy. Certain lives, especially those of poor people, have been thought of as disposable, and as such, when they are lost, be it to terrorism (such as the Garissa attack), we mourn, but we do not dwell. However, when the richer members of society were hit by the Westgate attack, it stuck, because it hurt a group of people who thought themselves immune to terror by virtue of their status and location. The same applies to the most recent teachers’ strike.
Initially, only public schools had been affected by the strike, and as such, the middle class and some of the rich whose children attended private 8-4-4 schools did not feel the pinch until their children were also sent home to join their public school counterparts who are also not learning. Now, everyone is sitting up and taking note of the importance of this strike, and what it could mean for our economy and country as a whole. We cannot ignore the teachers’ point: a salary increment to teachers of between 50 – 60% (12.5% – 15% per year) for four years meets our wage review criteria, indeed, even the TSC had proposed this last year after teachers asked for 100 – 150% instead. Kenya’s rising inflation also requires teachers’ salaries to be reviewed. The government had budgeted but not paid out to teachers a 4% cushion against inflation between 1997 and 2013. Had this cushion been applied between 1997 and 2009, we would not have had this problem as the teachers’ salaries would be 64% higher. It is cruel of us to imagine that a P1 teacher with a starting salary of KES 16,992 per month should come to school motivated enough to teach our children. Some of them go to work hungry, work in schools that have no resources and endure pupil to teacher ratios of 57 to 1, and are expected to work miracles and ensure these children are well taught and pass exams. What results is the atrocity that is our education system, an altar upon which we sacrifice our children.
84% of our children enroll in primary school, however, only 32% of these go on to enroll in secondary school. Over 250,000 students who sit KCPE fail to transition into secondary schools annually. Yet, we require the education sector’s input if we are to achieve Vision 2030 and stop being a third world country. 60% of those who sit KCSE end up scoring 49% and below (that is a C-), and are unable to transition into higher education. Indeed, those who survive from enrolment in class one to form four are 20%, while those who go on to complete university are only 1.69%. These people who we sacrifice then go on to form a large part of our unemployed workforce (Kenya’s unemployment rate is about 25%). Even when those who complete tertiary education graduate, they largely remain unemployed due to a mismatch between their training and the skills required by the labour market.
These people go on to form the building blocks of Kenyan society, unable to find well-paying work, living in squalid conditions, bitter at an enemy hiding behind the shadows, too large to be properly dissected, and bear children who likely go on to perpetuate this cycle of poverty because of these circumstances out of their control. They get angry at anyone they perceive as an enemy and lash out bitterly when told that this enemy is behind their suffering, as seen during our 2007/08 post-election violence. On a smaller scale, we witness this whenever a pickpocket is caught and necklaced, burning to death over the theft of goods that are worth less than his or her VSL. Yet we do not see how all these things are interconnected – how we keep doing this to ourselves and our country.
We continue to deny ourselves a higher standard of living and development due to our country’s institutionalized corruption. We continue to elect tribal overlords and overpay our legislators while entertaining presidents whose terms are incomplete without grand theft scams (Jomo Kenyatta’s independence land allocation, Daniel Moi’s Goldenberg, Mwai Kibaki’s Anglo Leasing, Uhuru Kenyatta’s NYS among others) all while wondering what we did to spite the earth, because it hates us so. All the while, the value of our lives keeps diminishing, perhaps soon to zero.
Something’s got to give.
These essays were taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata, which is on security in Kenya and is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.
Maybe, it’s 9 p.m. The guys are chilling at “Base” trading random talk and idle chatter to pass time.
Maybe, it’s 10 p.m. An engine splutters, reminiscent of someone in the throes of a particularly nasty bout of tuberculosis.
“Oya! Wasee, ni Mariamu!”
No one knows the truck is called Mariamu; no one really cares either.
“Nyinyi mang’aa, hebu simameni hapo ama tuanze kufyatua!”
They love shooting. They will shoot at a fly in their soup. They will shoot at the sky because it’s too rainy. The only sound is that of crickets, and faint riddims from the pub three doors down the road.
Three figures in long deep navy blue overcoats; AK-47 rifles dangling casually from their shoulders, smiling conspiratorially among themselves and leering at the group of young men. Oh, this will be fun.
“Mnafanya nini hapo? Nyinyi ni wale vijana mnasumbuasumbua wananchi hapa, eeh?”
“Ah, si hivo afande. Si tumekaa tu tukiongea.”
“Hiyo utasemea hapo mbele kwa station. Hebu twende!”
The rickety lorry is driven off.
Stories flow in the truck. An uneasy camaraderie develops among the victims of the same fate, a kinship of lambs headed to the slaughter.
“Nani hapa hajawai shikwa?”
A hand goes up.
“Haya story ni hivi. Ukishikwa, yenye iko kwa mfuko, toa. Ka hauna any, ni cell tu. Kesho ngware upelekwe Makadara Law Court, upatwe na sijui drunk and disorderly, hata kaa hujakunywa. Sema uko guilty, fine ni punch tu. Shida ni kufinyana kwa cell usiku nzima. Relax.”
“Na kaa niko innocent? I have rights.”
“Hahahahaha! Ati rights? Hizo ziliisha class ya GHC buda. Jifanye tu mang’aa utajipata una bhangi kwa mfuko ama ushootiwe tu. Ni hali ya life. We nyamaza tu, nyeyenyekea na hakitaumana.”
The truck comes to a stop.
It’s a mélange of all characters: some ladies of the night, some drunks. Others were simply unfortunate to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Haya! Anzeni kutoa. Toa ndugu, toa dada, ulicho nacho…” one of the police officer bellows out – a drunken rendition of the popular hymn.
It’s all notes. No coins.
“Na next time msirudie kutangatanga usiku. It’s very dangerous.”
Utumishi kwa wote.
Utimishi Kwa Wote
by Ian Arunga
Utumishi kwa wote walio na kitu kidogo!
I have hated Kawangware matatus since the time I was thrown out of one and was almost beaten up because I was carrying an A3 x-ray envelope on my lap that got the ‘kange’ mistaking me for a pick pocket. An A3 x-ray envelope is what pickpockets use to distract their targets… Innocently leaving hospital with a lung infection, holding this x-ray envelope is a crime! And the huge warning in red on one corner of the envelope saying, ‘DO NOT FOLD’ doesn’t help either!
I thought really hard on whether to take that Kawangware bus. My ‘pickpocket’ scar was still so raw. The other option was a ‘boda boda’ but my colleague from the office had fallen off one the same day and according to him, “almost died!” I was in the bus before I even finished this thought process!
I sat at the front, right between the driver and a cop who was not going to get off until he got his bribe. I thought to myself, “This is the safest place I can be!” When we almost got to Othaya junction – which was my stop – the woman sitting right behind me let out a really sharp scream…
I frantically tried to look at what was happening at the back with no success. The front of the bus was completely separated from the back with a formerly transparent window.
Then the woman, in a loud voice, screamed, “Hutaniibia nikiwa hai!” (You will not steal from me while I am alive!) Right after that, a young man was asked to disembark. All this time, the cop and the driver sat calmly, neither of them moving a muscle.
What happened to “Utumishi kwa wote”?
I sat there for five minutes next to this cop whose stomach was so large, it looked like he had swallowed a goat whole. He wasn’t interested trying to do anything but get a small bribe from the driver for driving a bus with an expired insurance sticker.
The cop got off at my stop. Before he jumped out, the driver handed him something right over me, clenching it like it was a bag of weed.
“Renew insurance!” was the last order from the ‘Utumishi kwa wote’ guy!
As I walked to my mother’s house I tried to figure out what situation I feared more: being pickpocketed at knifepoint or getting pocketed at knifepoint and having to bribe the police to get help. I think I prefer just being pickpocketed.
Something tells me I will not have the energy to bribe for help.
These essays were taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata, which is on security in Kenya and is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.
It is my belief that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Our lives are made possible by those who birthed us, and those who fought so that people who look like us can live, and we must always remember this.
I was recently asked why I am no longer as vocal as I used to be about issues I am passionate about on my Facebook/Twitter pages. Nowadays, I’ll mostly talk about the music I’m listening to or how I’m feeling, and some have felt that this is shallow compared to what I shared before. I agree – I could continue doing the same, but I will not, at least not for a while, because I am tired. Of saying the same thing. In different words. All the time.
It felt as if I (and many of my allies online) was going to die of exhaustion due to repeating myself to an audience that did not seem to want to learn. I spoke to a columnist I admire about why her column had gone from weekly to fortnightly, and she said “I feel that I am repeating myself. I’m getting tired of saying the same thing over and over again, just about different things.” Conversations online, due to our culture of outrage that has no doubt been fueled by the internet, tend to be in reaction to a stimulus, leaving little time and energy for people who want to create originally to do so. We are left reacting to our nemeses – sexism, racism, corruption – and it feels like there is a force, a group of people who stand to benefit from our busy-bodied reactionary nature. Whoever they are, they need us to stay distracted long enough.
I had been unable to find the best way to frame this until I came across a lecture given by Toni Morrison in 1975 at Portland State University on race, politics and art. It became very clear to me what I had to do after I read the transcript of this lecture, and the lessons were applicable to most, if not all, forms of oppression. Parts of the lecture are in italics, with my annotations interspersed.
More important, accurate scholarship and free, dedicated artists would reveal a singularly important thing: that racism was and is not only a mark, a public mark, of ignorance; it was and is a monumental fraud. Racism was never, ever the issue. Profit and money always was. And all of those quotations from William Byrd to Benjamin Franklin to Andrew Jackson to the New York Tribune, the threat was always jobs, land, or money. And when you really want to take away, to oppress, and to prevent, you must have a reason for despising your victim. Where racism exists as an idea, it was always a confidence game that sucked all the strength of the victim. It really is the red flag that the toreador dances before the head of a bull. Its purpose is only to distract, to keep the bull’s mind away from his power and his energy, to keep his mind focused on anything but his own business. Its hoped-for consequence was to define Black people as reactions to White presence.
This gives me pause. Should we replace the word racism with sexism, homophobia, class prejudice, tribalism or any other form of discrimination we have institutionalized, this still makes sense. It has been proven that attacks on women increase when the men of that society feel that women are becoming more prosperous in relation to them; thus their sex is not the issue, profit and money are. Profit and money equal power – power is the issue, sex is merely a façade. The same applies to class divisions. We keep the poor entangled in their poverty, such that they have little time or strength for anything else. They are unable to awaken to their true power because their poverty is so consuming, they can think of little else. Which is why people will sell their votes for as little as KES 50. Black people serve as a backdrop to white people in such a society; women as a backdrop to men; the poor as a backdrop to the rich, and so on.
Nobody really thought that Black people were inferior. Not Benjamin Franklin, not Mr. Byrd, and not Theodore Roosevelt. They only hoped that they would behave that way. They only hoped that Black people would hear coon songs, disparaging things, and would weep or kill or resign, or become one. They never thought Black people were lazy—ever. Not only because they did all the work. But they certainly hoped that they would never try to fulfill their ambitions. And they never, ever thought we were inhuman. You don’t give your children over to the care of people whom you believe to be inhuman, for your children are all the immortality you can expect. Your children are the reason that you work or plot or steal, and racists were never afraid of sexual power or switchblades. They were only and simply and now interested in acquisition of wealth and the status quo of the poor. Everybody knows that if the price is high enough, the racist will give you anything you want.
This was like a revelation to me. It is not that the people I was trying to communicate with did not know that gay people were people too; that women and men deserve equal rights; that the poor must have their dignity. They know these things. They just do not want us to believe these things. There is a heavy reliance by purveyors of the status quo on our low self-esteem. They demand that we participate in our own disparagement. Of course gay people are people too – they are birthed by human beings. Of course women are equal human beings, otherwise men would not date/marry them. Of course black people are people too (in fact, the invention of whiteness has been well catalogued, and it was created to retain wealth in certain circles).
It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is, and to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary.
The same can be said of sexism – it keeps women from doing their work – as well as class prejudice, homophobia, tribalism and other strata along which we choose to divide ourselves. It keeps the oppressed on the defensive, forever justifying their humanity, and responding to the aggressions of the oppressor. When someone tweets online that women who are unmarried over thirty are doomed, hours are spent proving otherwise. Tomorrow another idiot comes online and says women who do not cook are not real women. The process is repeated. We end up distracted from our cause, which is usually the purpose of the inanities spewed by those in power.
For art focuses on the single grain of rice, the tree-shaped scar, and the names of people, not only the number that arrived. And to the artist one can only say, not to be confused, [sigh] not to be confused. You don’t waste your energy fighting the fever; you must only fight the disease. And the disease is not racism. It is greed and the struggle for power. And I urge you to be careful. For there is a deadly prison: the prison that is erected when one spends one’s life fighting phantoms, concentrating on myths, and explaining over and over to the conqueror your language, your lifestyle, your history, your habits. And you don’t have to do it anymore. You can go ahead and talk straight to me.
What is the disease? Greed and the struggle for power. Behind every sexist/homophobic/tribal/racist slight, this is the enemy. Even corruption itself is not a disease, but a symptom of greed and the struggle for power. When we see this, everything changes. We can spend our entire lives fighting acts/statements by fools who exhibit these symptoms. And in the process, it can feel like we have done a lot of work, for we will surely be tired by the end of the day. But we do not have to. This is not the best way. It is not up to us to educate our oppressors. They know exactly what they are doing. So, what can we do?
To avoid the prison of reacting to racism is a problem of the very first order. Where the mind dwells on changing the minds of racists is a very dank place. Where the spirit hangs limp in silk cords of the racial apologists who want soft and delicate treatment for the poor victims is a very dim place. And where the will that you allow to be eroded day by day, day by day, by consistent assaults from racists, then the will just settles into a little tiny heap of sand, and you just have a second-rate existence, jammed with second-hand ideas. Racial ignorance is a prison from which there is no escape because there’re no doors. And there are old, old men, and old, old women running institutions, governments, homes all over the world who need to believe in their racism and need to have the victims of racism concentrate all their creative abilities on them. And they are very easily identified.
They are the petulant ones who call themselves proud, and they are the disdainful ones who call themselves fastidious, and they are the mean-spirited ones who call themselves just. They thrive on the failures of those unlike them; they are the ones who measure their wealth by the desperation of the poor. They are the ones who know personal success only when they can identify deficiencies in other racial and ethnic groups. They are in prisons of their own construction: and their ignorance and their stunted emotional growth consistently boggle the mind.
It is rare that we will succeed in changing the minds of those who oppress us. They hold on so strongly to their false beliefs, and it has been proven that the more we argue with such people and present them with sound logic and facts, the more tightly they hold on to their flawed logic. Yet they manage to wear us down with these constant runarounds while they continue boldly with their erroneous beliefs. This leaves us unable to do our work, while they go forth and infect others with their choice brand of foolishness. As Ms. Morrison says, such people are easy to identify, and our efforts cannot, and must not, be wasted upon them. It is far better to use our efforts where there is hope for substantial change.
We are the moral inhabitants of the globe. And to deny it is to lie in prison. Oh yes, there’s cruelty, and cruelty, because it destroys the perpetuator as well as the victim, is a very mysterious thing. But if you look at the world as one long brutal game between “us” and “them,” then you bump into another mystery. And that’s the mystery of the tree-shaped scar, and the canary that might sing on the crown of a scar. And unless all races and all ages of man have been totally deluded, there seems to be such a thing as grace, such a thing as beauty, such a thing as harmony—all of which are wholly free, and available to us.
A question was asked to Ms. Morrison on how to eliminate racist rhetoric given white media ownership. She responded as follows:
There were several parts to your question. I think you were asking about methods, how was it possible for Blacks [the Black artist] to exercise any influence or control given the media is controlled by White people. Et cetera et cetera. I think there’s a layer underneath your question of assumption about what the media are and what its influence is. One has a tendency to have some enormous awe for it, as though it were some magic, television, play, or a book review. It really is of no consequence when it comes to doing important work. The media originates nothing; it simply digests what exists. It can enlighten, and it can distort, but it does not initiate and it does not create. The best analogy for that for Black people, I think can be found in music. I was talking to Dr. Harris earlier: Black people’s music is in a class by itself and always has been. There’s nothing like it in the world.
The reason for that is that it was not tampered with by White people. It was not “on the media.” It was not anywhere except where Black people were. And it is one of the art forms in which Black people decided what was good in it, what was the best in it; no one told them. And if you want to be a Black musician now, you have to do what the best have done. And all of the mediocre musicians (Black) were blown off the stage [inaudible] and ridiculed by Black—by other Black musicians. So what surfaced and floated to the top were the giants and the best. And it was done without “the media,” in spite of the control et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That is true of any art form that is (a) not imitated, (b) it does not seek to justify or explain anything; it talks—artists—the Black artists must do what all the other artists do: talk to each other.
The same applies to all other oppressed groups. The only way to empower ourselves is to initiate. To create. Not to participate in the mindless reactionary cycle that the media (and those in power) so well initiates, be it on corruption, sexism, tribalism, homophobia or any of Kenya’s other ills. We support each other in creation. In building networks. In sustained action. And we listen to each other, and learn from each other. No one can speak for us but us. No one will fight for us but us. Which is why it is fallacious to imagine, for example, that the endless reporting of corruption in the media will somehow lead to its reduction. It won’t – because we are tired. We hear a new story almost each day, and pursue it with fervor, as we did the last, leaving us with little time and energy for follow-up, and most of all, distracted. Which is exactly what oppressors rely on.
Power structures have been built over decades, centuries even, and only sustained, organized efforts can bring them down. Thankfully, modern tools ensure that bringing them down happens much faster than how long it took to build them, but much work is still required. Which is why I will not drain myself online pursuing and discussing scandal after scandal, attempting to teach sexists and homophobes, or lambasting Kenyan leaders. They are counting on that. Instead, I am working to fight the disease at its roots. To teach younger people (for whom there is still some hope) much better than we were taught. To create better structures for the near (and far) future. To support others in their struggles.
This is not to say that there is no space for teaching others. Write your essays. Create your work. Send forth those wise tweets. Just do not waste any of your precious time validating yourself to the oppressor. Instead, speak to empower your fellow oppressed. That is where the room for empowerment lies. And only once we are empowered can we fight these toxic structures.
I have a bad habit when I, sometimes, meet people who are incorrigible racists. I like to leave them that way. I never do anything to change their mind. I want them to stay just that way. Ignorant. And I take great, great personal and private pleasure every time I run up against one. It never occurs to me to behave another way so they will not think X, Y, or Z. I want them to stay just like that. Always.
“The Country chose its prey. Seduced them, made them believe they owned it and then gobbled them down, often in the most tender of ways—like a python.”
“Kenya is treacherous.”
The above are excerpts from Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s novel “Dust”. Though they form part of a fictional story, for many in Kenya, these sentiments currently reflect reality.
Over the last two months the Kenyan Government has launched an exercise aimed at tackling the dark cloud of terrorism hovering above the country, an exercise which has inadvertently highlighted the many ills in society today, for in fighting one threat, others have been fuelled, particularly corruption and xenophobia.
As part of Operation Usalama Watch, raids targeted at identifying those illegally in Kenya have been sanctioned. The government has denied that any specific nationalities or ethnic groups are being targeted, yes there have been reports of individuals from Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda being arrested and screened, however, there is overwhelming evidence that the Somalis in Kenya have borne the brunt of this crackdown.
Many have defended the actions of the state as being in the interest of the people and not singling out any one community. Well, denial is often nirvana.
As a 35 year old woman from Eastleigh said to me, “The attitude of the Kenyan Government towards us is that of a landlord trying to get rid of his tenants. He cannot tell them to leave so he goes out of his way to make the house as unlivable as possible so that they will leave.”
Be it Somali refugees, Somali migrants or those who hail from North Eastern Province, I found one striking similarity in the views of those I spoke to: they all felt like they live on the cusp of a forced exodus from the Kenyan identity they possess.
Due to the long silences of the mainstream media (bar a few articles on this matter) it is very easy to be oblivious to exactly what reality is like for Somalis in Kenya, particularly Nairobi, at this moment.
As should be public knowledge, thousands of people are currently being screened at Kasarani Stadium in order for the authorities to determine their status.
Officials say that those held at what has been branded “Kasarani Concentration Camp” are being treated well and their human rights are being respected. Why then have no media organizations, aid agencies or local NGOs been allowed in to inspect conditions?
Some of those that shared their experiences of being held in Kasarani said the following: “It was cramped and dirty. The worst was what to do with our children who were frustrated, when we would ask the police how long we were to be kept for they would not answer.” Meanwhile, Fartun, a mother of two, stated, “Due to how cold it would get in there my daughter fell ill. I expected the police to help but they did not pay attention. Only after I paid a bribe did they go and get me some medicine. Most people that came in had been held in other police stations where they had been mistreated, and some ladies shared that they had been touched inappropriately by some male police.”
Shop owner Omar shared his story, “The police entered my home at around 2 am, and the noise woke up our 4 children, all of whom were very scared. We were then taken to Kasarani and split apart. My wife is pregnant and suffering from morning sickness – there were no decent facilities for her to even be sick in.” Upon release the family returned to Eastleigh. “As my phone was taken from me when I arrived at Kasarani, I had no way to let my staff know what was going on, so my electronics shop has suffered much loss. Because of all this trouble many of my neighbours have vacated their premises and gone. The Somalis who would come to the shop now do not because they know the police are always patrolling the streets looking for bribes. Unfortunately they have visited my home twice since we left Kasarani and demanded money even though we have IDs. This constant paying of bribes and slow business has put much financial strain on us, but the police know Somalis are economically successful and are vulnerable with no one to speak for them.”
Cramped cells, no access to food or lawyers and being asked for bribes are common experiences among those Somalis who have been arrested and held at Kasarani or police stations across Nairobi. Shrouded in mystery are the stories of those that have not been deported, but been sent to refugee camps in other parts of the country, often separate from their families.
Life, however, is not much better for those from the Somali community that are apparently “free” and not in police custody. One young man said, “My ancestors hail from Wajir, I have lived in Nairobi my whole life, I am Kenyan and all of a sudden people are getting off matatus when I board or telling me to go back to where I came from? I have no connections with Somalia, where exactly do they expect me to go? Kenyans are not like this, and it may be a one off, but it is very telling.”
I interviewed a gentleman living in Eastleigh who told me that the police try to target elderly Somalis because they are vulnerable and often do not speak much Kiswahili, so they are more likely to pay bribes out of fear, and to avoid being hassled. He mentioned that the police have visited his neighbour, who is an elderly man with a young family. Despite his having identification and a passport, they threaten to take him to the station knowing full well that because of his age the family will pay to stop this from happening. For this reason, they keep visiting his home, posing the same threat and increasing the amount of money they want every time.
In another case, a 60 year old diabetic man was arrested despite having a copy of his British passport, the original of which was away for renewal. He was taken to the Police Station at 6pm and his phone and documents confiscated while his family had no idea of his whereabouts. The following morning his family traced his location and the Police demanded KES 30,000 to release him, stating that otherwise, they would keep him in for another five days. Knowing his age and health condition would garner success, they received KES 26,000.
Other stories include trying to scare individuals into paying bribes by threatening to take them to the station with no intention to do so, threatening young women with rape, and destroying or confiscating Identification Cards or papers. The most bizarre story yet is of a man showing a police officer his Kenyan passport and the officer saying, “But where is your Kenyan visa?”
Destruction of property, breaking gates of homes and asking for bribes and using threatening language in front of children are all common. Police now frequent the same areas of Eastleigh every night, extracting more and more money from innocent people who just want to be left in peace. Many officers allegedly go to the area after their shift is finished (ironically, they are also making a huge profit out of those who do not have IDs or papers to be in Kenya, so if there are any potential terrorists around, they too are able to pay their way out of arrest). In an attempt to fight one problem another has been fuelled: corruption.
Somalis in Kenya not only live in fear of terrorists like the rest of the country, they also live in fear of those very agencies meant to protect them. Through “legal looting”, men and women who work hard to feed their families, run businesses which aid the Kenyan economy and largely mind their own business are being exploited. As if this is not enough, they then experience humiliation in police stations, in their homes and on the streets only to find that when they speak out, no one is listening. How many media houses have continuously reported on this? How many public figures came forward to clarify to people what their rights are?
As a 20 year old Somali-Kenyan student said, “The media are of no help, in fact sometimes their reporting on Somalis and Muslims in general has stereotyped us and led to us being held out as scapegoats. The media are supposed to speak against injustice but they have been mainly silent or quietly taken part.”
Terrorism is a very real threat to Kenya and urgency is required in tackling it, however these tactics are simply encouraging alienation which in itself is the cause of much dissatisfaction. A culture of police impunity is not the solution to terrorism, nor is targeting and marginalizing a particular community or racial profiling. Screening for those in the country illegally is important, however, locking individuals and families up without legal basis or using them as ATM machines does not read as a legitimate strategy, and it reinforces the view that the police are above the law they are meant to exercise and protect.
At a time when social cohesion and a feeling of “being Kenyan” and being valued should be encouraged the exact opposite is taking place.
As Nairobi born and bred 26 year old Abdi Sheikh said, “I will never be Kenyan, always Somali Kenyan and that translates to not Kenyan enough. We keep one foot out the door, not because we want to, but because we don’t know when the foot inside Kenya will be chopped off, forcing us to run.”