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.
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.