Liberty and Demagoguery for all

Michael Onsando
11 December ,2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Landscapes

Michael Onsando
28 August ,2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

The narrative changes.

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

Mohammed Ali

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

Instead we focus on kiongozi wetu maskini.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democracy and Development

Brenda Wambui
21 August ,2018

The simplest definition of democracy is one given by Abraham Lincoln, a former president of the USA: democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is all about the people.

It sounds better than other forms of government, such as monarchy, in which a single family rules from generation to generation. The power is vested in one person, the monarch. Or oligarchy, in which all power resides with a few people or in a dominant class or group within the society. Or authoritarianism, where the people do not participate, and have no say in what happens. When you add powerfoam, you get totalitarianism, where power and authority are concentrated in one person, such that he/she controls government and, therefore, the people. Dictators tend to be authoritarian or totalitarian.

However, democracy does have its weaknesses. It is not easy to represent more than one person and reach consensus. Aristotle asked two simple questions when classifying states. Question one: who rules? How many people exercise supreme power? Question two: in whose interest? Self-interest or that of the community? So he classifies states into six: where one person rules for the benefit of the community, it is a monarchy. Where a few rule for the benefit of the community, it is aristocracy. Where many rule for the benefit of the community, it is polity.

On the other hand, when one person rules for his or her own benefit, we get tyranny. Where a few rule for their own benefit, we have an oligarchy. Where many people rule for their own benefit, we have democracy. We can see that Aristotle believes that democracy is perverse in a way. Democracy is selfish in his view, while polity is selfless. Whether we will ever attain polity is a question that may boggle the mind for years to come.

Why is democracy the form of government most associated with development? Is it because democracy is inherently and instrumentally good? Because it facilitates free human choice and it furthers political participation? Because it enables people to live freely and autonomously? Democracy provides institutional guarantees that the policies and laws created by a government will have a reasonable fit with the fundamental interests of the people. How? Because the people vote for the people in government.

The debate about the relationship between development and democracy is long and unending. Martin Lipset noted a positive correlation between wealth and democracy. But correlation does not mean causation. Does democracy lead to development? If one thinks about development through purely economic terms, then any form of government we’ve discussed before should lead to some level of development.

Even a dictatorship can witness growth in the productivity of labor, agriculture, and capital, leading to growth in per capita incomes and per capita assets, and ultimately GDP. Take for example China, which is not a dictatorship, but is more of an oligarchy according to some, and an aristocracy according to others. There was a general assumption when they opened up their economy that this economic liberalization would lead to political liberalization which would eventually lead to democracy.

The theory? That economic growth leads to a larger middle class that is more empowered. This middle class then begins to demand control over its destiny, and eventually even repressive governments are forced to become democratic. But here we are over 35 years later: China is not a democracy but still continues to develop economically. Authoritarian regimes around the world continue to prove that you can have economic development without relaxing political control.

Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize winning economist, however, classifies development as freedom. This moves past economic indicators and looks at the wellbeing of the human. It includes human rights and freedoms, political rights, access to social opportunities through education and employment and so on, transparency guarantees, social security, protective security and so on. If we look at development as freedom, then democracy does lead to development.

According to Joseph Stiglitz, development is understood as a ‘transformation of society’ that goes beyond economic growth alone to include social dimensions like literacy, distribution of income, life expectancy and so on. These aspects are known as human development. To add on to human development, we must also have redistribution of wealth, otherwise poor people are doomed to remain poor, in which case what is the point?

In Kenya, the top 10 percent richest households in Kenya control more than 40 percent of the country’s income, while the poorest 10 percent control less than one percent. We have inequality when it comes to access to resources. Houses in urban areas are five times as likely to have piped water as those in rural areas. Only 1% of those who enroll in primary school go on to complete university. 80% of our unemployed are aged under 35, so much for access to opportunities. The list of worrisome statistics goes on and on.

It would be great if we moved away from the narrative prevalent in Kenya that development equals roads, the Standard Gauge Railway, a port, an additional runway at JKIA. The view that economic development is the only kind of development is narrow and not beneficial. It has been shown that low income democracies outperform autocracies over time when it comes to development indicators. So when we witness our government trying to shrink our democratic space, we should be concerned because in the long run this does not bode well for us.

The impact of democracy on development is many times indirect, but can be felt through policy certainty, political stability, the establishment and enforcement of rules that protect property rights, the promotion of education, the ability to promote private capital, and the reduction of inequality. These are the sorts of things Kenya says it wants to do to attract investment, not because it has living, breathing people here who need these things to live comfortably as well.

We have to remember that the reason we concern ourselves with building systems and institutions is to maximize social good and utility. We have a social contract with our state, in which we give up unfettered freedom for security. This is the foundation of our state. We should not forget, however, that we have to be at the center of this contract for it to work. Economic development means little in the long run if it is not accompanied by human development, and systems that are purportedly built to serve human beings that do not center these human beings are doomed to fail.

Social Shifts That Mark the Present State of Kenya

Guest Writer
19 June ,2018

by Wangari Kibanya

Conversations around the word millennial make me wonder, why would we need to contextualize our social and economic shifts from a very US American lens yet our nation is only 53 years old and did not undergo some of the shifts that mark the demographic markers on that end? What happens when the word millennial is deployed in the larger Kenyan discussion? When we label young people and how they act or contribute to society?

When we discuss the different generations, we use the terms – Baby Boomer. Generation X, Generation Y or Millennials and Generation Z /iGen (yet to be crystallized.) This illustration shows what characteristics have been assigned to each of these demographic groups, and the language we currently use to describe people within our workspaces. It shows US American centric culture dynamics. What makes each generation unique? According to US Americans, it is differences in technology use, work ethic, values, intelligence, among others.

The thinking behind all the demographic labels we use to define our workforce dynamics are informed by the United States. Maybe it is time to localize these labels and develop the language and apply a different context for the Kenyan workspace (which may also hold true for a lot of African countries).

The recent history of Africa can be defined as pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial. How has the Kenyan workforce morphed from independence to post-independence? What are the demographic characteristics that we can use to shift the conversation around how we develop strategies for understanding context and the role it plays?

Kenya gained independence from Great Britain’s colonial rule in 1963, and this ushered in the Africanisation policy. Pre-independence dynamics saw colonial Kenya define and demarcate drastic social shifts in systems of production, culture, religion and economies. Different communities that were merged to make the Kenyan project moved from agricultural, pastoral and gatherer means of sustenance to a money economy – new crops, language, religion and vocations.

This is the starting point of a change that brought Kenya into the world. The different markers for each generation also determine expression, how ideas spread, their conversations and world views. A person born in a certain time period may have more privilege that one born in another time. This privilege is rarely acknowledged. Maybe this is why talk of younger generations having it easy crops up in conversations about the good old times. According to many, younger generations are “spoilt”.

How can we think about the Kenyan workforce in a new way? What are the educational, political, and social markers of each generation? Within each of these broad categories, you can also map and expand different sub- groups and cultures to get more nuances on each demographic label.  The main consideration for the social, cultural and political characteristics what happened around them as they made the leap from childhood to adulthood.

1963 – 1978: Uhuru generation

This generation came up during the Africanisation of labor market, and took up jobs in the civil service, leading to rapid expansion of formal economy. Africanisation ensured that new jobs were created in Kenya’s post-independence economy. They had (and still have) jobs for life in the civil service, and there were limited education opportunities. This led to the wide availability of jobs. Public services were functional in their time.

First and second generation Kenyans were able to get through formal education system, from 3R (reading, writing, arithmetic) to university education. There were airlifts to the United States and Soviet bloc countries to train a professional class, as well as expansion of education facilities in Kenya, and Kenyan music (Benga especially) dominated the airwaves with influences from the Congo – they even had global recording studios such as Polygram set up shop here.

1978 -1982: Early Generation

This generation was born into a constitutionally embedded one party state, and witnessed succession from the first president of Kenya as well as a coup attempt, which radically shifted Kenya’s character.

1982 – 2002: Nyayo Generation

This generation experienced a change of education system from 7-4-2-3 to 8-4-4. We have experienced state repression, currency controls and price controls. Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) have had a great impact on our experiences of public services such as education, health and infrastructure.   We saw the liberalization of the Kenyan economy, including the free market, privatization of public services, and a public service hire freeze.

We have witnessed the rise of Information Technology as an industry, boosted by computerization and dial up internet access. There was increased uptake of opportunities abroad by Kenyan students and professionals (which led to “brain drain”) due to political and economic conditions. We experienced news from a monopoly broadcaster (KBC), and Congolese and vernacular Kenyan music defined our audio experience.

2002 – 2010: Children of democracy

This generation has witnessed the expansion of democratic space. Freedom of expression and creativity in the film industry, art and music was burgeoning at this time. The Kenyan Hip Hop scene grew due to the presence of labels such as Ogopa DJs and Calif Records, and there was an increase in literary output from collectives such as Kwani? TV and radio frequencies were liberalized, leading to a rise in independent/commercial media houses.

There was a geopolitical shift to engage more with the East, leading to the entry of China in megaproject infrastructure funding. This generation has experienced the enhanced use of technology for everyday life, as well as increased global connections due to internet use (due to the landing of fiber optic cable on Kenyan coast.) This led to better connectedness of Kenya to the outside world – more Kenyans got online as the cost of internet significantly reduced. Mobile telephony grew rapidly with the entry of KenCell Safaricom.

There were many diaspora returnees at this time, and new constitution was promulgated at this time. There were also curriculum changes in primary and secondary schools, with a reduction of examinable subjects.

2010 – Current: Digital natives (Generation Z/iGen)

This generation is experiencing an even greater merge of Kenya with the global space on the digital frontier. They have grown up using mobile devices, high speed internet and broadband. There is an immediacy in the adoption of global trends, making it to almost every part of the country. There has been a screen shift to mobile rather than legacy media, and a change in news dissemination and cultural trends in the age of viral news and trends on Kenyan Facebook and Twitter (#KOT.)

This generation is coming up in a time of unemployment and underemployment, leading to a growing gig economy and the emergence of the “hustler.” There has been a demographic shift in the makeup of our population, and an expansion in the creative economy (we have photographers, videographers, writers, actors, poets, fashion influencers, Instagram and Facebook popup shops.) This generation has seen a rise in self-publishing on platforms like WordPress, and self-promoting created content on platforms like YouTube. There has been more privatization of services, and the rollout of a new curriculum in 2017.


With this basic frame of the different slices of the demographic shifts and labels, perhaps we can reimagine and develop strategies that blend both global thinking and local dynamics that underpin our interactions with Kenyan youth, and understand why it is important to contextualize demographic labels.

Towards a Democratic Internet

Brenda Wambui
22 May ,2018

The web (and the rest of the internet) has become a space where citizens come to chat, share ideas, critique the government and explore ways in which Kenya can function better for its citizens. It is a space where one is sure to find the most robust discussions about what it means to be a Kenyan citizen. As the importance of this space has increased, it has also become a place to spread misinformation and disinformation, propagate harmful speech, silence dissent and promote violence. As such, it is important to fight for its openness – which allows us to freely express ourselves, debate our ideas – and uphold our democracy.

The Democratic Principles for an Open Internet serve as an important guide in our efforts to protect this space.

Freedom of expression is a key pillar of any democracy. Kenyans should be able to seek, receive, and impart information freely on the internet without censorship or interference. It is undemocratic to block websites such as Twitter and Facebook, and services like WhatsApp as many Kenyans feared would happen during the 2017 general election, or to throttle internet speeds, which likely did happen. The intended effect of such actions is to suppress free speech, and it is often accompanied by arbitrary content takedowns, paid political posting and in some cases, online violence intended to instill fear.

Freedom of assembly and association is also important – everyone has the right to associate freely through and on the internet for social, political, cultural and other purposes. Kenyan citizens should be able to meet up and organize (especially politically) online to further their goals. This means that the LGBTQI community, feminists, sex positivity and body positivity advocates, human rights defenders and activists among others should be able to use the internet to peacefully organize, exercise their democratic rights and advocate for those of others. It is undemocratic to threaten WhatsApp group administrators with arrest for content posted on their groups due to the potential for misuse of such power.

Accessibility of the internet is key – everyone has an equal right to access and use a secure and open internet. All Kenyans should have equal opportunity for access and participation online, and public stakeholders (such as the government) and private stakeholders (such as Safaricom, Facebook, Google and so on) should identify and address the inequalities that exist, particularly among women and other minorities. We must work to make internet access more affordable, and to increase infrastructure and coverage across the country, especially in rural communities.

Privacy and data protection online are paramount – we all have a right to privacy online. This means freedom from surveillance, the right to use encryption, and the right to be anonymous online. We also have the right to data protection, which includes control over our personal data (and its disclosure, collection, retention, processing and disposal). It is undemocratic for Kenyans’ communications to be surveilled by intelligence agencies. We need to fight for a data protection law and an authority to provide oversight, both of which we do not currently have. Kenyans also need to be educated on the importance of protecting the data, while the government needs to be accountable for all the data it collects and issues (for example, birth certificates, ID  and passport numbers, NHIF and NSSF IDs, KRA PINs, drivers’ license numbers and so on). How does the state keep this data safe? Who has access to this data? Do Kenyans consent for their data to be used for the purposes for which the state uses it? We need answers to these questions.

We also need to have personal safety and security online. It is undemocratic for the web to be a space used to threaten others with physical, sexual and psychological violence/harassment. The police, and the state at large, should take it seriously when people, especially women, report stalking, trolling, blackmail, revenge porn, and hate campaigns. Online violence is still violence, and online harassment is still harassment.

The internet must be inclusive – cultural and linguistic diversity must be promoted, and technical and policy innovation should be encouraged to facilitate plurality of expression. It is important, for example, that our government publishes information online in English and Kiswahili (which it rarely does), as many Kenyans do not speak English. Official state websites should also be accessible to persons with disabilities, such as vision and hearing impaired people. The online space in Kenya must also be structured in a way as to encourage the voices of women and other marginalized people so as to increase its inclusivity.

Network equality must also be assured – we should all have universal and open access to the content online, free from discriminatory prioritization, filtering or traffic control on commercial, political or other grounds. It is the basis of net neutrality – the idea that internet service providers should treat all content flowing through their towers and cables equally, without ensuring faster access to some sites and slower access to others. This is why net neutrality must be protected, and why Facebook’s Free Basics is dangerous. It is also why internet throttling during elections, for example, is undemocratic.

Standards are necessary to make sure these principles work – the internet’s architecture, communication systems, and document and data formats should be based on open standards that ensure complete interoperability, inclusion and equal opportunity for all.

Lastly, there has to be governance – all these principles mean nothing if they are not implemented atop the legal and normative foundations of human rights and social justice, which should be at the heart of how the internet operates and is governed. Multiple diverse stakeholders across sectors should be involved in internet governance, such as the government, civil society groups, private sector stakeholders, academia and the media should be brought to the table in a transparent and multilateral way, based on the principles of openness, inclusive participation and accountability.

This way, we can ensure that the internet in Kenya remains open, accessible and democratic.

Why Are Kenyan Elections So Expensive?

Brenda Wambui
18 July ,2017

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has placed the cost of the upcoming general election on 8th August 2017 at KES 49,981,666,599 (quoted as KES 49.9 billion in the rest of the essay). We have 19,611,423 registered voters, bringing the average cost per voter to KES 2,396 (USD 23.05). Considering that not all registered voters turn up to vote, this figure may even be USD 30 or more after the election. This makes the 2017 general election Kenya’s most expensive election. It also makes Kenya’s election one of the most expensive in the world when the cost-per-eligible-voter metric is used. Perhaps the only election more expensive than ours is that of Papua New Guinea, whose cost per voter is USD 63.

For comparative purposes, the budget for the 2014 general election in India, the world’s largest democracy, was Rs 3,500 Crore (around USD 594 million at the time). India had 814.5 million eligible voters, bringing the average cost per voter to Rs 43 (USD 0.73). The total budget for Ghana’s 2016 general election was GHS 826 million. Ghana had 15,712,552 registered voters, bringing the average cost per voter to GHS 52.57 (USD 12.30). Our election is significantly more expensive than both, and this may be one of the reasons we experience so much political strife.

Low cost per voter figures (USD 1 – 3) are usually recorded for countries with a lot of previous experience with multi-party elections. The reason our election is so expensive is because of the high cost of registration, administrative inefficiencies, and usually, actual theft of funds. KES 33.3 billion will go to direct election expenditure, while KES 16.6 billion is allocated for indirect expenses. Of the KES 49.9 billion allocated to this election, KES 27.3 billion (54.7%) was allocated in the fiscal year 2016/17, while KES 22.6 billion (45.3%) was allocated in the fiscal year 2017/18. It’s important to note that the 2017/18 allocation excludes the ballot paper printing allocation of KES 2.5 billion, provided for in 2016/17.

KES 42.9 billion (84.3%) is allocated to the IEBC, while KES 3.8 billion is allocated to the State Department for Interior. The state department will be providing security in the whole country and at polling stations during the election. They have also provided security during the nominations process and campaigns, and part of their budget will be used to gazette special security officers to increase their numbers during the election period. The Department for Registration of Persons under this state department was also allocated KES 537 million to fasten the ease and process of Kenyans getting ID cards/other related documents, while the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) was allocated KES 410 million to ensure “peaceful coexistence” before, during and after the election.

The Judiciary has earmarked KES 227 million for the Judicial Committee on Election, which will help resolve disputes that are raised by candidates after the election, while the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties has been allocated KES 229 million to regulate, monitor, investigate and supervise political parties to ensure legal compliance, administer the Political Parties Fund, among other duties. KES 1.5 billion has also been allocated to the Department for Defense to enhance security operations along the border, and KES 550 million has been allocated to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to support security operations. The reason quoted for the security expenditure (which comes to a combined total of KES 5.85 billion, or 11.7% of the total budget) is insecurity, following incidents in Lamu, Mandera and Wajir.

The Kriegler Commission Report (2009) said that “the costs in Kenya are comparable only to very special cases of post-conflict elections like Angola, Afghanistan or Cambodia. They are even higher than those observed in cases like Bosnia-Herzegovina under the Dayton Accords (US$ 8).” This should worry us. Some may say that the reason our elections are so expensive is because we are now voting for six representatives (the president, governor, senator, member of national assembly, woman representative, and member of county assembly), while before we only voted for the president and members of parliament. There is truth to that.

However, given that much of the spending by the IEBC goes into voter registration and administration, where a lot is wasted due to inefficiency, there is much room for improvement. When we consider the high cost of elections, the high cost of getting elected (which for a presidential candidate can be up to USD 50 million), and then the cost of running elections, it is no wonder that Kenya’s mood can be summarized as “permanently in between elections.” This spending incentivizes, or even guarantees, corruption once our representatives are in office. We may have made the first step in the right direction by restricting campaign financing for candidates, but more must be done on the state spending side. This is the only way to ensure that honest and competent candidates are able to compete and have a chance at representing their people.

We need to restrict the amount the state spends per voter, which will make the IEBC find ways to be efficient, and which will snap us out of our permanent election fever. If, for example, we said that we are going to spend USD 13 per registered voter (which is the Africa-wide average), the money saved can then be used to pay teachers, nurses, doctors and other public servants on whom we rely on a day to day basis, as opposed to supporting the spectacle we are treated to by politicians because of the vast amounts of money at stake.

After all, we get what we pay for. When we spend so much money on a once-in-five-years process, we are guaranteed to get spectacle and corruption. However, if we spend on our well-being, we will get a healthier, happier, more just Kenya.

Masilahi ya Nyasi

Michael Onsando
14 June ,2016

It’s been 4 hours.

Since all the research was done and I was ready to put this piece together. Four hours of staring at the computer – looking for an angle. Is there a new way to put old truths together so that they hit us with fresh apparence? A new form of relevance?

Is there anything new about ethnic tension? About ‘leaders’ using these differences to drive wedges? About hate speech? Is there any other way to say it? On Facebook Richard Oduor writes:

“Wanting the homogenous whole, but not the heterogeneous parts is nonsense. They want you to be a Kenyan. Good. But I’m also a Luo, and Luo is part of Kenya, as well, so I’m both, and yes, we can have multiple complex identities. It’s all good. So this update is really a Luo speaking in response to Moses Kuria’s comments. I’m still unwilling to be the acceptable ‘group of Luo professionals‘ aka the politically ‘good Luo.’”

Are there things that need to be restated? Things that need to be reaffirmed? It’s been 4 hours and, to this moment, I’m not even sure if I’ve began to write this piece.

Still, ethnic hate is not only something that we encourage it seems rewarded. After all, this same Kuria just last year had a case in court for the same matter. This time, he had not condemned one man but many people – asking that they be cut up with pangas.

And it can’t even be argued that he doesn’t know any better. In a column in October 2012 Kuria writes:

“History has proven again and again, that the easiest way to create a genocide-compliant environment is to resort to insults and use of figurative images with animist caricature. In Hitler’s Nazi regime, Jews were referred to as rats. The end result was not a Christmas party.”

He was referring to Raila Odinga’s use of the term madoadoa. A term that, itself, has a problematic history as it was used in the 2007/2008 violence to push the Kikuyus out of the rift. He was calling out a violence.

Given this man who knows about words, their histories and their impact can go around talking about killing killing people, what is being said? To apply the logic that he gave to us, the use of violent language is the easiest way to create a genocide compliant environment.

Genocide compliant.

Everywhere the whispers carry themselves. “I am afraid” is now something we say more often. Elections are things we think about with dread. Existing in an already polarized space, elections thrive on further polarization – making it clear that the “other” side is evil and that “this” side is good. We all know how the narratives of chosen people write themselves. A triumph, many times violent, over “others” is a big part of the narrative. It is important that the other side is destroyed that we may triumph.

These are not new stories. In order to create an empire you need a powerful other. All major religions and war stories show the same.

But, to return to Oduor “Wanting the homogenous whole, but not the heterogeneous parts is nonsense.” And it is to this nonsense that we seem to run for refuge. It is through this nonsense that our fear and insecurity manifest themselves. “We are one,” “One Kenya,” “tribe Kenya,” are a few of the various ways these fears have echoed themselves. Again through tragedy, again through reconciliation. Wash, rinse, repeat. Like moths we are spread by the simple switching of a light switch. When the light is on everything is okay, but when it is off we blindly attack anything in our sight.


Binaries are unwinnable

  • Aisha Onsando

The problem seems to be this either or mentality. Somewhere along the line between emulating the USA, creating our own identity and whatever else project Kenya means to each of us – we fell into a binary. With power now being defined as being held by either one or the other everyone in between became a “problem.” Democracy, now, has become not a competition of diversities but a choice between two majorities – with everyone else either voiceless and unconsidered. It’s no wonder a user on twitter (I was unable to find the actual tweet for proper accreditation) said it would be best to give the “major tribes” one part of the country to sort their issues out while everyone lives in peace.

Of course, I’ve said repeatedly, this is not new. There is nothing new about this model. In the 1980s, Coke and Pepsi were fighting for the US market, Coke was largely winning till they tried a drastic move with “New Coke” and almost handed Pepsi the market. In order to gain ground they quickly changed back but Pepsi had grown. However, because of all the advertising around this, the market was practically locked to any other colas. In their minds, there were only two colas – Coke and Pepsi. And so both companies grew and established themselves. But the real story here is about all the other colas that were locked out of the market. And, to break the metaphor, how important a diversity of choices is in leadership. If two people can, effectively, make sure that either one is in power, they leave no space for something else, for options. Which is what we’re sorely lacking right now – options.

And that’s the problem with binaries. We find ourselves so fixated on one or the other that we fail to realise that there’s so much more. So many different variations to this thing we call a government. We find ourselves so fixated on the fight. On the fact that there are two elephants, somewhere, fighting that we forget that we are the grass.

It’s been 10 hours. Life’s still the same.

Kenya: A State Of Perpetual Fear And Chaos

Brenda Wambui
8 July ,2014

From Wednesday 18th June to Friday 20th June 2014, I got to experience life in Kakuma, at the refugee camp. A couple of bloggers and I went there courtesy of UNHCR to commemorate World Refugee Day, and each day, we had opportunities to interact with the host community, the Turkana, and the refugees, who are of more than 13 nationalities, and are about 150,000 at the moment.

Every morning, between 8 – 9 am, a lorry would arrive full of people displaced from their home countries, and they would head to the UNHCR offices to register themselves. Many of these people spoke English, and one could tell they were well-educated. Each day, we went into the camps and interact with the refugees. They told us stories of their countries, some like Somalia which have not known peace for over two decades, others like South Sudan which had earned a fresh start, only to throw it all in the wind and return to where they started.

The camp was hot and dusty, and a majority of the structures were made of either mabati (corrugated iron sheets) or mud (bricks). We heard stories of journalists from Ethiopia having to run away because they published stories the regime did not approve of. One such man was now making a living constructing bottle brick housing for people in the camps. There was a principal of one of the schools on the camp, who had come to Kenya as one of the first South Sudanese refugees, studied here and made a life for himself. Once South Sudan attained independence, he and many others went back, only to return to Kenya and have to start from scratch as refugees because of the infighting in South Sudan.

We heard stories of fights between the Turkana and the refugees, over firewood, water and other resources. The Turkana were resentful of the refugees because they received these things from humanitarian organizations while the Turkana had to go out and look, while the refugees insisted that they did not receive enough, thus they had to venture into Turkana territory. The Turkana complained of their children being like chokoraa (homeless/street children), not being allowed to study at the schools for refugees, and even having to work in the camps to eke out a living. There were frequent battles inside the camp that leave people dead, with the disagreements usually boiling down to cultural differences.

On World Refugee Day, a government official working with the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) had the gall to say that “There is no pride in being a refugee,” as he spoke of initiatives the Kenyan government was involved in to better their lives. On a day meant to celebrate these brave human beings, he decided to put them down.

When one’s country has imploded and you have been forced to run away, trading your valuable iPad, smart phone and everything else you have to your name to gain passage across the border, is there time for pride? When one has come from being a senior manager at a company to operating a boda boda (motor cycle) in Kakuma refugee camp for a living, what happens to their pride?

Yet it seems that many of us are as insensitive and idiotic as this government official. We do not imagine that a time could come when we could be seeking refuge in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda because our political situation got out of hand. That we may have to trade our cars, laptops, smartphones and other comforts in order to gain safe passage across the border. That we would then be packed like cattle, in a lorry, and ferried to safety, and once there, no amount of “pride” and “Do you know who I am? I am on the fast track to partnership at my firm!” would save us from our new reality: that we have burned our country, and that we are refugees.

This possibility has never seemed more real to me, especially after this trip.

We have already managed to displace people in their own country severally. An internally displaced person is a refugee in his/her own country. They rely on humanitarian aid, and experience the same troubles in the camps set up for them as external refugees do, including friction with the host community. It must be jarring to imagine that your own country would do this to you. Yet Kenya keeps doing it. As at January 2008, 404,000 people had been displaced from their homes as a result of post-election violence. Let us not forget those displaced by drought, floods and inter-community clashes.

Monday 7th July 2014 marked yet another Saba Saba Day. This is a historically important day for Kenya. In 1990, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia called for a protest against Daniel Arap Moi, and the one party state system. Moi’s government responded by arresting them, Raila Odinga, George Anyona and others. However, Rev. Timothy Njoya, James Orengo, Martin Shikuku among others led a rally at Kamukunji Stadium, which ended with the protestors being attacked by security forces and KANU insisting that multi-party democracy would lead to violence and friction along tribal lines.

This act of civil disobedience led to the birth of the multi-party democracy we enjoy (or suffer under) today, along with relative press and other freedoms. However, when one surveys the internet today, civil disobedience is portrayed in a negative light, with every other Kenyan and their grandparents posting messages like “Let us be peaceful and not fight. Let us love one another…” One cannot help but notice the fear and potential chaos bubbling under these messages. We have a government that has all but failed to protect us, security personnel who do not take their jobs seriously, and a president who barely seems to care. People have every right to be furious, in fact, it is insane not to be. Our problem tends to be that we take this furiousness personally, as if we have been attacked as individuals, just because we share a tribe with the person/people under fire. The worst part is how we never seem to learn.

We come close to burning our country every so often, for example, on 19th June 2014, leaflets were distributed in Rift Valley asking all Luos to vacate or be attacked. This is the same idiocy that led us the 2007/08 post-election violence. When Kenya is attacked by terrorists, we oppress Somalis and put them in a concentration camp. When people are killed in Mpeketoni and Al Shabaab takes responsibility, our president comes out and denies that it was them and instead blames the opposition, leading to idiotic Kenyans attacking their neighbours because they come from opposition strongholds. In all this, it is we the people who suffer, who die, yet we continue to propagate the same stupidity over and over, somehow convinced it will yield different results. Perhaps we are a nation of idiots, and we deserve each other.

We need to understand that our problems are endemic, and of a much deeper nature, and “cleansing” the country of one ethnic group or the other will not solve them. Poverty and corruption are not by-products of ethnicity, they are born of greed and lawlessness. We need to abandon this constant state of fear and chaos, which has been used time and time again to keep us in check.

There are only two tribes in Kenya: the haves and the have-nots, and this constant ethnic tension and chaos ensures that the demarcations between those two groups remain, and that few cross over from one to the other. We are at a very important place in our democratic journey as a country: the true shambolic nature of our government is clear for all to see. We have a constitution that gives us recourse on what to do, let us not be afraid of our constitutional rights and powers as citizens, and hold our leaders to account.

Democracy is government of the people BY THE PEOPLE for the people, yet we always forget that little part – by the people. It gives citizens great power compared to many other systems of government, but this power comes with great responsibility. The work of change is hard, as our heroes Rubia, Matiba, Odinga, Anyona, Njoya, Wamwere, Shikuku and others would attest. Anything worth doing is going to be difficult, but it must be done. Once we confront the fact that our attitudes are flawed, and our leaders are hopelessly inept, we will have made the first step to recovery. Your neighbour’s tribe has nothing to do with your poverty. In fact, your neighbour is likely as poor as you are. What has her tribe done for her lately? Does it put food on her table? That is unlikely, which is why it is foolish of us to even allow ourselves to be pulled into ethnic violence.

I believe in market forces – demand and supply. I also believe that demand is a much more powerful force than supply. If we demand better leaders, and behave as we demand them to behave, the supply side (i.e. the leaders) will have to acquiesce. We will get what we work for, but we must first work. The next time there is an election, do the right thing. Vote on principle, not based on your tribe. Stand up against injustices, do not be afraid. The work of liberation has never been easy, but it is worth it. The first step is to liberate our minds. Otherwise, we are steadily on our way to joining Somalia, South Sudan and other war-torn countries in their crises, and I would hate for us to go that way.

The Revolution Will Be Written In HTML

Brenda Wambui
22 October ,2013

After the Westgate attack, an American friend who works as a freelance journalist based in Kenya tweeted that he was tired of listening to a government that spouts lies and a nation that was unwilling to question it. To which I responded that several questions were being asked daily, minute by minute even, especially online – all he had to do was check on Twitter. He responded that we can’t change a government via Twitter – that it’s lazy – and we should get our media to ask real questions.

This got me thinking. Countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia have long lagged behind the West due to the type of institutions they have. In the book Why Nations Fail, the authors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue that nations fail because of the following:

  1. – Extractive economic institutions (which are structured to extract resources from the many by the few, or elite, and that fail to protect property rights or provide incentives for economic activity)
  2. – Extractive political institutions (which concentrate power in the hands of the few and develop to support extractive economic institutions)
  3. – Lack of centralization of political institutions

Kenya and many countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia easily fall into the extractive institutions camp, and if the authors are to be believed and all factors are held constant, we are headed for failure, and that is if we have not already failed. It is easy to see why countries like Kenya are where they are today – extractive institutions, lack of proper centralization and most of all, the fear of the elite of creative destruction and innovation.

The book argues that, for any economic success, political institutions must be centralized enough to provide public services like justice, enforcement of contracts and education. When these functions are carried out, inclusive institutions enable innovation to emerge and lead to continued growth. The Industrial Revolution is a good example of what is possible under inclusive institutions. Extractive institutions are also able to deliver growth, but only when the economy is far from the technological frontier. They will always ultimately fail, however, when innovation and “creative destruction” are needed to push the frontier. Hence, even though success is possible for some time under extractive institutions, continuing success is only possible under inclusive institutions.

The authors also find that sustained economic growth requires innovation, which comes hand in hand with creative destruction, and replaces the old with the new in the economic realm also destabilizing established power relations in politics. Basically, inclusive institutions create an environment where citizens are empowered to innovate, invest in the market and work towards development.

Our institutions have been designed to stifle innovation and creative destruction – for example, when it comes to the ease of doing business worldwide, Kenya ranks at 121 out of 185 countries, and at 126 when it comes to the ease of starting a business. The gatekeepers at the institutions responsible do their best to make the process an absolute pain. This of course stifles innovation and creative destruction, and ensures that power in many industries remains in the hands of a few.

This method of stifling innovation and creative destruction worked well until the greatest invention of the 20th century arrived in Kenya: the internet. The internet has changed democracy as we know it, it has changed all forms of government as we knew them before. After all the things we have seen it do, it is extremely easy for a discussion on the effects of the internet to become anecdotal – to quote the Arab spring, to mention several Kickstarters, to casually mention fundraising causes like Kenyans for Kenya – it almost seems normal now, like nothing out of the ordinary.

Perhaps we overlook the ways in which the internet has changed how we are governed, especially in Kenya. It may not yet be within the reach of a majority of Kenyans, but even then, its effects have been felt all over the country.

The internet is the greatest democratizing force of our time.

By this, I refer to the literal meaning of the word democracy: majority rule, or the rule of the people. A democratizing force is one which increases the power of the people, and what has the internet done since it came around, if not increase the people’s power?

The internet gives political power to the people. It has become a tool to seek legitimacy (verified accounts on Twitter) and attention – resources which directly affect the power of politicians and therefore governments. On the internet, the people hold these resources, and as the saying goes, he who has greater need has less power. The centre of power shifts from the elite, who are so used to having it, to the citizens – as it should rightly be in any democracy.

Perhaps the greatest thing that happens online is the shaping of ideas. Before, one was limited to sharing ideas with people who were physically accessible, or via books, letters, telephone, telegraph and other slow means of communication. Now, all one has to do to share ideas with people in Venezuela is get online. The list of means is endless – be it Twitter, Reddit, Facebook or listserves – one can meet like minds, share one’s ideas and form opinions – decide what one likes and doesn’t like, and what one wishes to do about it.

Once ideas are constructed, interest groups emerge, and people are able to become aware of problems online, identify like-minded people and notify them of the problem as well. This creates a buzz, and this buzz can be used to create a particular outcome – it is what sites like Kickstarter thrive on.

Skills have been learned by many online, via sites like Coursera, YouTube and Udacity. One may not be able to afford school fees, but if one can get internet access, there is little that cannot be learnt online. This, of course leads to massive innovation and creative destruction – it puts the power over one’s knowledge and skill-set firmly in one’s hands. Resources are able to move across the world faster than they ever had before: a Kenyan in the USA can create a site to monitor injustices in Kenya without ever having to come back. The list of uses can continue ad infinitum.

The internet makes several gatekeepers irrelevant, and that is why people are constantly trying to control it – to “harness” it and “give it more order”, because of the immense power it has in its currently almost uncontrolled state. We have seen this locally, with the Media Council suggesting that bloggers be trained so that they are prosecutable (that is basically what the Council CEO said), and internationally with bills like SOPA and PIPA.

This increased awareness and power has boded well for Kenyans. When all of us come together and start asking our government questions online, even if it is on Twitter, it serves as one collective voice. Individually, we may not get heard, but as a collective, we can do great things. These interest groups, like Kenyans on Twitter for example (in a very loose sense, because most are interested in Kenya and its well-being), embody the sum total of the resources at the disposal of each individual. On Twitter, this would be the sum total of the followers of everyone asking questions about incidents like Westgate, for example. With this new found power, these groups are able to challenge other resource rich entities online.

The examples in Kenya are endless. In the past two months alone, Kenyans online took to task Governor Kidero for slapping Women’s Rep Shebesh, Senator Sonko for abusing Caroline Mutoko, the government for its poor response to the Westgate crisis, Sonko and Shebesh for their alleged affair and yet again the government for the unaccounted for Ksh. 338 billion.

We may feel like we are just making noise online, like it is all for nought, but it is not. Our cabinet secretaries, public officials and the president are not on Twitter because they think it is cool. It is because they have to be there, because a power shift has occurred and the elite love power. They would follow it into hell if it came to that. If they had it their way, they would probably not be online. When Kenyans have demanded for answers online, they got them. Granted, most of these answers have been lies, but they got them all the same. That is a start, and it can only get better.

In future, with the easy access to information online which can only get easier, it will become harder to take people for fools. When my American friend says that we should push the media to ask these questions, perhaps he does not see that the traditional media has also been caught flat footed. Mass communication was once at the beck and call of resource rich individuals, corporations and the government – he who paid the piper called the tunes. Along came the internet, and everyone started a blog and opened a Twitter account, basically making everyone a mini-publisher. User generated content became king.

There came an abundance of choice on where to get one’s information. Anyone can shape anyone else’s views, anywhere in the world. It is easy to see why traditional media would not be the people to look to for leadership in such cases – they are right there with politicians and government, unsure of how to react.

On the flipside, however, never has it been easier to make it into the news. Journalists are online, and will pick up leads for interesting stories from there. This not only applies to local journalists, but to international ones as well. A news cycle in these days may go like this: fire breaks out at JKIA. Man tweets about it. Lady twitpics it. Man and Lady get retweeted severally. Many people start asking questions. Al Jazeera picks it up. Next comes BBC. Next come our local news. Within two hours, the whole world knows that JKIA is burning down .

It may still feel illicit to many that you can change the world in your pyjamas, without leaving your house. Perhaps that is why a lot of the talk online is met with “Why don’t you go out into the ‘real world’ and do something about it?” Many find it difficult to translate activism online into ‘real world’ activism. The internet facilitates and accelerates on-the-ground activism, but it does not change the manner in which it is done. Usually, any anti-government activity is met with backlash, and in Kenya, this can be seen whenever blogger(s) are arrested for ‘being annoying’. What the internet has done is reduced the cost of organizing protests. Maybe we will see more people join physical protests in future after having participated in them online.

Others may argue that the internet has not changed anything major in Kenya, especially politics, which is still tribal and partisan. This is also true. However, the internet has changed how we understand politics, and the relationship between us and our government. We are questioning the status quo each day. It all begins with an idea and a recognition.

The internet in Kenya has, and will continue to, lead to more innovation, hence creative destruction. By shifting power from the elite, it will continue to lead to more inclusive political institutions, and later on, economic institutions. It will help us keep those in charge of political centralization in check, and maybe lead to better public service delivery. This may seem idealistic, it is; but it is not far-fetched.

Of course, the internet won’t change everything in a day. There are some things that cannot be changed online, or in a day. However, when it comes to the definition of democracy and power to the people, it is the closest we have come. So the next time someone tells you that you are “just” tweeting about it and that you are lazy, beg to differ. The revolution is happening in hearts and minds across the country, across the world – in bedrooms and living rooms and toilets – link by link, blog post by blog post, tweet by tweet.