The Dynamics of Corruption in Kenya

Guest Writer
12 June ,2018

by Robert Munuku

It is expected for governments to be corrupt. This is a reality, not a vindication – of course corruption is wrong. But at the very least no one gets a heart-attack from surprise upon hearing that government is corrupt.

The most injurious things are those that are an unexpected, because they go unseen then untreated as they operate from the shadows. Corruption in Kenya is not a government phenomenon, but a nationwide one, pervasive in social life and hence all institutions. To deal with corruption we have to deal with many things, preferably at a micro-sociological level. To attempt to deal with it (as we are now) at a macro-level would be futile because at the macro-economic/political levels, corruption is guarded by the very same people/institutions with the power to do something about it. It’s like going to a Kenyan police station to report police brutality and expect results

We as the Kenyan population are also not organized enough, willing enough & politically neutral enough to unite and mobilize towards a fight to end corruption. The middle-class is busy trying to get richer so that they can join the elite upper class, so any malcontent with corruption is often a front to show they care, when they really only care about upward social mobility. Likewise, the elite is more concerned with protecting their already acquired wealth.

Once we accept that corruption in Kenya is not unique to government, we also need to remember that the institutions that traditionally had more muscle than the individual to fight corruption are themselves corrupt – this is what some call the civil society. Civil society in Kenya has been tainted by the commercialization of activism. It is marred with self-interest often hinging on foreign funding. Cartels now too exist in civil society because they need to keep securing funds to keep their NGOs functional, and what better way than to ensure that there’s a constant state of chaos?

Civil society may come in to support a fight against corruption, but this is because their interests shift with the tide that pays their bills. Today it’s climate change, tomorrow it’s the girl-child, the next day it’s water and sanitation, and the next week its poverty reduction. Those who fund civil society from outside the country don’t do so because they love Kenya so much, but because they too want to front foreign agenda to African states like ours, which is a form of neo-colonialism.

The media have one of the most powerful tools – voice, and distribution channels of the same. However, journalists often also fall victim to corruption themselves, being paid off to steer conversations in a certain way (brown envelopes) or to outright kill stories. This is not surprising, because the media houses are owned by individuals who are often politically aligned. Perhaps non-mainstream media & independent journalists are the ones we can count on

Religious institutions are also participants and beneficiaries, because political leaders are usually aligned with one (or more) of the religious denominations in the country, leading them to shy away from harsh criticism.

I believe that the fight against corruption is a one we all need to deal with at first as individuals. But that can only happen if we truly believe it’s wrong. But do we? Or do we wish we were privy to the same wealth that it brings, and only fight it out of spite?

Robert Mũnũku is a visual artist, writer & filmmaker based in Nairobi. Mũnũku is also the founder of Mau Mau Collective which is an organization that seeks to create a strong network of independent visual artists, filmmakers & performing artists on the continent. Follow him on Twitter @robertmunuku

A Health Agenda in Jeopardy

Guest Writer
5 June ,2018

by Dr. Sakulen A. Hargura

Universal health care is a noble idea that is long overdue. For it to bear fruits and build a permanent home in our system, certain fundamental pillars that must be erected. The most important are sound healthcare policies, and adequate expertise to execute the plan contained in those policies.

Kenya has never been short on laws and policies (our constitution attests to our ability to formulate laws and policies). However acceptance, implementation and execution of these laws and policies has always been our weakness. Health is a basic human right. The post independence regime, and subsequent ones as well, laid the foundation for self sufficiency in health. The walk to self sufficiency, however, has been painstakingly slow. So much so that 55 years after independence, we do not have a fully functioning health care system (the kind of which Cuba is renowned for).

Kenya has had shortage of doctors since independence because for a very long time, it relied on only one institution (the University of Nairobi) to train both general physicians and specialists. This hampered the efforts to attain sustainable health care and ensured a constant injection of a low number of doctors into the system, which tried to maintain the distribution of specialists and general medical officers to all corners of the country.

Through remuneration that was commensurate with work environment, for example hardship allowances, and prioritization of doctors in hardship areas for masters study scholarships, the government gave doctors an incentive to move to the far off areas. These scholarships were systematic and deliberate so as to ensure not just constant supply of specialists, but to give the government the leverage to post the new graduate specialists to areas of need as well, be it in the major cities or rural areas. All the original blue print needed was expansion of capacity by giving more universities the resources and mandate to open medical schools in order to expand the inadequate human resource.

The change the Kenya’s public health care system needed to thrive finally arrived at the turn of the millennium with “parallel” degree programs. Medical degrees are long and expensive, and most public universities opened Schools of Medicine to benefit financially. Just as the first batch of these new graduate doctors joined the system, devolution happened. While devolution was meant to attain equity in resource sharing, it was mired by political hogwash that resulted in decisions that were not entirely aligned with the spirit of our constitution. Health was earmarked for devolution, but how to do it without deflation of the existing weak healthcare infrastructure and systems hadn’t been well thought out.

Kenya’s health care was a casualty in the territorial wars pitting Uhuru Kenyatta’s national government against the 47 county governments. To devolve health in its entirety, including human resource, without first holding forums to educate the governors and county health executives on the internal workings of Kenya’s health system was a wrong move. What county government needed was the control and management of the health facilities and infrastructure, as well as the health workers sent to their hospitals by the central government. The core hiring, distribution and training of health workers should, however, have been left at the Ministry of Health until such a time when devolution had been tested and matured.

Right after the hasty devolution of health, many doctors (especially specialists) exited public health care. Many of the counties affected have yet to attract them back despite concerted efforts. The chaos that followed resulted in a disgruntled work force as salaries delayed, the state of health facilities worsened, and the agreements signed with central government prior to devolution were disowned. The county governments not only failed to absorb new graduate doctors churned out by our universities but also refused to release those selected for masters study scholarships. The result was unnecessarily long strikes as central and county governments quarreled over who was responsible

At the moment, we are in a debate about the Cuban doctors joining our healthcare systems. While their credentials and proficiency are not in question, does Kenya need the Cuban doctors or does it need their healthcare system?

Kenya has a shortage of doctors, yet governors have persistently failed to absorb new graduate doctors who have completed their internships leaving them jobless. The same governors have refused to release countless doctors who have been given scholarships to study for their masters to add to the dwindling specialist numbers, with the excuse that they will be absentee employees. This not only denies citizens access to health care, but also derails Kenya’s ability to reach sufficient specialist numbers in the future. The system borne of hurried devolution is gutting Kenya’s public health care.

The Cuban doctors may be appealing, but their presence will not contribute to Kenya’s long term plans of sustainable universal health care. According to the government, they will serve at the grassroots level. This means they will not contribute to systemic education of new specialists in the country, nor will they help drive national policy at the helm. What happens after two years when the Cuban doctors bid us farewell? Do we then have the same program with India?

To bring in Cuban doctors with our existing system, or lack there of, is to transplant a branch of a flourishing tree onto a dry tree. Moreover, to base Kenya’s universal health coverage on a borrowed work force is to throw the seeds of a noble idea on to the rocks.

I believe that Kenya needs to restore the pre-devolution health care system in terms of training and distribution (posting) of doctors so as not to leave the fate of Kenyans in the hands of individual governors. Only then will we see the fruits of the increased numbers of doctors in the country. A body like the Health Service Commission (HSC) could be put in place as a bridge between the county and central governments to enable smooth movement of doctors through the two arms of government for training and posting.

We also need to borrow Cuban health policies, and some of their policy-makers, to duplicate their health care system. If at all their specialists are also brought in, they should be posted to universities and teaching hospitals to help train our doctors, not just to counties where upon the expiry of their tenure they will leave little in terms of long term impact.

Uhuru Kenyatta’s intent and will to implement his big four agenda should be well-informed and concerted. Instead of this public relations exercise, those entrusted with the duty of implementing this agenda should dig deep and consult concerned stakeholders so as to bring holistic and sustainable policies that will see us through another half a century.

Sakulen Hargura is a medical doctor presently pursuing masters in surgery in Turkey. He loves to read, and writes poetry as well as a weekly opinion piece for the Marsabit Times.

First, Do No Harm

Brenda Wambui
28 February ,2017

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.

The #LipaKamaTender Movement

Guest Writer
21 February ,2017

by Dr. Judy Karagania

Kenyan doctors have been on strike since 5 December 2016. That is 79 days. This strike has historical parallels to what is considered the longest strike by medical practitioners in 1994 that lasted 105 days. Three thousand doctors were sacked fighting for the registration of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union (KMPDU) and salary increases.[1]

In the last 2 years alone, there have been 42 strikes in various counties, following the hurried devolution of the health sector in January 2014. [2] However, this strike is different because we are fighting for the enactment of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that was signed between the doctors and the government in June 2013, yet the government has delayed its registration and implementation for the last three and a half years.

The CBA captures issues varying from doctors’ remuneration, promotions, transfer and training of doctors; improved working conditions such as functioning medical equipment, increase of number of doctors and support staff; benefits to doctors such as ‘workmen compensation and retirement.’ In October 2016, following an 18 month case the doctors’ union had lodged against the government, the Labour court ordered for the registration of the CBA, but the Ministry of Health remains defiant. Our struggle takes place in a context where various government ministries have been mired in corruption scandals by paying for inflated tenders for services and commodities that are rarely delivered.[3] It is with this same speed that doctors want the CBA to be paid, hence the hash tag #lipakamatender which means “pay it like a government tender.”

“Daktari unahitajika ward.” The nurse sounds tired. She is overworked, being one of two nurses there caring for a ward with 80 patients. This is far from the WHO recommended nurse : patient ratio of 1:6/10. I find a patient convulsing, an empty emergency tray and the pharmacist informs me that we have been out of anti-convulsants for more than a month. The patient is dead when her kin returns with the drug from a private pharmacy in town.

For years, Kenyan doctors have been reduced to supervisors of patients’ deaths and we see this strike as the beginning of the path to redemption. One could easily trip over several patients lying on the floor because all the beds already are occupied by two patients. On display are archaic blood test machines and x-ray machines which haven’t been working for the last two weeks. The donated ambulance at the parking lot has also been out of service for the last 2 months. A mother mourns her deceased new-born because she went into obstructed labour at home, and the only means for her to get to the hospital, 60 km away, was on a bodaboda (motorcycle).

It is with an air of irony that doctors noted that the First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta, once again announced her annual Beyond Zero marathon which has been held for the last 3 years to raise funds to improve maternal and child health. Yet her husband heads a government that is constitutionally mandated to address this need and has failed to support its doctors. To add to the irony, the Ministry of Health, using taxpayers’ money, are also large donors to this private campaign. Due to the politicization of the agenda, the First Lady issued a statement cancelling this year’s marathon. The quest to have fully equipped hospitals is constantly hampered by ingrained corruption and government inefficiencies. For example, KES 30 Million worth of medical equipment was returned to its Swedish donors after the donor declined to pay out KES 2 million in kickbacks to have the consignment cleared at the port.[4]

At the beginning of the strike, the Cabinet Secretary of Health, the Deputy President and the President all insisted that there was no money with which to pay doctors. Yet the same government spends KES 16 billion in annual salaries for members of parliament and senators, who are the second highest paid lawmakers in the world after those in Nigeria. They receive 76 times of Kenya’s GDP per capita of KES 86,624[5], and a further KES 4 billion on their travel allowances. In 2015, the president’s travel cost the taxpayers a whopping KES 1.2 Billion.[6] Adding insult to injury, whilst doctors have been on strike Kenyan MPs have awarded themselves send-off packages worth KES 36 billion and are to receive KES 11 million as “gratuity.”

In light of all this extravagance, the doctors’ demands for the new pay structure will set back the government only KES 8.1 billion annually for 4,500 doctors in public service. Despite this, the government in the last 11 weeks,has undermined the CBA and repeatedly offered a 40% increase in the emergency call allowance and a “presidential gift” of KES 10,000 as a risk allowance. This is very different from what was painstakingly agreed upon in the CBA that involves special banding of doctors’ remuneration, because of the unique nature of our work as civil servants, working odd hours and repeatedly endangering our own health and lives. Furthermore, there is the ongoing suspended prison sentence for the top seven union officials, which has been used to blackmail them to call off the strike.

The integrity with which the government has handled negotiations with doctors has also been called into question. The Telegraph India reported that the Indian government through their Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “sidestepped” a proposal from Kenya to fly doctors from India to fill the gap created by the strike during a state visit to India by Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta. The other proposed source of doctors was Cuba, who have remained silent on the issue. Even though the government has denied these claims, we question the seriousness and commitment that they bring to negotiating with doctors.

The Minister of Finance recently admitted that the reason why they do not want to pay doctors a decent salary in the public sector is because this would cause an influx of doctors from the private to the public sector, hence private hospitals would collapse. With more than 95% of Kenyans relying on public facilities, it should go without saying that health is a public function. From the approximately KES 50 billion our National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) receives, KES 33 billion goes to private hospitals, KES 10 billion goes to India for treatment of Kenyans there and only KES 7 billion goes to public hospitals, of which only KES 4.2 billion goes towards free maternity care.[7]

Government interests are clearly skewed away from catering to the public’s needs. On the other hand, private hospitals are known to exploit doctors, paying them as little as KES 55,000 a month. While the public provision of health services is thus undermined, international investment companies are flocking in, seeking to invest in private healthcare in Kenya, because it is a “honey pot” for a rising middle class. Our very own private facilities are also investing billions of shillings in expansions. Does this mean that access to healthcare will become a privilege and not a right?

The vultures are circling around the carcass that is public health care, but doctors shall continue fighting for the ordinary citizen to have access to the best attainable health in this country.

Dr. Judy Karagania is a Kenyan medical doctor currently working in the largest referral hospital in the region, Kenyatta National Hospital, while pursuing her postgraduate studies in Ophthalmology. She obtained her medical degree from the University of Nairobi and afterwards went straight into the public health service at the second largest referral hospital in Kenya, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, in Eldoret, then later worked at a smaller hospital in Naivasha.

Ed: A version of this essay was initially published on Review of African Political Economy.

References

[1] The Star, 8 December, 2016, Kenyan Doctors’ Fight for Better Pay started in 1994. Doctors were deemed un-unionisable then because the law categorized them as being in managerial positions. The Union was only registered in 2011

[2] Section 138 of the County Government act and part 187 of the Kenyan constitution. The transition authority had advised that devolution of Health should be done slowly, but it was very quickly executed.

[3] Two recent examples of major tender issuance corruption scandals in Kenya in 2016 alone can be read at: The Daily Nation, 27 October, 2016, Questions raised as Kshs 5 Billion missing at Health Ministry; AllAfricanews.com, 30 September, 2016, Kenya: Sh1.8bn Lost in NYS Scam, Lawmakers Told

[4] The Daily Nation, July 9, 2016, Donor takes back Sh30m equipment after refusing to give out kickbacks

[5] Business Daily, July 23, 2013. Kenyan Legislators emerge second in global pay ranking.

[6] Business Daily, Oct 12, 2015. Uhuru foreign country visits cost taxpayers Sh1.2bn

[7] KMPDU Secretary General’s Speech January 31, 2017

The Northern Collector Tunnel

Brenda Wambui
11 October ,2016

For lovers of drama, Kenya’s politics never seem to disappoint, and yesterday was no different. On 10th October 2016, Raila Odinga, Kenya’s former Prime Minister, held a press conference to reveal the details of a project he says the current government has been hiding from Kenyans.

Mr. Odinga said that just above the Murang’a region, in the Aberdares, there was a tunnel, known as The Northern Collector Tunnel, and that its effects would be some of the worst the country and the continent have seen. The source of many rivers is the Aberdares, and he says that this tunnel will divert this water to Ndakaini dam in Thika for consumption in Nairobi. According to him, this project began in 2014.

He says that seven rivers, all of which feed into the River Tana, are targeted – this river is the longest river in Kenya, and its annual flow is 5,000 million cubic metres (5 trillion litres), and it is Kenya’s most important river, feeding Kindaruma, Kamburu, Gitaru, Masinga and Kiambere dams. The river and its tributaries pass through many Kenyan regions, such as Meru, Kitui, Garissa and Garsen, and it is a source of livelihood for communities in these areas.

Mr. Odinga cites that though the World Bank (and the French government) are funding the project, whose cost he states is KES 6.8 billion, they classify it as a Category A project. The World Bank has safeguard policies whose objectives are to ensure that they/their projects do no harm by protecting people and the environment from adverse impacts, do good by enhancing social equity, reduce and manage risk both for the World Bank and the clients in question, and respond to a worldwide constituency.

A project in Category A means that the potential impact is broad, diverse, and potentially irreversible. It involves large scale conversion/degradation of natural habitats, extraction/conversion of substantial amounts of forest and major resettlement of people; and involves production, use or disposal of hazardous materials, as well as direct discharge of pollutants resulting in degradation of air, water or soil. Think about it – what if government had a project running that involves the felling of most, if not all, of Karura forest? We’d go ballistic, rightly so. Only that the effects of this collector tunnel will be much worse given the size and importance of Tana River.

Raila Odinga says that the terms of reference for the conduct of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) were not approved until July 2014, and the EIA report was not approved till November 2014. The NEMA license was also not issued until February 2015, yet the government commissioned and began construction anyway. This is very callous, and very uncharacteristic for a government that likes to announce and launch all its projects and even take credit for those of the previous government that have only been completed during their time.

Hydrogeology (the geology of water occurring under the earth) is an important factor to consider when carrying out such a project, especially for a river as big as Tana, which draws its water from several other rivers flowing through different areas. The influence of such a tunnel must be studied in order to evaluate changes in volume and direction of surface and groundwater flow, modifications to water channels due to increases or decreases in sediment load, damage to adjacent aquatic ecosystems, and possible water quality contamination.

When a tunnel is built, it lowers the groundwater table, drying up wells and natural springs. Raila Odinga correctly states that severe loss of water on the Tana River will lead to drying up of both ground and underground rivers and streams in Garissa, Ukambani and Tana River Delta, and that the larger Murang’a, Garissa, Ukambani and the Tana River Delta region will be deserts within five years of this project. In Murang’a alone, he states that 77 species of aqua life which include 7 species of fish are expected to be extinguished.

I wonder, since hydroelectricity is our main source of power in this country and the Tana River feeds the Seven Forks scheme, what he government’s plan is with regards to this. Are they going to have enough capacity to generate power for the nation using geothermal, wind and solar energy? Is this why we are pushing forward with an ill-advised coal power plant in Lamu, despite protests by the people who live there?

Murang’a also experiences landslides more frequently than all other parts of the country due to rainfall and human activity. It also doesn’t help that it’s a mountainous region. These landslides are caused by sedimentation due to the steepness of the area, as well as water movement. So you can imagine what a project that affects both the earth and the water underground in the area will do to Murang’a and its people.

What worries me the most is the blasé attitude of the government. National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale said that Mr. Odinga was actually the one who launched the project four years ago, alongside Charity Ngilu, and that he’d termed the project noble. He hypothesized that Raila Odinga was unhappy with who won the tender, since he had favoured another contractor who would have given him a 10% cut. Aden Duale did not deny the existence of the project, though.

It no longer surprises me that this is the sort of reaction the government would have towards questions about a project that will undoubtedly affect the lives of millions. They probably do not care, otherwise they would have made more of an effort to involve the public, especially those who live in the Tana River basin. They would also have come clean, offered an apology and addressed the concerns stated above. But I guess this is what matters when your government thinks you are disposable – your opinions on matters that ultimately affect your life don’t matter. Neither do you.

And Then There Were None

Brenda Wambui
5 April ,2016

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.

Why #TeamPositivity Is Wrong

Brenda Wambui
19 May ,2015

There is a belief that has been around in Kenya since the advent of the prosperity gospel and the flood of self-help books in the market: that the key to the change we so desperately require in Kenya, be it solving our flooding problem or ending corruption, is positive thinking.

Recently, we have faced successive lows as a country, such as the Garissa massacre, the Nairobi floods, the dipping of the Kenya shilling with relation to the US Dollar and the Euro among others, and the purveyors of the positive thinking school of thought have blamed these incidents on the attitude of Kenyans, especially those online. It has been said that Nairobi is flooding because we litter too much and this blocks our drainage system, that our currency is losing value to key international currencies because we only ever rave about negative things happening in Kenya as opposed to giving more attention to the positive, and that we cannot fully blame the government’s response to the Garissa massacre for the deaths that occurred.

These arguments ignore basic facts: such as, when we do not upgrade our sewerage and drainage system, and fail to build storm pipes in an area like Nairobi which is a catchment for many rivers, flooding is inevitable. That when we are corrupt and build on riparian land, which is protected by law, our houses and neighbourhoods will flood when it rains. That when roads are built without adequate drainage because contractors want to take shortcuts and make more money, our roads will look like lakes when this happens. That when we live in a globalized world where information is mobile and our country is experiencing multiple failures, the value of our currency will drop, regardless of how much we try to hide it. That when we have a corrupt security apparatus, it is actually the government’s fault when massacres such as the one in Garissa occur, and no amount of spin and positive thinking can change this.

This insistence on positive thinking removes the responsibility and accountability from those who have it, and leaves it to forces such as karma, or God. It also stinks of victim blaming, as it causes people going through hard times, be it terrorist attacks or flooded apartments, to think they have brought it upon themselves. It may be argued that we are complicit in these tragedies, for example, because we chose to live in houses built on riparian land, however, if we are to actually apportion blame, I feel the victims of such tragedies hold very little of it as compared to the perpetrators, who are the rich and powerful of this country.

Positive thinking as a solution to national problems is also very unrealistic: we cannot expect people to suffer injustice after injustice and still “be positive”. This stinks of privilege – and privileged people have no business preaching to those who are less privileged than they are about how exactly they should live their lives, because they enjoy more mobility, and through their power, can avoid many of the situations the less privileged find themselves in. A privileged person has no right to tell others how the government cannot be held wholly accountable for the Garissa massacre yet there is no likelihood that this person’s children would have been at that university – they do not empathize with the situation, and should have the humility to realize this.

Positive thinking as a national mantra has become so pervasive that when the Garissa massacre happened, Dennis Itumbi, a government operative, thought it would be wise to start a hashtag on Twitter to celebrate two years of the Jubilee government’s so called successes even as the country mourned the loss of its children. This type of thinking informs the mantra “accept and move on”, which encourages Kenyans not to critically think about situations that have occurred. Instead, it leads to them feeling somewhat helpless, thrusting into the future with naïve optimism with little to no learning happening from these crises, and creates fertile ground for them to keep happening.

Indeed, science backs this up, as it has proven that positive thinking is more of a hindrance to human progress than it is useful. Fantasizing about better lives does not help people achieve their dreams. Instead, it calms you down by lulling you into a place of false security and happiness, and drains you of the energy needed to take action on your goals. Positive thinking fools our minds into thinking that we have already attained our goals. Worse still, it creates greater shock in the future when things do go wrong, because the positive thinker who has worked so hard to maintain only positive thoughts about the future, is found less prepared and gets more distressed when things that are obviously not good happen.

One of the members of #teampositivity called Kenyans “little rascals” for what she thinks is an abuse of our freedom of speech because of all the things we get away with saying on social media, reminding us that if this were the Moi era, we would be in a basement at Nyayo House being “taught manners”. The tone deafness of this statement, as well as its blatant disrespect for all those who suffered at the hand of that tyrant was shocking.

As opposed to only “thinking positively”, scientists and researchers advise on an approach called mental contrasting that combines this type of thinking with hard doses of realism. There is even a school of thought that has found great success in recognizing the usefulness of the negative path, which recognizes the value of realism, failure, uncertainty and even anger, in building better lives and societies. Isn’t this what the “little rascals” on Twitter do when they discuss governance in Kenya? They clearly state things as they are, express their dissatisfaction, and attempt to hold those who are responsible accountable. They would not do this if they did not care for Kenya; they do it because they do. It is foolish to imagine that these people do not want Kenya to improve; that #teampositivity are the only ones who do.

As a country, we require deep reflection on past events because the frequency with which Kenya finds itself in crises is worrying. The conversations we engage in on Twitter, and other platforms, are very useful. Why are we so easily misled? Why is it taking us so long to become a better nation; to reduce poverty and corruption, and create an equitable and just society? It is my belief that the work of dismantling oppressive systems is painstaking, and requires deep thought and organizing, as these systems are entrenched over years.

A good place to start is debates on what is going wrong in the country, as well as reflections on the past, no matter how uncomfortable they may make #teampositivity and their ilk. So keep doing so, and let us keep working to untangle Kenya from its perpetual mess.

Corruption and Terror: Somali Community in Kenya Caught in the Crossfire

Guest Writer
3 June ,2014

by Samira Sawlani

“The Country chose its prey. Seduced them, made them believe they owned it and then gobbled them down, often in the most tender of ways—like a python.”

“Kenya is treacherous.”

The above are excerpts from Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s novel “Dust”. Though they form part of a fictional story, for many in Kenya, these sentiments currently reflect reality.

Over the last two months the Kenyan Government has launched an exercise aimed at tackling the dark cloud of terrorism hovering above the country, an exercise which has inadvertently highlighted the many ills in society today, for in fighting one threat, others have been fuelled, particularly corruption and xenophobia.

As part of Operation Usalama Watch, raids targeted at identifying those illegally in Kenya have been sanctioned. The government has denied that any specific nationalities or ethnic groups are being targeted, yes there have been reports of individuals from Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda being arrested and screened, however, there is overwhelming evidence that the Somalis in Kenya have borne the brunt of this crackdown.

Many have defended the actions of the state as being in the interest of the people and not singling out any one community. Well, denial is often nirvana.

As a 35 year old woman from Eastleigh said to me, “The attitude of the Kenyan Government towards us is that of a landlord trying to get rid of his tenants. He cannot tell them to leave so he goes out of his way to make the house as unlivable as possible so that they will leave.”

Be it Somali refugees, Somali migrants or those who hail from North Eastern Province, I found one striking similarity in the views of those I spoke to: they all felt like they live on the cusp of a forced exodus from the Kenyan identity they possess.

Due to the long silences of the mainstream media (bar a few articles on this matter) it is very easy to be oblivious to exactly what reality is like for Somalis in Kenya, particularly Nairobi, at this moment.

As should be public knowledge, thousands of people are currently being screened at Kasarani Stadium in order for the authorities to determine their status.

Officials say that those held at what has been branded “Kasarani Concentration Camp” are being treated well and their human rights are being respected. Why then have no media organizations, aid agencies or local NGOs been allowed in to inspect conditions?

Some of those that shared their experiences of being held in Kasarani said the following: “It was cramped and dirty. The worst was what to do with our children who were frustrated, when we would ask the police how long we were to be kept for they would not answer.” Meanwhile, Fartun, a mother of two, stated, “Due to how cold it would get in there my daughter fell ill. I expected the police to help but they did not pay attention. Only after I paid a bribe did they go and get me some medicine. Most people that came in had been held in other police stations where they had been mistreated, and some ladies shared that they had been touched inappropriately by some male police.”

Shop owner Omar shared his story, “The police entered my home at around 2 am, and the noise woke up our 4 children, all of whom were very scared. We were then taken to Kasarani and split apart. My wife is pregnant and suffering from morning sickness – there were no decent facilities for her to even be sick in.” Upon release the family returned to Eastleigh. “As my phone was taken from me when I arrived at Kasarani, I had no way to let my staff know what was going on, so my electronics shop has suffered much loss. Because of all this trouble many of my neighbours have vacated their premises and gone. The Somalis who would come to the shop now do not because they know the police are always patrolling the streets looking for bribes. Unfortunately they have visited my home twice since we left Kasarani and demanded money even though we have IDs. This constant paying of bribes and slow business has put much financial strain on us, but the police know Somalis are economically successful and are vulnerable with no one to speak for them.”

Cramped cells, no access to food or lawyers and being asked for bribes are common experiences among those Somalis who have been arrested and held at Kasarani or police stations across Nairobi. Shrouded in mystery are the stories of those that have not been deported, but been sent to refugee camps in other parts of the country, often separate from their families.

Life, however, is not much better for those from the Somali community that are apparently “free” and not in police custody. One young man said, “My ancestors hail from Wajir, I have lived in Nairobi my whole life, I am Kenyan and all of a sudden people are getting off matatus when I board or telling me to go back to where I came from? I have no connections with Somalia, where exactly do they expect me to go? Kenyans are not like this, and it may be a one off, but it is very telling.”

I interviewed a gentleman living in Eastleigh who told me that the police try to target elderly Somalis because they are vulnerable and often do not speak much Kiswahili, so they are more likely to pay bribes out of fear, and to avoid being hassled. He mentioned that the police have visited his neighbour, who is an elderly man with a young family. Despite his having identification and a passport, they threaten to take him to the station knowing full well that because of his age the family will pay to stop this from happening. For this reason, they keep visiting his home, posing the same threat and increasing the amount of money they want every time.

In another case, a 60 year old diabetic man was arrested despite having a copy of his British passport, the original of which was away for renewal. He was taken to the Police Station at 6pm and his phone and documents confiscated while his family had no idea of his whereabouts. The following morning his family traced his location and the Police demanded KES 30,000 to release him, stating that otherwise, they would keep him in for another five days. Knowing his age and health condition would garner success, they received KES 26,000.

Other stories include trying to scare individuals into paying bribes by threatening to take them to the station with no intention to do so, threatening young women with rape, and destroying or confiscating Identification Cards or papers. The most bizarre story yet is of a man showing a police officer his Kenyan passport and the officer saying, “But where is your Kenyan visa?”

Destruction of property, breaking gates of homes and asking for bribes and using threatening language in front of children are all common. Police now frequent the same areas of Eastleigh every night, extracting more and more money from innocent people who just want to be left in peace. Many officers allegedly go to the area after their shift is finished (ironically, they are also making a huge profit out of those who do not have IDs or papers to be in Kenya, so if there are any potential terrorists around, they too are able to pay their way out of arrest). In an attempt to fight one problem another has been fuelled: corruption.

Somalis in Kenya not only live in fear of terrorists like the rest of the country, they also live in fear of those very agencies meant to protect them. Through “legal looting”, men and women who work hard to feed their families, run businesses which aid the Kenyan economy and largely mind their own business are being exploited. As if this is not enough, they then experience humiliation in police stations, in their homes and on the streets only to find that when they speak out, no one is listening. How many media houses have continuously reported on this? How many public figures came forward to clarify to people what their rights are?

As a 20 year old Somali-Kenyan student said, “The media are of no help, in fact sometimes their reporting on Somalis and Muslims in general has stereotyped us and led to us being held out as scapegoats. The media are supposed to speak against injustice but they have been mainly silent or quietly taken part.”

Terrorism is a very real threat to Kenya and urgency is required in tackling it, however these tactics are simply encouraging alienation which in itself is the cause of much dissatisfaction. A culture of police impunity is not the solution to terrorism, nor is targeting and marginalizing a particular community or racial profiling. Screening for those in the country illegally is important, however, locking individuals and families up without legal basis or using them as ATM machines does not read as a legitimate strategy, and it reinforces the view that the police are above the law they are meant to exercise and protect.

At a time when social cohesion and a feeling of “being Kenyan” and being valued should be encouraged the exact opposite is taking place.

As Nairobi born and bred 26 year old Abdi Sheikh said, “I will never be Kenyan, always Somali Kenyan and that translates to not Kenyan enough. We keep one foot out the door, not because we want to, but because we don’t know when the foot inside Kenya will be chopped off, forcing us to run.”

Samira Sawlani is a writer/journalist specialising in politics, economy and development of East and Horn of Africa. She can be found on Twitter @samirasawlani

Systemic Begging

Guest Writer
4 March ,2014

by Caroline Maina

Since Form 1 placements started, there have been several articles in the Daily Nation featuring students risking illiteracy due to poverty. Were I an outsider reading this paper, I would conclude that Kenyans are poor, their politicians are greedy and that Machakos is the capital city based on its development.

These articles are about children who performed well and have placements in national schools. In response, Kenyans from all over the world will generously offer to partially or fully sponsor their school fees. This will be followed by pictures of a smiling young boy or girl fully dressed in his/her new school uniform, thanking the well-wishers.

It is not unusual to not have enough school fees, neither is it wrong to ask for help when it is needed.

My problem with it is that we are creating beggars out of these children.

There are several scholarship programs that a child who scores 350 marks and above can apply for like the Equity “Wings to Fly” scholarship, KCB Foundation scholarship, among others. Why would someone who scored 390 be unable to access it? Is it because they were late to apply for the scholarship? Or is it that the organisations were not good at advertising their activities?

But, more importantly, what are we teaching the child? This child will learn that with the right amount of sadness on their face and an eager journalist looking for a story, (s)he will get whatever (s)he wants without going through rigorous vetting and crazy deadlines. If so, expect them to beg again for university tuition.

This goes for the children sent in the streets – what will they become when they grow up? Do their parents think about the future of their children?  Shall they beg for the rest of their lives?

Of course, with the current poverty levels and the ever rising cost of living, many parents are forced to use all their means to put food on the table. Since the retired president Moi’s error – when he frequented the West in search of donations – we as a country have been losing our dignity. With the carrot-dangling style of many donors, Kenya as a country has had to beg. We have a well oiled begging system based on colour and social status. Those parents make their children believe that the well dressed Kenyans walking up and down the streets are just lucky, as their children, on the other hand, disregard hard work.

At a much higher level, governors spent KES 1B  in travel for just three months in search of donor funding, as well as foreign investors. It’s like leaving your house and spending a considerable amount of energy and money to go ask someone else to feed your family. Couldn’t we as a country have been in a much better position if we used that money for an irrigation project in Turkana or a hospital somewhere remote? Our leaders are constantly reinforcing the idea of begging our lighter skinned big brothers, not by their words, but by their actions.

The first time I came to Norway, my boss was very eager to meet me, another Kenyan. She had been paying school fees as well as food for a family in rural Kenya. It is really nice that she does that, but do you know what position that put me in? A begging position. Nothing could be discussed without the mention of the family she helps in Kenya. She commented, confidently, on the elections and felt she had the right to critique the process because she was supporting the Kenyan poor. One time, a bus driver asked me which country I was a refugee from.

What am I getting at? While it may seem harmless or just a little bit annoying that there is so much begging and beckons of “Mzungu, give me one dollar to buy food!” in the streets, these people go back to their countries assured of their supremacy and we loose all the pride and dignity of being Kenyan. This affects the middle class more that it does any other category of Kenyans.

There is no better feeling than earning something for yourself and being completely independent of others, whether it’s your parents or any other providers. It gives one a great sense of accomplishment. The worry of not having food on the table or lacking school fees should not be on a child’s mind. It is the responsibility of the government to have an education system that creates hard working and responsible citizens for a greater future. Citizens that will compete in the global market with great confidence and not pity seekers.

The Ministry of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism will not make any headway in improving Kenya’s image if there is no change of mindset of our leaders and wananchi. I appreciate the efforts of the Kenyan government by not including aid in the national budget, it certainly gives Kenya freedom to make its decisions. More still needs to be done to position Kenya as a global competitor, but this will not happen if the Kenyan government has to be helped to provide health (which receives a great deal of donor funding), food or education to its population.

“Never stand begging for that which you have the power to earn.”

Miguel de Cervantes

Caroline Maina is a fun and experimental being who is expressive in her writing and speech.  Twitter: @carolmsuper