Icarus tales: Power and Proximity in Kenya: Part 2

Guest Writer
12 February ,2019
“In a master stroke Mboya had helped forestall the no confidence vote and significantly weakened the KPU and Odinga.”

by Joash Onsando

Read part 1 here.

“Power is like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.”

Frank Underwood, House of Cards.

In part one, I spoke about Interior CS Dr. Fred Matiangi’s meteoric rise to power in the Jubilee administration. Today, few would question the “property value” of the man who many now refer to as “Chief Minister”. I picked him, the subject of this article to illustrate the precarious nature of proximity to power in Kenyan politics.

If the history of Kenyan politics has taught us anything then that lesson would be that smart power is exercised indirectly, through trusted aides. Any politician of note will tell you that highly risky political maneuvers are best carried out by an agent. That way the principal can walk away without egg on their face in case things don’t go according to plan.

Our political past is littered with several examples of such agents. Typically, the agent is a highly effective, zealous and fiercely loyal individual. The principal will normally pick them and elevate them over their peers with resultant perks and trappings of power. The agent is normally a means to an end and as such is quickly disposed of as soon as the end is met. The fierce loyalty of the agent is hardly reciprocated by the principal.

The agent must know their place. They must not let newly acquired power get to their head. They must always remember that they serve at the whims of the principal, and therefore must always remain subservient and accountable.

By virtue of their position, the agent normally attracts envy and admiration in equal nature. Because of the high risk nature of the political maneuvers tasked to them, the agent inevitably makes many enemies, some very powerful enemies in the course of carrying out their assigned duties. It is these factors that make the position of agent, a blessing and a curse.

“Proximity to power deludes some into thinking they wield it”

Frank Underwood, House of Cards

No politician in history used this agency relationship as cunningly and effectively as former President Daniel Arap Moi. The August 1 1982 coup attempt transformed Moi from a soft spoken, amiable character whom some had described as a passing cloud to a seemingly intolerant political chess master who demanded unquestioning loyalty from the rank and file of KANU – the only party then.

It therefore came to pass that on December 17, 1986, after a series of provincial KANU conferences and a national conference at the Kenya Institute of Administration in Kabete, Moi unveiled the KANU Disciplinary Committee, KDC, chaired by one David Okiki Amayo to purge any dissent and disloyalty from within the party.

The committee’s formal brief was to grill members on discipline issues and punish those found to have flouted the party’s code of conduct or brought it to disrepute.

The KDC would quickly gain notoriety as a platform through which political scores were settled with little or no regard to due process. Its grilling sessions began with those summoned stating their name, occupation and whether they had pledged loyalty to the government, the party, the president and the ‘Nyayo Philosophy’. What would follow thereafter would be a charade of trumped up, comical and sometimes childish charges against respondents who were almost always found guilty. For many the best outcome of appearing before it would be writing an apology letter to the party with the worst case scenario being expulsion from the party. With Kenya being a one party state at the time, said expulsion was a death knell for many political careers.

The Amayo led committee was a law unto itself, paying no regard even to the constitutional protections accorded to sitting members of parliament. In 1987, the then Labour minister, Peter Okondo , himself a victim of the committee described Amayo’s conduct of party affairs as “boisterous, bloated and so bombastic as to make utter nonsense of reality and the truth”. Such was the notoriety of the KDC that a cabinet minister would have no recourse but to lament of its excesses in parliament.

On September 10th 1987, upon returning from a trip to Finland and Romania, President Moi unceremoniously disbanded the KDC at JKIA with a few terse words; “I want to dissolve the KANU Disciplinary Committee and it is hereby stamped out. I want wananchi to live without fear!”

And thus ended David Okiki Amayo’s reign of terror. Whilst he had served his purpose, he had also allowed power to get to his head. He had become too big for his breeches, punched way above his station and effectively become a thorn in Moi’s flesh. His political fortunes would slowly dwindle after that having more enemies that he could count. His loss to Phoebe Asiyo in the Karachuonyo Parliamentary race in 1992 ultimately dispatched him to political oblivion.

“For those of us climbing to the top there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted”

Frank Underwood, House of Cards

If I were to pick a historical figure with whom to draw parallels with CS, then it would be Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya. Like Matiangi, Mboya was intelligent, focused, intense and arrogant to boot. Mboya had a way about him, he got things done by employing charm and his exemplary oratory skills. With little effort he managed to cut himself a niche above his peers at the Lancaster House independence negotiations and thereafter. His unique set of skills did not go unnoticed by founding President Jomo Kenyatta who appointed him in his cabinet, first as Minister for Labour and later on as minister for Economic Planning where he is credited to have authored, alongside others, the Sessional Paper Number Ten which defined the country’s economic policies.

Mboya’s first rather overt show of loyalty to Kenyatta, came in response to a report written, ‘Who Rules Kenya’, written by Nigerian journalist Zeeky Rukari. Rukari wrote: “Kenyatta is today one of the biggest land owners. He possesses 6000 acres of choice land”. This statement angered the Kenyatta administration and Mboya, leveraging on his international connections, volunteered to reach out to the Nigerian government, ostensibly to avoid similar embarrassment in the future.

After independence, Kenyatta and Odinga, his Vice President, clashed on many issues, key among them being land and the East- West divide, an ideological rift. This was a far cry from a few years back when Odinga had declared Kenyatta his “next God” whilst demanding for his release before independence! Tables had now turned and Kenyatta needed to neutralize Odinga. He knew Mboya was just the man for the job.

In a genius move, Mboya – then KANU’s Secretary – proposed amending the party’s constitution splitting Odinga’s party vice chair position to eight positions, one from each of the provinces. The rhetoric accompanying the changes was that KANU needed a more inclusive, national face and not seem like a Luo-Kikuyu affair. After long drawn political intrigue expertly managed by the young Secretary General, Odinga’s fate was sealed on March 9th 1966 at the Limuru KANU conference. The eight Vice Chairmen were elected with Odinga, who was absent, missing from the lineup.

Odinga then resigned as Vice President and formed his own party, the Kenya Peoples Union. Not one to take things lying down he planned a motion of no confidence in President Kenyatta in parliament. This was after a slow yet deliberate defection of MPs to the opposition benches in parliament. To forestall the vote, Kenyatta once again turned to his fixer in chief, Mboya. AG Charles Njonjo had crafted a legislation requiring any defecting MP to seek a fresh mandate from the electorate.

The house was called from recess and Mboya was tasked with ensuring that the legislation passed. From the dispatch box, Mboya managed to defend the legislation with such charisma and charm that it passed. The defections from KANU stopped as quietly as they had begun. Faced with the prospect of having to spend resources in fresh campaigns, many MPs simply stay put. In a master stroke Mboya had helped forestall the no confidence vote and significantly weakened the KPU and Odinga.

Unfortunately however, with Odinga out of KANU, Mboya was now more vulnerable to the political intrigue within the party. For being such an effective fixer and by extension a frontrunner in the Kenyatta succession race, he had managed to paint a bright red target on his back, so to speak. Mboya would fall to an assassin’s bullet outside Chhanni’s pharmacy, along the then Government Road (now Moi Avenue) on 5th July 1969.

Whilst it is unlikely that Jomo Kenyatta sanctioned Mboya’s death, it would be foolhardy to assume that he did everything in his power to protect his dear fixer.

The cases of Amayo and Mboya illustrate that proximity to power is a cup containing sweet yet perilous wine.

Granted the consequences of drinking from it could mean a step up to higher political office, an exception to the rule (at least according to history), but are more likely to result in political oblivion or worse!

This is the cup that Dr. Fred Matiangi holds today. He has no choice but to continue sipping on the wine, once you hold the cup, it is difficult to let go. If indeed President Uhuru has elected to neutralize his deputy, William Ruto, as his father elected to neutralize Odinga, and if indeed Uhuru has chosen him as his ‘Mboya’, then the peril increases several fold.

For Matiangi, this cup is a high risk, low return affair. He must develop eyes at the back of his ears, he must build bridges in the most unlikely quarters across the political landscape. He must understand that because perception matters, sometimes more than reality, DP Ruto’s friends are now his foes, and his foes are now his enemies. He must always be stoic even in the most challenging times. More importantly it would be helpful to derive lessons from the late Nicholas Biwott. He should never come too close to the fire as to get burnt, at the same time; he must not go too far from it as to freeze.

In conclusion, if nothing else, those close to power, the agents, must realize one thing, that the power derives from elsewhere. It is akin to the wings Daedalus crafted for himself and his son Icarus. They are wings made from feathers and wax. As they navigate the political scene, from such a precarious position, they must remember not to fly too high, lest the sun melts their wax, nor too low, lest their wings get weighed down by the spray of the water. Ultimately, it seems they are doomed to strive relentlessly until either happens.

Joash is a Kenyan thinker and budding policy analyst, with a passion for public sector governance and democracy. Find more of his work on medium.

Icarus tales: Power and Proximity in Kenya: Part 1

Guest Writer
5 February ,2019

by Joash Onsando

CS Dr. Fred Matiangi

On 21st January 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued his first executive order in 2019. The purpose of the order is  to realign the manner in which government projects would be carried out. In the order, he established The National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee. The committee, tasked with five major functions, chief among them being supervising government projects, will be chaired by Interior CS Dr Fred Matiangi, who will be deputized by his Treasury and Planning counterpart, Henry Rotich.

No other Executive ordered by the President has received as much attention or raised as much controversy as order number 1 of 2019. However, the attention had little to do with its probity, either in law or otherwise (as has been the case with other controversial orders) but rather what it portends to the relationship between the President and his Deputy. There could be two reasons for this.

Firstly, the order explicitly states the Matiangi led committee’s reporting obligations as ‘’to His Excellency the President”. Before this, jubilee formal and informal communication has always made reference to “the Presidency” as though Uhuru and Ruto are attached at the hip. By breaking away from this norm, the President seemed to suggest said attachment was an inconvenience to him.

Secondly, the order seemed to have given the committee the exclusive mandate to do two things: i) Monitor and evaluate the progress of national projects, and ii) Provide coordinated strategic communication to the public and other stakeholders on the progress of national projects.

These two, seem to be the very functions the Deputy President purports to be carrying out in his whirlwind tours across the country (now aptly christened tanga tanga). On multiple occasions, the DP has dismissed critics who claim he is engaged in a premature campaign for the 2022 general elections. Together with his allies, the DP claims to be making his forays around the country strictly for development purposes. He has often stated that, as the President’s Principal Assistant, it is his job to communicate (read launch), supervise, and evaluate the status of Jubilee development projects. So to many pundits, the executive order seems to usurp roles and responsibilities assumed by the DP and handing them over to the Interior CS. If indeed this is the case then it is no accident that the President picked the CS as his hatchet man.

Fred Okenyo Matiangi is no stranger to controversy.  However, little was known about the former university don, before his appointment to the cabinet as ICT CS in 2013.

Since then, none of his cabinet colleagues have had to encounter and overcome as many challenges as he has. Further, none has accumulated as much notoriety as he has, in the execution of their duties. Dr Matiangi is also the only CS during Uhuru’s tenure to have held substantive and acting cabinet positions on two separate occasions, having acted in the lands ministry whilst at ICT and acted in the interior ministry whilst at Education.

His meteoric rise in public service began with a baptism of fire at the ICT ministry in 2015. He was tasked to oversee the migration of the broadcast industry from analogue to digital platforms. This move would prove to be particularly unpopular amongst many industry stakeholders, particularly media owners.

According to the MOA, the media owners lobby group, the migration exercise needed more time and consideration. Many observers saw their hesitation as being informed by the need to protect their business interests rather than the greater good they purported to be their motivation. The government position was a polar opposite. According to Matiangi, change was inevitable, and had to happen immediately. Both sides dug in, spoiling for a fight, a long protracted battle or at least it seemed so.

Kenyans had become accustomed to private corporate interest, holding sway over government policy positions that were in conflict with their own. Given how powerful the MOA lobby is, the expectation was that the CS would ultimately buckle under pressure and give in. Surprisingly however, Matiangi held his own and successfully oversaw the migration process. This was the first feather in his cap!

In December 2015, Matiangi was appointed CS for Education, Science and Technology. At the time, instances of leakages and cheating in national examinations had become so rampant that some education stakeholders openly expressed a complete lack of trust in the examination process and ultimately, the integrity of its results. The phenomenon of cheating in exam results had grown to what was then described as a cartel involving KNEC (the examinations council) officials, teachers, parents and students.

Upon assuming office and in his characteristic, bullish style, Dr. Matiangi moved to disband the Kenya National examination Council. Alongside reconstituting it under the leadership of a hardnosed, kindred spirit, Prof. George Magoha, the CS also instituted radical reforms to the process of administering and marking national examinations. Security measures during examinations were the most stringent ever seen. The marking process was also significantly expedited. The ultimate outcome was the announcement of KCSE results two months early and its results being hailed by many, as the closest reflection of the candidates’ performance the country had seen in a long time. Popular opinion was that the CS had taken on a powerful cartel and prevailed.

On July 8, 2017, Kenya awoke to the sad news of the demise of the then Interior CS Joseph Nkaiserry. The interior docket is not one to be left vacant for long. The president needed to find a replacement, fast! Matiangi was an obvious choice. He had proved himself many times over! However, one political consideration stood in the way; for some inexplicable reason, the internal security mandate seemed to have become a reserve of the Maasai community. From Prof George Saitoti and Katoo Ole Metito under the Kibaki regime to Joseph ole Lenku and Maj Gen Nkaiserry under Uhuru there seemed to be an unwritten rule or tradition that the docket was a preserve of Maa speakers.

With the general election only a few weeks away, it remained to be seen if the President was willing to antagonize the Maasai community by givin away ‘their seat’., therefore risking the loss of an important swing vote. A few days later the president took the gamble and appointed Matiangi, albeit in an acting capacity. Surprisingly, there wasn’t an iota of grumbling from the Maasai community. Seemingly, the CS was such a formidable pick that it wasn’t politically expedient for the Maa to grumble. Such is the position that Matiangi had horned for himself in the Jubilee administration. He had, over time, managed to establish himself as the poster boy for fighting cartels and corruption networks, at least in the eyes of the president’s support base.

Matiangi was, however not done endearing himself to the administration and its supporters. With the Commander in Chief being rather destructed by a strenuous campaign and the prospect of a general election too close to call, he was able to depend on him to hold fort, on matters security.  And that is exactly what he did.

With the Supreme Court ordering a rerun of the presidential election, the Jubilee administration was thrown into a tail spin. Its hitherto unchallengeable grasp on power hang on a thin thread and a firm hand was needed to restore the status quo. It was because of controversial and highly unpopular decisions such as proscribing the NRM as an illegal organization that allowed the president the kind of leverage he needed to prevail past the Jan 30th swearing in of the president and ultimately the handshake.

In the post handshake era, the CS has managed to widen his approval base beyond Jubilee supporters, particularly by his oversight of the clamp down on counterfeited goods and his ability to step into the gaps in the Transport ministry’s role with regards to reducing road carnage. This was further buttressed by his commitment to purge the country of not only illegal immigrants but also of undeserving holders of work permits.

When it is all said and done, one thing remains undoubtable; Matiangi has established himself as President Uhuru’s fixer in chief. His critics might disagree with his intentions and methods but even they would agree that he gets things done for his boss! There could be many factors that could have led to this. After all, no phenomenon is mono factorial in nature. He fondly refers to the President as ‘commander in chief’ as opposed to the more commonly used ‘his excellency’. This betrays a man whose unity of purpiose to drive the president’s agenda is to be carried out unquestioningly and with military precision!

  Dr. Matiangi was born in Borabu, Nyamira County. His academic journey culminated with him being conferred a doctorate degree from the University of Nairobi. His career before cabinet was illustrious to say the least. Hehas more than 12 years’ experience in democracy development including a six year stint at the Kenya Parliamentary Strengthening Project, rising through the ranks to the position of Chief of Party. He also has extensive experience in governance related research, civil society advocacy as well as donor funded democracy and government projects. Clearly his past roles served to prepare him well to understand government bureaucracy as well as the vagaries of navigating public sector environments while getting things done.

The CS has enjoyed the mentorship and patronage of former Gusii political supremo, Mzee Simeon Nyachae, who is rumoured to have influenced his appointment to cabinet. Mzee Nyachae will be remembered for having risen through the ranks of provincial administration faster than his counterparts. In fact, after being appointed as the PC for Rift Valley, a Senior Chief Titi quipped that Mzee Kenyatta had appointed a child as PC.

The 1975 assasination of Nyandarua MP JM Kariuki happened whilst Nyachae was the Central Province PC.  The general belief in the region was that government machinery eas behind the popular MP’s assassination. So great was the bitterness in the region that a song, ‘Maai ni maruru’ (water is bitter) was composed to condemn the killing. Realizing the need to contain a potentially volatile situation, Nyachae invoked the then Chief’s Act to ban the song! As if that was not enough, the PC stood up to be the only senior government official to have attended JM’s funeral. In fact he ended up reading the Jomo Kenyatta’s speech, a task that a number of senoir officials, including cabinet ministers Jeremiah Nyagah and Dr. Julius Kiano had turned down.

This is the kind of dedication and unquestioning loyalty to the powers that be that the CS inherited from his mentor and political Godfather.

CS Matiangi is  also an ardent member of the SDA Church. His public pronouncements betray a person who derives a lot of strength and resolve from his spiritual faith and doctrine. He seems to justify his zeal and bulldozer approach to issues by a firm held belief that his work is part of a wider divine agenda and plan to which he is only accountable to the God he serves.

He might be a man of many firsts but Matiangi is definitely not the first ‘fixer in chief’ we have seen in our history as a country. This position has and will remain to be a precarious one for any person to hold. Almost without exception, previous holders of this position have fallen from grace quite pitifully. George Santayana said ‘’those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. If nothing at all, the good CS must pay heed to these famous words even as he soars close to the sun, on borrowed wings.

Joash is a Kenyan thinker and budding policy analyst, with a passion for public sector governance and democracy. Find more of his work on medium.

Let them eat maize

Michael Onsando
18 December ,2018

Kenya is headed for a bumper maize harvest even as farmers in the North Rift region struggle to sell their last season’s crop. 

You only need to look up to know that maize is one of the key foods consumed in the country. Those of us who studied GHC (now social studies) might remember it being listed amidst one of the staple foods of the region. We use it, and have been using it, for a variety of meals. Whether pounded into flour, boiled, burned (yaani choma) or processed we have loved our maize for a very long time. Maize is so important that is one of the key factors considered when calculating the cost of living.

Given that maize is mainly grown in the rift area – a region that has been key in swinging votes over the last couple of elections – it makes sense that the crop itself has been politicized. Coming into a consistent market with high demand both the farmer and the consumers find themselves vulnerable to the whims of those who hold the infrastructure – a vulnerability that is exploited through every election period.

In the 90’s Maize prices were affordable as the buying and selling prices were favorable to households. Despite the fact that there were a number challenges, farmers were able to harvest the cereal and sell it at a price that favored both them and the consumer. 

In a bid to keep voters happy it is best for any incumbent government to show that they are in control of market forces by reducing the price of unga on the shelves (source: Making Elections Arap – A book on manipulating Kenyan voters by Daniel Moi*) . Last year amidst a drought, two elections and brokered maize from Uganda the maize prices were spiraling out of control and the government had to do something.

Their great idea was to hold the price of unga at 90 bob while subsidizing the prices between millers and wholesalers. Basically, they decided to make everyone happy, win the election, then figure it out later. But, as a wise saying goes, you can’t make everyone happy – you’re not pizza. And neither was this plan. The farmers were left unhappy by the happenings with the price per bag being unacceptable. Knowing that this year things would be better, they held on to their maize.

It’s now later and I never thought that a bumper harvest could be a bad thing. The simple math in my mind goes “more maize = more money.” That’s not what this year looks like. Speaking earlier this year, Timothy Njagi, a research fellow at the tegemo institute, said, “The country has enough maize stock to sustain the country until July 2019 but farmers are extremely broke and not making money. This is a bad year for the maize farmer in Kenya but a good one for the consumer.” Which means that the farmers that held on to their maize from last year find themselves holding onto maize (isn’t the damn crop perishable? How long can one feasibly hold on?) for longer, given the drop in demand.

And it’s not like the guys who sold their crop to the National Cereals and Produce Board(last year) have been paid. The board ran out of cash because it paid brokers who supplied the aforementioned-brokered maize from Uganda. The farmers are owed about KES 3.5 billion according to the Daily Nation. This scandal itself has had far reaching impact with Agriculture Ministry Principal Secretary, Richard Lesiyampe, former NCPB boss Newton Terer, Finance GM Cornel Kiprotich Ng’elechey and 15 other senior officials arrested and charged over irregular purchase of maize worth KES 11 billion.

“Kenya on May 16 announced Sh6 billion subsidy on maize imports to help lower the cost of flour which had shot up due to a regional drought and poor planning.”

 

“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.” 

Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem like we are ever on top of the maize problem at all. It is being stolen, illegally imported, underpriced, overcharged unavailable or, as is the case now, over-available. The smart farmers have stopped allocating as much land to maize compared to other plants with one Uasin Gishu farmer only having 79 acres of maize this year down from the 210 acres he had in 2014/2015. Of course, given the cycle, this trend might lead to an undersupply, but there’s little recourse for the farmers faced by an indecisive government and fluctuating prices mostly due to artificial factors.

This takes me back to this government, planning and foresight. Where is the data that correlates maize consumption and the markets? Where is the data that the government uses to project the needs of the people? Do we actually know how much we are consuming and plan for it – ask for allocations and work around them? Or do we continue to react to factors a little planning could have revealed long before they became problems?

*not an actual book

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.

Wetu.

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.

Kenya’s Media Problem

Guest Writer
14 August ,2018

by Robert Munuku

When I turn on the television, I am not sure whether I am watching the news or a travesty of the same in the name of a glorified show of beautiful men and women dressed up in dashing tunics and layers of make-up smiling before our screens telling us what we should care about. I fear for journalism in this country, and flinch at the thought that the deterioration of one of society’s key institutions will be to our detriment.

Mainstream media in Kenya is far from politically neutral and this in itself is enough stir concern. A quick recap at the major mainstream media houses in our country: The Nation Media Group (which owns The Nation and NTV, Mediamax Limited (which owns K24), Royal Media Services (which owns Citizen TV and Radio, among other radio stations), the Standard Media Group (which owns The Standard and KTN), and Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).  I am intrigued by the ownership of these media houses, their board constitutions and their implied affiliations.

The Nation Media Group (NMG) is owned by the Aga Khan Foundation, founded in 1959 by his Highness the Aga Khan. At face-value this seems okay, after all, the foundation is more or less an autonomous entity. But when we take a look at the board members of NMG we see some familiar faces; allow me to pick one – Professor Olive Mugenda. Prof. Mugenda served as the Vice Chancellor of Kenyatta University (a public university) and was later appointed by the current President, Uhuru Kenyatta, early this year to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). This may not mean anything and one could say she was vetted and therefore qualifies for the job. However it is often the case that such nominations are done based on trust and a history of loyalty.

The Kenya Television Network (KTN) was founded by Jared Kangwana, a close ally of retired President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi for years. This affiliation was accentuated in a land donnybrook four years ago where Kangwana stated that the former President had allocated the land to him.  Going by the former President’s endorsement of our current President in 1997 as KANU’s (Kenya National Union party) presidential flag-bearer, it would not be a far-fetched assumption that KTN and its mother company, Standard Media Group, leans more towards government. The former Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) parastatal boss, Dr. Julius Kipng’etich, also sits as a board member of the Standard Media Group.

K24 TV is owned by the Kenyatta family to the best of the public’s knowledge; no need to say where their loyalties lie. The same goes for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) which is not only the pioneer media house in the country, but also a parastatal run by the government. We are left with one more mainstream media house to look to for authentic unbiased journalism – Royal Media Services or, if you prefer, Citizen TV.

In the 2013 general elections in Kenya, the owner of Royal Media Services, Samuel Kamau Macharia (popularly known S.K. Macharia), was seen standing next to the former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, in a press conference at which the election results were being contested. Moments after the famous press briefing, several articles arose from independent media houses claiming that he was in fact using his media house, Royal Media Services, to support the former Prime Minister’s election bid.

Fast-forward to 2018, Royal Media Services conducted what is arguably the largest poaching drive in the industry’s history, literally milking-dry all their competitors, especially KTN and NTV (Nation TV of Nation Media Group).  Among those poached were KTN former Managing Editor, Joe Ageyo, whose new role is not clear yet given we have seen him intermittently reporting features for Citizen. Joe Ageyo was also one of the 2 journalists who moderated the 2017 Presidential Debate alongside the then Nation T.V. Managing Editor, Linus Kaikai. It is worth noting too that Asha Mwilu, an award-winning journalist who worked closely with Joe during his stint as Managing Editor at KTN, was poached together with him to join Royal Media Services. Another personality to note among the poached is Yvonne Okwara-Matole, from KTN. Like Joe Ageyo, she too was a moderator for the running-mates’ debate in the 2017 general elections.

Linus Kaikai, Larry Madowo and Ken Mijungu were summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) headquarters for allegedly refusing to comply with a directive regarding the airing of the former Prime Minister’s ‘swearing-in’ ceremony. One month later, Larry Madowo resigned from his post at the Nation Media Group. Linus Kaikai, who was accosted with him, also resigned shortly after the summons to CID headquarters. He later moved to Royal Media Services.

It is said that “grand alliances between two great powers are generally the least effective.” Could this apply to the infamous ‘handshake’ between our President and former Prime Minister? Would it be so absurd to entertain the possibility that the shake-up in the media is connected to this?

When I turn on the news, all I see is tragedy; rape at Moi Girls Secondary School, the recent demolitions by NEMA, hordes of corruption cases from that of the National Youth Service (NYS) to the more recent of supposed misuse of office by the former governor of Nairobi. I know when a dog bites a man it is no news and ‘news’ would only constitute the opposite, but have we taken ‘bad news’ too far? Has our news been reduced to insensitive sensationalism of even the most tragic moments of our times? Do journalists care about telling the truth – about sharing honest stories from the same masses that the media fraternity serves, or is winning an award for a story more important for them?

Has mainstream journalism in our country been co-opted by the political elite?

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

When something has to give (or, towards hope)

Michael Onsando
24 July ,2018

“The system adopted in Kenya is African Socialism, but the characteristics of the system and the economic mechanisms it implies have never been spelled out fully in an agreed form.”

  • Sessional Paper No 10 of 1965, Part I, 6

“There are two African traditions which form an essential basis for African Socialism—political democracy and mutual social responsibility. Political democracy implies that each member of society is equal in his political rights and that no individual or group will be permitted to exert undue influence on the policies of the State. The State, therefore, can never become the tool of special interests, catering to the desires of a minority at the expense of the needs of the majority. The State will represent all of the people and will do so impartially and without prejudice.”

Perhaps the imagining of an idea must always happen at it’s purest. Perhaps there was more room to be optimistic at the birth of the nation. Whatever it is I always feel a sense of possibility when I read article from around post independence Kenya. There’s a feeling of thought and deliberateness from the collective on what things should mean/how they should be.

The story of the Ndungu Report is one of systematic perversion of established procedures meant to protect public interest for political gain and the unjust enrichment of a few. It needs to be told.”

Ndung’u Land Report

Still, the story itself is in the telling. It’s also around the time that these ideals were being spoken of that the country was being divided amidst anyone who could afford to be in the room (or, as legend has it, according to how long mzee Kenyatta slept).

“Corruption scandals have become a “fact of life” for many Kenyans, who have come to regard them as just another facet of Kenyan life, alongside high taxes, poor service delivery, our “cult of personality” approach to politics and religion, and the misfortunes occasioned to us by terrorism. These burdens seem to be ours for the long haul, and we seem to have accepted them, albeit half-heartedly. It is tiresome to watch or listen to the news; even being on Twitter at a time when one was not prepared for shock or disappointment can derail one’s entire day.“ 

Maybe it is the rise of report realism, maybe it is the coming out of 24 years of repression under Moi or maybe the writers are just often in a bad mood. Today’s tone is less hopeful, less believing. It’s impossible to go through the papers without sensing the despair. There is no hope, looking for hope or trying toward hope. Only a resounding cry of how deep in it we are – and how much deeper we are going.

A theory I’ve heard floating around involves institutional memory. This narrative begins with Kenya as an idea that was imposed upon these 43 peoples. Not through war, territorial battles and forging of trusted relationships are we bound, but by subjugation. 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.

A friend writes on email,

“At some point many of the people who start off working against corruption end up in the very positions of power that dictate that they steal. Because people have failed to realize that politics is not a subjective game. You don’t come into it with your feelings and try to change it. The people who have been the greatest change factors have always done so outside of the political system – especially when the issue was corruption.” 

There must be more at play here.

Another friend of mine talks about how it is not what power is but rather what it is about spaces (obligations, responsibilities and roles) and how those spaces shape us. To come up against institutional memory is to have an institution remind you what you are coming up against.

“If they want to fight drug barons if they want to fight the al shabaab, if they want to fight crime – they can do it. But they can’t fight crime, they can’t fight al shabaab, they can’t fight barons because everyone has a cut in it.”

Mohammed Ali

“In a video, the angry youth called out Moha for betraying the trust they had on him by associating with the Jubilee government despite corruption scandals rocking the government from within.” 

“The ultimate objectives of all societies are remarkably similar and have a universal character suggesting that present conflicts need not be enduring. These objectives typically include— 

(i) Political equality;

(ii) Social justice;

(iii) Human dignity including freedom of conscience;

(iv) Freedom from want, disease, and exploitations;

(v) Equal opportunities; and

(vi) High and growing per capita incomes, equitably distributed.”

Perhaps, when working towards this goal, and in defining this goal – we lost sight of what it looks like.

“We must see killability as too high a price to pay for development, for peace.” 

  • Keguro Macharia

And maybe we’re tired of paying the price.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Brenda Wambui
26 December ,2017

As the year ends, I am reminded of the highs and lows we have been through as Kenyans – two presidential elections (one which happened during the 2017 general election), an election annulment, an election boycott. a doctors’ strike, a nurses’ strike, the election of Kenya’s first women governors, the refusal of parliament to pass the two-thirds gender bill, the collapse of Nakumatt, the ban on plastic bags, extrajudicial killings by the police, to name a few.

As Charles Dickens would say, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. These are the pieces that stood out to us in 2017 [click on the title to read the full piece.]

Our Unlawful Lawmakers: Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Gender Principle

by Marilyn Kamuru

“Whether from ignorance, ineptitude or misogyny, the silence and complicity of these groups means that they lack the moral credibility to offer non-partisan leadership to Kenyans. The current administration’s de facto policy of violating the Gender Principle, and the acquiescent brand of leadership practised by the business and religious community, are largely to blame for our current situation.”

No One Will Save You: Remembering Kenya’s Karl Marx

by Isaac Otidi Amuke

“Karl Marx’s last public engagement was on the evening of Thursday, 5 March 2009. A group of University of Nairobi students witnessed the execution of two men riding in a white Mercedes Benz. The students had chanced on the killings on State House Road while walking back to their hostels. One of the students, assuming that the two, shot at point blank range, were dangerous criminals, asked the shooters, already in flight, why they weren’t taking the men’s bodies off the scene. The usual police ritual is to throw the bodies into a truck and dump them at Nairobi’s public morgue. The shooters, dressed in identical suits, looked like members of an elite death squad. One of them replied that “others” would do the cleaning up.”

My Child, We Thought You Were Home

by April Zhu

“That particular sunset marked the end of that day’s heavy demonstrations throughout Nyanza. And cruelly ironic in its magnificence, it marked the end of another life taken by police brutality. This time, his name was Michael Okoth. At approximately 2pm, the eighteen-year-old died near Kondele in Kisumu City with a gunshot to his neck. At the mortuary, his grandmother wept and wailed, speaking to him over his body. ‘We thought you were home. My child, we thought you were home. We didn’t know you had gone out to see the protests.'”

Beyond “this is Kenya”

by K’eguro Macharia

“In many cases, “this is Kenya” is uttered at a scene of violation and exhaustion: after a demand for a bribe, after being told a file is missing from a government office, after being insulted by a state agent, after attempting to use legal channels and being frustrated, after being sexually assaulted and attempting to seek help from friends and family, after witnessing police brutality, while paying more for food, while struggling to afford private healthcare because the public system is broken, while trying to afford school fees for private schools because public education is broken, while reading yet another report about theft of public land, while reading yet another report about theft of public money, while trying to navigate Kenya’s rape culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s heteronormative culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s misogynist culture, while trying to navigate Kenya’s ethno-nationalist culture.”

Why did Kenya’s Supreme Court annul the elections?

by Nanjala Nyabola

“But beyond establishing high democratic standards for elections in Kenya, this ruling was also about reaffirming judicial independence. It put Chief Justice David Maraga in history books as the first African chief justice to oversee the annulment of election results. Less than a year into his term, there were already strong indications during a testy pre-election period that judicial independence was of utmost importance to the Maraga-led court. At least three times in under 12 months, the chief justice and the judicial service commission issued statements defending the independence of the judiciary after attacks from the president and the National Assembly majority leader.”

Forty Billionaires and Forty Million Beggars

by Matt Carotenuto

“In a country where political elites are known by the fancy cars they own (wabenzi­ — those who drive Mercedes Benzes) and roughly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, Kenyans recognize that, while they don’t all have a common language or religion, they share a landscape of growing inequality. “Super highways” in Nairobi cut right through informal settlements that lack running water. Colonial-era country clubs sit against sprawling slums, where golf balls routinely ping off the roofs of makeshift tin shacks. The same elites strolling the nearby fairways often collect rent on the properties behind the concrete barriers.”

Woman, Kenyan and on the campaign trail

by Ivy NyaYieka

“Nairobi was liberated from British colonialism by female prostitutes who procured ammunition for Maumau fighters. However, it has been reluctant since independence to let women into public spaces— let alone political office. The Truth Justice & Reconciliation Commission report developed after Kenya’s 2007/08 post election violence to examine historical injustices puts it eloquently: “Women are over-represented in the poorest social segments of society and underrepresented in decision-making bodies.” Every morning, Nairobi rises on the backs of bent women, opens its eyes hesitantly, yawns, stretches and stands up, looking taller than it is because it has low-income women below its feet. These elections will be a test of whether Nairobi will recognize these women’s contributions.”

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And these were your favourite pieces from Brainstorm this year:

Kenya and Its Maize Scandals

by Brenda Wambui

“What is it about maize that makes it so susceptible to such scandals? It’s our consumption. Our average maize consumption per person is 60 kg a year, according to our Bureau of Statistics. Maize accounts for a quarter of our food consumption in terms of calorific intake, 56 per cent of our cereal calories and 47 per cent of our starchy food calories. Maize is also the best value for money starch that is widely available. It’s also easy to dispose of as it is a staple food not just in Kenya, but in other African countries as well. As a thief, you can sell it quickly and have your stolen money.”

The Master’s House

by Brenda Wambui

“These sentiments are, to put it simply, elitist. And many people are elitist. It is what motivates most of us in our work. We want to move as far away from poverty and as close to richness as we can. As we do, we develop a disdain (both subconscious and conscious) for poverty. As a result, we do not want reminders of poverty in the nice, clean spaces we believe we have worked so hard for. What are these reminders? Kiosks, matatus and second hand clothes, of course. We forget that most Kenyans continue to have them as hallmarks in their lives, though. Where do the rich expect their workers to buy their supplies, for example? When someone works from eight to six at your home, where do you expect them to shop? Do you feed your workers? If not, where do you expect them to eat? Do you provide private transport for them to and from your home? If not, how do you expect them to get there and go back to their homes?”

The F-word: The Place of Feminism In Contemporary Kenya

by Brenda Wambui

“Our feminism, first and foremost, must target the end of rape culture and violence against women. Why? Because it is intended to limit the extent to which women can participate in society. It is intended to keep women small, and in their place. They can only go as far as men will let them. Venture any further and what happens? Violence. Which is why women politicians are permanently being threatened with rape, stripping and other forms of violence. Why they have to have more security. Why their entourages are heckled and even stoned. It is also why men harass women on the streets, and why the go-to threat for many men towards women is ‘we will rape you.'”

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As usual, this list is not exhaustive – so much has been written about Kenya or in Kenya in 2017. Any other pieces that we should have included? Share in the comments. Thank you for coming along on this journey in 2017. We look forward to an even better 2018. Happy new year!

Beyond Chants and Slogans

Michael Onsando
5 December ,2017

It’s been less than a week since Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as president and already we can see the questions slipping slowly into the past. The NSE has been steadily gaining the shilling growing stronger and the political discussion is shrinking. Even the arrest and release of David Ndii didn’t seem to get as much circulation as it would have a few weeks ago.

Soon names like baby Pendo and Chris Msando will disappear as well. Just like the names from the previous elections have. It won’t be long before we begin to classify this election as “not that bad” or “could be worse” even as families continue to count their losses.

Eventually (if not already) we will make peace with the fact that the country is largely mismanaged and, save for the periodical cycle of scandals, all will be back to “normal.” I return to forgettingness:

It is not forgetfulness, but the state in which it is deemed necessary or at least desirable to go through a process of forgetting.

The kind of forgetting in forgetingness is not a mere slipping away from memory, but rather a process of extraction from being.

Through this process, issues and people are washed clean of their identity and significance.”

Interlude #3 – Forgettingness

In essence it seems moot to try and insist that we remember when there’s little evidence that we actually will – and even less that it will make a difference.

Instead it seems important to talk about what politics is. Because it is around this time that we begin to lose interest in politics. As if somehow politics is this cage match between two principles and we come out to fiercely show our support and, once there is a winner, we go back to our apolitical lives.

But there’s no such thing as an apolitical life.

Because politics is not abstract – politics is tangible, measureable and important. It is access to a steady water and power supply. It is a question of how well schools will be equipped and how much they will cost. It is a road outside your house that is repaired every 3 months – because it breaks every three months. It is whether you can go to sleep knowing that were you live is secure. And, in this sense, politics is never over (and neither should our engagement with it be)

Do you know who your MCA is? Have you asked them about the sewer that’s always bursting and flooding the roads? Have you asked them about why your water is always being rationed? Have you asked your governor what they are going to do to better improve your living environs for yourself and your loved ones?

It is this kind of self-centered approach to politics that will allow us to build stronger societies. If it is about negotiation of need and proper allocation of resource to meet those needs then, have you made your needs known?

Writing this is not to say that we have, or are working with, the most competent, efficient government. Known for questionable procurement methods and faulty accounting one can’t say that Uhuru had a brilliant first term – and odds are not high that he’ll have a great second one either. And maybe this is exactly why we can’t stop engaging. Consistent pressure and letting the government know that we are watching and are aware of what is happening (in large numbers) is one way to insist that we get at least some of the things he promised.

And, even as bleak as that sounds, even ‘some of the things’ might be too much to hope for. The school laptops, youth development centers and stadia from 2013 are yet to be seen. This without even mentioning the several scandals that plagued the administration, with the president himself wondering what can be done about the problem.

So it is not without knowledge of how helpless the whole process can feel that I write this. Letters to your local government will probably go unanswered for a while. And you are not guaranteed that your complaint will be passed on by whoever you speak to on the phone.

What I’m proposing is that we give these people who we leave in the past significance. Significance in the shape of actively participating in the building and strengthening of institutions that safeguard against this in the future. In ensuring that your politician passes whatever law needs to be passed in order to have better computer systems – and avoiding another Msando during the next election. In ensuring that police reform and training programmes are supported within your county so that another Pendo is not shot. In questioning the legislative actions of your member of parliament and asking whether they align with your position, with your beliefs, with your values (and the compromises you’re willing to make – because without compromise there is no such thing as a shared space).

We can’t change the things that have happened. It is impossible to bring people back to life – or undo the trauma and the violences that we have seen and heard. But perhaps it is about time we began to think about how to create an environment where they won’t happen. To properly equip ourselves with the tools we need to create stability and some form of habitable peace – otherwise we’ll be right back here in 2022, mourning yet another series of unnecessary deaths.

What Happens Now?

Brenda Wambui
17 October ,2017

It has been 137 days since Kenyan nurses went on strike demanding better pay and better working conditions. In this time, the Kenyan central government, county governments and the Salaries Commission have engaged in brinkmanship when it comes to resolving their issues, as if to see who can agitate them and endanger Kenyans’ lives the most, as this seems to be the role of institutions in this country. In this time, mother to child transmission of HIV has increased, polio and leprosy have re-emerged, and children continue to go unvaccinated in many parts of the country, leaving them (and the rest of the population) exposed to Hepatitis B, Measles, mumps, rubella, and a host of other diseases.

As has become the norm, Kenyans continue to die in large numbers, because our lives do not matter to our leaders. I am reminded of the KES 5.3 billion stolen from the Ministry of Health whenever I view images of Kenyans in understaffed hospitals lying on the floor, as we did when the students of Lokichoggio Secondary School were attacked by one of their own. I also have the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report on extrajudicial killings and abusive policing on my mind as I write this. It focuses on the events in informal settlements in Nairobi (Mathare, Kibera, Babadogo, Dandora, Korogocho, Kariobangi and Kawangware) in the aftermath of the shambolic August 8th presidential election in which our fascist in chief Uhuru Kenyatta was said to have been re-elected (this result has since been annulled).

According to this report, “at least 33 people were killed in Nairobi alone, most of them as a result of action by the police and therefore warranting investigation by either the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a special commission or by parliament. Twenty-three, including children, appear to have been shot or beaten to death by police. Others were killed by tear gas and pepper spray fired at close range or trampled by fleeing crowds, and two died of trauma from shock. Two others were stoned by mobs. We received unconfirmed reports of another 17 dead in Nairobi. Added to the 12 killings at the hands of police documented by Human Rights Watch in western Kenya, and five additional killings confirmed by the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission, the national death toll could be as high as 67. Hundreds of residents have suffered severe injuries including gunshot wounds, debilitating injuries such as broken bones and extensive bruising as a result of the police violence.”

At such times, I wonder what it really means to be Kenyan. You are probably born to parents who want the best for you, so they sacrifice everything to take you to a good school. You sit your KCPE, and pass. You get accepted into a district or provincial or national school (bear with me here, this is what they were called when I was in school). You consider yourself lucky, because 84% of the children in Kenya join primary school but only 32% of these go on to enroll in secondary school. That’s right, more than 250,000 children fail to transition from primary school to secondary school. You work really hard in high school, and sit your KCSE. You pass, second time in a row. That makes you one of the 40% or so that score above a C+ and are able to get into university. The other 60%? They have to drop out and find something else to do with themselves. You are now part of the 20% that complete form four after enrolling in class 1 years earlier.

You go to university and do your BA or whatever other degree you’re called to do. If you have the means, you get to go to a private university for your degree. That’s at least 3 more years of school, but you’re grateful to have come this far. You work hard again, and graduate. You are now part of the 1.69% of people that enrolled in class one and were able to go through the whole 8.4.4 system and come out at the other end with your degree. Afterwards, you go out into the world. Chances are that you’re aged 15 – 34.

Your age group makes up 35% of the population, but the unemployment rate for this age group is 67%. The unemployment rate for the whole country is 25%. You tarmack and send your CV all over the place, you’re not as well connected as your peers. Within a year, you get your first job. A job in the formal sector. You may have a starting salary of between KES 20,000 – 40,000, putting you in the same bracket 64.5% of the formal sector workers in Kenya. Your goal is probably to work your salary up to above 100,000. Then, you say to yourself, you can start living. After all, a salary of KES 100,000 and above makes you one of the 2.89% that earns this much in formal employment. It’s not just that you want to be a member of the elite, you need this money to live a comfortable life. The average rent for a modest two bedroomed house is KES 15,000, after all.

Maize flour costs around KES 120 a packet. Bus fare costs anything between KES 100 – 300 a day depending on where you live. And these costs don’t ever seem to become lower. We haven’t even gone into other costs, like education, clothing, entertainment, healthcare. Then, because you’re one of the few that actually are employed in this country, your relatives depend on you. You send your mum and dad money each month for upkeep. Every time there’s a wedding or a funeral, you are called to contribute to the harambee. There’s the harambee that no good Kenyan can say no to – the harambee for medical care. You’re called and told that your cousin Njambi is ill, and she needs money for treatment. Let’s assume Njambi has enough cash for insurance cover, which is rare.

She’s already exhausted all the cash allocated by her cover, both inpatient and outpatient, and she doesn’t seem to be getting better. Her workplace makes NHIF contributions, yes, but somehow no one even knows how to work this cover, so you have to do a harambee. They say she needs to go to India to be checked, because you know hospitals there are cheaper and better that ours. So you do your duty. You come on Twitter and start a hashtag: #StandWithNjambi and set up a paybill number for people to send donations to. Things work out well, and you’re able to raise the money she needs for her treatment. Off she goes to India. She gets there, and they find that she has some obscure cancer. You feel a pain in your stomach, because you remember that the radiation machines had broken down the last time you checked.

How is Njambi going to continue her treatment here when she gets back? Who knows? You just hope for the best. You get home in the evening and turn on the news, only to hear the news of a new mega scandal. You remember the Goldenberg scandal, the mother – the one that opened our eyes to the corrupt nature of our country. How much was stolen that time? USD 600 million between 1990 and 1993. That comes to about USD 1 billion (KES 104 billion) in present day terms. That was Moi’s big scandal. Then you remember Kibaki’s big scandal, the Anglo leasing scandal. How much was stolen then? About USD 1 billion. That was in 2004. Presently, that comes to about USD 1.28 billion, (KES 133 billion). Not forgetting the Chickengate scandal, the Tokyo Embassy scandal among others. Then you remember the NYS/IFMIS scandal, through which up to KES 1.6 billion is said to have been stolen, and of course the Afya House scandal in which we were robbed of KES 5.3 billion.

If they didn’t steal our health money, perhaps Njambi wouldn’t have to go to India? Perhaps she could have had her diagnosis and treatment here? Perhaps no harambee would be necessary in the first place? Perhaps there would be enough nurses, doctors and clinical officers in our hospitals? Perhaps we wouldn’t have to bury people dying of things that can be treated like cholera, leprosy, malaria, the flu, pneumonia, diarrhea, tuberculosis, malnutrition, road traffic accidents…the list goes on and on.

You remember there’s worse to come, because we lose approximately KES 600 billion of our KES 2 trillion budget. What else does it mean when we say it can’t be accounted for? In the financial year 2014/15, we could not account for KES 450 billion shillings. That was a quarter of that year’s budget. And, as our government steals our money, you remember that they also kill us (through the police), just as they killed Thomas Odhiambo Okul, inside his gate. Or Kevin Otieno, outside his. They killed Lilian Khavele and her unborn child when they teargassed her, and she fell and got trampled on by a crowd. They also killed Geoffrey Onancha, who was shot by the police, and his daughter Sharon Imenza who died upon seeing her father’s body. You remember that they shot and killed Stephanie Moraa while she was playing on her balcony.

You realize that no one is safe. Nowhere is safe. So, what happens now?