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Category Archives: Politics

To Your Tents, O Israel! – The Cry for Secession is not without Reason, but we must never Secede

Cry, the Beloved Country
(Image courtesy of Nairobi Wire)

 

Now when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying:“What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!” So Israel departed to their tents.

I Kings 12:16 (NKJV)

In 930 BC, the people of Israel seceded from the unified kingdom of Israel that Solomon’s son Rehoboam had just begun to rule. This was perhaps the first instance of secession in the Scriptures. The Divine Purpose was to punish Solomon’s idolatry. The earthly genesis of the matter, however, was economic: the people complained to Rehoboam that work had been too hard under Solomon. There is even a hint in Scripture that taxation was too heavy. When Rehoboam promised to be even harder on the people than his father had been, the ten northern tribes of Israel seceded. In a striking parallel to what is happening in Kenya today, the two tribes that were left behind by the ten seceding tribes were the same two tribes that had enjoyed rulership to that point: Benjamin (Saul) and Judah (David, Solomon and Rehoboam).

The secession did not end well. In order to prevent the people of Israel from worshipping at Jerusalem (which was in Judah) and re-uniting under a religious fervor, the nation of Israel instituted parallel worship-sites in Bethel and Dan. These centres of worship were actually centres for idol worship, and as a result the “ten northern tribes” were taken into captivity about 200 years later. The Kingdom of Judah lasted a further 130 years or so before falling to Nebuchadnezzar.

Nearly 2,900 years later, in 1960, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga uttered these momentous words:

“If I accept your offer, I will be seen as a traitor to my people. The British cannot elect me leader to my people… Kenyatta is around, just here in Lodwar. Release him and allow him to lead us; he is already our choice.”

It is from this point that any candid and honest appraisal of the current calls for secession must begin: we must begin from the fact that when Jaramogi Odinga was offered the leadership of the first post-colonial government in Kenya by the British government, he stepped aside in favour of Jomo Kenyatta. Odinga was a socialist by preference, with leanings towards China and the communist East. (These leanings, ironically, were to be imitated by Jomo Kenyatta’s son 50 years later as a result of criminal proceedings instituted against him at the International Criminal Court.) Within a short period of time Jaramogi Odinga’s views began to diverge from the views of the President he had stepped aside for. By 1966, just 3 years after independence, Jaramogi Odinga was so dissatisfied with the manner in which the nation was being led that he left the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) to form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU).

It is perhaps a sign of how little political progress we have made – and how constant the inequities of our politico-economic system have been – that 54 years after independence, our general elections are still pitting a Kenyatta against an Odinga. Yet from the formation of the KPU in 1966, a dissatisfied Luo nation (together with a varying set of allies) have sought to attain power.

The pain of repeated electoral loss beats constantly in the Luo heart. And while electoral loss is painful to anybody, this is not in and of itself cause for secession. But when such loss is believed to have been unfair (as in the 2007, 2013 and perhaps to a lesser extent in the 2017 general elections), the embers of that pain refuse to die, and are constantly fanned into flame by the bellows of that innate human aversion – the aversion to injustice.

And there are deeper hurts also. In July 1969, when this nation was just six years old, Tom Mboya was assassinated. Dr Robert Ouko was felled by the assassin’s bullet in February 1990. In September 2003, Professor Odhiambo Mbai was gunned down. You will say “JM Kariuki was also assassinated.” But it is not the same when you have never been in power, and when it is those in power who have done this to you. You may think these men have been forgotten, but they have not, for when Gor Mahia wins the Premier League, the fans chant the names of these men and dedicate victory to them. The lot of Luo is a deep and constant hurt, and a discussion of secession that does not acknowledge this context is a fraudulent and dishonest discussion.

And so we come to 22nd August 2017, when Dr David Ndii talked about secession on national TV. Now Dr Ndii is an economist of international repute. He has served as an economic advisor to the President of Rwanda and has been an economist with the World Bank. His academic credentials are impeccable: he is a Rhodes scholar and has both an M. Sc. and a Ph. D from Oxford. I have a lot of respect for his brand of economics, which despite his Oxford training and stint at the World Bank remains refreshingly people-centric, while remaining cerebral.

Why dwell on an economist? Because as the genesis of Israel’s call to secession was economic, so must we acknowledge that it is economic inequities that are the seed for the calls for secession today – a perceived exclusion from “sharing in the national cake”That said, Dr Ndii’s calls for secession are beneath a man of his intellectual stature.

For the solution to our tribal divisions cannot be to exacerbate them further; this is the fundamental flaw with Dr Ndii’s premise. Israel was not stronger for parting with Judah, nor was Judah stronger for parting with Israel. It is true that we cannot avoid our national disunity; we cannot pretend it does not exist. It exists in our offices; even – for some of us – in our families. It exists most tragically in our churches –

– And what of the church? It is a worry that the compassion of He Whom we call Master does not beat within our breasts. He Who taught to the Jew to call the Samaritan his neighbour; Whose eyes shed salty tears at the grave of Lazarus, and Who raised the weeping widow’s son to life at Nain – His attitudes are missing from our hearts, they are missing from our words, and they are missing from our bearing towards our countrymen.

Shall wife part with husband, that peace may prevail? Shall Pastor part with member and also call this peace? Shall employer terminate employee, over tribe, and call this peace? Shall countryman part with countryman, as a solution to their differences? Nay; it is a false peace whose genesis is in disunion and division. A solution whose father is the intolerance and insensitive bearing of the ruling peoples and whose mother is the pain of those who are ruled cannot be right. We must all reject secession as a false answer to the question of our national disunity.

And yet – in our rejection of secession we must not reject the context in which the call for secession has been made. We must be honest about what has brought us to this point. Calls to peace and unity that are made in the absence of a discussion about political and economic equity and justice are dishonest and unfair. We must put ourselves in our brothers’ shoes, no matter how much we think their victimhood is only perceived, or how much we ourselves are victims of the same misrule. We must walk 55 years in their shoes. And before we can claim to be dealing with the problem, we must start to correct the economic inequality in our nation.

Nearly 2,800 after the Israel secession, another secession took place – the secession of the southern states of the United States of America. The reason for the southern states’ secession was in order to defend slavery – another economic reason, for “free” slave labour enabled Southern enterprise to continue at a very low cost, an advantage the Southern states did not want to lose. And while we might like to think otherwise, the primary reason President Lincoln went to war was to preserve the Union. Nor was his resolution to go to war with his countrymen the lightly-taken, detached decision of a domineering tyrant. Nay, this is that Lincoln who buried a 3-year-old son in 1850, and an 11-year-old son in 1862. This is that Lincoln who was far too well acquainted with parental grief to send other people’s sons to war for matters of little consequence. And go to war he did – at considerable cost in human life – to preserve the unity of the United States of America. America went on to become the greatest nation in the world. The foregoing is not an argument for war. It is an attempt to show the lengths to which great men have gone to preserve a nation’s unity.

It is early yet. We should not go to war, brother against brother. Let us choose the path of peace. Let us choose the path of a just and equitable peace – a peace that acknowledges the context of the call for secession even as it casts off secession as a solution. Let us – on both sides – remember and live by the words of Dr Martin Luther King, who paid the ultimate price for believing that all men are equal:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

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Posted by on August 29, 2017 in Christian, Politics

 

On the Passing of Jacob Juma

For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right.

Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time.

Amos 5:12-13 (KJV)

 

 

In the Lord of the Rings movie Return of the King, there is a moment of great sadness and despair, when Aragorn and the army he leads are fighting before the Black Gate of Mordor. Inside Mordor, jealousy and selfishness for the Ring has taken hold of Frodo and he has put it on, making Sauron aware of its presence within the very centre of his domain. The battle begins to go hard on Aragorn and his army: they are vastly outnumbered, and the dark powers of evil, spurred on and strengthened by Frodo’s awful internal capitulation to self, are in the ascendancy.

For some strange reason, a measure of this sort of despair took hold on me when I heard that Jacob Juma had been murdered. I had not felt sorrow at the passing of a public figure before, and to date I can not explain why I felt this way: it felt like all the fighting, all the standing up for right and truth was in vain, needless, useless, capable of being ended by the gunhand’s bullet.

As Eric Ambler has written, “The important thing to know about an assassination… is not who fired the shot, but who paid for the bullet.” Why was Jacob Juma killed? At this time we can only speculate, for in the absence of a credible investigation, we are making guesses – educated guesses, perhaps – about the fate that befell him. Until such an investigation is completed, we find ourselves in the realm of hearsay and rumour. We are forced to rely on an investigation that has little hope of bearing any fruit, for 40 years after Josiah Mwangi was murdered, we still have had no justice; 25 years after Dr. Robert Ouko allegedly fired a bullet into his head and then subsequently set himself alight, justice yet eludes us. It is at such times that we may find hope in reminding ourselves that there is indeed another Court.

Mutemi wa Kiama (or @WanjikuRevolt) provides his own thoughts on the motive for Jacob Juma’s killing as follows:

Mutemi wa Kiama

Another view, as espoused by Macharia Gaitho in his May 10 piece, is that Jacob Juma was killed for his outspoken criticism of the Jubilee Government.

Predictably, Jacob Juma’s death has taken on political overtones. A sad and embittered CORD has tried its best to use his murder to put pressure on the Government, while Jubilants are annoyed at the coverage his death has elicited and are attempting to brush it off as inconsequential or to write him off has having not been a saint. This I agree with: it is true that Jacob Juma was no saint. I question how a man would be able to buy land from Jonathan/Jennifer Moi without having certain dubious connections. I cannot vouch for the source(s) of his wealth. He claimed to have introduced William Ruto to Cyrus Jirongo in 1991, a statement that has YK’92 overtones. A hashtag on Twitter taking the form #KabetesWasNoSaint was trending just four days after his death. True as this may be, should everyone who is not a saint be gunned down in cold blood?

I detest corruption and what it has done to this nation. Yet I would be the last to say that the corrupt should be killed as we have heard is done in China. 30-year jail terms and the forfeiting of stolen wealth to the State are measures which, if properly and consistently taken, would solve our corruption problem at a stroke and without the further loss of life. Corruption has already killed too many: every child or adult that has died from preventable disease; every overloaded vehicle that made it past a manned police roadblock and subsequently crashed; every citizen slain by criminals as a result of insecurity;  the 51 who recently died at Huruma as a result of faulty building approval mechanisms – life after precious, Kenyan life has already been lost through corruption, more blood-letting need not be done. God is the Giver of life and He can take it too; let us not presume to usurp His position and authority in this matter. This is why the murder of any man – Jacob Juma, or no – is wrong. His mother has lost her son. His wife/wives have lost a husband. His children have lost a father. But these are personal losses, more keenly felt for their intimate nature. Is there any loss to the nation?

In Jacob Juma, this nation had a wealthy man, beholden to no-one, with intimate knowledge of Government-sponsored corruption. He also had the exceedingly uncommon trait of being willing to let the public know about it. The uses to which he put this information – assisting CORD – we may not all agree with. Yet, by his death, critical information on Government-sponsored corruption will no longer be in the public domain. How does Kenya benefit from this state of affairs? Is she not the poorer for this fact? Is not impunity aided, indeed strengthened, by his demise?

And if we inwardly rejoice at this state of affairs, are we not, ourselves, corrupt?

We are in fact worse than corrupt, for we irrationally support the corrupt in their corruption, thereby accepting all of corruption’s horrible costs, while receiving none of its benefits.

I conclude by returning to the Scripture at the beginning. My Mum quoted me Amos 5:13 when news reached her that I had been blocked on Twitter by @WilliamSRuto (a situation, I am happy to report, that no longer persists). She convened a lunch meeting between herself, my Dad and I, and beseeched me to stop writing the things I write; saying that in evil times the prudent are silent. I promised her that I would pray about it.

So we who write and speak out on socio-political issues must ask ourselves: was Jacob Juma’s life worth anything? Does his death mean anything? Were the things he spoke about worth dying for? Is the price worth paying? Are there times when it is, and times when it isn’t?

If we keep silent, shall they not have won?

May evil find that though ten are struck down, ten thousand rise in their place to stand for what is right.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2016 in Politics

 

There is another Court

On New Year’s Day 2008, in the aftermath of a hotly-contested general election that pitted Raila Odinga against incumbent President Mwai Kibaki,  Kalenjin attackers bore down on the Kenya Assemblies of God church in Kiambaa, where around 200 Kikuyus were sheltering from what they knew to be imminent attack. Inside the church people silently prayed, their fervent yet unspoken pleas in awful contrast to their attackers’ hostile war songs. The Guardian reported that paraffin-soaked mattresses were pushed through the windows and used to block the door, and then matches were thrown in.

30-50 Kenyans died in the fire that day, many of them children.

On 28th January 2008, in an appalling parallel, a group of Kikuyu attackers surrounded Bernard Ndege’s house in Naivasha. He too pleaded – with his attackers. But instead of a response he heard one of them ask another to bring a can of petrol, which they poured around his house. The same man then asked for a matchbox and set Bernard’s house on fire, killing Bernard’s two wives – one of whom was pregnant – his eight children, and 9 other people.

In total, around 1,200 Kenyans were murdered in the violence that followed the disputed 2007 elections. The violence led to the trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) of President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, and radio journalist Joshua Sang. Proceedings began on 10th September 2013, over 5 years after the violence occurred.

On 5th December 2014, prosecutors at the ICC withdrew charges of crimes against humanity against President Uhuru Kenyatta. Then two days ago, on 5th April 2016, the Trial Chamber of the ICC dismissed charges against William Ruto and Joshua Sang. Judge Eboe-Osuji wrote as part of his verdict: “The proceedings are declared a mis-trial due to a troubling incidence of witness interference and intolerable political meddling.”

Shall the mistrial at the ICC and the inability of that Court to successfully prosecute anybody be the end of the matter? Shall this violence go unpunished? Are the lives of 1,200 Kenyans as nothing? Is the agony and pain of the bereaved and of our IDP’s as nothing to God? Nay.

In I John 2:1, Scripture calls Christ our Advocate, promising that if we sin, we have an Advocate with the Father. In referring to Christ as our Advocate, the Bible implies that quite apart from our High Court, our Court of Appeal, or our the Supreme Court – courts that together comprise the corrupted justice system of our nation –quite apart from even the International Criminal Court, there is another Court. Further evidence of the existence of this Court is found in the Book of Hebrews, in which it is written that it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgement. Judgement implies the fair consideration of a person’s actions and intents. Judgement implies the presence of a Judge. And finally, judgement implies a verdict.

There is indeed another Court, and the presiding Judge of that Court cannot be met at a petrol station to be suborned with US dollars. This presiding Judge does not have a bank account. He cannot be offered a 10,000 acre farm, for heaven is His throne, the earth is His footstool. And who has instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of judgment, and taught Him knowledge, and shewed to Him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance. He is incorruptible, and He has said “My counsel shall stand, and I shall do all My pleasure.”

There is indeed another Court, and the presiding Judge of that Court is all-knowing. There is no creature that is not manifest in His sight, and all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

There is another Court, and before that Court all stand as equals. The witness will have his own case to answer. The compromised witness will have to answer for being compromised. The assassin will have to answer for the assassination of witnesses. The assassin’s sponsor will have to answer for the life of the assassinated. In that great Court witnesses cannot be compromised or assassinated. Assassinated witnesses are available to give testimony before the Judge. Compromised witnesses are available to give testimony also. No, in this Court, witnesses cannot be bribed or assassinated.

After the first recorded murder in human history that Court sat. And the Judge said to Cain “What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” Does the blood of the 1,200 slain after in 2007-8 lie silent in the dust? Nay, for the immutability of the Judge teaches us that He yet hears the anguished cries of innocent blood. And He will certainly demand a hearing.

There is another Court.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2016 in Christian, Politics, Uncategorized

 

Preliminary Thoughts on Foreign Influence

A U.S. soldier radios base, watched by displaced villagers, Mogadishu Image courtesy of: REUTERS/Dan Eldon  (SOMALIA)

A U.S. soldier radios base, watched by displaced villagers, Mogadishu
Image courtesy of: REUTERS/Dan Eldon (SOMALIA)

I have been reading the book Confessions of an Economic Hitman. In the third-to-last chapter of the book, the following quote from the New York Times of 14 April 2002 is included:

[The United States] supported authoritarian regimes throughout Central and South America during and after the cold war in defense of its economic and political interests.

In tiny Guatemala, the Central Intelligence Agency mounted a coup overthrowing the democratically elected government in 1954, and it backed subsequent right-wing governments against small leftist rebel groups for four decades. Roughly 200,000 civilians died.

In Chile, a C.I.A.-supported coup helped put Gen. Augusto Pinochet in power from 1973 to 1990. In Peru, a fragile democratic government is still unraveling the agency’s role in a decade of support for the now-deposed and disgraced president, Alberto K. Fujimori, and his disreputable spy chief, Vladimiro L. Montesinos.

Folks, allow me to repeat that that is a quote from the New York Times .

It is human nature to read this kind of narrative and begin to draw parallels between it and one’s own experience. (Human nature errs also; we sometimes inflate our own importance.) It is therefore difficult to read this article and find innocence in Raila’s sojourns in the US this year, or innocence in the speeches he made during his visit and upon his return. While in the U.S. he criticized Jubilee for blanket condemnation of an entire community (i.e. for targeting Somalis’ in its investigations on terrorism) – fairly inflammatory talk at a time when grenades were going off in matatus and markets. In the Uhuru Park speech he gave upon his return, he (at that time) gave Jubilee 60 days to convene national dialogue, prompting fears that CORD was seeking regime-change.

Let us add to this knowledge the fact that we have struck oil. Or rather that – perhaps more ominously – Western companies have struck oil in northern Kenya. Oil has been a major factor in many bitterly tragic tales of US neo-colonialism: in Iran in 1953; in Iraq in 1991 and in 2003; in Venezuela in a failed coup attempt in 2002; and in all likelihood Libya in 2011 to name but a few examples. The fact that Kenya has reserves of oil gives cause for a deepening of already grave concerns.

It is alleged that as Minister for Energy, Raila orchestrated the entry into the Kenyan market of Bakri Energy, a wealthy Arabian conglomerate; his brother Dr. Oburu Odinga is an active Director in the company (I was told this by a man who was a staff member of Bakri at the time). If this is true, then Raila Odinga is no stranger to the Machiavellian interplay between politics and wealth that always impoverishes a nation’s citizens.

Having carefully weighed all these issues, it becomes us to be extremely wary of the kind of foreign influence that does not directly benefit the Kenyan people (China is no saint, and this is why looking East is a fallacy that Jubilee itself has abandoned). We need the West’s markets for our tea, our horticultural products, our coffee, our tourism, and in future (we hope) our oil. We also need the East’s infrastructure and its technology. But these trades must be done on terms that are fair to Kenya and to all her people, and not merely a select political few.

Happy New Year, and may God bless the nation of Kenya.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2014 in Economics, Politics

 

The Security Laws (Amendment) Act 2014

In the run-up to either the first or the second referendum on a new Constitution, I recall my Dad drily remarking that we did not need a new Constitution in order to jail certain corrupt individuals. He was right. Now, as then, we are being asked to believe that new laws are necessary in order to contain a new threat – terrorism. And now, as then, we need to carefully examine whether this is true.

The Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014, has a broad scope and seeks to make numerous changes to the law. It includes some excellent provisions, such as:

  1. Changes to the Immigration Department functions and operations that require applicants for work permits to apply for them while still outside the country;
  2. The strengthening of the Evidence Act to allow digital evidence and to allow any police officer (as opposed to a particular one) to submit evidence;
  3. Changes to the Investment Promotion Act that require investors to be sponsored by Kenyan citizens (this is how Gulf states have kept their wealth within their own nations);
  4. Changes to the Labour Institutions Act that require employment agencies to obtain Government approval before sending Kenyan citizens abroad.

However, like the proverbial Trojan Horse, the Bill slips in a lot of bad with the good. Let’s look at 4 key areas.

What is terrorism?

The first point to note is that the new Bill does not in fact define terrorism. It also speaks of acts of terrorism, without defining what these may be. This ambiguity and open-endedness is a grave concern. If terrorism can be construed to mean almost anything, hundreds of people could be arrested as “terrorists” without explanation. Then there are further provisions that rest on the concept of the undefined concept of terrorism, for example: “A person who publishes or utters a statement that is likely to be understood as directly or indirectly encouraging or inducing another person to commit or prepare to commit an act of terrorism commits an offence.” In the absence of a definition for terrorism or terrorist acts, publishers and the media are at risk of being jailed for up to 14 years (there are no fines) for publishing whatever the Government decides has “indirectly encouraged a person to prepare a to commit an act of terrorism.”

 

Public Order

The new Bill states: “Any person who unlawfully convenes, organizes or promotes a public rally, meeting or procession or neglects or refuses to comply with any law relating to public meetings commits an offence… The Cabinet Secretary may by notice in the Gazette designate the areas where, and times at which public meetings, gatherings or public processions may be held.” It is a matter of great puzzlement to many as to how these provisions will help us to fight terrorism. Terrorists are not known to hold public meetings/gatherings or processions. So who exactly does this law target? Concerned citizens who try to hold an ineffective Government accountable by holding peaceful demonstrations? In a democratic society the right to demonstrate should be protected, and indeed our Constitution enshrines it in Article 37. Indeed it has been said that public outcry at the President’s assertion that security and safety is the citizens’ own responsibility and the subsequent demonstrations contributed to the dismissals of the Immediate former Cabinet Secretary for the Interior and the Inspector-General of Police. We would do well to continue to protect this right.

 

Interception of Communications Without Warrant

The new Bill also allows the national security organs to intercept communication without warrants. We understand the grave risks associated with terrorism but this provision can also be construed as a contravention of Article 31 of the Constitution (The Right to Privacy), which accords every person the right not to have the privacy of their communications infringed. It may have been better to have a way to expedite terrorism-related search warrants in the Courts, rather than create the potential for Kenyans’ right to privacy to be revoked.

 

Security of Tenure

The principle of security of tenure is supposed to ensure that a competent person is able to perform their official duties without the fear of being sacked. The risk, of course, is that an incompetent person may be appointed to the position, in which case the security of tenure would protect the office-holder rather than the public. The Constitution mitigates for this in at least two ways. The first way is that the office-holder can be removed for incompetence. The second way is through (Parliamentary) vetting. The President’s nominees to various positions are supposed to be subjected to scrutiny by a supposedly objective Parliament (representatives of the people) such that ineffective people are weeded out at this stage.

Unfortunately, rather than appoint the best individual for the job, our leaders tend to appoint someone with a view to balancing tribal mathematics, (in)competence notwithstanding. Parliament, believing that opposing the President’s choice is playing into the Opposition’s hands, rubber-stamps the President’s choice (a process that is even further compromised by despicable tendencies such as the tyranny of numbers). When the individual proves incompetent, it then proves constitutionally difficult to remove them.

The way to solve this problem is to appoint competent people to office, and to use the grounds of incompetence to remove them, or else have them resign (as we have seen). Not to revoke security of tenure.

 

Conclusion

The Government would have us believe that to oppose the new Bill is to be on the side of the terrorists. This is a dangerous and fallacious argument. If we take this thinking to its logical conclusion, it will not be long before the act of opposing Government incompetence and corruption will fall neatly into the vague non-definitions of terrorism we saw earlier. Insecurity in this country is not a legal problem. Our borders are porous – a fact that was most crudely illustrated by the fact that our President’s own escort vehicle was stolen and somehow conveyed into Uganda. Corruption and graft are endemic – the rampant smuggling of sugar and charcoal across the Somali border has the political backing of wealthy politicians. There are now about 10,000 police assigned to guard VIPs – about a quarter of the police force if a 2010 report is to be believed. There is no accountability in the security forces – it is only two weeks ago, over one year after Westgate, that we saw senior officials being held to account for incompetence.

We do not require new laws to solve these problems. What is required is the enforcement of existing laws.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2014 in Politics

 

Thoughts on the Night Travel Ban

Gateway to Auckland

Photo credit: Man’s Pic / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The National Transport and Safety Authority recently introduced new rules that included a ban on night travel by Passenger Service Vehicles (PSVs) in the country.

Let me start by saying that if you haven’t used a matatu for a couple of years, please try it! And carry your kids along. That is how the majority of Kenyans live, but once we have been “blessed with a car” and start using it to get around, we forget very, very quickly. Personally, I fear that this ban has been effected by elitists who haven’t used public transport in the last decade. Perhaps these policymakers can’t remember when they last went to “Shagz” by bus. Perhaps their children are dropped off at school by drivers. Perhaps they buy their veggies at Galleria as opposed to Marigiti. There is nothing wrong with living like that at all, but that is not how the majority of Kenyans live, and policy should be made with the interests of the majority in mind (the greatest good).

Now I’m certainly not condoning loss of life. We should protect every Kenyan’s life (from Westgate to Ntulele to Moyale), for every Kenyan’s life is invaluable. Undeniably, the directive has reduced road carnage, and another very good outcome is that the bus companies are feeling the pinch and beginning to understand the importance of safety. But to punish travellers for the sins of operators doesn’t really make sense.

Take for example the case of the trader who travels to Uganda by night, buys goods during the day (kitenge material I hear), and travels back with them the following night. He/she now has to spend two nights in Uganda, on top of the transport cost. That extra cost will be shared with his/her customer, or at worst just loaded onto them.

Rather than pulverizing mosquitos with hammers, let us start from the point that matatus have been forced to operate within savings and credit cooperatives (saccos). The Government should stipulate that any bus company/matatu sacco/PSV marque whose vehicle is involved in a road accident with a fatality/serious injury should be banned from having ANY of their vehicles on the road for a month. Further, if a company has three fatal accidents within a specified period (say 2 years) then the Directors of that company (or the owners of matatus in that Sacco) should be permanently banned from operating PSVs (to prevent the Directors from just starting new companies).

These two measures may not be entirely fool-proof, but:

  1. They’re simple,
  2. They can be implemented immediately,
  3. They allow night travel to continue,
  4. They’re a little easier to implement than ensuring there are working speed governors in every vehicle, or giving the police handheld speed cameras (these sorts of measures merely become a personal source of revenue for police),
  5. Most importantly, they shift the responsibility for road safety away from the travellers, away from the (massively corrupt) traffic police, and onto the vehicle owners, where it belongs.

Finally, at the root of the carnage in the transport sector is the corrupt nature of the traffic police. Inevitably, buses like the one that crashed at Ntulele have passed numerous road-blocks before their doom. We should remember that any lasting solutions to our troubles should involve as little human intervention as possible; more detailed and rigid solutions, especially involving GPS trackers, can be implemented.

But we can start with those two simple directives.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2014 in Economics, Life in Kenya, Politics

 

Why President Obama is going to Tanzania

Shipyard Cranes, Norfolk

Shipyard Cranes, Norfolk.
Photo credit: shoebappa / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

“The good news? U.S. President Barack Obama is making his second trip to Africa, the continent of his father’s birth. The ummm… ‘other’ news? He’s not coming to Kenya. What’s that? Yes, other news. Not bad news thanks, we’re Kenyans. We don’t really care whether he comes here or not (sniff). We don’t need the West. We have other trading partners… like China. And have you already forgotten what we did to Botswana? Leave us alone with our Uhurus and our Rutos, Kenyans know what’s best for Kenya…”

The paragraph above summarizes Kenyans’ reaction to the news that Air Force One will not be touching down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport during President Obama’s upcoming trip to Africa. The President’s trip is scheduled for June 26th 2013 to July 3rd 2013 and will take in Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa. Undoubtedly, Obama’s avoidance of his father’s land is a snub – the second such snub if we count his trip to Ghana in 2009. What seems to rankle most is that Obama felt it wise to accord our neighbours to the South, Tanzania, a State visit. Why would he do this? If we dig a little deeper, we can start to understand (in particular) why Tanzania.

It may surprise most Kenyans to know that foreign direct investment inflows (FDI inflows) to Tanzania and Uganda have exceeded FDIs coming in to Kenya for most of the last decade. The table below shows FDI inflows to the three countries from 2001-2010 (figures in USD):

Year Kenya Tanzania Uganda
2001 5,302,623 388,800,000 151,496,100
2002 20,202,580 396,244,800 184,648,100
2003 79,662,930 364,258,900 202,192,600
2004 41,647,830 226,732,400 295,416,500
2005 11,524,460 935,520,600 379,808,400
2006 26,717,030 403,039,000 644,262,500
2007 693,011,400 581,511,800 792,305,800
2008 51,819,060 400,047,200 728,860,900
2009 70,269,790 414,544,600 788,694,300
2010 184,215,300 433,441,900 817,178,700
Total  1,184,373,003  4,544,141,200  4,984,863,900

Source: http://www.indexmundi.com

This table is a sobering read. It shows that Tanzania and Uganda have both attracted about 4 times the foreign investment that Kenya did during the 2000s. In other words, because of Tanzania’s natural gas, Uganda’s oil, and both nations’ relative stability, for every 1 million dollars foreign investors have invested in Kenya, the same investors have invested another 8 million dollars in Uganda and Tanzania, shared roughly equally. Although the fact that Kenya has now discovered oil deposits may change the broad outlook of this table over the course of the current decade, there is still cause for concern about these figures. And if we do have oil, shouldn’t that be enough to make the US/China fall over themselves to visit us?

The second point is this: remember the Chinese we said we’d trade with instead of the West? Well, China’s (new) President Xi recently went on a state visit that took in Russia, the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), and South Africa. Oh, and Tanzania. Yes, China’s (new) President Xi also visited Tanzania recently. While it is true that socialist Tanzania has a long history of ties with China, it is still instructive that President Xi paid Dar-es-Salaam a visit; President Obama actually appears to be playing catch-up to the Chinese in this regard.

Thirdly, those selfsame Chinese recently pledged to help build a port at Bagamoyo, northwest of Dar, that’ll make Mombasa look like a small puddle. This week’s article in the East African on the matter states that the Bagamoyo port is set to cost USD 11 billion (nearly one trillion shillings). In tandem with this, Tanzania is revamping her rail network as well. If we are not careful, we ourselves will be importing and exporting via Tanzania before long.

The nation of Kenya has lost crown after crown economically speaking. We were on a par with Singapore and South Korea at independence. We’ve let them go. Fifty years later, our last remaining crown is “East Africa’s largest economy”. What are we doing to retain this status? Not much, it would seem. Here we are playing tribal games and thumbing our noses at the world by electing questionable “watu wetu“, and yet it is merely a matter of time before we lose our final claim to fame: that of “economic capital of East Africa”. Already Rwandan importers are saying that it takes them 3 days to import via Dar es Salaam, and 7 days to import via Mombasa. In all likelihood, our kids may study Economics knowing East Africa’s largest economy to be Tanzania.

President Obama’s snub should be waking us up to these realities. But much as we did during the Botswana incident, and instead of asking ourselves why the Presidents of the world’s two largest economies are queueing up to visit our southern neighbours (a nation we have grown up labelling an “economic backwater”), we’re busy saying “Kwani Obama ni nani? (Who is Obama anyway?)”. I urge us to realize that this is bigger than Uhuru. This is bigger than Ruto. This is bigger than Kogelo and Mama Sarah and serkal. It’s not a joke folks, this is about our land, our nation, and where we all are headed.

God bless Kenya.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Economics, Politics