Sunday, 27 May 2012

Young People Deserve more than just Rhetoric

Young People Deserve more than just Rhetoric
With the campaign season now in full throttle, the good news coming out of all the political rallies is that the youth of Kenya are finally a highly desired electorate.
With all this attention on a previously ignored demographic segment, surely the concerns and challenges facing young people in Kenya will hopefully be addressed seriously.

With young people consisting of an estimated 60% of Kenya’s population, this is obviously a significant section when it comes to elections. At 60% of the population, making them about 24 million Kenyans, surely even a 50% vote garnered from this demographic would ensure a one way ticket to State House. How exciting, how exhilarating, to see so many young people attending political rallies all over the country, joining all sorts of political parties and dancing to the tune of the political leaders. It must be a boost to one’s political ego and prowess to be able to fill an event to bursting with dancing, cheering youth. Certainly, it’s warming to see how much hope these young people have for themselves, for their dreams to somehow come true, if they just trust their leaders one more time.

So with all these young people everywhere, dancing for different politicians from different political parties; with all these young people, willing to start loving each other as Kenyans willing to help these different political parties form the next government, with all their fragile hopes and dreams hanging on each and every word the politicians utter, is it too much to expect these leaders to get specific as to how exactly they plan to solve and meet the challenges faced by 24 million young people?

Its one thing to talk about getting young people to take up their civic responsibilities and go and vote, it’s quite another to talk about changing their lives and circumstances when you don’t tell us how you are going to do it. We are talking about 24 million young Kenyans who are unemployed, or under employed. We are talking about young people who need education, training, housing, food, a livelihood and a career for their future. We are talking about young people who are struggling to make ends meet, who cannot afford rent, let alone own their own homes, who bear the greatest economic burden and whose future prospects are dire if their present circumstances do not change for the better.

Sifting through all the stirring speeches given at political rallies, one can only wonder what the objective of even mentioning youth at such rallies could be. Repeating back to the youth, how you know they are suffering and in what way, does not solve their problems. And stating rhetoric about how imperative it is to address their issues is not a solution. Young people need a solid strategy, much like the financial plans, or vision 2030 that everyone keeps referring to. To pretend, that you will come up with a strategy the day after inauguration is to assume that young people are not just poor, they are daft. And to spew rhetoric to the youth, in sheng, is an insult to their mental faculties. But worse than all this, is to imply that once you are the governing political party or once you are in government, the previously non-existent youth strategy will be implemented is just repulsive. Surely you jest, because unless we are all asleep or something, most presidential candidates are or were in this government for the past 5 years, and in previous governments as well! Forgive me for my skepticism, but if in years in government, you did not have a comprehensive plan for 60% of the population, and you do not have a plan to talk off in your rallies today, what magical wand will wave to give you a plan in 2013?

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Laureate in Economics, put it best. “If in your country, college graduates are unable to gain employment within their chosen professions, you are crippling your economic future.” The young people of Kenya need a consideration and an accommodation that goes beyond mentions in the constitution and an economic strategy that goes far beyond the capabilities of the Youth Enterprise Fund. The youth need Kenya and its politicians and political parties to take their concerns as seriously as Europe is taking its economic crisis. That means, spare us the rhetoric please, and come up with serious, specific, comprehensive strategies that indeed will feed the hopes and dreams of young people. Regardless of their political affiliations or preferred candidates, or ethnic background young people all have the same one thing in common and that is unemployment. That alone should unite them in demanding more than just rhetoric from their political leaders.

KNCHR report causes hulabaloo about NOTHING.

KNCHR Report on Decriminalizing gays and lesbians causes a hullabaloo about nothing.

The recently released report by The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has caused a flurry of rather emotional reactions from all sectors of society. I suppose the issues underlying the presence and activities of gays and lesbians in Kenya are what are truly at the center of this debate. There seems no end to the myriad speculations and unfortunate judgment on the lifestyle and sexual preferences of homosexual people. Be that as it may, the crux of the matter is not so much the gay lifestyle or choices, but the provisions for fundamental rights as enshrined in the Kenya Constitution.

The bone of contention that should be considered in this discussion are the rights entailed in Article 27 (4) of the constitution which states, “The State shall not discriminate directly or indirectly any person on any ground including race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, color, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth.”

These fundamental rights apply to all citizens in Kenya. The supremacy of the constitution is such that, if a law found in the penal code contravenes these rights, it is automatically nullified by the constitution. The question of decriminalizing gays and lesbians thus ceases to be an issue, as the constitution is clear as to what rights they currently enjoy. The premise of the KNCHR report thus begs the question: Are the fundamental rights and freedoms of gay and lesbian Kenyans being infringed upon by the State as a policy or law? No.

One as such, is left wondering what the noise is all about. Let me be clear, as a matter of legislation, the government does not, and cannot “criminalize” being gay as it is your fundamental right. The government cannot outlaw your sexual orientation or what you do in your bedroom. To further ensure that you enjoy your fundamental rights, Article 27 (5) goes on to say, “A person shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against another person on any of the grounds specified or contemplated in clause (4).” So once again, gays and lesbians have the constitution protecting them from discrimination on any ground by any person.

So why is there such a noise about the KNCHR report? I can say, it is primarily because people have to, for the first time in the history of Kenya, face two facts. Firstly, that their assumptions about their society vis a vis sexuality are prejudices that are not supported by law, and two, that gays and lesbians do enjoy the same rights as them.

Being homosexual in Kenya puts that individual in a minority, but even as minorities they still enjoy the same rights, responsibilities and privileges as stipulated in the constitution. Even though the Kenya constitution clearly states that marriage is between consenting adults of the opposite sex, it does not prohibit people from living with their partners, or making a will to protect, and endow their partners with their property when they die. Homosexuals are not prohibited from working in any sector; they can acquire land and property, invest, be educated, and interact with the society freely. In the case of any person attacking them physically, emotionally or verbally they can report the said attack and seek legal redress, they can rely on the government to protect them from any kind of violence, and they can seek medical attention in any hospital. Should they have children, their kids can enjoy the same rights and privileges that other kids enjoy. As youth, or if they have disabilities they even enjoy further rights by provision of affirmative action programmes in the constitution.

So that brings me to the second area of contention which is the reliance on article 56 of the constitution which seeks to correct imbalances by putting into place affirmative action programmes. In as much as homosexuals are a sexual minority, I don’t see how their rights have been infringed upon so as to require affirmative action programmes, as compared to another minority group such as the Ogiek community, or the Njemps.
Barrack Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage notwithstanding; in Kenya the matter of same-sex marriages is yet to even be raised by the gay community as a petition to amend laws on the family to include same-sex marriages. So what is everybody arguing about? It’s all a hullabaloo about nothing. You can’t deny homosexuals their rights, because they enjoy the same rights you do!

Homosexuality may be described as “sinful” by your religion or culture but “sin” is not defined in the law. Certainly, because by law one cannot discriminate against a fellow Kenyan on religious grounds or using religious reasons, the question of “sin” should be applied by believers primarily to their own conscience and actions, and not the actions of others.

Monday, 7 May 2012


On 19TH April, 2012, the Finance Minister, Hon. Njeru Githae, covertly introduced two amendments to the Finance Bill. The 1st amendment was to alter the National Assembly Remuneration Act in order increase the pay of the Deputy Speaker of Parliament and the members of the Chairmen’s panel by an additional Kshs.2.4million per annum to be paid as Parliamentary Responsibility Allowance, backdated to 1st January 2006. An additional Kshs.1.2 million per annum, demarcated as Parliamentary Responsibility allowance is to be paid to the Parliamentary Service Commissioner, also back dated to 1st January 2006.
The 2nd amendment was to increase the benefits of all the members of the National Assembly by increasing their severance allowance from the Kshs 300,000 per year to Kshs 744,000 per year, multiplied over the years of service. These two amendments were passed, without objection within a matter of minutes.
It is with deep sadness, regret and rage that I tell you today, that these amendments have received presidential assent.
It’s the classic and may I say chronic case of parliamentarians increasing their own salaries, via acts of parliament, swiftly and without objection from any quarters to the detriment of all Kenyans. Already, our MPs earn salaries and allowances significantly higher than other MPs around the world, higher than even more developed nations that have higher GDPs. Add onto that, they as a collective had to be forced to pay tax, a matter that indicates their own lack of nationalism and rejection of citizen responsibility. But what adds insult to injury is the fact that they would pass a bill in direct contravention of the Supreme Law of Kenya, a law they swore to uphold barely 2 years ago.

In fact, in 2011, to avoid the financial implications of paying tax, the then Finance Minister, Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta, introduced the Appropriations Bill, which sought to utilize the National Disasters Contingency fund in order to pay tax to KRA on behalf of the Parliamentary Service Commission. Can you imagine a government determined to pay tax to itself on behalf of 222 MPs to the tune of 2.4 billion kshs? It’s outrageous!

What is so distressing is not just the utter selfishness of such acts, but the nerve to ignore laws put in place to govern this nation. These amendments are ultra vires, that is, in direct contravention of Article 230 of the constitution, which places the responsibility of salary reviews into the hands of the Salaries and Remunerations Commission.

When the doctors, nurses and healthcare workers went on strike demanding better pay, they were told to wait for the Salaries and Remunerations Commission. In fact the government at the time, through the Finance Ministry claimed that they had no money. Now this same ministry has found money, enough to pay out millions of shillings back dated to 2006, not only to the current sitting MPs but even those we voted out in the previous election!

Is the Kenya constitution just a piece of toilet paper that these parliamentarians can use and discard at will? What about our votes, do they not count at all? When we voted out previous leaders, we wanted to put an end to their service, now that they no longer serve Kenyans why should they be paid? If I get fired, I won’t receive a severance pay 6 years down the line!

This action has led Jayne Mati, a private citizen and member of the Mars Group Kenya to file petition 175 at the constitutional division of the High Court of Kenya. Needless to say, this petition is of grave national importance. Our nation is plagued by poor leadership, and we the ordinary citizens had hoped that a new constitution would bring an end to the plunder we have endured since independence. But with impunity, no consideration whatsoever and complete disregard to our supreme law, the MPs, the Deputy Speaker and even the President flouted this precious document by this act of parliament.

We have a rogue parliament; there is no other way to describe it. As I write this, the nation’s attention is captured by the matter of MPs defecting from political parties and creating or joining others without giving up their seats in parliament. This country, through its so called legislators, has turned into a lawless state, where every law that is not convenient to the desires and whims of a politician is flouted, ignored, broken, dismissed. Our constitution is not respected; our legislative institutions are abused by ALL of them.

According to article 116 of the constitution; “An act of Parliament that confers a direct pecuniary interest on members of Parliament shall not come into force until after the next general election of members of Parliament”. So this current parliament cannot, by law, increase their salaries, benefits or severance pay.

It is time the citizens of this country truly woke up to their political responsibility and helped put an end to this madness. I am truly irked to no end by the laxity I see, and general political apathy among the electorate. Why do the citizens of this nation believe that their responsibility towards good governance starts and ends with a vote? More irritatingly, why do you believe that by voting in different people you have brought change to Kenya? Didn’t you vote in new MPs in the last election? And yet now your taxpayers’ money will go to pay more money to the MPs you voted out, and the ones you voted in, in direct contravention of the constitution! Its time we woke up from this neurotic slumber.

Article 1 of the constitution clearly states that “All Sovereign powers belong to the people of Kenya and shall be exercised only in accordance with this constitution.”  It is not just your pockets that are at stake in this particular matter, but the very essence of being Kenyan, who you are, your identity and your very citizenry. Clearly, these MPs have declared war on justice, and on the sovereignty of our nation, and its time we fought back. Our nation cannot, and will not be held to ransom by a handful of people who by their actions demonstrate such a high disregard for our Supreme Law and institutions that their actions can even be interpreted as treacherous. Kenyans, petition 175 is of great national importance, and crucial to the future of our country.