Friday, 31 August 2012

Mombasa Riots Should Not Be Taken Lightly

There is something very wrong with this country, isn’t there? There is something wrong with our leaders, there is something wrong with our people, and there is something really wrong with our children, or at least that is what our political leaders would like us to think.

This week Muslim Cleric Aboud Rogo was brutally shot to death right in front of his little daughter. The sheer horror of such an attack, in front of the man’s family is certainly enough to justify an outraged response and protest. As the cleric was laid to rest, his followers and supporters condemned the assassination in protests. But what started out as a legitimate protest soon turned into something else entirely.

For 3 days, Mombasa has been turned into a battle zone, with rioting youth vandalizing churches, homes and businesses, and indulging in a rampant crime spree that has left the nation in shock. Grenade attacks targeted at the police have resulted in deaths and the government seems completely incapable of bringing the situation under control.

What is most shocking about these riots and the chaos that is ensuing is that we have leaders and people who wish to downplay the seriousness of the matter by claiming that these are idle youth who are taking advantage of the situation to commit crimes. Some are even talking about perceived historical injustices as a motivation and some are blaming unemployment and idleness, poverty and being marginalized as a reason why the young people are running riot.

But there is no excuse for planning the indiscriminate murder of police officers. The idea, that because we suffer the effects of injustices that occurred several decades ago, we can now run riot and kill policemen, itself is criminal logic. The notion that because a Muslim cleric was murdered we thus can burn and vandalize churches reeks of injustice and intolerance. None of these acts make any sense, politically, nor ideologically. These acts are not a protest against perceived historical injustices, these are crimes committed with the intention of inciting conflict in Mombasa.

Can I dare to say, what the leaders of Mombasa are reluctant to acknowledge? There are some evil elements based at the coast whose main objective is to create civil strife, fire tension between religious groups and in the melee they created, they attack the police directly in order to inflict the highest possible number of casualties they can, and they are using the young people of Mombasa to do it.

There is something terribly wrong, when leaders call the youth “Watukutu” or naughty, when these young people are tossing grenades around. I’d say, that throwing a grenade, with the intention and knowledge that it will kill, is more than just being naughty. Such acts are more than just crimes, they are an indicator of just how vile and twisted our young people have become.

But who are we to blame? Is it the police who are overwhelmed, under resourced and yet have to abide by the tenets of law when dealing with unscrupulous tactics? Or is it the very same political leaders who for the last few years have repeatedly reminded the people of Mombasa of how the Kenya Government perpetuated perceived historical injustices against them.

There is nothing wrong with agitating for one’s rights, and there is nothing wrong with leaders campaigning for the civil rights of their people. But there is something very wrong with leaders inciting young people to hate, hate that then expresses itself in crimes against other religions, and the general public and crimes against members of the police force. There is something very wrong when political leaders, by their words and actions, create terrorists, and then brush off their behavior as “naughty”.

What happened this week in Mombasa surely will be enough reason for parliament to push through the Anti-Terrorism Bill that is geared to mercilessly crush criminal elements that are suspected of terrorist acts. We already know that the Muslim leaders are against the enactment of this bill because they feel it can be used to target members of the Islamic community. But the Anti-Terrorism Bill is capable of doing more than target one religious community, because the bill itself contravenes several sections of the constitution as regards the rights of citizens and suspects of crime.

In as much, as we all wish to bring an end to the chaos, to live in peace and to bring the threat of terrorism under control, we cannot afford to add fuel to the fire by pushing through unconstitutional laws, that only creates more injustice. But more to the point, the leaders and the people of Mombasa must finally accept one thing, which is, we are in big trouble, if this keeps up. The youth of Mombasa are not just being naughty, they are being turned into a dangerous enemy of government and they are not afraid of inflicting innocent casualties.

It is when a leader can see death and destruction, murder and arson and then state that the perpetrators are just “naughty” youths that we, as a nation should finally realize and come to the understanding, that there is indeed something very wrong with this country isn’t there.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Clashes Between Communities Threaten National Security.

Kenya has been passing itself off as “an island of peace” in this part of Africa for too long, and finally the reality of this nation’s so called peaceful state is hitting home. When nearly 50 people were massacred in inter-ethnic clashes this week, the false sense of peace was shattered. No, August is not a cursed, “death” month as some like to think.

These are not the first clashes between communities that have occurred in Kenya in between the elections. In fact, the general assumption has been that these clashes were mere crimes between pastoralists, and that the real clashes only occur during elections. Perhaps it’s the scale of violence and magnitude of ethnic clashes that occur during elections that cause us to form such distinctions between the conflicts. But the reality is, Kenya is in a continuous state of ethnic related conflict through out.

Perhaps also it’s the way the incidences are scattered – conflicts have been going on in Mandera, Wajir, Tana Delta, Baringo, and parts of western Kenya for months if not years. Right now, Kenya has internally displaced people in just about every county. And yet, making the connection of these conflicts to politics and ethnic tension is still difficult. Some have tried to split hairs, defining these conflicts as just “cattle rustling”, clan wars, and fights over resources.

Well first of all; all conflicts are usually over resources. This is why the demarcation of electoral boundaries by the IEBC was so crucial, why the communities concerns and interests were important to take into consideration. The moment that the demarcation exercise was complete, we were assured that future conflict would occur. Why? Because the new boundaries split resources between ethnic communities, between clans and between the government organs mandated to run the new constituencies and wards.

Our nation’s resources are stretched, that much is obvious. So why is it not obvious to this government that more resources should be deployed to serve areas that are in dire need? And so, the hapless chiefs are left to deal with growing tension and retaliatory attacks until the horrific occurs and there is a massacre.

The responsibility for ensuring internal security lies with the Ministry for Internal Security and Provincial administration, and so, at this juncture, the blame would lie squarely with the Minister and his officials. But the situation is so desperate, that this is no longer just a matter for the police. When it comes to internal security, there are several others that are also blame worthy.

Take for example, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, whose responsibility it is to ensure peace is fostered in this country. When it comes to matters concerning ethnicity, the NCIC is keen on coming down hard on proponents of “hate speech”, and has brought case against some in the public limelight, while at the same time, ignoring where the real problem is, at the grassroots and between communities.

Or take for example the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, whose officers seem unable to process sufficient evidence against perpetrators of crimes so as to bring to book the masterminds behind the clashes.

Or even, consider the judiciary, whose slow pace at executing justice in such cases when reported means that instigators of such conflict are almost assured of getting away with it. It’s a well known fact that the performance of the judiciary when it comes to the prosecution and conviction of perpetrators of the post-election violence of 2007 has been dismal.

Let’s also consider the media, who are quick to report the conflicts that occur between communities but are often completely reluctant to state which community attacked which community, downplaying the seriousness of the conflict in the name of not victimizing communities, an action which in fact appears to protect the perpetrators, and instigators.

But I think the biggest blame in this situation lies with the people of Kenya. For not recognizing that your fellow citizens live in utmost fear for their lives, because of their ethnicity, because of overstretched resources and because we have been living in a bubble where the only ethnic conflicts we recognize are related to elections. Kenyans are to blame, for not insisting on inclusive politics, for not considering the needs of other communities when it comes to resources, and for acting on the instigation of politicians or interested parties and attacking their fellow citizens.

Because we lack a national spirit, we lack a collective sense of unity and harmony such that we can allow our country to be riddled with violent conflict amongst ourselves. Its because in the name of democracy, we allow ourselves to be fragmented politically, we recede into tribal cocoons when we think of dividing national resources and worst of all, the average Kenyan dehumanizes their perceived enemies from other ethnicities to the point of murder.

Each election, Kenyans have allowed themselves to gang up against a “common” enemy, and that common enemy is usually members of another community. Kenyans are never citizens when voting, they are tribes, and they remain tribes even when there are no elections and that is why we have conflict in between elections, even as Kenya as a nation claims to be at peace. It is this root cause, that threatens our country’s national security, and this is a bigger threat to peace in Kenya than Al-Shabaab will ever be. We lack national unity, and so, we live without national peace.

Friday, 17 August 2012

What Kenyan Integrity?

On August 27th 2010, Kenya promulgated her new constitution and by extension, turned the country into a nation that will be determined by litigation. It’s a ridiculous conundrum, to have to resolve interpretations because the framers of the constitution decided to rely on ambiguity when it came to definition of certain terms. So, I blame the framers of the constitution for tossing in an ambiguous term such as “Integrity” into the constitution as a parameter for determining a candidate’s suitability for State Office without detailing what exactly defines “Integrity”.

How indeed can we determine who will be our civic leaders if we, as Kenyans, have never taken the time to define what is integrity for ourselves? How do Kenyans define integrity? Consider this cyclical rationale – “Integrity is someone who is not corrupt.”
Ok, then, what is corruption?

Kenyans are a naturally corrupt lot. Yes, you are all very corrupt. Should the traffic be bumper to bumper, you are very glad that your matatu driver is ‘jumping’ the queue. If you can get a passport faster, you will pay extra. If it’s easier to give 500kshs to a cop, you will do it. You are corrupt, everywhere, everyday. So if integrity is someone who is not corrupt, then not a single Kenyan has integrity.

Kenyans have never defined for themselves what these terms are, and because the framers of the constitution were too lazy to find out from the nation what integrity really means to the population, they left the matter subject to interpretation.

So here is where we as a people get dragged into court room duels between lawyers and supervised by Judges over the legal interpretations of terms as yet not defined by the republic. It is at this point, the comedic emerges. One civil society lot petitions the high court over the eligibility of 2 presidential hopefuls who are ICC suspects, the other lot also enjoins the remaining 3 top contenders. In addition, these cases must reach their logical and final conclusions before the elections can legally occur. Meanwhile the incumbent president remains in charge.

In the background, the average Kenyan vents and fumigates over how so and so, who is their preferred candidate is unfairly being targeted. While they focus on the integrity cases, believing, perhaps wrongly, that this is what will determine the outcome of the next election, they also vent vitriol in public forums against their perceived enemies, and the ethnic communities of those “enemies.”

For those that may have missed it, it took about a month of violence to bring our nation to the brink of war. In the last 5 years, very little, other than talk, has been done to foster peace between communities. In fact in the last 5 years, Kenya has repeatedly had several internal conflicts often small in geographical terms, but great in political terms. If this government is not careful, the next elections may certainly be an explosive version of what happened in 2008.

What irks me is that on top of all this, is that we are faced with seemingly endless litigation, because we, as a nation, don’t know what integrity is. Because we cannot define something that we never expect to actually have to live up to, but only expect others to exhibit.

A definition of terms was necessary in the framing of the constitution. It is imperative, that as a nation, despite our cultural differences, we can collectively agree on universal values such as Integrity.

The fact that the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee has invited the public to participate and contribute to the drafting of the Integrity Bill appears to be a mere Band-Aid solution. Lets we forget, the CIOC were also crucial to the vetting of one Nancy Baraza, whose “Integrity” since that time has soundly been found wanting.
Judging from the CIOC’s judgment of Ms. Baraza, the CIOC has yet to prove itself worthy of judging anyone’s integrity.

At the end of the day, the average Kenyan is bound to be disappointed, whether amendments and deletions are made to the Integrity Bill or not. And the simple reason is nobody has any idea what integrity means to a Kenyan.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Kenya’s Young Doctors being sabotaged

“Education is the key to success.” These are the words that I grew up believing in, that nearly every teacher tells their pupils in Kenya. The ideal that being an educated person automatically gives you a lifeline to a successful life and career is still stressed upon our young people. What they don’t tell you, is that being educated in Kenya’s current economy and system of governance could tie you down to being poverty ridden, perhaps even poorer than your parents ever were.

Take our young doctors for example. Nearly every parent dreams of their child becoming a doctor. It’s the career of choice for them. In fact, if parents could choose careers for children, there would be a doctor in every home in Kenya. But look at the doctors’ reality. After working incredibly hard to pass KCSE, the sole exam that is used to pick the career you will have for the rest of your life, after gaining entry to the only 2 medical schools available in Kenya, after studying for 7 good years, after all the sacrifice and hard work, after Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist’s Union go on strike so that more interns are hired, the government simply refuses to pay the new interns their salary for months.

I say refuse, because there is no other way to describe this situation. Why would the Minister for Medical Services and his cohorts at the ministry choose to hire interns and yet not pay them? There is no reasonable explanation. Surely, when you hire someone to work, you have in your pocket, the money to pay for that work. So it’s getting clear that the problem is in the mind. In the minds of the Minister and his fellow government officials, doctors don’t deserve to earn a living.

There is this irrational belief that is commonly held by this government and that is the belief that doctors are actually priests. Doctors are called to treat and heal people by some deity, and it is that deity who is ultimately responsible for the livelihood of these doctors. Being a doctor, to this government, is equivalent to being a volunteer, selfless, subservient and dedicating your life to helping the needy with no expectation of reward or gratitude or even means of survival. Actually, doctors are superhuman servants to the people. And so, why should the government pay them a salary?

We live in a time where this government can proudly declare yearly budgets in trillions of shillings, and yet refuse to allocate sufficient funds to its health sector.
We live in a country that has the highest paid parliament, worldwide, and yet doctors earn peanuts. We live in a country where we can comfortably pay our electricity bills by phone transactions but cannot pay our young interns on time or at all.

We live in a country where our brightest, most intelligent, hardest working offspring face a future where they will neither be able to pay rent nor even afford 3 square meals in a day, yet they are expected to work 40 hour shifts. We live in a country that demeans education, undermines the future of our youth, a country that enslaves its doctors to a career filled with strenuous hours, few resources and little personal success or comfort.

We live in a country, where for the second time this year, on 2nd August, KMPDU was forced to issue a strike notice to the government, for its failure to deliver agreed upon conditions and terms. We are faced with a dire situation, where our young doctors are starving, literally, and thus they are forced to protest for their supper!
This is an utter mockery to all of us, in every sense of the word. This government mocks education, it mocks its people’s healthcare and worst of all it mocks its long suffering health practitioners.

These doctors have been stripped of their dignity and self worth and stripped of any value. It is so personal that they cannot pay rent, cannot buy food, and cannot even pay their fare to work even though they are employed. I wonder what Professor Peter Anyang Nyong’o would do, if he could not pay his rent or afford 3 meals a day yet he is working for a government that has a yearly budget in trillions of shillings. I wonder how he would manage, if he had not been paid in months.

When our doctors strike, it’s not just about their own salaries anymore. Its also about our own health, it’s about our children’s future it’s a fight to remain pro-education. It’s clear that the government’s attitude is one to sabotage our young doctors, and rob them of hope, of well deserved and hard earned livelihoods and to mock their education and aspirations, and we all must help put a decisive end to this.

Friday, 3 August 2012

IEBC undermined before it can do its job

Issack Hassan has the damndest job in Kenya, possibly the world. As chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, he has the onerous task of maintaining the independence and impartiality of the commission in practice as well as in the perception of the public. Unfortunately for him, it seems that every single step the electoral body takes towards preparing for the next election is criticized and interfered with such intense scrutiny that rumors quickly take the place of facts in the media.

It all started more than 2 years ago, when the poor man was commissioner in the now defunct IIEC. Even in the run up to the referendum, IIEC faced great challenges maintaining its perception of independence in the media, despite its established practices and lessons learned from the 2007 elections and despite express measures to ensure that none of the irregularities mentioned in the Kriegler report would be repeated. As the results of the referendum came in, there were no complaints of double voter registration, no rumors of rigging. And guess what, IIEC used manual voter registration in majority of the polling stations, with some stations using biometric voter registration kits.

Fast forward to 2012, and suddenly the IEBC is unable to even procuring equipment the biometric voter registration kits without some political faction igniting rumors of who owns what company and how that inevitably will affect the political outcome of the polls. Now, this logic requires the average person to more than stretch his imagination, it requires one to also suspend rationality, ignore history and factual evidence in favor of a conspiracy theory rife with shadow men and phantoms. Even before due diligence was conducted on the company picked to supply the tender, politicians from certain quarters began the rumor mill on who owns it, and how they plan to supply the tender by outsourcing. Some even went as far as declaring that they suspect rigging is the aim behind the company being picked. The main reason that Symphony caught such flack is because its ownership was Kenyan. For reasons best known to these rumormongers, being Kenyan makes a company automatically disqualified from tendering as only non-Kenyans can do a proper job of supplying biometric voter registration kits.

Wisely, the IEBC completed its own due diligence and found that none of the companies that applied for the tender met the requirements stipulated. They then resolved that the best way forward is to use manual voter registration due to time and financial constraints. It’s a very reasonable course of action to take given that one national election had already taken place after the recommendations of the Kriegler report were taken into consideration, and that election was run successfully even with manual voter registration.

Its no secret that the fastest way to guarantee a lack of faith in electoral processes is to undermine, belittle, interfere and criticize the electoral body mandated to conduct the elections. Its not a new strategy, rather, the ECK faced the exact same vitriol in the run up to the 2007 elections. It’s the sort of root behavior that sets in, destroys the confidence of the public in constitutional offices and thereby in that dark limbo of uncertainty, politicians can then declare the process flawed, rigged and soon after a call for mass action is given.
It’s the same old script used 5 years ago, by an unscrupulous lot. The only way, to see through the haze of fear mongering being blown out by these politicians is to just look at the facts.

The facts are that manual voter registration has been used before during the referendum, by the IIEC and there were no worrying irregularities reported. The facts are that IEBC has given reasonable cause as to why they have resorted to manual registration. The facts are that IEBC will have no problem hiring 50,000 Kenyans willing to do the work of registering their fellow citizens. The facts are that the actions of undermining and constantly berating and criticizing the IEBC are designed to ruin voter confidence in the independence and the constitutional mandate of the IEBC and its commissioners. The facts are that any company, even Kenyan, can tender to supply the IEBC and indeed any other constitutional commission in Kenya and should they fit the requirements, they have the right to receive that tender without automatically raising suspicion.

The IEBC is supposed to be independent, yet its every action is accompanied by rumors and emotions whipped up by politicians. I think its time Kenyans matured enough to discard rumors, and to embrace rationality. Whether using manual registers or BVRs, the IEBC remains an independent body, which has proven itself capable of conducting elections in an effective and professional manner. It’s an outright shame that politicians are undermining its independence, which is constitutionally enshrined.