Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Taxing Thoughts

The avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that carries any reward. - John Maynard (Lord) Keynes, Economist.

A fool and his money are soon parted. It takes creative tax laws for the rest. - Bob Thaves (... or Speaker Kenneth Marende)

A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing something right. – Anonymous

I wouldn't mind paying taxes… if I knew they were going to a friendly country. - Dick Gregory (... or ODM Chairman Henry Kosgey)

I believe we should all pay our tax bill with a smile. I tried but they wanted cash. – Anonymous

The only thing that hurts more than paying an income tax is not having to pay an income tax. - Lord Thomas Robert Dewar

The wages of sin are death, but after they take the taxes out, it's more like a tired feeling, really. - Paula Poundstone

Taxes are not levied for the benefit of the taxed. – Robert Heinlein (... or Ikolomani Chatterbox Bonny Khalwale)

Taxation with representation ain't so hot either. - Gerald Barzan

The income tax created more criminals than any other single act of government. - Barry M. Goldwater

To lay with one hand the power of government on the property of the citizen and with the other to bestow it on favored individuals is none the less robbery just because it is called taxation. - US Supreme Court in Loan Association v. Topeka (1874)

The Government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul. - George Bernard Shaw

Government does not tax to get the money it needs; government always finds a need for the money it gets. - Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America

Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it. - Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America

To tax the community for the advantage of a class is not protection, it is plunder. - Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

The more one considers the matter, the clearer it becomes that redistribution is in effect far less a redistribution of free income from the richer to the poorer, as we imagined, than a redistribution of power from the individual to the State.- Bertrand de Jouvenel

The question is: What can we, as citizens, do to reform our tax system? As you know, under our three-branch system of government, the tax laws are created by Satan. But he works through Parliament, so that's where we must focus our efforts. - Dave Barry

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Change, Missing the Mark.

Reflections from a Kenyan in Oz...

Not to provoke anyone, but I’m truly tired of hearing about what Barack Obama is going to do for us. We, Kenyans, are hoping that on the basis of his roots, Barack Obama will look favorably this way. But can his life lessons and integrity be associated with the place we call home?

We can only blame ourselves for the state we are in and need to look within for the solutions to our problems. To every person who does not vote, and everyone who votes not for the issues that affect their lives but on tribal lines, for everyone who is ready to sell their votes for a couple of bucks. We need to stand up as a people and by the power of the vote say NO to leaders who campaign on incitement and fear mongering.

Say NO to party hopping candidates who want leadership by any route available without regard for ideology or personal integrity. If such was the case with the United States, Hillary Clinton would have moved from the Democratic Party and start her own party or formed a coalition so that she too could stand another chance at the presidency. But she didn’t do that because at the end of the day she still has faith and belief that the principles her party stands for are right and she will continue to support the party. The party policies and manifesto are more important than the individual, but we don’t see that in our politics or even in our leaders; Kalonzo, Raila, Ruto and crew have all jumped ship over and over when their interests were not met. None of our politicians has ever been for the party or for the people. Just for themselves.

The tough situation with unemployment and poverty makes it hard for one to have pride in their country, where the poor keep getting poorer, where health care is unaffordable, where essential amenities like water, electricity, transport, education, employment and security are considered of little importance by the people we elect hoping that they would even for an instance pretend to care enough to try and tackle them. But alas, it doesn’t even hit them in the slightest that we down here are in need of the same facilities that we have allowed them to enjoy through our votes. Their most important order of business has always been to increase their own salaries at the expense of the people and doing nothing.

The articles I have been reading from my fellow Kenyans since Obama became president are those of careful jubilation, and we should be. But we celebrated Obama’s win with a public holiday, a country that he doesn’t even call home, while for the Americans themselves, it was back to business and life as normal. A waste of time and resources on a public holiday that we did not deserve.

Some would say that may be I speak much due to my current living condition, but I would like to say that home is where my heart is and it is in Kenya, and I would also like to address my brothers and sisters who are living abroad, I hope and pray that some day, we all, as I have planned, look forward to returning back to the homeland, the motherland. We bitch a lot about the situation In Kenya and how it is not changing and nothing good is happening there. Being in Australia, seeing and learning as I have about governments, state, federal and local, about politics and loyalties to parties and party principles and not to individuals, economics….and many more, we are the change and the breath of fresh air that the country needs if we all go back at one time or the other with the positive use of the networks that we have built all over as we are abroad. Kenya is destined to rise from the ashes of nothingness and shine to the possibilities that only our imaginations can limit. Kenyans would have the opportunity to shine at home as we Kenyans do out here, the self imposed exile and exodus that we take should be for opening up our minds to the possibilities that what we learn out here, we can export it back and give those same dreams and possibilities to other Kenyans at home. Then they too would not think of going abroad to look for possibilities of a better future because we will have brought the future home.

I am vexed honestly, to see a country that I love miss the mark like it has.

...By Vincent Tshaka, Sydney, Australia.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Peter Supports Obama but Loves Corsi More.

Journalists have often been accused of being unprincipled, without conscience and available for hire by any or all bidders. This quackery is typified by one Peter Mbae, who recently offered to take up the ignoble responsibility of sprucing the floor upon which some American bigot had intended to stomp. He should be grateful for the pre-emptive government intervention that may well have averted a messy conclusion to his principal’s provocative venture.

There are those who are arguing that the deportation was just what Corsi had hoped for in order to get the ensuing publicity. I think they are being too generous in ascribing to the man a cleverness that he simply does not have. There is ample evidence of the man’s stupidity in the piles of rubbish that he pens copiously and to suggest that he’s capable of such a plot is merely to argue for the sake of argument. In any case, Corsi has had extensive publicity on news networks and the internet such that a dramatic jaunt to Kenya is unlikely to impact on it one way or another. If Obama loses this election, it will certainly not be because of Corsi’s campaign in the US or Kenya.

Peter Mbae says that he had never heard of Corsi or his works before he visited Kenya. That is ignorance of an ugly sort from a man who claims to be a journalist and media consultant. But what is more bizarre is that he (Mbae) was one of the founders of a group known as the Senator Obama Worldwide Supporters whose mission was to counter the smear campaign that questioned Obama’s politics, patriotism and religious beliefs. At their launch in June this year, they said “We want to ensure that what Senator Obama stands for is not diluted by cheap propaganda”. Since the group had declared that it was not being funded by the Obama campaign, it is safe to surmise that Mbae has since had a change of heart and decided to pursue more profitable enterprise like coordinating Corsi’s campaign in Kenya.

It is Mbae’s right to sell his skills (clumsy as they are) to the highest bidder, but in this case even Dr. Jerry himself would find it difficult to agree that any useful services were rendered. Having been actively engaged in last year’s parliamentary elections during which he went on a party hopping spree like a headless chicken, Mbae should have been a little bit more equipped to help his client navigate the local political waters more sensibly. Clearly he flunked and the last he was heard of, he was grumbling about outstanding payments from Corsi.

Soldiers for hire are also known as Dogs of War. The equivalent for local journalists would be… waandishi kwa bei ya jioni?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Blogger Facing Trial for Criticizing King.

About two weeks ago a blogger in Morocco posted an article in an online magazine, hespress.com, in which he criticized the King for encouraging a culture of dependency where loyalty is rewarded with favors. In the article (in Arabic), titled ‘The King Indulges His Subjects’ Dependency’, Mohamed Erraji, 29, said that “this had made Moroccans a people without dignity, who live by donations and gifts… We need to admit that what has destroyed our country and made it plummet to this embarrassing level in all international rankings, is this economy of dispersing gratuities, which benefits the lucky sons and daughters of this country and overlooks the rest.”

That was on Wednesday, September 3. The following day he was arrested, interrogated for seven hours then released. He was re-arrested on Friday and detained before being brought to trial on Monday, September 8. In a closed trial that lasted 10 minutes, in which he did not have a defense lawyer, Erraji was sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of 5000 Dirhams ($625) for “failure of respect due to the King”.

Morocco’s press law strictly forbids criticizing or defaming the King. The press law, which has often been criticized for being overly repressive also includes in its prohibition the offending of Islam, the Royal Family, State Institutions and the Territorial Integrity of Morocco. A fairly nebulous set of laws, if you ask me, that suitably arms a security apparatus which wants to zealously protect the arm that feeds it.

But blinded by their enthusiastic ingratiation to His Majesty, the loyal agents had perhaps underestimated the ability of the blogosphere to effectively spread information. Within moments of Erraji’s incarceration, global media had kicked up a racket through diverse channels in his defense. Much to the chagrin of the Moroccan authorities, the country’s draconian press law was once again in the limelight. Obviously this not being an objective of their bungled smack down on Erraj, someone advised the Appeals Court to release him on bail because in the earlier decision the prosecution “did not comply with certain provisions with regards to the press code”.

Erraji is scheduled to appear in court again today, September 16.

I join the world wide support for Erraji’s blogging freedom and hope that the tribulations with His Majesty’s court jesters will be short-lived.

A petition site for the freeing of Erraji has also been set up.

Notable organizations that have continued to highlight these infringements of journalists and bloggers freedoms include Reporters without Borders, the Union of Independent Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Committee to Protect Bloggers. The latter in particular is a non-profit corporation “…devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government. We support the right of bloggers, regardless of professional status or engagement in activism, to speak and we do so regardless of their ethnicity, national origin, religion or political beliefs.”

They are encouraging us to give them a shout when we, someone we know, or someone we’ve heard about, has fallen afoul of government authority because of their insistence on speaking their minds on a blog. A visit to their site is quite revealing on just how pervasive these attacks on bloggers by authorities have been in recent times.

Facebook users can join the CPB through the cause page.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ida begrudgingly Rejects Allowance

What ought to have been a matter of outright rejection at the first instance, stretched out to be a fortnight of apparent soul-searching process for Ida Odinga. She seems to have come to terms, albeit grudgingly, that the Ksh 400,000 allowance is at the moment an unwise political misstep that has elicited a fast and furious backlash from folks that would otherwise form her bedrock of support.

To pretend that she had only read of the offer in the press and therefore treated it as malicious rumor from her detractors is disingenuous crap pasted from an old script. Since keeping silent would have implied her complicity in the attempted skimming of public funds, it was perhaps necessary that she made her position clear. But her statement came out as a bitter retort to “people” when in fact a simple line or two rejecting the offer would have sufficed. Her rigmarole about “heavy responsibility on behalf of the Republic of Kenya” is menacing and it is probably just as well that she is not occupying a higher office on behalf of “people”.

The outrageous allowance offer did, however, find support from what seemed unlikely quarters. Former nominated MP Njoki Ndungu, who has over the years built a reputation as a brave defender for women and children rights came out with some fairly strange support for the allowances. Ms Ndungu thinks that the monies should be paid “in recognition for the evident work that spouses do in our political structures”. She adds that “We expect them to occasionally hold court, to preside over functions, to grace important State occasions, to be patrons of organizations, etc. We are essentially asking them to give up their private lives.” Madam Njoki, are we?

If such defense as Njoki’s came from the ‘ordinary’ citizenry, it might have carried some water and even looked progressive. But from you, Madam Njoki, it brings with it a little tinge of elitism prevalent in the leafy neighborhood you share with Ida and Pauline. It sounds like support for ‘one our own’. Otherwise, I am persuaded that “we” do not demand these vague services for which we are expected to pay for without even a little pretense to consultation. And “we” expect that perhaps spouses should consult before either of them plunges into public service of the political kind. Anyone who finds that politics is “drudgery”, as Njoki puts it, should steer clear of it and no one will begrudge them.

Now, Pauline. I expect that she will produce a back-dated letter to Muthaura showing that she had rejected the offer first!

Related article; Pauline Musyoka and Ida Odinga; Spouses or Escorts

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mombasa Port Management: MPs talking with feet in their mouths.

The attempt by coast MPs to kick up a storm over the sacking of Abdallah Mwaruwa as KPA Managing Director is indicative of an idle lot pricked to action only because they fear that their personal interests at the port may be at risk. Other than stir emotions of victim-hood amongst their voters, the demands of the Coast Parliamentary Group that the position be reserved for a local are essentially designed to perpetuate a ‘friendly’ management at the Port.

A number of these fellows are simply fighting to keep running personal businesses at the port and the enjoining of their less savvy colleagues in this noise making is just a thin façade. It is well known that most of the local tenders floated by the port authority are invariably won by companies associated with some incumbent coast politicians. These are for services ranging from the mundane such as garbage collection and lavatory cleaning to ship services and to sensitive ones like security and provision of port entry passes. It is also well known that staff deployed by these contractors largely comprise of locals. This is as it should be and it is dishonest for any of the politicians to allege otherwise. Of course, none of them will be heard protesting why the contracts cannot be won by entities not aligned to the politicians, even if they are owned by coastals. Hassan Joho, with quite a number of such companies, found himself in the eye of a storm a little while back when the Artur brothers breached security at the port. His company provides entry passes to the port.

The demand by the MPs that the top management of the port be reserved for a coastal is also redundant because that has been the practice since the inception of the port authority in 1978. It is possible that they rushed into an ignorant outburst when Mwaruwa was dismissed because they could not quite place the current acting MD’s name in their scheme of thought. John Mlewa is in fact a coastal, blessed with a name that is not given to instant mapping, particularly by the unsophisticated skills of the CPG. Having now confirmed that the man is indeed ‘one of our own’, they have now post-dated their demands, saying that only a coastal should be confirmed in the position!

Former MD Brown Ondego is also a coastal having spent literally all his life here, but he has had to suffer the indignant hounding by CPG operatives who could never comprehend how an “O” could belong to one of theirs. It mattered not, that he had in a few short years managed to steer the port around from near collapse. To their minds, such resuscitation could only have the sinister motive of benefiting the ‘wabara’ (non-coastals).

The previous CEOs at the port have, almost to a man, been from the coast. Apart from P.Okundi, J. Munene and R. Breneisten, the rest are clear evidence that, contrary to CPG’s wailing, no one has been “oppressing” the good folks from the coast. The high turn-over list of CEOs includes R. Sajjaad, J. Mturi, A. Mumba, S. Mkalla, B. Ondego, A. Mwaruwa and J. Mlewa. The current board of directors is also largely coastal, save for two permanent secretaries who are statutory members. They are led by Chairman J. Kibwana with members A. Mwaruwa, M. Jahazi, K. Jillo, K. Karim, N. Waireri, E. Konchellah and M. Mure.

The tribal bias that the MPs are seeking to safeguard is already tilted in their favor and they need not continue bombarding the nation’s collective indulgence with their invective. Indeed, they should ferret out their man, Transport Minister Mwakwere, whose turf they’re pretending to protect, to explain to them in his usual slow pace why it is that he accepted to terminate Mwaruwa’s contract if his wisdom dictated otherwise. Mwakwere, an elder of the CPG, will be involved in no small measure in the hunt for and appointment of the next MD. It is him they should be lobbying, even within the private confines of any number of locations in the expansive coast province, if they desperately want one of their own at the helm.

The Coast Parliamentary Group has over its brief history managed to curve out a colorless niche for itself as a voluble yet impotent consortium. It was supposedly set up to front for the collective interests of the region but has quickly degenerated into a vehicle for its members to seek recognition on the national political landscape. Unfortunately, their fickleness and nonsensical bravado will only serve to promote the stereotyping of the regions citizens as lay-a-bouts.

The good people of the Coast deserve much better leadership.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Mombasa Port: Crossed Fingers for Security

Besides strangling regional trade through a breakdown of its cargo movement operations, the Port of Mombasa could also be a veritable sitting duck awaiting a terrorist attack. Four years after worldwide implementation of the International Ship and Port Facility Security code begun, there are valid concerns that Mombasa Port is yet to attain a level of compliance that can forestall such an attack. Indeed after audits conducted here last year by the US Anti-terrorism Assistance Office, the Kenya Maritime Authority admitted that the Port had security shortcomings that made it a soft target for terrorism.

Container shipping is increasingly vulnerable to terrorist attack and port authorities now need to pro-actively enhance security at their facilities without necessarily slowing down the flow of trade. But the perennial congestion at the Mombasa Port, for instance, can be a cause for poor verification of containers as has been exemplified by the occasional inadvertent discovery of undesirable cargo. A case in point recently was a container laden with unknown toxic substances that started leaking while on its way out of the port, prompting its couriers to dump it along the Makupa causeway. The frenzied antics by poorly clad hired hands to clean the mess helped to contain the wafting fumes that had started to cause panic in the poor neighborhood.

The port has also never really come round to curbing movement of undesirable people within its perimeters. True, it is now more difficult for ‘unauthorized’ persons to enter the port. But is it any difficult for anyone to be authorized by the very same Port? The case of the Artur brothers is still fresh in our minds and there is no doubt that these are the stern blokes that make for terrorists. Much lower down the scale of undesirables are locals in search of casual labour who every once in a while find their way in by simply displaying a borrowed port pass. So long as it’s dangling on oneself, the security men will usually just wave you through the gates without a hassle.

The truth is that the process of getting a valid pass to the port has such a sloppy vetting mechanism that can be circumvented by anyone who wants to. And diverse blokes want to, excluding the fairly harmless folk looking for a day’s job or assorted ‘food suppliers’ trying to nick the odd slack bag from offloaded cargo. Of course those among such folk who aren’t fleet-footed regularly suffer incarceration at the port’s jail facility also known as kapenguria. Unfortunately, the bravado with which the onslaught on these small fish is executed is really just a façade to cover the entrenched network of underworld operators in the port. It is no big secret that these networks enjoy political patronage and complicity of some individuals in the Port’s management. Many of the security men therefore find that their personal interests are better served in protecting these networks than implementing ‘foreign’ codes that can only bring the gravy train to a grinding halt.

At some point, the Port’s management, and the government, must realize that security of the Mombasa Port is crucial if it is to continue enjoying relevance as hub to regional trade. And that point need not be reached only when nefarious plotters, now hovering over the East African coastline, throw up the fireworks. If, and when that happens, the disaster will be unspeakable. Those who have regularly operated at the Port over the years can attest that even such basic exercises like emergency drills at this key installation are practically non existent. Are our managers irredeemably wired to always wait for violent prompting that disaster preparedness is not just a matter of lofty documentation?

Ironically, the man said to have been in charge of reforms at the Port has now taken over as the Managing Director. He could well argue that external forces and internal politics may have hitherto hindered him from implementing tangible reforms in securing the Port facility. He now has a chance to acquit himself. Because at the moment, crossed fingers seem to be the safety symbol at Mombasa Port. And that is scary.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mombasa Port: Heads Roll, Choking Continues

Just as I was expressing dismay at the recklessness of leaving the Port of Mombasa to run on auto-pilot, the MD Abdallah Mwaruwa was being kicked out of office six months before his contract was due to expire. It is actually a feat of sorts for the man to have braved it out this long because it was largely known in the maritime industry that the office was too big for his humble abilities. It is obvious that his appointment was just a token of appeasement for the voluble coastals who never cease to clamor for ‘one of our own’ to manage the port, mali yetu. Indeed, even as his dismissal was being communicated, politicians from the coast had been to see the President ‘discussing issues affecting our people’. I can bet my last shilling that the paralysis at the port was not one of those issues.

Government needs to be firm with the coast politicians and make them accept, even though they may not understand, that the Port of Mombasa is a complex organization linked to international maritime business, regional trade and therefore cannot be run like a Miji Kenda Kaya. Port management has no room for delicate clan balancing stunts like the one executed to compose the current board of directors. The Port must simply be managed by professionals with strong leadership to lift it from its current predicament and build its capacity to handle the challenges ahead. The regular injection of dubious ‘local skills’ into the management ranks of Kenya Ports Authority has been its curse and must be brought to an end as it should now be clear that it is useless.

Mwaruwa’s counterpart at the Rift Valley Railways, one Roy Puffet, has also been jettisoned for single handedly paralyzing the Kenya/Uganda railway system which has led to choking of the port, wreaking havoc on regional trade. Legislators in Uganda are raising a furor, having warned last year that no due diligence had been carried out on RVR before handing over the railway to them. Their Kenyan counterparts are also now pressing for punitive action on the concerned players in the whole concessionaire parody that is now amounting to economic sabotage.

Having slept through their jobs, the two governments are now left with a system ground to a halt by shady characters that will enjoy contractual protection even as regional trade dangerously totters. They are busy making appointments and deadlines and vacuous vision statements that do not even begin to cover their ineptitude.

The only thing that is clear in the RVR deal is that two governments and two parliaments have been duped. It is a disgrace that incompetence of such monumental proportions should cut across borders with such ease. Just how do these fellows run government, let alone the bloody East African Community!

Related article: Mombasa Port-Gateway or Barrier

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mombasa Port: Gateway or Barrier

Cargo movement at the Port of Mombasa is currently strangled to near paralysis and is damaging commercial activity in the East and Central Africa region for which the Port is purported to be the gateway.
A bungled implementation of an electronic port management system has increased the cargo clearance period from an impressive 2 days to 14. About 10 vessels are now reported to be awaiting discharge of their cargoes. This slack is compounded by the non-performing Rift Valley Railways whose uptake of containers is said to be down to 2% from 20% when the Kenya Railways handed over.

The Kenya Ports Authority management is strangely unruffled by these regressive events and says they are only ‘teething problems’ which are being sorted out and expect them to be fully addressed in the next three months. It seems to me that some of the fellows running key operations at that port are unbelievably incompetent and are unlikely to be turned around in the next three decades, let alone months. How they hope to make Mombasa Port “the premier port of choice in the region and hub of maritime activity by 2015“is perhaps a matter of Kaya magic.

The so-called teething problems are such basic issues that would make an IT student weep. That many of the port clients have not been issued with passwords to log into the new system, that a number of the clients do have the passwords and are still unable to log in, that many of the clients have yet to be inducted into the system, that many of the port’s own staff are unable to operate the system and therefore cannot serve or guide their clients and that the system is compatible with only one internet browser. An IT manager that cannot foresee and forestall such “teething problems” leading to a complete breakdown of operations is clearly unfit for the job. And it should have been obvious to such a manager’s superior that implementing an IT solution of such a scale was never going to be easy and that a successful implementation of the project would require strong and innovative leadership.

The Kilindini Waterfront Operating System (KWATOS) that is at the centre of the current mess has been in the pipeline for more than a year now. It is amazing that a system of this magnitude with far reaching consequences can be implemented without a pilot project during which potential hitches would have been identified and remedied. It also seems to ordinary folk like me that installation should have been phased to run parallel with the previous ‘manual’ one until all end users and stakeholders are roped in; a seamless user migration that would have inspired enthusiasm and enhanced operations rather than this bizarre absence of strategy that has sparked resistance and massive loss of business.

Who will professionalize the management of Mombasa Port to help it meet national and regional goals? Certainly not Transport Minister Chirau Mwakwere whose constant refrain to pertinent issues is “that is not my responsibility”. And the port’s Board of Directors is largely composed of individuals whose input in guiding the running of such a complex organization in the maritime industry is suspect. Obviously, the port’s strategies are crafted elsewhere and the ‘council of elders’ only serve to sign on the dotted line which the MD points at.

It is a mystery how MD Abdullah Mwaruwa and his team expect to meet their vision “To be rated amongst the top 20 ports in the world in terms of reputation and performance by the year 2010”. That is two years away and by 2003, the 20th port in the world was handling 3 million TEU’s per year. The Mombasa Port expects to handle 1 million TEU’s by 2015, if KWATOS grows its teeth in time and the container terminal expansion plan succeeds.

As far as visions go, the Port of Mombasa is dreaming badly.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Yangshan Sea-Port: An Inspiration for KPA?

We’ve got to hand it to the Chinese for boldness in setting development targets and the absolute self-confidence and innovativeness with which they go about meeting them. It is no surprise that they regularly put up world beating mega-structures which continue to move forward the frontiers of technology.

After Singapore and Hong Kong, the Shangai Port is the third largest in the world. But confronted with its diminishing capacity to handle the ever increasing volumes of cargo and coupled with competition from the other ports, the Chinese authorities decided to build Yangshan port out at sea that would raise Shanghai’s cargo handling capacity to 6.5billion tonnes and 22million TEU’s per year by 2020. (TEU=Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit or container)

Construction of the first phase of the project took four years between 2000 and 2004. This consisted of the Yangshan Deep-Sea Port proper, sitting on reclaimed land and connected to mainland Shanghai by the third largest bridge in the world, the 32.5Km Donghai Bridge. The sea-port has five berths with depths of up to 16metres, enough to accommodate the largest of container ships. The first phase alone handles 3million TEU’s a year and cost USD 2.5billion.

When fully completed in 2012, the port will have four phases in operation with 30 berths handling 15million TEU’s per year. A new city, Yangshan New City, will be built right next to the sea-port of Yangshan whose total cost is expected to reach USD 12billion.

The development of Yangshan sea-port is the kind of inspirational stuff that should spur our infrastructure managers with their humble ‘plans’ for our good old Mombasa Port. Making mission/vision statements about being the ‘premier port of choice for East and Central Africa by 2020’ are obviously a more pleasurable pastime than building one. With the kind of strange paralysis currently at the port of Mombasa, 2020 will still find us planning.

Seeing that Mombasa Port is unlikely to compete with Shangai in two lifetimes, wouldn’t we do better by asking the Chinese to set up shop at the port of Mombasa to expand its capacity rather than enticing them with EPZ plots in Changamwe?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spank the Riotous Devil Out of the Brats!

At the rate of 10 riots a day over the last one month, indiscipline in our schools is clearly running out of hand and brings back to the spot light the ban on corporal punishment effected here in 2001. It is possible that the then touted alternative forms of instilling discipline in schools have been overwhelmed and that the negative consequences of withdrawing the cane far outweigh any goodness that may accrue from maintaining the ban.

At a world conference on education in Dakar in 2000, Kenya had been cited as one of the countries that “institutionalized violence and promoted child abuse by including corporal punishment in its statutes”. The Human Rights Watch had also just released a report on corporal punishment in Kenyan schools in which it painted a gloomy picture of child abuse saying that “Kenyan teachers were licensed to beat their students” and that “infliction of corporal punishment in Kenya is unchecked, widespread, arbitrary and often brutal”. The media, on the other hand, had joined in the anti-caning campaign by picking up incidents of abuse and putting them to daily limelight. Under this pressure, the government gave in and scrapped the laws governing corporal punishment in March 2001.

About 100 countries have banned corporal punishment in schools and at least 23 of them have gone ahead to outlaw it in homes too. Parents in these countries cannot spank, slap or otherwise use corporal punishment on children and anything that goes beyond the occasional smack would constitute a criminal offense. Needless to say, none of the 23 countries is from Africa even though the UN has targeted 2009 as the deadline by which a worldwide ban on corporal punishment will have been implemented, including in the home. The date is just around the corner and will likely pass without much ado in countries like the United States where corporal punishment is still legal in 23 of its states. And it has still not been prohibited in the other half of the countries in the world.

The crisis in our hands suggests that withdrawal of the cane from the arsenal of tools for instilling discipline in schools has spiraled down to this fiery state of lawlessness. A common thread running in the affected areas is that “our hands are tied”. The teachers seem to be watching helplessly where they should be stepping in with a steady cane to nip the unruliness in the bud. And where is the Human Rights Watch now as the fires rage, pupils die? Moved on to the next project.

One of the biggest disservices that HRW and kindred brethren have done to the discourse on school discipline has been to continually equate punishment to violence and abuse. The refusal to distinguish between abusive violence and corrective punishment suggests an inclination to self-serving propaganda rather than a desire to clarify issues. There is an obvious difference between an adult in authority punishing wrong doing and a person indiscriminately beating up another for the purpose of causing injury.
The critical issue to be addressed by our laws is how corporal punishment should be administered and not whether it should be used at all. The failure by authorities to supervise application of these laws is not good enough reason to scrap the law altogether. This ban is simply pandering to the questionable wishes of such groups as the HRW and assorted UN bodies without necessarily addressing the critical situation at hand. Is the current lawlessness and damage in schools worth the indulgence extended to these defiant children? The HRW may well argue that children have a right to deviance but aren’t such rights trampling on those of many well behaved kids who are entitled to an education in a safe environment?

In the haste to comply with lobby group reports, it seems that no questions were asked to test the veracity of the data purporting to justify the ban. For instance the report by HRW, Spare the Child: Corporal Punishment in Kenya Schools, was compiled after a two week survey of 20 schools and 200 pupils. The survey team comprised of 5 HRW staff; three law students and one law lecturer, all from the US. The fifth was a lawyer to HRW children division. An elite team of spin doctors if you ask me. There is nothing in the report that even suggests an attempt to remedy the obvious bias of the entire set up by way of a third party review of their methodology. Strangely, they admit in the report that many of the Kenyans they talked to agreed that corporal punishment should not be severe as to cause injury and that only a few viewed it as a major source for concern. How then do they turn around to give blanket condemnation of caning in schools? Because, as they say in the report, “Kenyan Rights groups have now added corporal punishment to their advocacy agendas”. Somebody say funding! Amen.

Any group of propagandists can collect data to say pretty much what they want to hear. For instance, a pro-spanking lobby can quite easily collect the data from last months rioting to effectively consign the HRW report to the rubbish bin.

While giving advocacy groups due respect and attention, government should be careful not to use their programs as the sole force behind a haphazard tinkering with our laws. Many of the reports by these groups are a little more than subjective opinions and commentaries, not the sturdy stuff that ought to shape laws which can stand the test of time.

Related article; Down Memory Lane - How Were Your School Years?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Voodoo Polls on Kenyan Television are Dangerous

These are results of an opinion poll conducted on the day Amos Kimunya invoked Raila’s name in his death wish. The opinion count was taken at a table where my three friends and I were enjoying an evening drink at our local. Clearly, the ‘poll’ was unscientific, unreliable, strongly biased and could not in any way represent the opinion of the public.

But it could very easily have been conducted by KTN or NTV who on the same day carried out polls phrased along similar lines of question. Indeed if they’d asked the same question and only the four of us participated, such may have been the broadcasted results. Though I doubt if they would have read out our accompanying comments on this one, as they sometimes gleefully do in celebration of ‘public’ vindication of editorial bias. In the scheme of political things, the above poll would obviously not be carried by KTN, seeing as they lean towards favorable coverage of the Right Honorable. NTV, after some soul searching, would probably do so but after rearranging it along the lines of “should Raila step aside?”

While the political bias of our broadcasters is clear and might even be professionally acceptable, I find the shameless exposition of their own prejudices by disguising them as public opinion to be unacceptable. Even dangerous. The pseudo-polls that have now become a permanent feature of the evening news on the major channels are manipulative and a distortion of incomplete information. I think it is reckless for the media houses to continue dishing out all manner of half-truths and even maligning individuals through false information and be able to avoid direct responsibility for it. They surely know that what they are conducting are not legitimate polls, so why do they persist?

Opinion polls are designed so as to indicate, predict or represent the opinions of the wider population. Unlike known scientific surveys, these prime-time polls are not supported by any statistical control tools to make them even a little credible. The poll questions, to start with, are so inherently biased as to make a mockery of the exercise. Probably because the media houses have a partisan interest in the result, they design questions that are so constrained as to elicit only results which justify their bias.

Some of the recent poll questions;

• Do you believe the Transparency International report?
• Do you believe the Kenya Police is the most corrupt institution in the country?
• Do you think the Cockar Commission of inquiry into the Grand Regency sale is really necessary?
• Is Narc-Kenya justified in rejecting calls to dissolve itself?
• Do you believe Kajwang’s defense?
• Has the PNU outlived its usefulness?

Striving for brevity is commendable, perhaps even necessary for the sake of focusing an issue. But these questions shamelessly lead you to predetermined points of view especially when you are asked to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the short span of an sms at news time. A little credibility would obviously be found if the participants were sizeable, let alone varied. But do they ever tell us how many people participate in these polls? “...the poll result is in…90 percent said Yes!” would acquire meaning if it wasn’t referring to four buddies sharing a Tusker at the corner pub.

How many people have read the TI report other than listening to a selective summary of its release? What was Kajwang’s defense other than the edited news clips from their reporters? Are we Narc-Kenya members? Are we PNU members? In short, these uncontrolled poll questions are stupid by themselves but useful in serving narrow and often disruptive political agenda. They are so quickly contrived with no pretense to even a little research or substantive knowledge but based on whim, innuendo and even rumor.

While public opinion is unlikely to be sensibly gauged by such polls, they could have a bandwagon effect which unnecessarily whips up emotions and entrenches animosities particularly amongst our gullible folks.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Importance of Being Amos Kimunya

The impudence of this man Kimunya is so deeply ingrained that it has blinded him to the leadership opportunity offered by the step-aside debacle. In a few strokes of disingenuous insolence, he has managed to soil an otherwise impeccable CV that many a young man would aspire for. In a few short years, he has morphed from a potential generational icon to a foolish man who “has no business serving the people of Kenya”.

All of Kimunya’s supposed education is worth charcoal if he cannot see the charges against him as a simple and straightforward test of integrity that he can so easily overcome. It is primitive politics to fighting like a cornered robber who whips out a gun to engage cops in a shoot-out because they’d “…rather die than…” The leadership ethics of the modern era require a simple act of ‘stepping aside’ until such charges are resolved one way or another. This should be particularly easy for Kimunya if, as he says, his hands are clean. Intransigence just for the sake of being “mwanaume” will only serve to alienate him from the very people whose support he requires for a meaningful career in politics.

After he clears his name, he might want to consider serving out the rest of his parliamentary term away from the limelight. I think he has terribly let down a lot of people who have faith in the capacity of Kenya’s young people to bring about positive change on the national stage.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

KBC, KTN and NTV plodding along

Although our national broadcasters enjoy a unique position to shape and regulate a constructive growth agenda for the country, they have instead chosen to beat the laidback path of rote reporting and spectatorship. Despite enormous material and human resources backed by a long standing national audience, the big three are not exhibiting innovativeness in managing public opinion with the vast powers in their hands. It is a sad measure of their inadequacies that many citizens still have to rely on the likes of BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera for analyses and objective perspectives of local events.

Given the imminent entrenchment and expansion of ICT infrastructure in the region, our traditional media houses are facing a slide to oblivion as alternative media for information are embraced. With rapid growth of the blogosphere and social networks, the likes of KBC, KTN and NTV will in the near future have to snap out of their slovenly complacence and fight for relevance. News and entertainment is now being exchanged at the speed of thought from anywhere to everywhere and they might just find themselves with little to serve to a tiny audience. Not even Mke Nyumbani will be spared with the oncoming onslaught.

And whom will they blame? The usual suspects; media ownership, regulation and censorship. These have long been used as excuses to fall back on whenever challenged to redress their arrested development and are no longer convincing. The truth is likely to be that in these media houses is to be found widespread incompetence and sheer spinelessness. Consequently, when these maladies are manifested in our country’s leadership, the media houses find themselves weak-kneed and in cuddly company, unable to midwife change.

Every other day, our leaders grace the studios of these broadcasters for all manner of talk shows presumably to expound on and be held accountable for many aspects of the national agenda. Invariably, the steering by the supposedly learned hosts is pathetically ineffectual leading to unfocused verbiage so as to reduce the encounters to absolute wastage of time, energy and emotions. In the end, presenter, guest(s) and viewers are worse off for wear and issues get muddled up or fuzzy at best.

I still remember when Michael Oyier of KTN hosted Police Commissioner Ali last year at the peak of the Mungiki menace. He literally broke a sweat and his mouth dried up as he struggled through the intimidation of the army man’s presence. Ali never got to answer any question as he brushed Oyier off with “… what you should be asking me is… “. By the end of the show Oyier must just have been relieved to go home, shower and sleep. To hell with Mungiki.

On the other hand, Julie Gichuru at NTV makes it her business to ask redundant questions and then proceed to answer them. “Honorable Raila, how do you propose to deal with the traffic congestion in the city? Are you planning to build by-passes, get rid of round-abouts and even construct fly-overs? Or even re-locate government offices from the CBD? Tell us.” Or in a live call to a colleague at a fire scene, she goes, “Allan, you are at the scene of the fire right now. Is there fire and smoke? And what is the mood of the people there? Are they sad?”

Then comes along Ali Maanzu with the ten-minute interviews after news, three of which he spends introducing the subject and the guest, then spends the other three trying to make live call-in connections and four minutes rushing a guest like Francis Atwoli through labour laws. It is the same with Nimrod Taabu chasing guests through his ten-minute Mahuluki photo-op.

I have no idea what sort of media training these folks undergo but I can say for sure that they are doing a pretty useless job on air. Why invite a guest to speak on a wide range of issues when you cannot allocate time for discussion? Why not restrict your sessions to particular items instead of wandering about? Is the management of discussion panels such a daunting task?

The national broadcasters are squandering a long held position as crucial elements in our progress. The bell is tolling and they may soon be timed out.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Waste in Kimunya's Budget

The men and women we elected to the tenth parliament do not seem to have the capacity to read, digest and debate the budget proposals that Kimunya tabled before them last week. Not one of them is taking Kimunya to task for the inevitable waste of billions that will take place when they pass the expenditure proposals without as much a as shift in a comma. And yet the law requires that if they are not through with this parody of a debate before end of this week, then half of the Ksh 760 billion budget will automatically be passed to him to spend. What, pray tell, are the changes that these people plan to bring about to ‘the management of public affairs’ when they go about house business so sloppily as to entrench the impunity that they yap against with boring repetition?

It is quite obvious from the dissonant noises they are making in and out of the House that the single item from the entire budget that has caught their attention is the proposed taxation of their unjustifiably high allowances. I actually think that if Kimunya hadn’t mentioned it in his speech but instead tuck it somewhere in the supplementary documents, it would have passed without as much as a hiss! While the rest of the country has for years been unequivocal about the issue of MP’s taxation, they still opt to squander national time in foolish arguments instead of engaging Kimunya on why he continues to fund sheer wastefulness in government. Perhaps in the knowledge of the queer reading habits of his colleagues, Kimunya has quite shamelessly spelt out in his documents various expenditure items that immediately rankle a discerning citizen. It is even possible that his speech highlights (zero rating bread and taxing MPs) were really just a devious prank in diverting members’ attention to unproductive racket while passing the tucked items of extravagance without hitch.

Unfortunately for them, the documents are not top secret even though the MPs reckless ignorance propagates the non-transparent exclusivity of the budgeting process. So far only Kimunya’s speech has been publicized but some resourceful citizens have accessed the supplementary documents whose analysis they are able to disseminate and promote awareness to all. Highlights of the waste;

  • Ksh 2 billion for foreign travel, about Ksh 5.5million for every day of the year!
  • Ksh 2.6 billion for purchasing cars. The government owns 10,395 cars with 149 of them assigned to State House.
  • Ksh 2.5 billion for entertainment including Ksh 280 million by the Ministry of Finance alone.
  • Ksh 2 billion for commercial printing. Last year it overshot this by spending Ksh 6.2 billion. Revenue from the official Government Printer was Ksh 100, 000 only!
  • Ksh 900 million for servicing loan towards the non-existent Mombasa KenRen fertilizer plant.
  • Ksh 4.9 billion for servicing loan towards the controversial Navy ship. More than the budget for Ministry of Water!

And on and on it goes… funding all manner of projects some of which are even conceived at whim for purposes of playing politics like the proposed constituency football. These expenditures are indefensible and reek of corruption conduits for which members of the House need to rise up against if they are worth the honor.

Is Raila Odinga, through collective irresponsibility, accepting this profligacy for the sake of ‘reconciliation and national healing and making the Grand Coalition Government work’? Will Ababu Namwamba and his motley crew of Grand Oppositionists show that they are up to the challenge and vote against these reckless proposals? Or are they also rebels without a cause? At least Kimunya has made it clear that he has nothing new to bring to the table and is stubbornly for the status quo. Do any of the other fellows know what is going on around them?!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Soccer for all by 2030?

Our Finance Minister now wants to equip the idle young men in the country with soccer balls and uniforms so as to engage in constituency tournaments all year round. This, he says, will keep them away from mischief and perhaps even earn them some living. Although he has not spelt out how he or anyone else will go about achieving this feat, my estimation is that his pronouncement is just a stunt that he hopes will cool the youth as he scratches his head for inspiration and innovative policies.

In what he described as the most difficult budget since he became the Finance Minister in 2006, Amos Kimunya proposed to address the challenging issue of unemployment amongst the youth thus;

“We will initiate and make operational a national football competition countrywide in every constituency, which will act as a mechanism to productively mobilize youth toward environmental and economic activities. I have allocated 1million to each constituency for the purchase of sporting kits to initiate community soccer competition.”

Easier said than done but as is usual with our disingenuous leadership, he talks of “We” when brushing over the intricacies of putting plan to action as opposed to “I” when allocating accolades to self in anticipation of success. Should the venture fail, as it surely will, he can come back and say “It was I who allocated the money; it was you who failed to make the program operational.”

Apparently, the budget drawing process is still largely an exercise exclusive to the treasury bureaucrats despite recent (feeble) calls by legislators to open it up for wider input from interest groups. Had the participation of target groups, in this case youth groups, been sought and incorporated, such shady plans couched in vague statements of intent and subsequent wasteful disbursement of funds might not occur. One such group that could provide enormous insight into the nitty-gritty of successful mobilization of youth is the Mathare Youth Sports Association.

Started in 1987, MYSA is a self-help organization involving approximately 20,000 young people promoting sports for development, environmental clean-ups, leadership training and community services. It has grown into an internationally renowned youth organization serving over 350 sports teams from 50 slum villages and estates within Nairobi. It is run for and by the youth themselves in 16 zones of the city with the average age of elected officials, volunteer organizers and coaches being 16 years. The youth driven leadership initiatives have contributed positively and immensely to the wellbeing of their community through slum clean-up, HIV/AIDS awareness, library/study halls projects, assimilation of children with disabilities, integration of refugee children, and rehabilitation of jailed juveniles among other activities. Examples of MYSA Alumni working abroad include Moses Mutuli (Deloitte and Touche, London), Maurice Njoroge (Building with Books Inc, Connectitcut), Eng. Patrick Busaka Kanzika (Edmund Nuttall Ltd, England). Others studying abroad include Alex Kimani and Ali Mohammed (Milligan College, Tennessee), Anne Nekesa, Lilian Mwangi and Beth Onyango (USA), David Waithaka (Park University, Missouri), Maurice Wambua (University of Rio Grande, Ohio), Robert Oguda (Southern Nazareen University, Oklahoma). Alumni playing professional soccer abroad include Arnold Origi, Wycliffe Juma and George Midenyo (Norway), Macdonald Mariga and Simon Mulama (Sweden), Sunday Juma (UAE), Titus Mulama (Rwanda) and of course Dennis Oliech now with Auxerre in France and previously earning a cool Ksh 5.8million every month playing for Nantes.

The success story that is MYSA is probably what Kimunya and his officers had in mind when crafting this ‘empowerment’ proposal even though they might not readily admit it. However, such achievements of the MYSA cannot be arrived at by million-shilling allocations to non-existent football groups. Indeed, such a group cannot be created out of a top-down government edict even though it would be a splendid idea to use MYSA as a model to roll out others countrywide. Most noteworthy in the MYSA model is the exclusion of politicians and government functionaries in its management.

What the government should be doing is facilitate funding of the numerous viable youth groups in the country but without the usual impediments that make the monies inaccessible. The unspent funds of the National Youth Enterprise Fund are testimony to the bureaucratic hurdles that frustrate youthful venture. Strangely, this year’s budget for the NYEF was raised by another Ksh 500million in addition to another Ksh 250million to provide ‘support, guidance and information’ to the groups! So in addition to the Ksh 210million for constituency football, that makes about Ksh 2billion to be kept under lock and key in the name of the youth. As usual, Kimunya exhorted finance officers to desist from wasteful expenditure of funds but then goes ahead to prepare ground for them with budgets for ghostly projects.

As MYSA has shown, the young men in this country can succeed very well without this highfalutin claptrap from government.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mis-educating Kimani Maruge

Kimani Maruge, the octogenarian from Eldoret who holds the Guiness Book world record as the oldest primary school pupil, seems to be more of an intriguing trophy to be clutched on by various parties for the attention that he draws. For the four years that the 88 year-old great grandfather has been attending school at Kapkenduiywo Primary, he has been a regular news item in the local and international media without any clear demonstration by any of his handlers of benefits accruing to him educationally. And not until a few days ago did a semblance of social transformation take place when he was transferred to an old people’s home, after four years of shamelessly parading his squalor before world cameras.

“He is an international figure… It is illegal for one to sneak away a pupil just like that!” exclaimed Mrs. Jane Obinchu when she learnt of Maruge’s relocation from Eldoret to Nairobi’s Cheshire Home for the Aged. The relocation was done by the Red Cross Society who said they did so upon the old man’s request.

“It is tantamount to throwing away his education to the dogs,” said the chairman of the Parents and Teachers Association Kapkenduiywo School who also called on the government to “come to our rescue because Maruge had dramatically increased enrollment in the school by inspiring families.”

The ‘outrage’ by the school officials seems suspicious especially having mentioned in their interview with the press that “some well wishers including the Kenya Institute of Management were meeting the cost of his upkeep and so there was no financial problem.” It seems to me that their grumbling is really just about missing out on the funds and favorable publicity that will probably not be forthcoming any longer.

I dare suggest that these school officials have actually been abusing Maruge and ought to be sanctioned for professional misconduct. They cannot pretend to have been teaching Maruge through a curriculum structured for the minds of minors when they are fully aware that there exists an adult education program which is suitably tailored for this kind of learner taking into consideration a mature mental disposition. The language of instruction for Maruge and that of his 9 year-old classmates can never be the same, making his purported lively presence in their classroom a nuisance and potential hindrance to proper assimilation of skills. I highly doubt if any of the teachers at the school have received the extra training requisite for instructing mature learners like Maruge. That the ‘teachers’ have been awarding Maruge high scores in arithmetic and even made him the school’s ‘head-boy’ is most likely not a measure of the old man’s ‘excellence’ but a scandalous display of official deceit.

The UN Global Campaign for Education who arranged for Maruge’s exhibition in the United States last year should visit Kapkenduiywo and organize for counseling of the little kids who may have been traumatized by the old man’s stint in their midst, a trauma now manifesting as the why-have-they-snatched-our-Maruge syndrome.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Obama to Kenya; "Yes, We Can!"

Senator Obama’s victory in the Democratic Party’s nomination race fittingly demonstrates the audacity of hope and its power to bring about change we can believe in when we believe in our ability. Loads of congratulations are in order for the young American senator whose inspirational run has captured the attention of the world and which now primes him to take over as CEO of the USA.

Here in Kenya, wuod k’ogelo’s superlative performance through such a grueling challenge should inspire the youth to take a serious self audit that can spur many to set about bringing change in this potentially great nation of ours. To rise up and, to paraphrase ndugu Obama, say;

“…This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past. Our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face. Our time to offer a new direction for the country we love. The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. (We can) face this challenge with limitless faith in the capacity of the (Kenyan) people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then (we can be) absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended wars and secured our nation and restored our image. This was the moment--this was the time--when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals."

Can we do that or shall we loaf about in anticipation of gifts from relatives in distant lands?

Can we do that or are we content to perpetually stand by the sidelines cheering in the dust as our leaders zoom past with promises of tomorrow?

Can we do that or are will we wait for our “principals” to set our development agenda and pace?

Can we do that?

Yes we can!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Is The Electoral Commission Now Competent?

Only a few weeks ago, the ECK was under a barrage of fiery criticism for its shoddy handling of last year’s general election. Samuel Kivuitu, the aging face of the commission, even faced the ignominy of being hounded out of various facilities by crowds in Mombasa who did not spare him some choice epithets. And unlike the period prior to the polls, not even the media crews were seeking him out for his wise cracks. For a moment, the old man and his team seemed to have been written off as unfit for public office and culpable for criminal negligence. But only for a moment.

As is typical of our national capacity to stomach crass ineptitude in our institutions for the sake of “love, peace and unity”, “healing and reconciliation” or some such other philosophy, the dangerous (in)actions of ECK during last years poll are gently being swept under the carpet. Indications are that the Kriegler commission is destined to perform a time consuming glossing over exercise that will land us with yet another report to study. Kriegler, Kivuitu and the government have, in any case, confirmed that investigating ECK with a view to recommend their removal from office or otherwise is not within their mandate.

Meanwhile, Kivuitu and his team are going about their business without an iota of remorse for the December election fiasco. They are in fact putting the final touches to preparations for by-elections on 11 July for which our political parties are getting ready to rumble. The same parties that two months ago were swearing that the ECK “could not be trusted to conduct elections even for a village cattle-dip committee”. What has changed to make the Kivuitu team acceptable? Probably the comforts of high office in the ungainly coalition have blunted their discernment and shifted their loyalties.

The tragedy is that somewhere down the line, the same see-no-evil-hear-no-evil coterie of myopic politicians will be seeking to mobilize citizens against the same institutions they are now abetting in crime and emasculating.

There is a generation that should read through these silly political games and consciously choose to have nothing to do with them for they portend a grim future.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Our Ministers Don't Know

Ministers and state corporation chiefs who were ranked as poor performers in last year’s evaluation report released last week are up in self-righteous indignation. They’re taking every opportunity at public events to rave and rant with spectacular idiocy about their ‘unfair persecution’ which to me seems only to further validate the report.

First of all, the fora at which they are delivering their defenses are inappropriate for their hoity-toity posturing and to me, fellows who cannot sort out what to say, where to say it or when to say it are quite obviously ill-equipped to manage their dockets within defined parameters. As politicians they are obviously tempted to open their mouths whenever or wherever they see a microphone even when ordinary common sense would dictate that they just stay quiet.

Some of the jarring noise makers do not even seem to know what they are defending, especially seeing that they were not even in charge of those dockets or even in government when the evaluations were carried out. Like one Wycliffe Oparanya (planning and vision 2030) who was appointed minister just a few weeks ago and now says that the evaluation criteria were/are vague. I do not know the extent of his brotherly love that nudges him to defend the poor performance of the previous manager but why did he sign a vague contract upon his own appointment this year? Rather than outline his strategy for better performance this year, the man is poking at the Nairobi City Council for being rated best amongst the local government authorities because “Nairobi is the filthiest town in the country”. How he arrives at that dubious assessment and where he found the time or competence to undertake the evaluation is unknown. Suffice it to say that it demonstrates the widespread inability of our politicians to focus on the job at hand, their busybody-inclination to spend a lot of their time foraging in other peoples’ turf.

Like Moses Wetangula (Foreign Affairs) who says he undertook trade negotiations with Iranian businesses to import Kenyan meat and also discussed packages with European tourism groups to send tourists to Kenya. The credit, he says, will reflect positively on his counterparts’ performance and not his. He does not say where he finds the time or impetus to carry out other ministers’ duties and leave his on autopilot then come round to plead that “I do not know the criteria used” in the evaluation. And of course, since he did not know the criteria, it follows that “I do not know why the ministry was among the poor performers”. The ministry for foreign affairs wasn’t just among the poor performers, it was the worst. Granted though, the man at the helm for the evaluation period was one Raphael Tuju whose haughtiness did not endear him to many as the country’s top diplomat. Wetangula was Tuju’s able(?) assistant at the time and since taking over the docket this year, has been treading the same path with arrogant posturing and regular diplomatic gaffes as if to out-do his predecessor. Obviously, a legal background has not refined the man’s presentation which is tragic as it debunks widespread citizen’s hopes that the time for a younger, more educated generation to manage the country was nigh.

Clearly, change in management style will certainly not be achieved with the likes of Mwangi Kiunjuri who seems slated to spend yet another stint in government as a cheerleader rather than a leader. A teacher by profession, Kiunjuri attempted to illustrate his disapproval of the evaluation criteria thus;

"One needs to look at the targets the ministries set vis-à-vis their achievement. If my ministry set out to build 100 dams but built only 50, while someone else set a target to sink 50 boreholes, but surpassed this to 100, they will be judged differently. Further, we must look at the resources required for the two targets before ranking them on the scale of success and failure,"

Kiunjuri’s illustration may seem to have a tinge of rustic cleverness although it is in fact foolish. It is an argument adopted by many of his colleagues who fared badly in the exercise and demonstrates an unacceptable level of ignorance about quality management amongst the ministers.

While a good number of working citizens have been keeping pace with worldwide developments in implementation of various quality assurance systems like the ISO standards, our politicians have been sleeping on the job only to wake up for spurts of unedifying tomfoolery. The Prime Minister, under whose office the management of the evaluation exercise now falls, must find a way to bring these neanderthal MPs up to speed if they are to play a meaningful role in managing this country. It is absurd to continue paying seven figure salaries, or any salary at all, to public officials who openly admit that they do not know or understand their job descriptions.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Raila embarks on 'big man' journey

Last weekend’s homecoming parties by Raila served to point to the steadily decreasing capacity of Kenya’s politicians to feel the pulse of their supporters. His purported razor-sharp intelligence network obviously hadn’t prepared him for the booing and heckling by the disenchanted crowds at the stadium when he attempted to defend his coalition arrangement with Kibaki. And without objective analysts on the ground to pick up the signs of a disillusioned support base, he is perhaps relying on our print media’s worn-out descriptions of the Kisumu crowds as fanatical. So with new power trappings in tow, he might just have been expecting quite a bit of worship from the massive turnout. But it was not to be and, courtesy of his restless audience, he ended up giving what seemed like his shortest speech in recent times. For a man who likes to have the last word, that must have been quite humbling. But then again, what can possibly humble a politician, hard boiled in Kenya, whose motives are increasingly coming out as not only self-serving but outrageously short-sighted? As if all that ever mattered to him was to be Kenya’s Prime Minister. Or President.

It is becoming clearer by the day that the coalition agreement he signed with Kibaki was a rushed hotchpotch of a document that is not likely to survive the stresses and strains of ODM/PNU politics. As if it was drafted by first year law students, it is now emerging that it has many glaring loop-holes and grey areas which are likely to occupy our parliamentarians with endless sideshows for the next five years. (Like the crass war of protocol between him and Kalonzo.) Did either of the bigwigs actually read and understand the document or did they sign under duress from Kofi Annan/US? Kibaki obviously saw the chance for a let off and rushed in to buy time (another 5 years) and a deck hand to clean his mess. What about Raila? What was he rushing into? He has been talking himself hoarse about some half-a-loaf ideology to justify his rush into the Kibaki government but last weekend was the Kisumu folks’ turn to tell him that they did not buy it. Did he listen?

Probably not. At least going by his subsequent utterances which displayed his bizarre distaste for dissent. The man has spent his entire political life in the opposition ranks professing its essence and virtues and fighting for the rights of those with different opinion to be heard. Now that he is Prime Minister he wants the Luo to conform to government and discard their ‘opposition mentality’. In other words, the Luo should not question Raila because he knows what is good for them. And they don’t?! And now that they (ODM?) are running the government, development will now come to Luo Nyanza. Is he intending to preside over selective development programs, like the previous governments that tended to sideline opposition zones?

What the Kisumu folks seem to be telling the man is that he is rushing headlong into Kibaki’s bungling ways for which he will take the rap. That he needs to consult the people and quit the ‘messiah’ posturing. Unless he thinks he can do without them, which he probably does, in which case he should keep it just that - a thought.