Sunday, August 25, 2013


In 2010, Jerry Rawlings's residence in Accra was destroyed by fire leaving the former president of Ghana homeless. Because he did not have another house in the city, he moved to his village, while his wife Nana Konadu, hunkered down with her mother in the capital. Desperate and dependent only on his meager military pension, Rawlings made a public appeal to the government for a place to stay. It took almost a year before he was allocated a house.

We do not want to see our leaders in Kenya live like tramps, or, be subjected to humiliation like what Rawlings went through once they leave office, but the pension figures suggested by some MPs to reward our former leaders are ridiculous. A proposal being readied for debate in Parliament wants the exchequer to pay 485 million shillings every year to our ex-leaders as pension. The ex-prime minister and former vice president will, for example, get 87 million shillings each year, equivalent to one million US dollars. The amount does not include additional perks such as vehicles and security.

Kenya is a poor country with a gross domestic product (GDP) of only 37 billion US dollars.The United States, the richest country in the world with a GDP of 15,700 billion US dollars, pays its former presidents only 190,000 dollars per year. Britain, whose GDP is sixty times that of Kenya at 2,440 US dollars, pays its former prime ministers a mere 125,000 US dollars per year. Now, isn't it surprising that a country that perennially begs for money and food from the US and Britain should be the one to spend taxpayers' money so lavishly?

I want to submit that our leaders are not poor. They are very wealthy even by international standards. Both Raila and Kalonzo have luxurious villas in Nairobi and in their rural villages. Both have incomes coming in from businesses and farms,. They are not like the majority of Kenyans who survive on a hands-to-mouth circle of poverty. It is most unlikely our leaders would ever be homeless.

That is the reason why I say they do not deserve - and should not be paid - the millions being proposed by a fanatical member of ODM. And this should apply to all our leaders, past and present.

Already presidents Moi and Kibaki are enjoying perks that will make many countries quiver in astonishment. Recently, someone even suggested that we spend a cool 50 million shillings to build a monument for Kibaki and another 700 million for an office complex. A government corporation in the energy sector offered to build a petrol station for Kibaki as a going away present, while another wanted to give him four fish ponds. I don't want to believe we Kenyans are nuts, but when carried by euphoria of the day, we seem to go bananas.

Members of parliament who support the proposal for exorbitant rewards for our leaders must look at their own constituencies first. Do they have decent schools? Do pupils have enough desks and books? How about their hospitals and dispensaries: are they adequate and do they have qualified personnel to man them? How about the conditions of their roads? Do they have piped water and electricity supplies? I dont even want to talk about libraries and recreational centres that are so important for our young people.

I do not want to under-estimate the sacrifices our leaders have made to our country. They served with commitment and dedication but they did not work for free. They were collecting fat salaries every month, enjoyed free security, free transport and free junkets. If there is anything we can do, it is to give them a one-time - not yearly disbursements - token payment, and that token should be based on the ability of the country to pay.

With domestic and foreign debts running into trillions of shillings, with a wage bill now almost 13 percent of the GDP, with teachers, doctors, nurses and other public workers clamouring for salary increases, and with 40 million people to feed, treat and and educate, we cannot afford this kind of wastefulness.

When in 2009, legislators in Ghana proposed a 650,000 US dollars gratuity for Rawlings, two mansions, six chauffeur-driven cars and a 65-day overseas vacation, he turned the package down and told the MPs to "get lost." His view was that such huge payments would impoverish the country.

That is why I salute deputy president William Ruto for coming out openly to reject the proposed pension scheme. I want other leaders to come out and take a similar stand. At the same time, I urge parliament to reject the proposed bill in its present form.

And that is my say.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Six months after they took over the leadership of counties in the devolved system of government in Kenya, most of our governors and county representatives are still groping in the dark, confused about how they will navigate the mucky terrain of politics and governance to deliver goods to their people.

Many of those leaders have no clue at all about the art of governance; many are still struggling to understand the constitution; and many others think flying a flag and being flanked by a bevy of body- guards is all there is in leadership. Don't get me wrong. Not all governors and county representatives are in this category. We have a few who have already shown promise and we should encourage them. But majority of our county leaders may end up needing some kind of reality awakening.

When I read that the governor of Nyeri county plans to construct an airstrip to provide a faster corridor for their key products of tea and coffee, I say hooray! When I hear the governor of Nairobi talk about concrete steps to rid the city of traffic jams so that business can run smoothly, I applaud. But when I hear governors talk about spending millions of shillings on entertainment, I boo. Equally, when I hear the governor of Uasin Gishu say that his budget would not be able to accomodate education and clean water, I shudder in disbelief.

What we are seeing in most counties - budgets that dont balance, unrealistic demands for perks; excessive expenditure on luxury cars and gyms and manifestos that are over-rated in terms of goals and timelines - is symptomatic of a serious management problem that could derail the whole concept of devolution and toperdo the high expectations of the people.

The confusion we are witnessing in some counties confirms the suspicion of many that our representatives did not take time to know their job descriptions before they went to ask for votes, and even now, do not understand their responsibilities as elected representatives. They jumped into the train without knowing where they were going and what they were going to do when they got where they were going. So, after winning they went into a state of delirium.

We all agree that there is no university in Kenya - or anywhere else  - that gives hands-on training to incoming politicians on how to handle people and their problems on a day-to-day basis. Those who aspire to lead must therefore be people with inherent qualities of leadership: intelligence, selflessness, humility, charisma and honesty. Equally important, they must be people who are prepared to learn fast and willingly without incessant grumbling over trivialities.

Boycotting sessions to press for more money; throwing tantrums over flags and number plates, and bodyguards, and office space, will not bring development to the people. I can see the next five years zooming past without any yields coming from counties. If that happens, our people wil be demoralised, will lose confidence in the system and may see no need to vote in future polls.

And then there are those counties that are starting off with huge fiscal hurdles. Mombasa county, for example, has an outstanding debt of 4 billion shillings carried forward from the previous council. It can neither pay salaries nor remit statutory contributions to government agencies. Three of its accounts were recently frozen by the Kenya Revenue Authority because it cannot pay outstanding taxes amounting to more than 400 million shillings, Yet it has proposed a budget bigger than that of Nairobi. If the council implements that budget, it will face a huge budget deficit.

The chairman of the commission on revenue allocation, Micar Cheserem, summed it up recently when he said, perhaps the governors do not know the difference between a million and a billion. And it's possible.

My view is that if wananchi are to benefit from the devolved system, the central government must step in with pragmatic solutions to help the counties manage the 210 billion shillings it has allocated them.

And that is my say.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The proposed Kenya referendum: Is it well-intentioned or a political ploy?

If Raila Amolo Odinga gets his way, Kenyans could go to another referendum within the next few years for the third time in the country's history - this time not to enact a new constitution, but to decide on amendments that could significantly change the way this country is governed.

Raila, the undisputed leader of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), has adopted a revolutionary pet project which, if Kenyans approve, could see the dismantlement of the present republican system of government and the introduction of a parliamentary system.

Separately, the Senate has made it known that it would push a series of amendments through a referendum to give devolved governments more fiscal and operating powers. These may look like two different initiatives but they are actually driven by the same man.

The presidential system which we have used for 50 years is not perfect and a change to a parliamentary system is not bad. But the timing and motive of this proposal is suspect. It appears to me that the CORD leader is only trying to find a back-door route to the presidency by claiming that the current system shuts out smaller tribes from reaching the high office.

Is Raila just realising that?  How come he did not advance that argument before the 2007 polls, or even before the 2012 elections. Why did he choose to play along, when he didn't believe in the presidential system? Was it because he thought he would win and enjoy the powers normally vested in the executive?

Raila's current campaign is a political ploy meant to benefit him as a presidential candidate in the next elections and not a genuine initiative to reform our governance structure. He knows well that under the present constitution, the president does not enjoy the kind of powers the last three presidencies enjoyed. That is why he is rooting for the executive premiership.

The truth is, both systems have cons and pros. In a parliamentary system, people elect MPs who then elect the Prime Minister. MPs can also pass a vote of no-confidence on their leader at any time during the parliamentary term. The down-side, however, is that people don't get a chance to pick their chief executive, an option some say is not democratic.

On the other hand, the presidential system rests all powers on the president. Under this system chances of a leader becoming authoritarian are high. We saw it here with President Moi. On the positive side, however, people get a chance to elect their leader directly. Where institutions work, like in the United States, the presidential system is undoubtedly more democratic.

Finally, I want to submit that both Raila's proposal and the Senate's move are dangerous for this country. We have just come out of a very complex electoral exercise. For the rest of this year, the country will go through dozens of by-elections as a result of successful petitions filed by candidates in various elective offices. If the referendum takes place in the next two years, the country will be thrown into an active campaign mood, only two years before the next general election in 2017. Can we really afford almost four years of continuos campaigns? The answer is no.

We have a government that is busy trying to implement promises it made to the people of Kenya, and we cannot afford the kind of distractions accompanying a referendum. The bottom line is that our country is just  too fragile and too divided to take the weight of a politically-motivated plebiscite.
And that is my say.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Unless the Kenya government takes bold and immediate action to stop the ongoing elephant killing spree, the next generation of Kenyans will have to go to zoos to see an animal that has roamed freely in the East African savannas for generations, attracting thousands of visitors to our country and bringing to our economy millions of shillings every year. From the record population of 275,000 in the 1970s, the number of jumbos has shrunk to 38,500 as I write, thanks to the worst devastation of elephants ever.

The governments of Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki must all take the blame for the decimation of the jumbo, one of the five most prominent animals - along with rhinoceros, lion, leopard and buffalo - that collectively we have come to refer to as the Big Five. By allowing unbridled corruption, greed and impunity to thrive, the three leaders failed to protect the long-time interests of our country, and in the process, ruined the economy and sabotaged the interests of future generations. In authoritarian regimes, such activities would be considered economic crimes.

The trend began in the sixties, but it was in the 1970's after some of Jomo Kenyatta's relatives entered  the lucrative trade, that the extermination of elephants took a frightening turn. Officials hired private planes to transport tons after tons of ivory to the Middle East and Asia, completely ignoring a ban on the exportation of the products forced on Kenya by international conservation organisations. When Kenyatta died in 1978, the trade continued under Moi, resulting in 8,300 elephant killings in the 1980's alone.

The situation has now reached such dangerous proportions that unless President Uhuru Kenyatta takes immediate and bold measures to reverse the situation, the growth projections contained in Vision 2030 and in the Jubilee coalition manifesto would not be met. But there is something else that a failure to rein the prevailing massacre of elephants would trigger.

A few months ago, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) singled out Kenya as part of a gang of eight most notorious countries involved in the trading of elephant products. It has therefore warned Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania as generating countries, and China, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand as receiving nations that unless they produce "hard action plans" in the next 12 months indicating how they intend to end their involvement in killing and trading in ivory, they could face stiff trade sanctions.

The Uhuru government must take this ultimatum seriously and move quickly to bring the situation under control. My view is that the starting point for any action must be at the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS). While many KWS workers are industrious and committed, a few elements must definitely be colluding with poachers to have the animals killed and transported out of the reserves. An audit must be conducted to identify and prosecute such people.

Two, speculation has been rife that characters in the police service might be aiding and abetting the killing cartel. With all the road blocks we have from up-country to Mombasa, it beats logic that trucks full of illegal goods could travel along that road undetected. We must root them out. And finally, while I commend the government for the work done to catch the smugglers at Mombasa Port, a lot needs to be done, with particular focus on the Ports Authority and the Kenya Revenue Authority. These two are the usual suspects when it comes to corrupt activities. Everything must be done to clean them up.

Only the other day, Uhuru was at the Masai Mara national park to watch the great wildlife migration. He must have been overwhelmed by the unique resources this country possesses.  Thus, he should not allow a repeat of past mistakes. It is only by taking drastic action against poaching that Uhuru will be able to leave behind a lasting legacy.

And that is my say.


Monday, August 5, 2013


This is what I said about the Nobel Prize laureate Wangari Maathai in my book, The Politics of Betrayal: Diary of a Kenyan Legislator, on page 283: "When laureates in other countries were being treated as national icons and sought after for advice on a myriad of international and regional matters, Maathai was being treated shabbily at home. Travelling abroad, she is honoured with red carpet treatment and feted by Presidents and Kings, but at home she is treated as an ordinary mwananchi, perhaps in response to the years she spent taunting the authorities in power."

That was early in 2011. In September that year, the celebrated human rights crusader and environmentalist died of natural causes at the age of 71. Other than the trees she planted in Karura forest and in many other parts of the world - that will remain her lasting legacy -  in an international campaign to green our mother planet, I am not aware of any permanent monument that has been built in Maathai's honour in her home nation of Kenya. In the United States and in many other foreign lands, her memory still lives on.

This past week, I had the opportunity - which I didn't  get when I lived in America more than 30 years ago - to visit five American states on a 1,800 miles road journey stretching over two days - from Indianapolis through Illinois, the country of Abraham Lincoln; Arkansas, the land of Bill Clinton; Texas, the cowboy territory of the Bush family; Tennessee, the home state of the rock n roll king, Elvis Presley; and Kentucky, the domain of the famous finger-licking fried chicken creator. Everywhere I went, there was some form of landmark to remember their great sons.

But it was in Memphis, Tennessee, that I came face to face with one part of history that touched me profoundly. The visit to the National Civil Rights Museum filled me with emotions, anger and hope in equal measure. The museum traces the civil rights struggle from the 17th century when Africans arrived in the US as slaves, to now when black Americans are enjoying greater freedom and equality.

The star of the struggle was, and is, definitely the late Dr. Martin Luther King. The museum dedicates considerable space to Dr. King's journey as a peaceful agitator, pastor and civil rights leader over a period of 13 years. The main display at the museum is the hotel room where he spent the night before he was killed. He had travelled to Memphis from his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, to lead a march in support of garbage collectors who were demanding better working conditions.

He had stepped out to the first floor Lorraine Hotel balcony to consult with his aides when shots rang out from across the building where the confessed killer, James Earl Ray, had taken a room. Dr. King's modest hotel accommodation appears the same way as it was on the day of his assassination on April 4th 1968: one double bed, one single bed, two half-consumed cups of coffee, and a television set.

However, the anger boiling in me about Dr. King's murder eased when I saw a large picture of our hero Maathai on a wall in one of the display rooms at the museum.  I jumped in joy. It was one of about 50 portraits of great human rights leaders. Next to hers was one of Bill Clinton, the man who made significant contributions to improving the lives of African Americans. As president, Clinton employed more people of colour in high government positions than any other president in the history of the country. It dawned on me at that moment that Maathai was a much larger-than-life figure than many Kenyans assumed.

What struck me most as I toured the buildings was the solemnity  and absorption of visitors - black and white - who quietly took pictures, their faces showing obvious signs of agony and reflection. They came to honour Dr. King, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, at the age of 35. His valiant contributions helped to change the destiny of African Americans tremendously.

Now, back to Kenya. Recently, a proposal was made to spend millions of shillings to build statues for past presidents. The money was to come from the exchequer, milked from poor Kenyans. In the United States, such edifices are financed from donations of individuals, corporations and foundations. The National Civil Rights Museum, for example, is a privately run project and not a single state penny was used to put it up. The idea of using state funds to build memorials is absurd, but that does not mean that well wishers cannot get together and contribute money to honour Maathai. If there is anyone who deserves a monument anywhere in the country, it is the former Tetu Member of Parliament from the scrubby Ihithe village in Central Kenya.

And that is my say.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Diaspora Kenyans and serious crimes

Kenyans are some of the most travelled, most enterprising, most adventurous and most vulnerable to societal afflictions. They travel overseas for higher education, to look for employment, to do business and to commit crimes. They are gamblers who take major life risks. As a friend once told me, there isn't a single country in the world that Kenyans have not set foot in. And I dare say too, that there isn't a single prison in this universe that has not offered free accommodation to at least one Kenyan.

We have Kenyans serving prison terms in Asia, the Middle East, North America and Europe. Some of them, convicted of murder and drug trafficking have been hanged or awaiting the firing squad, while others are serving long prison terms that could see them spend their entire lives incarcerated in foreign lands. Those who are sentenced for minor infractions such as shop-lifting and assault are usually imprisoned for short periods of time and then released to continue with their venturous lives. Since most court cases overseas are not publicized, folks at home have no idea what has befallen their loved ones, other than the fact that they are abroad and supposedly doing well.

In the past few years, there has been a noticeable increase in reported criminal activities involving Kenyans in North America, and significantly, in the United States. Thanks to the New Media, Kenyans at home are now able to follow the travails of their countrymen almost on real time, bringing to their doors a disturbing trend that is engulfing the dignity of good natured diaspora Kenyan citizens and ruining the country's reputation.

Unfortunately, most murders committed by Kenyans in America are against their own close relatives - children, wives or in-laws. A good example is this week's tragic murder of a mother-in-law allegedly by a one 33-year old Ian Muriu. The body of the woman was discovered in a house with multiple gunshot wounds. Muriu then allegedly committed suicide as his screaming wife related to the police the events that led to the gruesome deaths. Muriu was said to be a successful restaurateur and was apparently living well. What got him to kill and then eliminate himself is a question that needs answers.

That double debacle in Georgia is no different from what happened in 2010, in Santa Ana, Orange County, when a Kenyan father killed his young son following a marital dispute with his wife. Gideon Omondi, a 36-year old former engineering student was convicted of first degree murder for that killing, and is now serving a life sentence, plus another 25 years for trying to roast himself with gasoline.

However, of all the crimes I have been able to gather, nothing beats what a 43-year old Kenyan did in Minnesota three years ago. Justus Kebabe cold-bloodedly murdered his wife and three children then attempted to escape with his 4-year old son, who apparently survived. He was sentenced to 76 years in prison. He will be 94 year old before he can expect to be released on parole.

Another Kenyan rotting in an American jail is 34-year old William Karanja who is serving 66 years for raping two under-aged girls and knowingly attempting to infect them with HIV. In sentencing him, the judge called him a sexual predator. A relative of his confirmed that Karanja had a long history of sexual offences dating back from Kenya where similar incidents had been hushed.

But it is not just tom, dick and harry who are succumbing to American justice. An increasing number of church leaders, including priests and pastors, have also been convicted largely on molestation charges. Kenyan churches of different denominations are scattered all over America, and several Catholic churches are headed by Kenyan missionary priests. But not all of the clergy are upright and righteous as per the Bible.

Statistics as to how many Kenyans are languishing in American jails are difficult to get, but a Kenyan who has lived in the country for the past two decades put the number at about 200. Incarcerated are fraudsters, schemers, drug traffickers, physical abusers as well as alleged bizarre killers like the 21-year old former university student who killed his roommate, cut up his body and ate parts of his brain.

The increase in criminality among Kenyans in the diaspora is a matter of grave concern to many, including the "good" Kenyans who want to be left to live a fruitful and productive life. Yet it is difficult to fathom the reasons why people who leave their so-called poor country for a better life in America could turn out to be such anti-social monsters.

I would like to see the Kenya government, through the Embassy in Washington DC and the Consulate in Los Angeles putting more efforts in finding the cause of this serious decline in morals among Kenyans, instead of officials waiting to show up at funeral services when damage had already been done.

And that is my say.