Thursday, November 28, 2013


Kenyans who have been following the salary saga involving the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) and Members of County Assembly (MCAs)  must feel disappointed by the decision of the SRC Chairperson Sarah Serem to almost double the emoluments of county  officials.

They must be disappointed because Serem has failed to put her foot down and has continued to cajole and soft-soap elected officials, and buckle down to political pressure even as she pretends to talk tough about how Kenya is "overburdened by huge, unaffordable and unsustainable remunerations."

Kenyans must also feel betrayed because Serem's announcement came only a few days after the government froze recruitments and stopped adjustments of salaries and allowance for civil servants as a way of reducing the ballooning wage bill, a subject she is passionate about, at least on paper. The message coming out of State House, therefore, is that SRC has failed to stop the hemorrhaging of State coffers.

The SRC was established in 2010 with the mandate of, among other things, ensuring that the total public compensation bill is fiscally sustainable."

Early this year, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto took over a government that had a lot of pending issues that are now threatening to derail the ambitious Jubilee manifesto.

The SRC Chair must be aware of the following: a public debt of 2.1 trillion shillings; an external loan of 889.31 billion; a budget deficit of 356 billion; and a wage bill of 450 billion. These are obligations that must be sorted out. Right now Kenya is spending 74 percent of its budget on recurrent expenditure leaving very little for development. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to know, given these figures, that the country is in a fiscal jam and cannot withstand any additional expenditure.

But in negotiations with the Senate Devolution Committee a few days ago, Serem succumbed to pressure and agreed to hike MCA salaries from 79,000 to 123,750 shillings. She also allowed an additional 124,800 shillings per month for allowances and 39,528 for mileage, and increased the sitting allowance.

My view is that the increases are a waste of public funds and detrimental to the country's economic well being. Whether the representatives are Public officers or State officers does not matter. Their salaries come from the tax payers.

Serem's performance has not been impressive. Outwardly, she appears to be made of steel but her actions do not support that. When Members of Parliament took her to task over their salary demands, the long-time expert on human resources management talked tough until the legislators threatened to disband the SRC and send her and all commissioners home. It was then that she climbed down and negotiated perks that turned out to be much higher that what the legislators had asked for in the first place. This time around she has been arm-twisted to agree to a deal she knows would further burden the Exchequer.

What all this tells me is that Serem has lost control of SRC. She has allowed political mandarins to overrun her jurisdiction, making the Commission a virtual toothless bull-dog. In my opinion, she cannot be expected to help the government tackle the wage bill woes.

On the other hand, the county representatives are a thankless lot. By turning down the original salary - and rubbishing the latest offer - they have demonstrated a boorish attitude towards the people who elected them and shown disrespect to their country. There are many qualified Kenyans who would be willing to serve for half the 79,000 shillings.

To add salt to injury, the county leaders have been boycotting work, only showing up at the cashier's office at the end of the month to collect salaries.

The fact that Kenyans continue to tolerate this kind of behaviour shows how much we have lost the fighting spirit.

And that is my say.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I am not a prophet of doom but even as an ordinary Kenyan with no interest in the occult, I can predict with near certainty that the hurriedly-conceived Nyumba kumi concept in which the country is to be divided into clusters of ten households will fail, unless we come up with a more pragmatic way of involving the people.

We all know this is not an original idea. It was tried in the neighbouring Tanzania for almost twenty years starting from the late 1960s. During its prime, it was successful in managing security at the grassroots level. Balozis or cell leaders, drawn from the faithfuls in the ruling TANU, were carefully selected to ensure strangers were identified and reported to authorities. It was the same leaders who were responsible for "whipping" people into complying with the ujamaa system, a form of communism copied from socialist China. The leaders were also used to distribute food during the country's long period of food shortages; and to handle births and deaths within their blocks.

Thus, the nyumba kumi idea was conceived as a political solution to deal with challenges of a political dispensation set out in the Arusha Declaration of 1967. It was not intended primarily to deal with insecurity. It was a tool of survival for the socialist government.

After Nyerere's death and the introduction of capitalism, the system took a dosedive. It was no longer effective, as tens of thousands of people abandoned ujamaa villages and flocked into urban areas to look for jobs. Today, foregners returning to Dar es Salaam are able to move freely, something they could not do three decades ago when nyumba kumi was in full blast and government agents were everywhere.

In Kenya, on the other hand, the idea did not spring out of any political ideology. It emerged from the ashes of the Westgate mall attack.

A lot of confusion reigned during that fateful week. The government had no answers to a myriad questions following the terrorist attack. There were queries about alleged intelligence failures; shoddy performance by security forces and total mishandling of information. For days the number of attackers were unknown with official estimates putting the figure between five to fifteen. Neither the Cabinet Secretary, Joseph Ole Lenku, nor the Security Chiefs, could tell us whether the Al Shabaab fanatics were killed on site or had managed to escape. Most of those questions still linger on.

With Kenyans in a panic mode, the government conjured the nyumba kumi initiative to reassure people it had a plan. To many in this generation the plan made no sense. Even the way it was announced left Kenyans unconvinced about its effectiveness as a crime deterrent.

Ideally, an issue as important as this should have been subjected to public discussion. This was not done, hence the lacklustre reception it has received from the public.

Weeks down the line Kenyans still do not understand how this concept will work. How will the cell leaders be elected? What powers will they have?; What are the rules?; Are there any penalties for residents who refuse to participate? If so, under what law? There are far too many gray areas. How are we going to handle urban areas where people have a poor record of good neighbourliness? At least in rural areas the spirit of community living is alive.

Also, with all the people flocking into towns daily to stay with extended family members, and with all the routine, unannounced visits we Africans regularly make to homes of friends and relatives, it may not be that easy to differentiate strangers from genuine denizens.

That the security situation in Kenya has deteriorated significantly over the past few months is not a secret. It's no longer safe to drive on roads because of escalating carjackings. Burglaries and murders have become routine. Rapes and physical abuses are common everywhere. Threats of terrorist attacks are looming high and shopping in malls is no longer an enjoyable experience.

Insecurity has brought with it economic pitfalls. Travel advisories by tourist-generating countries have become a permanent feature and have driven away tourists. Many hotels along the Kenyan beaches have closed down because of lack of business, bringing suffering to hundreds of people who earn their living from serving tables, selling fish and peddling handcrafts.

Promises made by the government and the many stop-gap measures taken so far to deal with criminal activities have failed to bear fruit. Now, we are being introduced to what Lenku tells us is a 100 days Rapid Results Initiative to deal with insecurity during the holiday season. What will happen after the 100 days, the Secretary is not telling us.

I know the government wants the nyumba kumi idea to work. I do too, but it wouldn't, if the people do not get answers to some of the questions I have raised above.

Some say that the nyumba kumi concept violates Article 36 (a) of the constitution which basically says that "a person shall not be compelled to join an association of any kind." Will nyumba kumi committees be considered associations in the eyes of the law? Lenku says the concept is fully compliant with the constitution and quotes Article 244 (e), which only says that the National Police Service "will foster and promote relationship with the broader society."

It looks there are legal issues too to be confronted.

The bottom line is, unless we are willing to engage the public and completely rope them in, the nyumba kumi idea - as good as it may sound - will go the same way as the community policing which has largely failed to make a difference in crime prevention in our neighbourhoods.

And that is my say.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


More than one year ago, the media and online bloggers were throwing all manner of adjectives - and expletives - at the Kenya Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua.  Some called him a "sycophant." Others a "verbal acrobat." One  even called him "Comical Ali" after the Iraq Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who vigorously defended the brutal actions of dictator Saddam Hussein. Many thought Mutua was too verbose, sometimes brutally arrogant, in his defence of the government of Mwai Kibaki. Others dismissed him as a spin doctor deployed to protect the ruling class.

Dr. Mutua, a former journalism professor and film maker, was vilified by the opposition but exalted by government functionaries. He spent eight years defending Kibaki. At one time he denied there was hunger even as thousands of Kenyans were dying. When, at the height of the post-election violence of 2008, Mutua announced that "Kenya is not burning"; and when he dismissed Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu, as a "tourist" after the South African cleric had arrived to help resolve the political crisis between Kibaki and Raila Odinga; and when he remarked that the Ghanaian leader John Kufuor was only coming to Kenya to have tea with Kibaki and not to mediate, many Kenyans felt the Government Spokesman had crossed the line.

But that was then.

Today, Dr. Mutua is the Governor of Machakos, and virtually all critics - except perhaps Senator Johnstone Muthama - have vanished. And they have not just vanished. They are now his biggest supporters and well-wishers urging him to go for the presidency in 2017.

Why? Because Mutua has soared beyond expectations. He has raised the bar. He has shocked the doubting "Thomases." He has emerged as the most active, the most scintillating, and the most focused of all the 47 county governors.

While his colleagues were squabbling over salary increases, Mutua was busy forming his county government, drawing his development plan, reaching out to investors and visualising the Machakos city - one of the most ambitious projects ever dreamt. He didn't wait for the law to fly the national flag. He didn't wait for a nod to construct his own lantern complete with the words "Governor of Machakos." boldly embossed on it. He just went ahead and did what he thought represented his office..

When he resigned from his position in Government to contest the governorship in September 2012, most Kenyans sighed: good riddance, but Mutua had already set his agenda. He told journalists that Machakos was the county of the future "because we are going to build an Internet city, a global communication centre in that county which will serve the whole of Africa." He said Machakos needed a leader who was corruption free, a visionary, young and energetic.

And finally when he unveiled what he dreams will be the city of Machakos recently, Kenya gasped. The artist's impression given in a promotional video clip gave an impression of a "First World" city with shiny, glassy sky scrappers, plenty of recreational facilities, clean residential estates and no slums. It was more than Nairobi,  more than Johannesburg and more than anywhere else. It was Utopian.

It must be noted, however, that so far, almost all of Mutua's plans of action remain a dream: an entertainment centre for films, music and the arts he calls Machawood (after Hollywood) is miles away. He says there are 40 ambulances on the high seas. He talks of buying 150 police cars. And he says his county government will plough for free land belonging to 1,000 poor farmers in each ward, subsidise seeds and fertilisers and even provide a market for their produce. All these are promises yet to be fulfilled. Kenyans are waiting with bated breath to see if they will be actualised.

Having lived in this country for most of my life, (and a politician myself) I have learnt to take political promises with a pinch of salt. Kenyans have built castles in the air far too many times and for too long to convince me - at this early stage - that what Mutua is talking about will come to fruition. Already, we are seeing a deliberate opposition from some quarters on the city he wants to build. This is just the beginning. There will be saboteurs, schemers and even criminals who will do everything to torpedo the good work Mutua is trying to do for his people. The government should be there to protect the common good.

In the meantime, Kenyans continue to be amazed by the dramatic transformation of the small man with a sharp tongue who has moved from the round corridors of power at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre to the Governor's mansion with all the trappings of power: a large high-end- furnished office, armed security in tow and a large staff component to supervise.

How the public will view Mutua in the long run - whether or not he is presidential material - will be seen in the next four years when Kenyans will know from his actions: whether he is a doer or just an empty calabash; a saviour or a political charlatan.

And that is my say

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Years ago I had the opportunity of visiting Israel. It was a visit that will remain with me for the rest of my life. I was energised by the Biblical landmarks and impressed by the humility and resilience of the Israeli people. I found the Israelis hospitable, amiable and ardently religious. Through hard work and modern technology, they had managed to transform deserts into Gardens of Eden where greenery thrives and fields produce food in abundance. I saw no sign of bigotry during my visit to the Zionist state.

But when I saw a video this week exposing Israelis as anti-African and anti-immigration I was shocked. I could not compromise my positive experiences of the Jewish state of many years ago with the belligerent, abusive and deprecating attitude of the Israelis against Africans today.

Produced by David Sheen and Max Blumenthal, the ten-minute video is as expressive in its folly as it is odious and baneful in its content. A nation raised by the sweat of immigrants appears to have metamorphosed into a hateful and bigoted country of people who see no shame in treating immigrants in a cavalier and contemptuous manner.

The Israeli nation was born in 1948. For more than two decades thereafter, immigrants flocked in from Europe, the U.S.S.R. and from other Middle Eastern countries: anxious to be at the heart of the Zionist ideology, happy to escape persecution in their own countries, and looking forward to better lives. Beginning 2006 - as the economies of most Africans countries dipped and democracy floundered - Israel began to attract a new breed of immigrants: Africans. In Israel, the newcomers - mainly from Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea  began a process of integrating into the Jewish lifestyles. They did not bother anyone and did not engage in anti-Israel activities. They only wanted a quiet life away from the economic tribulations and political instability in their countries of birth.

Instead of enjoying the peace they yearned for in Israel, the African immigrants were met with hostility. The government denied them work permits and landlords refused to rent them accommodation. Soon, their presence became a matter of political discussion in the country's Parliament, the Knesset, and at public meetings. Anti-African demonstrations became a common feature in Tel Aviv and in other towns. They were called niggers, thieves and spit, and accused of spreading diseases. They were described as a "cancer" and told to return to where they came from.

All this is captured in the video circulating via YouTube called Israel's New Racism: The Persecution of African Immigrants in the Holy Land. In one scene, a big mob of Israelis is seen noisily taunting a terrified African woman carrying a baby on her back. There are also scenes showing top Israeli government officials such as the Interior Minister Eli Yishai, deputy defence minister Danny Danon and a host of Members of Parliament calling for the expulsion of African immigrants.

Comments such as: "If you bring a million Africans, it (Israel) will no longer be Jewish," and "If you want to help Africans go to Africa" directed at those who support immigration, are common declarations by Israelis who, ironically, insist they are not racists. They say Africans are a threat to the Jewish character of Israel.

To deal with immigrants, the Israel government has built a huge camp in the Negev desert called Saharonim Prison especially to accommodate non-Jews. The jail has been described by human rights advocates as the biggest concentration camp in the civilised world, offering some of the harshest living conditions. At least two thousand Africans are believed to be detained there.

The government has also built a fence along the Sinai border to thwart any immigrants who may wish to cross into Israel. Officials say since the fence was completed in 2012, only a handful of African immigrants have entered Israel and those were arrested. The Prevention of Infiltration law was also amended to give Tel Aviv powers to detain non-Jewish immigrants for three years before they are deported to their countries of origin. Although Israel's security concerns are understandable, what is seen in the video goes beyond the desire to keep the country safe from infiltrators. It is a dramatic show of racism against Africans.

The condition of African detainees in the Saharonim Prison is reported to be dire and the matter requires urgent intervention by the African Union and the international community at large. Sadly, the African Union has kept completely mum about the mistreatment of its people by the Israeli government.

On its own, Kenya - as an African country - has stood by the Israeli government in the worst of situations. It has suffered three terrorist bombings: the Norfolk hotel bombing in 1980; the Paradise Hotel attack in 2002 and the Westgate attack recently - the common thread being that all the three establishments are owned by Israeli investors. Our relations with Israel have been good and continues to be so. In all the three terrorist attacks Kenya turned to Israeli for help. Furthermore, Kenyan security officials have trained in Israel, and our country has benefited from various assistance packages from Tel Aviv. In return, we continue to work with the Jewish state by sharing intelligence information on terrorist movements in our region.

Many other African countries also maintain good relations with Israel. If Israel thinks there is a problem with African immigrants - as it seems there is - it should raise the matter with the African Union. The way the Jewish state is treating African immigrants is unacceptable and should be condemned.

Finally, we in Kenya are Africans, but we are not niggers, not spit, not cancer and certainly not psychopaths as described by Israeli demonstrators.

And that is my say.