Monday, December 23, 2013


If Kenya has not achieved anything else in its 50 years of independence, it can boast of having gained a reasonable level of tolerance in the fields of politics and governance.

Decades ago no civil servant would have dared to release the kind of statement Eric Ng'eno issued this past week without facing serious repercussions. The Director of Speech Writing and Messaging at State House tore into unnamed senior colleagues accusing them of running a "parallel State" within a State.

The official also hinted at corruption in the system when he talked of "public sector thieves who are not even looking behind their shoulders before dipping their hands into the till." He claimed President Uhuru and his Deputy William Ruto were being sabotaged by a "coterie of senior civil servants opposed to their new way of doing things in government."

This stance is quite unusual and raises a question: why did Ng'eno go public when he could have raised the issue directly with his seniors at State House?

So far, there has been no serious reaction from the higher echelons of government other than a casual remark by the Government Spokesman, Manoah Esipisu, that Ng'eno's views were personal.

This could mean three things: either consultations were ongoing between the various feuding parties within the inner circles of government,  or that the matter was so sensitive as to require official comment. There is also a possibility that Ng'eno's statement had the blessing of one or both of the two principals in the ruling coalition. Either way, the public needs to know whether or not what Ng'eno said resonates with the truth. And if so, what the government plans to do about it.

Coming at a time of rising internal dissent in the Jubilee Coalition over the distribution of appointments between Uhuru's TNA and Ruto's URP, and allegations of shady procurement deals pertaining to the recently commissioned standard gauge railway line, this latest development adds to the growing teething problems in the nine-month old Coalition government.

One thing is clear however. The kind of intolerance we saw during the era of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi when civil servants were expected to act apolitical and politicians were exhorted to toe the government line without question must be on its sunset years. Before, violators were sacked, ostracised, banned from holding public office or, worse still, jailed.

The most notable victim of forbearance during Jomo's administration, for example, was none other than Barack Obama Sr, the late father of the US President. Fresh from university in America and working as a senior economists in government, Barack took the courage of rubbishing what was then considered a revolutionary blueprint: the African Socialism and its Applicability to Planning in Kenya, popularly known as the Sessional Paper No. 10. The document, which provided the road map for Kenya's economic development, was crafted by none other than the celebrated Tom Mboya.

"One need not be a Kenyan," Obama Sr. shot up in an article published in the East African Journal in 1965, "to note that nearly all commercial enterprises from small shops in River Road to big shops in Government Road, (now Kenyatta Avenue), and industries in the industrial area were mostly owned by Asians and Europeans.

"One need not be a Kenyan to note that most hotels and entertainment places are owned by Asians and Europeans."

He continued: "One need not need to be a Kenyan to note that when one goes to a good restaurant, he mostly finds Asians and Europeans; nor has he to be a Kenyan to see that the majority of cars are run by Asians and Europeans...We have to give the African his place in his own country, and we have to give him his economic power if he is going to develop."

That was a loaded statement that rattled government insiders. The moment the magazine hit the streets, Obama Sr. was sacked never to be gainfully employed again.

Since then dozens of public workers and politicians have suffered for making political statements seen to be critical of government. At least three ministers were fired for criticising Kenyatta over the death of politician J.M Kariuki; and five were given the boot for opposing the constitutional draft during the 2005 referendum. These are just a few of many.

When Prof. Ouma Muga, an Assistant Minister in Moi's government reportedly boasted that he was the one who wrote the speech Moi delivered at the Ozone Layer Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1989, he was immediately dismissed. He was accused of taking credit that should have gone to the President. The speech called for the signing of an international treaty on hazardous waste disposal and a ban on dumping of waste in Africa. It was hailed as one of the most brilliant speeches ever delivered by a Kenyan Head of State at any international meeting.

As for civil servants, involvement in politics has never been allowed. If Ngeno had been working under any of the previous Presidents he would probably be cooling his heels at a village somewhere. But this is the Jubilee era. Even with our many challenges, we seem to tolerate individual views - whether they are from a civil servant at the top ranks of government or a mwananchi posting comments in the social media.

This is a small democratic gain but we must preserve it.

And that is my say.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


How times have changed for Raila Amolo Odinga.

Not too long ago, the son of the legendary Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was the second most powerful man in Kenya. He occupied an imposing office block, opposite the Office of the President, that cost one billion shillings and featured the latest high-tech gadgets, including a computerised shower cubicle.

A designer water fountain in front of the building and a huge pompous sign: Office of the Prime Minister, left no doubt who occupied the seven-storey building.

He enjoyed the most elaborate personal security rivalling only that of President Mwai Kibaki - with chase cars and motorcycle-riders. His homes were guarded 24 hours a day and members of his family were on around-the-clock watch by armed security.

He carried the aristocratic title: the Right Honourable, a honorific prefix bestowed on members of the British Privy Council. Never before had such a title been used in the country.

Yes, he was the Right Honourable Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya.

Thanks to the National Accord reached after protracted negotiations following the violence-prone 2007 elections, Raila was approaching the pinnacle of his career - a breathe away from State House yet so, so far away.

Even after agreeing to share power with the celebrated former democracy champion, Kibaki was not prepared to give Raila space to perform his duties, one of which was to coordinate government ministries. Kibaki often made critical decisions involving ministries without consulting his partner. On many occasions, Raila complained about the (mis) treatment from Kibaki's side of the coalition but no one in government really cared.

When the situation threatened to bring down the Grand Coalition, the two leaders and their entourages went on a retreat deep in the Tsavo National Park to try to find solutions. However, the meeting collapsed following disagreements over the agenda. Raila also complained that his room was not as lavish as the President's and it was located far away from that of the Head of State.He was not being treated right, he lamented.

On the ground, provincial officers got the cue on how the government treated Raila and refused to spread out red carpets whenever he visited their areas. Once in Mombasa, top officers disappeared altogether leaving juniors to bring along a tattered carpet to one of his meetings. In the process of mounting the "nusu mkeka," as Raila himself called it, they forgot to provide a "Johnnie" at the back of the podium for short-call use by the Prime Minister. Raila was livid and accused the government of disrespecting him.

Raila had to work for months without a salary because of disagreements over his salary scale. There was also a protocol wrangle over who between him and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka was senior. Government functionaries tended to side with the latter.

And all that was happening when Raila was the Right Honourable Prime Minister.

In his book, the Flame of Freedom, he described his period in the Grand Coalition as "five years of torment."

After losing out to Uhuru in 2012, Raila's political life took an even more miserable turn. Some of the first things the government did was to trim down his security; confiscate most of his official cars, and evict him from his posh offices along Harambee Avenue. He has also been denied his pension, unless he fulfills certain conditions.

As if that is not enough, he was denied use of VIP lounges at airports through a simple directive from the Office of the President that invoked "security and strategic" reasons. Seeing a pattern of embarrassing events trailing him, Raila climbed down and used common arrival and departure areas at airports.

Reports said Raila yearned for an opportunity to serve as a presidential advisor of some sort. When President Uhuru Kenyatta ignored his interest, the former political detainee travelled to Uganda and sought the intervention of President Yoweri Museveni. For a while, Kenyans believed the leader of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) would be  assigned to arbitrate over troubling issues affecting the East African Community. However, when the government denied there was a problem that needed fixing, Raila's hopes were dashed.

Today, Raila would be lucky to be acknowledged at official functions. Last week at the @50 celebrations at Kasarani it was the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan who recognised him and talked of his contributions to Kenya. Government officials were not willing to do that.

Raila is now left to beg for chores to do. Recently after he was excluded from the commissioning of the standard-gauge railway line in Mombasa he talked about it publicly. As a gesture of appeasement, the government gave him the  "honour" of opening a railway station in Nairobi, a job normally reserved for the transportation cabinet secretary.

In recent days, we have seen the humiliation of Raila Odinga coming, not from the government side, but from his own party. Reports that he was not properly recognised during an ODM Governor's function, prompting him to "walk" out, is further evidence that power lasts only when one is in power.

To make matters worse, his once close allies are deserting him in droves and quietly throwing their support behind Uhuru and Ruto. One ODM Senator even told him not to expect an automatic party presidential nomination in 2017.

What all this tells me is that Raila is no longer the "enigma" of the liberation struggle nor the "unbwogable agwambo" of the Orange Movement who for years sent shivers in the spine of former President Daniel Arap Moi. True, he still commands support in certain areas of the country, but the man who has failed thrice to become president is certainly humbled.

In the next five years, as he tries to remain politically relevant, the 69-year old leader should expect many more torments at the hands of both his friends and foes.

And that is my say.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Not too long ago, many Kenyans did not know who Amina Mohamed was. Her various positions in the bureaucracy did not give her an opportunity to shine. However, in recent months, her name has appeared everywhere, thanks to the International Criminal Court and her aggressive campaign to clear the names of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, currently facing international charges against humanity.

It was only in May when she was plucked from the corridors of quiet diplomacy at the United Nations where she served as an Assistant Secretary General and thrust into the murky global political arena and a blazing media spotlight. Amina is perhaps the most recognisable Kenya government official besides Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. Because of her steadfast defence of the government, she appears to have earned a place as one of Uhuru's most dependable advisers.

Amina is the 20th person to hold the Foreign Affairs portfolio since Kenya became independent, the first one being Jomo Kenyatta in 1963 when he was Prime Minister. Four of the them - Joseph Murumbi, Mbiyu Koinange, Kalonzo Musyoka and Robert Ouko - each served two stints.

As we celebrate the Jubilee Anniversary this year, it is only fitting to look at some of the people who have left the biggest foot-print in our relations with the rest of the world.

Out of the 20 Ministers, I have chosen four - Dr. Njoroge Mungai, Dr. Munyua Waiyaki, Musyoka and Ouko, as the top diplomats who will go into history books as the most dynamic. You can now add Amina to that coveted list. She happens to be the only career diplomat, a non-politician and a female to be appointed to the docket.

Both Mungai and Waiyaki served during the turbulent era of apartheid in South Africa and stood at the very front of the diplomatic fight against the deplorable policies of the Boer regime.

When Britain wanted to sell arms to the Pretoria regime it was Mungai who vigorously campaigned against the sale. South Africa asked for the arms ostensibly to defend the Indian Ocean sea corridor, but Mungai and other African leaders feared the armaments could be used against South African freedom fighters. The Kenya Foreign Minister made that position with vigour and commitment at all international fora.

In Singapore in 1971, at a meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of State Summit, some countries led by Britain - the intended supplier of the wares - distanced themselves from the Kenya position even though Mungai made a compelling case.  By the time the matter reached the Summit the following day, the hard line position taken by Mungai had been sabotaged by some elements in the Kenya delegation who managed to convince the Vice President and leader of delegation, Daniel Arap Moi, to back down and support the sale. The opposition was defeated.

However, Mungai's career got a major boost when he successfully convinced the world to set up the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi. The Gigiri complex is considered the biggest trophy of our global diplomacy and kudos will forever go to Jomo Kenyatta's one-time physician.

When Mungai was moved to Defence, Waiyaki took up the apartheid regime with a vengeance. While some Kenyan leaders pushed for the normalisation of relations with South Africa, Waiyaki made it clear that would "not happen during my lifetime, not when I am in charge of foreign affairs." He said it would only happen over his dead body.

Waiyaki was unflinching when it came to fighting for Kenya's interests - whether it was at the OAU opposing the Boers; at the Habitat Conference in Vancouver when he called for a comprehensive approach to human settlements; or, in New York when he engaged the US Assistant Secretary of State Nathaniel Davis over the supply of fighter jets to Kenya. During Waiyaki's five year tenure, Kenya's voice was heard loud and clear; and when Kenyatta died in Mombasa in 1978, it was Waiyaki who managed Kenya's diplomatic transition from Kenyatta to Moi.

As for Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, he was particularly effective when it came to regional peace initiatives. He shepherded both the Sudan and Somalia peace efforts and was part of the team that re-engineered IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Initially the organisation was called IGADD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development. He is the only Foreign Minister to serve under two Presidents, Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki. In both cases his performance was above average. He was relieved of the chairmanship of the peace efforts in 2004 only when he persisted on criticising Kibaki for reneging on the power-sharing arrangement with Raila Odinga's Liberal Democratic Party.

The most recent high achiever in the Foreign Affairs docket was Robert Ouko. Although he did not serve long before he was mysteriously killed, Ouko worked tirelessly during the short time he spent at the Foreign Office to repair Kenya's image abroad, heavily dented by Moi's sweeping disregard for democratic ideals and human rights. He was brilliant, suave and persuasive. One of the best dressed of the Cabinet Ministers then, he cut an image of a statesman, and at times he was seen to be overshadowing his boss. Many think that probably led to his assassination.

Now, Amina. Although some have called her a sycophant, "defending the indefensible" on the issue of the ICC trials, no one has accused her of being dumb or unqualified. The former Justice and Constitutional Affairs Permanent Secretary has impeccable educational and work credentials, a strong, pleasant personality; and is one person who fears nothing once she has made up her mind on an issue.

She spent weeks shuttling between Nairobi, the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, the Hague where ICC sits, and the UN Secretariat in New York trying to ensure the ICC trials do not see the light of day; and when she finally emerged at the Hague to say that "we have achieved everything we wanted to achieve," there was a big sigh of relief from many Kenyans.

The victory was not total but in the eyes of those who were indignant about the whole idea of our President sitting in the dock at the ICC, the Foreign Minister had brought home the bacon.

So hate her or love her, Amina Mohamed "rocks."

And that is my say.