Thursday, March 27, 2014


There has been a lot of "kicking around the bush" on the matter of terrorism in Kenya. Almost all of us - including the government - seem to have no clue on how to deal with this monstrous menace.

We only know of the terror group Al Shabaab and its affiliation to the global enemy, Al Queda. We know Al Shabaab was behind the Westgate attack in Nairobi last September in which 60 people were killed and many others injured. And we know it has attempted many - some successful, some not - attacks in several parts of our country mainly in the capital city and in the coastal resort of Mombasa.

But I doubt whether we know Al Shabaab's actual strength; who finances it; who its collaborators in Kenya are; where it gets its deadly arms; how it smuggles those arms into Kenya; and the extent of its present or future plans of destruction. If we did, we would not be groping in the dark as we are. We are left to rely on foreign security agents including America's FBI on matters of intelligence and technical support.

The terror groups know our weaknesses. They know of the many loopholes in our law enforcement systems; they know of rampant corruption in our public offices allowing illegals to acquire national documents and enter and exit freely through our borders; and they know that many of the weak spots including malls, stadiums and places of worships are poorly guarded.

How for example, could one explain the discovery of empty ammunition boxes at the basement of a major shopping mall in Nairobi recently? How did those boxes pass through the so-called security at the gate to the property? What happened to the ammunition?

The government has given us many assurances that Kenya is safe but those assurances have not sufficiently reassured Kenyans of their security. Visits to malls and to public places have become exceedingly agonising for shoppers given the Westgate memories. What was considered the safest sanctuary, the Church, has now become the target of evil characters. Unable to face our security forces, terrorists are turning to soft targets murdering innocent, unarmed people who cannot defend themselves. No wonder some Churches are asking for arms to defend their congregations.

The latest attack at Likoni is a good example of the cowardly minds of terrorists. Regardless of what anyone says, I feel strongly in my mind and heart that what happened at Likoni was not a common criminal act but a dastardly terror attack.

Time for kids' gloves is over. No government should sit back and tolerate the kind of killings now taking place. That is why I support the express elimination of such characters. However, sometimes I get the feeling that human rights groups are not sincere in their championing of justice. They cannot claim to condemn murders of innocent people while defending the rights of criminals.

That is number one.

Number two, Muslim leaders should not hide behind religion in their defence of criminals in groups such as Al Shabaab which is composed almost exclusively of Muslim adherents. Islam is a religion of peace. Consequently, all Muslims should come out strongly not only to condemn such heinous killings but to uproot anyone within their community who assists or encourages terrorist elements. I believe other than the Government, Muslim leaders bear the biggest responsibility in fighting terrorism within our borders.

Three, wananchi have a role to play. Criminals live amongst us. We know them because they are our children, our fathers, our relatives. We must flush them out from our neighbourhoods by assisting with information. By holding on to crucial security related information we become part of the problem.

For almost two years, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) has been engaging Al Shabaab in their hide-outs in Somalia. At the onset, it was thought the engagement would be short and easy. But it has proved timeless and tough. One dead Al Shabaab yields a dozen new recruits; at least this is how it seems.

What started as a ragtag militia inside troubled Somalia about two decades ago has now mutated into a major threat to regional peace in this part of Africa. Al Shabaab's steady growth from a few dozen jobless youths to a heavily armed terrorist organisation of several thousands is now Kenya's biggest internal threat.

Brainwashed into Jihadism with expectations for martyrdom, young people in their twenties chose to be ensnared in a life of murder and destruction, using every tool imaginable, from home-made devices to lethal, sophisticated bombs. Their method of killing is indiscriminate, brutal and almost animal-like. They kill children, women and the elderly, and when not caught saunter to other killing fields, the same way a mason moves from one construction site to another.

Kenyans mourn those who died at Likoni and pray for those now receiving treatment in hospitals. If there is one thing that illustrates the brutality of terrorists, it is the bullet lodged in baby Satrine Osinya's head.

And that is my say.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


A notice announcing an upcoming investigative expose` about events surrounding the 2013 elections is arousing unusual consternation within some quarters in the political establishment, stoking fears that the report could cause "a ripple in the pond" when most Kenyans had moved on a year after the controversial presidential polls.

Much of the heat is being spread by social media pundits who have raised speculation ranging from possible new evidence that hint at completely different election results from the ones announced, to suggestions that the expose` may be a cut-and-paste work from the 839-page evidence bundle submitted by Raila Odinga which the Supreme Court rejected.

Seven affidavits from the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) which purportedly showed inconsistencies in the voting process were expunged from the Court records before they were heard.

The Kenya Television News station (KTN) has not said exactly when the report would be aired, but video snippets and a full page advertisement carried by its flagship publication, The Standard, ask one curious question: "What really happened at the BALLOT?"

This question sounds superfluous since Kenyans know what happened on that historic March 4, 2013 when they went to the polls to elect their leaders. Kenyans know because they spent days and nights watching the unfolding events on KTN and on other outlets.

However, the key word here is "really."

I presume that what Mohammed Ali of the Kiswahili's Jicho Pevu, and John-Allan Namu of the English's Inside Story are telling us, is that a lot more happened during that election period than we were originally told; that either the KTN was unable or unwilling to broadcast the real story at the material time, or, it has now stumbled on new information which it feels we, the public, ought to know.

Either way, my questions are: why is it so necessary to revisit this chapter many of us would like to forget? And, why now?

Hopefully, the reporters will answer those questions.

There are two other general questions journalism practitioners often raise in cases such as this. Jim Onyango Ongowo, a Kenyan student at the University of Leeds raised the same questions in his dissertation for a Masters degree in International Journalism. Does the public have the right to know? And, is it in the public's interest to run an investigative report?

In this case the answer is yes. Kenyans have the right to know everything that happened before, during and after the polls. Why? Because it is a matter of public interest. And two because this is what journalism is all about. However, there is a third side of the coin.

We all know what happened in 2007 when the opposition disputed the polls that gave Mwai Kibaki the presidency. The controversy turned into widespread violence that left over a thousand people dead and tens of thousands others displaced. It also sent three Kenyans to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague - two of them victors in that election - on charges against humanity.

When the 2013 elections came, we did everything to avoid another convulsion of violence. ODM, the loser, made a lot of noise about how the elections were stolen but - unlike in 2007 - it did not call its supporters out to the streets. Instead, it appealed for calm, filed a case in the Supreme Court and lost. ODM is still disputing that decision.

In the meantime, we have been able to sustain political stability which allows the Jubilee Government to embark on fulfilling its election pledges. All this hardly means we are out of the woods. Mistrust continues to dominate our political landscape because a section of our population refuses to accept the legitimacy of the new Administration. The bottom line is, the country is still susceptible to nefarious political undercurrents.

The Kenya constitution protects media freedom, and KTN - or any other organisation for that matter - has the right to air any material as long it is accurate and fair. The media's first commitment is to the citizenry and not to social, economic or political exigencies.

Where I have a problem is why KTN wants to air a report as sensitive as this at this time of our political transition. The landscape is still too delicate and some of our people are still too disconsolate to rationalise the events surrounding that election.

My opposition to this report is therefore based not on the fundamental principles of media freedom - the right of the public to know - but on the timing.

Ali and Namu are, undoubtedly, among the best in the business. They have distinguished themselves as some of the boldest and fearless investigative journalists in the country. In their quest for the truth, they have rattled government agencies, irritated politicians and ruffled drug and corrupt cartels. By their own admission, they live under threats and warnings of consequences too gruesome to imagine. But they have chosen to trudge on, nevertheless, because they believe in truth.

I am the first to admit my fears may be misplaced, but if and when the report is aired, I hope it will not be used by political elements to promote hatred and ethnicity, but will stand out to add value to knowledge, boost the tenets of investigative journalism and contribute to making Kenya's electoral system more robust and less contentious.

And that is my say.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Four years ago Greece, the birthplace of Western democracy and the Olympics Games was declared bankrupt. Three decades of official corruption had brought the country, located at the crossroads of Europe, Western Asia and Africa, to its knees.

By 2010 many of the country's industries had collapsed. The rich were no longer paying taxes. Consequently, the country could no longer meet its debt obligations. Unemployment left millions of people destitute and exorbitant food prices drove people into violent street demonstrations.

The "cradle of all Western civilisations" had to enter into a major bail-out arrangement with the European Union to stay afloat, but it had to sell most of its treasured wealth including idyllic islands. Today, the effects of that meltdown are evident through increased number of beggars and homeless people all over the country.

In the last ten years, two other countries, Argentina and Iceland have gone into a state of ruination for almost similar reasons.

Last year, the once rich city of Detroit, Michigan, in the United States, filed for bankruptcy becoming the largest municipality in the country's history to declare a financial emergency.

For decades, Detroit, known for its giant auto manufacturing plants, had been borrowing money to pay debts. Government corruption was rampant. The tax base had shrunk due to declining population and reduced income tax revenue. The city's computer systems were too obsolete to detect fraudulent activities and again, people were not paying property taxes.

These examples confirm that nations and governments can, in fact, go bankrupt.

Today, in cafes and evening barazas, Kenyans are asking if their country is on the brink of economic collapse. Recent cases of high-level corruption -  namely the Standard Gauge Railway and the Laptop Project scandals - among others -  together with other worrying issues such as the ongoing wage bill crisis, high budget deficits, increased levels of borrowing, skyrocketing food prices and escalating unemployment are fueling speculation that all is not well.

As stated by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, the country is living beyond its means. Seventy-four percent of the country's revenue goes into paying salaries while only a paltry 26 percent is reserved for development. If this is how we are going to operate in the next decade and half, the 2030 Vision intended to propel the country into a middle level industrial economy will be a mirage.

However, all is not lost especially if you listen to two leading economists, Mwangi S. Kimenyi of the Africa Growth Initiative and Josephine Kibe, a Senior Fellow at the Global Economy Development organisation. In a recent report, the two laud Kenya for its strong private sector, relative political stability, market friendly policies and a strong human capital as some of the positives that make Kenya's economy relatively unshakable.

Kenya has the largest economy in East Africa with a gross domestic product that represents 40 percent of the region's GDP. Its Stock Exchange is among the best in Africa with strong domestic and foreign participation. This year, according to the two distinguished experts, Kenya is likely to grow at 5.8-6 percent up from 4.6 in 2012. Its foreign exchange reserves are strong and the national currency, the shilling, is relatively stable. Inflation continues to hover at single digit.

So, is Kenya likely to go the way of Greece, Argentina and Iceland? I doubt it.

However, the Jubilee Government has a very limited window of opportunity to prove that it is serious in eradicating high level corruption which now seems to be getting out of hand. Billions of shillings are lost every year to crafty crooks operating right under the nose of the Executive. Kenyans no longer think this is funny.

While the current wage bill crisis is mutating into a political and economic emergency, the growing insecurity is threatening our stability. The government must deal with labour strikes; find a more workable solution to youth unemployment; reduce inequalities; improve health care and rein in insatiable greed from politicians. In addition, it must expand its tax base to increase revenue.

If necessary, as it has been suggested by some, it should lead the nation into reviewing the Constitution with the intention of reducing the number of elected and nominated leaders and cutting down on Commissions and money guzzling government parastatals.

The sooner the Jubilee Administration moves in on these initiatives, the safer the country is from a possible economic meltdown.

And that is my say.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Contrary to the pomp witnessed a year ago when the new Kenya Administration took over, the first anniversary of the Jubilee Government of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, has passed quietly, completely overshadowed by the shenanigans in the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), and the results of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations announced a few days ago.

Other than the low-key Cabinet retreat taking place at the exclusive Mt. Kenya Safari Club where senior Government officials are taking stock of successes and challenges over the past year, there is no visible signs that the watershed probationary period has finally come to an end. Both Uhuru and Kenyatta have told Cabinet Secretaries that a lot more is expected from them from now on. That caution was necessary because some Cabinet Secretaries have been sleeping on the job, with nothing to show during the past 12 months.

That the new government has had a very bumpy ride since it came to power last March cannot be overstated. There have been more challenges than successes, and the teething problems have been more pronounced than usual.

Uhuru and Ruto took over under the shadow of political and legal protests. Although Raila's attempts to overturn Jubilee's victory failed at the Supreme Court, his efforts at frustrating the new regime persist.

The Uhuru/Ruto Coalition has therefore had an uphill task in trying to fulfil its key campaign promises. One major success relates to free maternal care. Thousands of Kenyans who were previously denied pre- and post-natal care are today enjoying free State services. We are now breeding a much healthier population than before.

The other achievement is the successful launch of the irrigation scheme in Tana River which is expected to transform lives in one of the poorest regions in Kenya and to contribute to food security. The smooth implementation of the LAPSSET project in Lamu is another Jubilee success story.

However, the Government is yet to kick-start its much talked about Standard Gauge Railway line from Mombasa to Malaba; and is facing serious challenges in as far as the ambitious School Laptop Project is concerned. The Government has also been unable to get the majority of Kenyans on board its policies, and recent opinion polls have shown an erosion of confidence in Jubilee especially among the unemployed youth and marginalised groups.

In the past week, I visited some tourist hotels along the Coast and talked to players in the industry. What I found was that the beach tourism has virtually collapsed as a result of security scares driven by travel advisories from major suppliers.

Americans and Europeans believe the terror threat is real along the Kenyan Coast where Jihad ism appears to be taking root. This is seriously hurting the industry. Because of the absence of tourists, hundreds of employees have been laid off; families have been denied a decent existence and small scale traders have been driven into destitution. This shows the Government's failure in tackling insecurity in the country.

But the biggest failure of the Jubilee Government has been in its inability to rein in grand corruption. The state of graft is a big worry to locals and overseas investors. For whatever reasons, the initial government commitment to deal with corrupt public officials appear to have waned, something that is giving room to big time dealers to operate with impunity. The most influential citizens continue to manipulate their way into multi-million shilling tenders with inflated quotes and shoddy work.

At the lower level, motorists still have to bribe their way out of traffic offences; citizens still must part with ""kitu kidogo" to be attended to promptly by government officers; and money continue to change hands at the ports of entry, at weighbridge stations and even within police stations.

There was a lot of hope in Government pronouncements that tough action would be taken to deal with corrupt elements, but nothing tangible has so far been seen.

I hope the Mt. Kenya Safari Club session will come up with practical solutions to these problems, otherwise the 20-year Jubilee rule prediction could turn out to be nothing but hot air.

And that is my say.