Sunday, August 31, 2014


Travelling through the Southern States of the United States this past week, I came across a tabloid publication called The Jail Report. In it were dozens of mug shots of suspects arrested over the previous two weeks and booked in jails on diverse charges - ranging from shop-lifting to drinking under the influence of alcohol, to battery, burglary and murder.

It was a photo gallery of first and repeat offenders of different nationalities and colour - Blacks, Whites, and Latinos; young and old
well-groomed and unkempt - many facing the grim prospects of long time in the country's already crowded prison system.

What drew my attention while perusing the inside of the pint-sized, privately-run publication was the editorial headlined: Crooks Don't Deserve an Extra Break Because They Got Old in Prison.

The write-up took me back to a television clip I saw in Kenya recently in which prisoners were asking President Uhuru Kenyatta to release old and invalid prisoners on humanitarian grounds. I had expected that after that story, a vibrant discussion would follow, but all was quiet. The usually blustering human rights advocates and criminologists just ignored it.

The question still remains: Should the Kenya government or any other government for that matter, release aged and sick prisoners on humanitarian grounds?

Let me put it another way: Are we spending tax-payers' money unnecessarily on people who are no longer a danger to society?

According to The Jail Report, crooks who commit serious crimes should rot in prison. Publisher Greg Rickabaugh says although it costs about twice as much in America to house a prisoner over 50 (years of age) as it does the average prisoner, "we will be shooting ourselves in the foot if we weaken an already weak justice system even further to save a buck."

I still believe prisoners can be rehabilitated through training; and if taken through a well-structured social system of support; thereafter they can be released safely to society.

However, I doubt Kenya even knows the number of prisoners aged over 65 years in its system. True, there have been prisoner releases in the past, but these were done on presidential orders and intended to de-congest the system; and not on account of age, mental or physical impairments of the detainees. The result is that Kenya still holds hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hopelessly sick and aged prisoners waiting to die behind bars.

A research done in America a few years ago by Jamie Fellner, author of Old Behind Bars: The Aging Population in the United States, found there were prisoners in America "who were dying and could not breathe; prisoners so old and frail they needed help getting up from their beds and into their wheel-chairs; prisoners who lacked the mental and physical ability to bathe or eat or go to the bathroom by themselves."

Yes, we too have similar people in our prisons in Kenya today.

My view is that we need a public debate on whether prisoners who have serious mental and physical problems; those too old to fend for themselves; and those who are bed-ridden; can be pardoned to go back to their villages and die in dignity. It should not be a matter of saving taxpayers' money but a decision based on common sense.

And that is my say.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


China is one of Africa's most significant investment partners, and pumps billions of US dollars every year to fund development projects there, as it explores African mines for minerals for its industries, but the populous country is also the biggest contributor to the annihilation of the continent's big game.

With a population of 1.3 billion people, the Asian giant consumes the largest amount of illegal elephant tusks and rhino horns poached from Africa's game reserves. In South East Asia, these products are in great demand as aphrodisiacs, and as medicines for strokes, nosebleeds, convulsions and fever.

It is estimated that last year alone, 20,000 elephants were killed in Africa and their 40,000 tusks transported illegally to China, Thailand, Japan and Hong-Kong, among other countries.

Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa, and Botswana and South Africa in Southern Africa, have been identified by international conservationists as some of the countries hardest hit by poaching. According to a recent study conducted by George Wittemyer of the Colorado State University in the US, in collaboration with others, Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania alone has seen a drop of its elephant population from 40,000 to 13,000 in the past three years. The situation in the neighboring Kenya is not any better.

In many of the afflicted countries, corruption is blamed for the poaching menace. Poachers and dealers collude with wildlife management officials, security agents and customs officials to smuggle out large consignments of animal products. When caught and taken to court, they use bribes to manipulate judiciary officials in exchange for light bail conditions and lenient sentences.

In recent years, a number of Chinese nationals have being caught with wildlife products in Kenya. The sad thing is that most of those caught ended up paying small fines and getting away without much sweat. Only one Chinese national is so far known to be doing prison time - two and half years, for attempting to smuggle elephant products out of the country.

Poaching and smuggling of ivory are a billion-dollar industry believed to be run and controlled by international crime syndicates. It has been established that these cartels provide the advanced technology equipment in use by poachers, including helicopters, darting equipment, night vision scopes, and weapons with silencers. It is these syndicates too that are suspected to be funding terrorist activities in Africa and beyond.

It is my view that other than drug trafficking, the ivory trade poses the biggest challenge to the survival of humanity in Africa. It destroys a country's national resources and interferes with economic growth since many African countries depend on wildlife and tourism for survival.

Recently, the Chinese government made a token donation of anti-poaching equipment to Kenya to demonstrate its seriousness in dealing with poaching; but what the Chinese government must do is to shut down its internal market for these products and destroy all stock-piles of ivory that exist in the country. It must also be willing to collaborate fully with African countries in identifying and arresting those Chinese nationals responsible for involvement in this trade.

Short of this, Beijing authorities will only be paying lip-service to Africa on conservation matters, as it continues to exploit the continent's raw materials for its economic growth.

And that is my say.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


I am now convinced. It doesn't matter who President Uhuru Kenyatta appoints to top positions in his Government the reaction from his critics would be the same.

This week, the Kenyan leader announced the much-awaited changes in the Diplomatic Service. Within minutes, social media platforms were awash with criticisms of the appointments. Some dubbed them tribal while others insinuated that they were meant to dilute the raging referendum debate. Yet more lampooned the President for including on the list political "losers" and "retirees," as if those individuals are not Kenyans.

Such criticisms are expected considering the seniority of the positions and the high stakes involved. My feeling however is that the President did much better this time around in terms of spreading the appointments across geographical lines than he did when he chose his Cabinet and appointed Principal Secretaries last year.

He must have taken into account criticisms widely expressed in the media that the Jubilee leadership was insensitive to the feelings of Kenyans on matters of government selections, and that the country was heading backwards towards the days of his predecessors when nepotism and ethnicity were rampant.

The fact that he listened to Kenyans' wishes is commendable.

We must appreciate, however, that Kenya is a nation of forty-two tribes. We cannot expect each one of these and their many sub-tribes to be represented every time senior government appointments are made. That is impossible. What the government should be expected to do is to embrace the spirit of inclusivity, adhere to the Constitution and give as many communities as possible a chance to serve.

Although the battle now shifts to Parliament where each one of the appointees will undergo vetting as per the requirements of the Constitution, I am convinced that all will pass. My only request is for Parliament to expedite the clearance process  - and not drag it unnecessarily - so that the nominees can report to their stations as soon as possible. Some of the positions have been vacant for a fairly long period of time and require immediate occupation.

Kenya's foreign policy has been evolving since the early days of independence when the primary focus was on politics: non-alignment and non-interference in other countries' affairs. Now, Kenya's presence in the international arena is more than political diplomacy. It is on tangible economic results brought about by hard-nosed diplomacy.

The people selected this past week to represent us abroad are qualified individuals with knowledge of their country and its needs; and skills to make things happen for Kenya.

We can only wish them well.

And that is my say.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


President Uhuru Kenyatta ends his five-day visit to the United States this weekend and returns home with a bag full of goodies, plenty of goodwill and lots of lessons learnt from a series of consultative meetings with American leaders over a number of critical issues bearing on Kenya.

Only days ago, relations between Kenya and the United States seemed frosty, thanks to a conflation of highly contentious issues ranging from America's perceived reluctance to appreciate Uhuru's win, to ICC indictments, to what many saw as Kenya cold-shouldering the US in favour of China.

All this explained President Kenyatta's initial procrastination over his participation in the US-Africa Forum in Washington DC. He can now look back and smile that his decision to join other African leaders in the American capital was one of the most important moves in his presidency.

While in the United States, Kenyatta was able to rekindle interest in Kenya not only amongst investors but also amongst Americans in general. After all, not many Americans had heard or seen the new Kenyan leader before the visit. Through this short stay and very successful media appearances, the American people are in a better position now to appreciate Kenya. The good news is that, every time Kenyatta got an opportunity to speak, he advanced the country's position eloquently, and effectively.

The visit also gave the President and his officials an opportunity to review and assess issues of security, health, trade, and investment, among others, with policy makers of the world's most powerful nation; and also hear hard truths on such sensitive subjects in Africa as corruption, human rights, the rule of law and women empowerment. The Americans did not mince words and called for sweeping reforms by governments.

Meanwhile, as the meetings were ongoing in Washington DC, a vicious propaganda war was raging in the social media between supporters of Jubilee and those of the opposition CORD. While government publicists tried to paint Kenyatta's every move as positive, opposition spin doctors went full throttle to rubbish everything.  Ridiculous photo shops were added for effect. It was a hilarious interchange but one that took Kenyans away from positive matters of nation building.

In conclusion, I hope the President is returning home with fresh ideas on how to tackle insecurity, corruption, international money-laundering, food security and drug trafficking, matters were adequately discussed during the various meetings at the Summit.

And that is my say.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


Many years ago as a young journalist I was sponsored - together with three other fellow scribes - to spend a year at the Times of India newspaper in Bombay, India. By the end of our tour, one of us had "married" an Indian girl. I have enclosed the word "married" in quotation marks because none of us three witnessed the wedding, or, any exchange of vows between the two.

Although the petite Christian girl did not travel to Kenya with her spouse - who incidentally was already married at home - I know for sure their love flourished for sometime until the real wife found out about the secret liaison. As I write this, at least one child from that encounter exists in India.

Since those days, I have known a number of Kenyan men married to Indian women. The only difference between the cases I know and the love story of Timothy Khamala and Sarika Patel is that the men in the former instances were educated urbanites already endowed with careers, and even perhaps, worldly wealth.

In contrast, the scenario now trending in our media is of an ordinary man with a nondescript, rural background, who has fallen in love with an educated, polished woman, of a middle class Asian business pedigree. Had Khamala been a man of professional status and residing in one of the posh Nairobi estates - instead of the rustic village environment he is in - this story would not have taken the kind of frenzied dimension it has taken, and the "paparazzi" media would not be camping at Webuye to monitor every minute of this couple's humble life.

It is a fact though that the Khamala/Sarika's is a human interest story. The world thrives on such juicy episodes, and that is why, the mainstream media - here and afar - as well as the social platforms, took the story and ran with it.

For us in Kenya, this story has magically provided a dynamic diversion from the daily menu of politics and crime. It has, albeit temporarily, got Kenyans focused on a news-cum-entertainment story that is likely to rekindle the old debate about race relations.

Had there been a fully, meaningful integration of races in our country, the Khamala/Sarika saga would perhaps have attracted only a sentence in the major dailies. Instead, the whole event assumed the life of a circus. To me, that is "Much Ado About Nothing."

The important thing here are the lessons we must learn from this rare event: that there is still hope for our nation to bring not only races but tribes together; that our cultures, as rich as they are, should not - even with the best intentions - get in the way of personal relationships.

As the Kenyan Indian Member of Parliament for Kisumu East, Shakeel Shabbir - himself married to a Luhya - said, the Asian community remains a closed community in a global village. Kenya Indians, just like all other ethnic communities in the country, must open up their doors and allow marriages across racial lines.

Having said all that, we should leave the two love birds alone to enjoy their blissful relationship. Neither the elders nor the media should come in between. This way, we will be acting "normally," and we will show the world that after fifty years of independence, race is no longer a big issue in Kenya.

And that is my say.