Monday, March 30, 2009

Constitution review and national identity

By Lukoye Atwoli
(edited version published in the Sunday Nation 29 March 2009, Page 20)

The constitutional review debate is back in vogue in this country, with the formation of a ‘panel of experts’ to oversee the process. Many in Kenya hope this will be the final step in a long journey characterized by missteps and political brinkmanship aimed at scuttling the process. This optimism of many Kenyans is commendable, given our long history of wrangling over full-stops and commas in this document that we hold to be the key to everything.
Three weeks prior to the last general elections, I argued in the Daily Nation (06 December 2007) that the problem with this country is a lack of a defining national identity that can be codified into a constitutional order. In that article, I noted that without a consensus on what it means to be Kenyan, we cannot agree even on a national dress, let alone a constitution!
Subsequent events last year proved this contention right as we stared civil war in the face, and indeed some would argue that we actually went to war, and only outside intervention saved the nation from total collapse.
As we embark on a new constitution-making process, Kenyans must this time seize the opportunity to seriously confront this identity crisis and come out knowing themselves better than before. Failure to define ‘Kenyanness’ before embarking on constitutional review will have one of two possible results: One, a document that does not speak to the people’s perspectives, needs and aspirations, or two, a lack of agreement resulting in another merry-go-round to the next general election where the constitution will be on the agenda.
The so-called committee of experts may feel the need to embark on a national tour collecting views from the citizenry as is the tradition with all Kenyan committees and commissions. As it does this, it is hoped that they will not go round asking ‘Wanjiku’ what sort of constitution she wants. She has amply demonstrated several times in the past that she does not know what the fuss is all about as long as she gets food on the table, security and equal opportunity.
On matters to do with constitution-making, Wanjiku demonstrated her singular insularity and propensity to listen to and amplify the opinion of the reigning local warlord. This is not to say that the citizenry should not be involved in constitution-making. On the contrary, making a new constitution without the involvement of the citizens would be catastrophic since there would be no sense of ownership and therefore no obligation to observe the tenets espoused in the document.
The important thing about the involvement of Wananchi is the level of their involvement. The Bomas model was flawed because it sought to use ‘democratic methods’ in arriving at a constitution. Collecting people from various corners of the republic, most ‘elected’ to represent their regional king-pins, and asking them to engage in high-level conversations on a lofty document called ‘constitution’ was really taking a joke too far!
The role of the panel of experts as it engages Kenyans from all walks of life will not be to ask them which clause they want expunged or included in the new constitution. Their role will be to enquire from the citizens what they consider makes one a Kenyan. That is the only question Wanjiku should be asked to answer.
Her views on what makes on a Kenyan will then be collated from all corners of the republic, and with this information, it will be easy for a small group to meet and develop a document that will make this vision of a Kenyan a reality. The panel may then be required to include provisions that harmonise this ‘Kenyan’ with an ideal that is agreed upon by the entire body of citizenry, and meets minimum international standards.
The makers of the United States constitution began by framing their concept of what constitutes an American, and their vision has endured for over two hundred years. The makers of our independence constitution went to Lancaster House in the then colonial power’s backyard to haggle over power and how it should be distributed among themselves and their ‘communities’, and even after agreeing on this, went ahead to mutilate the resultant document ending up with the cross-breed mongrel we now call a constitution.
The legacy our founding fathers left us with is the same one they inherited from the British colonial government, one of ethnicised politics and sabre-rattling leaders who do not hesitate to rouse up tribal militia whenever their own interests are threatened. We now have the opportunity to right the wrongs meted on us by the independence leaders by coming up with a constitution that truly represents who we are and who we want to become.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

How does travel ban help Kenya?

Sunday Nation 22 March 2009 Page 25

The American ambassador has this past week announced that the United States Government has banned an unnamed Kenyan Cabinet minister and his family from travelling to the US.

This is not the first time the US is taking such a step and, indeed, many Western powers took similar steps against several ministers in the Narc administration over corruption allegations.
The latest ban may be met with varying reactions, with some people claiming that the US is interfering with our sovereignty and others insisting that many more deserve similar treatment in order to strike a blow against impunity in this country.

Others will not even notice the event, and will go on with their lives in blissful ignorance.

It may, however, be instructive to pause a while and ponder the implications of these moves meant to “nudge the government to take action against corruption”, in the words of the American Ambassador, Mr Michael Ranneberger.

Fight corruption

It must be stated in no uncertain terms that this is a government that does not need any more “nudges” to fight corruption or impunity, given the seismic jolts we have received as a nation in the recent past.

A sensible government would be hard at war, and anyone involved in corruption and other crimes against the state would be declared an enemy and dealt with accordingly.

However, no one in their right minds would accuse this government of being coherent, let alone sensible.

The envoy, while announcing the ban, declined to name the Cabinet minister involved, indicating, instead, that the man would be informed of the ban, and that his family would also be blocked from travelling to the United States.

This is a move that is guaranteed to have almost nil effect, and this cynicism is informed by the effect the previous visa bans had on the then government’s way of doing things.

Despite having about six ministers banned from travelling to the US and even the United Kingdom, the government continued with business as usual after a few token resignations, symbolic whitewashing and rapid reinstatement of the concerned ministers.

To this day, the rot continues to permeate perniciously through all echelons of power in this country.

Traditionally, people were literally pilloried in order not only to learn a lesson themselves and repent of the evil they had committed, but also to serve as a lesson to others with similar intentions.

The pillorying was a very public affair, and the individual concerned would be left exposed for all and sundry to express their disgust with him.

The modern justice system is a humane approximation of this medieval punishment, and it is, therefore, ridiculous to the extreme for someone to claim to be subjecting someone to the pillory while at the same time purporting to conceal the person’s identity for some obscure reason!

If, indeed, these Western governments are interested in ‘‘nudging’’ these poor corrupt countries like Kenya in the direction of greater transparency and responsibility in government, they must publicly identify individuals about whom adverse information is known in order for the ordinary citizen to see them for what they really are.

The tragedy of concealing their identity lies in the fact that they can continue to strut their stuff locally without fear of humiliation as long as they do not venture to the prohibited territories.

They can continue looting our coffers dry as they hypocritically exhort the citizen to keep to the straight and narrow.

They retain the freedom to harangue us about democracy and good governance, hastening to pompously pontificate about community interests and tribal spokesmen as insurance against local action against them.

Some may even gather the nerve to vie for the highest office in the land, safe in the knowledge that they cannot be stopped from representing the country at international fora like UN and AU meetings.

People banned from travelling to Western countries on account of corruption and impunity, including involvement in the post-election violence, must not be hidden under the cover of confidentiality and such arrant nonsense. We must be told who they are, so that even if we keep re-electing them to represent us at various levels, we do so with our eyes wide open.

Hot air

Unless the Americans and other governments are ready to reveal the identities of these individuals against whom they claim to have incontrovertible evidence of wrong-doing, they should spare us the hot air they spew forth every time they make announcements about visa bans and similar punitive measures.

It is better to continue in ignorance and conjecture than to know that there are individuals who, though proved corrupt and complicit in crimes against our nation, continue to sit at the pinnacle of executive power and decide government policy.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine;

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Scadal of Redirecting Education Funds

By Lukoye Atwoli
Published in the Sunday Nation, 15 March 2009, Page 19

Another chapter was written a few days ago in this sad phase of our history as a nation when the permanent secretary in the ministry of education, Prof Karega Mutahi, revealed that free education funds were channeled towards famine relief. The greatest success of the NARC government thus came to a shuddering halt as schools began sending children home for lack of funds to run their programs.
This comes at a time when the so-called free secondary education had also registered a resounding failure, with some schools charging more school fees than they were charging before the subsidies were introduced.
In any civilized society, the welfare and education of children and youth takes up a huge chunk of time and resources because such societies generally have leaders and populations that are forward-looking, and are able to plan several decades in advance. Indeed that is the hallmark of the so-called developed nations.
As we talk about vision 2030 and the industrialization plan, neglecting the education system for whatever reason is abandoning our future to uncertainty and inevitable turmoil. The current government is not only palming off the responsibility of planning for the future to some other as yet unknown entity, but also actively working towards making it extremely difficult for future governments to achieve anything positive.
By interfering with or otherwise neglecting the education system this government is telling all and sundry that it has run out of ideas to generate revenue or plan for emergencies, and will instead feel nothing about raiding children’s funds to deal with other perceived emergencies. It is behaving like the cold-hearted parent who comes home with food during a famine and insists on eating the choicest pieces of the meal first before throwing the left-overs to the children.
The government cannot pretend that it saw no other avenues of raising cash for famine relief when our MPs, Ministers and other ‘constitutional office holders’ continue to enjoy tax-free perks and ride in huge fuel-guzzlers paid for and maintained by the tax-paying citizenry.
The Office of the President budget balloons untouched despite official reluctance to engage meaningfully with aggressors from neighboring countries who are busy annexing portions of our country as we wring our hands and mumble about diplomacy. As our children stay at home for lack of education funds, money is being allocated for non-existent projects while even more is siphoned away in the name of shady operators in the maize and oil industries!
At the same time government functionaries are busy worrying about who should be paid more between the Vice-President and the Prime Minister. Before the dispassionate observer has had time to digest these goings-on, it is revealed that investigations into Anglo-Leasing scams have hit a brick wall and the stolen money given up for lost! The Goldenberg affair is already being referred to as a ‘ghost, and indeed one would be hard pressed to comprehensively inventory all the scams, past and present, that are bleeding our treasury dry.
The way we treat our children is the mark of how far we have come along the evolutionary ladder from the Neanderthal days towards a stable civilization. That we choose to let children starve and go without education is an indictment against this generation, and it lays the foundation for the future disintegration of this country.
It has been stated repeatedly in this columns that our politicians have no vision of a future beyond the next elections. The events of the recent past vindicate this position, and if we continue along this trajectory, it may be fair to ask Kenyans to start preparing for the inevitable Armageddon.
The children whose education we are treating so cavalierly will turn into semi-literate managers of their inheritance, and they will deal with it in ways we can hardly imagine. The ‘leaders’ who are creating this sort of future for our youth will not live to enjoy their retirement in peace, for they shall be haunted by the hordes of jobless youth whose idea of morality will not go beyond filling their empty stomachs.
Indeed we got a taste of this during the demonstration by university students this past week. We should not feign surprise and ignorance when such ‘peaceful’ protests turn into looting sprees interspersed with acts of mindless violence, for that is what they are learning in the ‘university’ on the streets and in their homes.
Unless and until our country’s leadership start demonstrating that they value education as the foundation of development and progress, we shall continue groping in the dark, wondering why we keep lagging behind other countries.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Hague, Local Tribunal; Why Bother?

By Lukoye Atwoli
Edited Version published Sunday Nation 01 March 2009, Page 22

MANY POLITICIANS have recently come out and asked Mr Kofi Annan to dispatch the secret list from the report to the Hague tout suite. Their opinion probably represents that of most of their colleagues both in cabinet and in parliament, going by the rejection of the Bill establishing a local tribunal.
This issue leaves Kenyans in some sort of catch-22 situation, for even if by some miracle the government manages to resurrect the Tribunal Bill and bulldozes it through parliament to produce the institution suggested by Justice Waki and his team, justice will neither be delivered nor seen to be done.
Indeed even if Mr Annan follows the advice of the politicians and takes the ‘envelope’ to the Hague, justice will still not be done or seen to be done. Kenyans have created a nebulous web of complexity around an issue that seemed very simple one year ago- the pursuit of truth and justice to enable us to move forward as a nation.
We have managed to ethnicise the atrocities, and have even been promised fire and brimstone should there be a process that suggests that ‘one side’ was more culpable than the other. As we mark one year since the official cessation of hostilities at the end of February last year, we have reached yet another fork in our national moral journey, where we are obliged to make one decision or the other, and both do not look particularly promising.
Every nation in its history comes to this point at which the instruments of governance must be put under the microscope to determine whether they are serving the purposes for which they were set up or not. Kenya arrived at this juncture last year, and we are still grappling with the aftermath of our indecision after discovering that most state institutions are rotten to the core, and serve only the interests of a tiny cabal with their fingers in every pie.
Last year we discovered that we do not trust the judiciary to do the right thing. The main reason was that it was peopled by agents of the ‘executive’, and would therefore only do the bidding of its masters.
For a long time, we suspected that we could not trust our political or religious leaders to do the right thing when disaster beckoned. This was proven beyond any doubt last year when the country was in its direst need for leadership.
We also discovered that the management of our electoral system was wanting, and we moved with some haste to disband the body mandated with running our elections. Unfortunately, the process of replacing the body is wrought with the same malodorous practices that brought the discredited ECK into being.
Cronyism, ‘ethnic balance’ and partisanship seem to have been written into the very rules creating the new body, and there is no doubt in the mind of the sane Kenyan that the IIEC will be the same, or even worse, than its predecessor.
This duplicitous debate must now be brought to a close without further delay, as it is proving to be just as unproductive as it is circuitous. Kenyans must turn away from this false dichotomy of ‘Local Tribunal or the Hague’ and re-examine what it is they really want out of the leadership of this country. Listening to the politicians perpetuate this circus while we starve and ail will not get us anywhere.
It is time to stop the charades, and take drastic action to re-engineer the state. Let the international community busy itself with the so-called big fish at the Hague, while those of us who still believe in the beauty of our dream of a better Kenya set upon the task of making this dream a reality.
Let every Kenyan who is tired of the politics of ethnicity and war-mongering stand up to be counted. This is the time to speak out in any forum one is given, to send out a clear message to the political class: Enough is enough.
Individual politicians must speak for themselves, and stop this nonsense of ‘community spokesman’ that puts the lives of so many at the mercy of an individual’s whims. Kenyans should demonstrate that they learnt something from the debacle that was the last general election by refusing to be led like sheep to the slaughter.
Above all, we must begin holding our politicians to account, for instance by ensuring that all public rallies, funerals and weddings attended by them begin with a dressing down on account of their continued refusal to pay taxes and their perpetuation of the politics of hate and violence.
This may yet mark the beginning of the rebirth of the new Kenyan nation.