Monday, April 27, 2009

Politicians blind to what Kenyans really want


Sunday Nation, April 26 2009, Page 19.

The release of a recent opinion poll indicated that the majority of Kenyans do not believe this grand coalition will last upto 2012, and that they actually would welcome an opportunity to elect a new team to run the affairs of the State.

Interestingly, instead of listening to the voice of the people, politicians are once again mistaking their own personal interest for the welfare of their constituents.

Their argument that “Kenyans are not ready for another election” smacks of transparent self-interest.


Several reasons may be put forward for the calls for early polls, but the biggest reason would be the apparent paralysis in government.

Key decisions are being made late or not at all because the coalition partners keep second-guessing each other, unsure how the other will react.

The current arrangement where there are practically two governments in power is untenable in the long run. What is needed is a government with clear lines of responsibility and an ultimate office where the proverbial buck stops.

When religious leaders called for fresh elections they were quickly condemned by the political class and asked to first attend to the logs in their eyes before trying to remove the specks in the eyes of the political elite.

Opinion columnists followed suit, and both arms of the grand coalition asked the “media” to stop fuelling unrest with “irresponsible journalism”.

Now the ordinary Kenyans are speaking, and they are saying that no matter who won the election, they all voted for bountiful harvests, better security, education and health, none of which is forthcoming.

No Kenyan voted for the current discord in government, and indeed no Kenyan voted for the triumvirate of the current President, Vice-President and Prime Minister to serve in the same government.

The three and their cohorts found themselves working together after a bungled election and the resultant mayhem, so none of them should delude themselves that they have the overwhelming mandate from Kenyans to do as they wish.

The argument that a fresh election is impossible at this point in time since Kenyans have neither healed nor reconciled with their neighbours does not hold much water.

At the current pace of doing things, Kenyans will be no better off in 2012 than they are presently. In fact, all indications are that they will be worse off if nothing is done now to forestall inevitable conflict.

Little focus
There is very little focus on national cohesion and reconciliation today.

The meagre peace-building efforts going on in the countryside are being supported by non-governmental organisations and humanitarian agencies with very little support from the government.

Instead of berating Kenyans for telling them to face them at the ballot, our “leaders” should finalise the formation of the transitional electoral and boundaries machinery and hopefully put in place a new constitution before paving way for a fresh election.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Split of health ministry a failed political move

Sunday Nation 19 April 2009, Page 22

As Kenyans mark one year since the swearing-in of the grand coalition cabinet, it is almost unanimously agreed that the government has failed in all the key performance measures it set through the four agenda items listed in the National Accord.

Despite attempts by those in government to put on a brave face and pretend that all was well, their disagreements dramatically emerged when talks meant to evaluate the coalition’s performance on key indicators collapsed over the agenda.

One of the most important social indicators of a government’s performance is the health of its populace.

During election campaigns, many of the pledges made included improvements in the health sector, with some promising free or subsidised health care, while others promised better terms and conditions of service for health workers.

Health docket

When the Cabinet was announced this time last year, many were eager to find out who would hold the important Health docket and what sort of ideological bent the ministry would take. Instead, we were rewarded with two Health ministries, one in charge of medical services and the other in charge of public health.

How the determination was made that medical services and public health are distinct, separable entities was left to the imagination of Kenyans.

As a result of the split of the ministry of Health, there has been a duplication of bureaucracy and expenditure without any discernible improvement in service delivery. What we are treated to are daily squabbles over which ministry is in charge of what activity or funds.

Indeed, in many offices in the ministry of Health one will today find two heads, one representing the ministry of Medical Services and the other representing the Public Health ministry.

This is the situation prevailing at the National Aids/STD Control Programme (NASCOP) and at the provincial level there are two senior medical officers generally duplicating each others’ roles in service delivery.

The two ministers have taken to communicating through the media, as though they do not get to meet during Cabinet meetings. Last week they engaged in theatrics over the registration of a body to regulate nutritionists and dieticians, with one minister using the head of nutrition services and the other using the deputy to run parallel bodies.

Meanwhile, the cost of health care continues to climb, and many are now seeking health services only when they are very severely ill. Services offered at most government health facilities remain quite basic.

Money that should have been used to improve services is instead being used to maintain a parallel bureaucracy whose net effect is just to enrich individuals and massage the elephantine egos of ministers and their sidekicks.

Indeed, the government appears to be so flush with cash that it is even considering building a “state-of-the-art” referral hospital in Karen!

Why they do not use the money to improve Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital as well as the provincial hospitals defeats logic.

As another big hospital is built in Nairobi, many provincial and large district hospitals are still grappling with staff shortages and lack of equipment and supplies. Key facilities at these large hospitals with huge catchment areas have been built and are maintained by NGOs and other donors.

Service delivery has suffered due to this ambiguity and lack of clear policy direction. The ministry of Health was in the process of implementing a strategic plan, and the split threw a spanner into the works by stalling the process and blurring the lines of responsibility for all those involved.

Indeed, there are many functionaries at Afya House who are no longer sure who their political boss is, and others have multiple supervisors spanning the two ministries.

The time has come for Kenyans to get serious in demanding accountability and good governance from those they elect to serve them. We must stop making excuses for the two main members of the coalition.

Whenever things appear to stall, they often come out blaming their coalition partners for the failure, forgetting that by agreeing to serve in the same Cabinet they also agreed to share responsibility.

Sharing responsibility should not only be done during the good times such as when they are appointing CEOs of parastatals and heads of government departments. The partners must be ready to share responsibility even when they fail.

Kenyans must hold them collectively responsible for the problems they face every day when they seek health services in government facilities and come away disappointed.

It is hoped that as they scramble to replace the minister for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs, the “principals” will be persuaded to re-unite the ministry of Health under one political head in order to truly improve service delivery.

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Migingo and Mau show how State has failed us

Sunday Nation 12 April 2009, Page 24

A number of disturbing occurrences are going on in this country while those with the responsibility of safeguarding the welfare of the citizenry are practically sleeping on the job.

Although a lot has been said about them, there is troubling silence from officialdom, with senior government officials only busying themselves with politically correct survival measures. Sample the following two instances.

Further talks

The Government of the Republic of Uganda recently hoisted a flag on territory most people know is Kenya’s. After some dithering and dissembling, the Kenya Government entered into negotiations with junior functionaries from Uganda, resulting in an agreement on “joint patrols” and a timeframe for further talks.

The agreement was promptly dismissed by junior patrolmen in the Ugandan armed forces and they vowed to continue controlling the territory “until they get orders from their superiors”.

Meanwhile, the Kenyan citizens living on Migingo island are paying tax to the Uganda Revenue Authority, the Ugandan flag flutters in the breeze from Lake Victoria and the Uganda People’s Defence Force patrols the island.

As if that is not bad enough, the Kenya government dispatched the Commissioner of Police to Kampala to negotiate! He appears to have been mostly ignored by government officials in Uganda, and there is no indication of what he achieved there.

All this time our senior government officials continue to enjoy their cushy positions and club memberships, our military continues to organise “joint exercises” and enjoy a tax-free existence, and our politicians continue to bicker.

In the second scenario, scientists have come up with incontrovertible findings to the effect that destruction of the Mau forest complex will lead to the death and desertification of most of the western part of this country. This vital ecological lifeline may yet be salvaged if those currently resident in the forest are asked to leave and trees are replanted.

As is customary in these parts, this is the point when politicians with vested interests start crawling out of the woodwork making all sorts of threats.
Further examination of the evidence indicates that most of the noise makers own huge tracts of irregularly allocated land in the forest.

Yet without batting an eyelid they seek to present themselves as champions for the rights of “their people” and make political mileage out of a matter of survival for this country.

In all this grandstanding, nobody is offering an alternative solution to counter the apocalyptic scenario the scientists have presented. Instead, some people take it upon themselves to cause further destruction of the forest by setting the forest on fire, ostensibly to create more space for human settlements!

As usual, the Kenya Government dithers and prevaricates in its response. It appears clear that nothing will be done about Mau forest in the near future, at least until after the next General Election.

In jeopardy

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the future of our children is in jeopardy, but most of those in power care little since they do not see themselves in that future.

As it is, they are fully preoccupied strategising how to become the country’s next CEO in a few years’ time.

They do not mind if the country ceases to exist in the next 30 years, since most of them will have kept their appointments with their Maker by then, leaving their children and grandchildren to grapple with the messes they leave behind.

These two scenarios are symptomatic of this government’s handling of critical matters, and it is doubtful that one could find better illustrations of a government that is not in control of its own territory.

Put together with corruption at all levels of government, armed militias freely roaming the countryside and invisibility of government in large swathes of this country, the indicators of a failed state are all in place.

Kenyans need to ask themselves some really hard questions if we are to emerge from this phase of our history with some lessons learnt.

Whose interests does this government serve? Is there any among the entire political leadership who thinks beyond their stomachs and the next General Election?

It may be time, as argued by many in these columns, for us to earnestly start the search for alternative leadership to save this country from these predatory leaders with no vision for our future.

For those that truly hold reformist ideals, this is the time to stand up to be counted. We must begin pushing a pro-Kenya agenda, and push aside those that persist in chauvinistic, self-centred politics.

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

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Riotous students did what they see leaders do

Sunday Nation 05 April 2009, Page 19

As we reflect on the actions of Kenyatta University students earlier this past week, it is amazing that a cross-section of Kenyans are expressing shock and outrage at the magnitude of destruction witnessed during the riot.

In a country where leaders have openly stated that violence is always one of the earliest options on the table in case of any sort of conflict, it is indeed baffling that whenever the violence is committed by “others”, it is branded barbaric and unacceptable.

However, when we feel outmanoeuvred by our perceived enemies we waste no time claiming “we were left with no choice” but to turn to violence. In the past we have justified the killing of fellow citizens on account of their holding opinions different from our own, or having surnames we consider “wrong”!

It has been argued several times before that this country is full of nauseating hypocrisy and, unless we end the charades and embark on the hard work of building a civilized society, we shall continue suffering these periodic convulsions of violence.

The events at Kenyatta University are deplorable, whatever angle one looks at them, and none of them are excusable for whatever reason.

Beginning with the university administration, claims that they were pressurising lecturers to alter examinations raise issues about the quality of the graduates and academic independence, a key ingredient in any “world-class” institution of higher learning.

If those claims are true, then the university has no claim to any sort of respect as a premier facility on the continent. Its standards would be lower than those expected of a village polytechnic.

The university’s perceived inflexibility in dealing with student grievances is also an indictment of its flawed management practices.

University statutes

Insisting on a straight and narrow interpretation of university statutes stifles honest engagement and foments the sort of festering feelings of resentment that are wont to erupt in periodic violence.

Reports of police brutality, with fatal shootings and allegations of sexual harassment, do not do much to improve the already battered image of the police force. A lot of restraint was needed in dealing with rioting students, especially due to the fact that most of the action took place at night and the police entered the student hostels.

The operation should have been led by a senior officer to ensure that the men remained under control and no live ammunition was used on the students.

The students themselves do not escape blame. Indeed, one could argue that the greatest weight of responsibility lies with them.

No matter what sort of grievances they were out to express, destroying property at the same university would not help them in any way. As a result of their actions, they will waste a lot of time out of campus and, when they do report back, they will definitely be slapped with a huge repair bill for the damage they left behind.

The violence and destruction of property at the university alienates the students from the majority of Kenyans who may have identified with their cause.

The lingering images in the eyes of the public are of burning hostels and offices, and students shouting unintelligible slogans at TV cameras.

Coming so soon after the demonstration by University of Nairobi students which turned into a looting orgy, this riot at Kenyatta University has lowered the reputation of the modern university student inestimably in the eyes of the public.

It will take a long time and sustained effort to rebuild this reputation and, for a long time, many employers will be looking at the graduates of these universities with a jaundiced eye.

The biggest hypocrites of all, in my opinion, are the politicians who took to soapboxes in their rural homes to condemn the actions of the university students, with some even exclaiming that nothing is beyond negotiation.

Straight face

This they uttered with a straight face a few days after indicating that some things are non-negotiable, including the National Accord that set up the Grand Coalition government!

It is time to acknowledge that we are a failing state, if indeed we have not completely failed as it were. We must retrace our footsteps and find out what went wrong with our idea of morality and personal responsibility.

When did we become a nation of juvenile whiners who only see things from their own perspective, and are ready to go to any lengths (including murder, plunder and rape) to get what we want?

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