Sunday, September 27, 2009

Uncalled for sideshows

Sunday Nation 27 September 2009

Parliament’s decision to annul the President’s reappointment of Justice Aaron Ringera and his two deputies at the Kacc has elicited a lot of optimism among Kenyans, with many rapturously declaring that the House has at last seen the light and is now making decisions in the public interest.

MPs were seen to be reforming from their usual self-seeking ways that had been signalled right from the beginning of their term by their insistence on tax-free pay, likening this patriotic injunction to a pathway to poverty.

On every national issue that has confronted them, our legislators have voted with their stomachs, and before every major vote in Parliament, members have been hosted by the protagonists and allegedly given inducements to influence them to vote one way or the other.

It was extremely suspicious when they displayed a rare bipartisan camaraderie as they hit out at the President’s decision to unilaterally reappoint the Kacc team. Reports about a deal linking Justice Ringera’s fate and that of the Mau water catchment should have set the alarm bells ringing.

A further pointer to the mischief afoot was the content of the debate in the august House. Apart from a few contributors who restricted themselves to the President’s conduct, most of the MPs tore into the Kacc director’s apparent ineptitude, challenging him to demonstrate even one successful prosecution of a “big fish” for corruption related offences.

This they did knowing full well that the Kacc is not empowered to prosecute or sit in judgment over any of the suspects, big or small! The agency’s role is limited to investigating and recommending for prosecution anyone suspected of corrupt dealings.

Indeed, in their own defence, the Kacc hierarchy produced a report detailing their activities toward fulfilling their mandate. It turned out that many politicians have been investigated and recommended for prosecution, and some still have cases pending in court over corruption.

Our MPs are not blind to all these facts, having created the legislation governing Kacc’s work. It, therefore, defeats logic to keep hearing from MPs and a cross-section of Kenyans that the Kacc has failed to prosecute or convict any big fish over corruption. These functions fall outside its mandate.

Further, Kacc’s failures or successes and those of its director were not the subject of discussion in Parliament when it was debating President Kibaki’s purportedly extra-legal actions. In an ideal situation, Parliament should have examined the President’s action and concluded on its legality or otherwise, and spared the individuals concerned the baseless sideshows over their perceived failings.

The Kacc, to paraphrase Judge Ringera’s words, has been crushed between the hammer of political demagogues and the anvil of the disillusioned public.

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

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Death Threats?

I have been writing opinion articles for over two years now. I have learnt to deal with the barrage of criticism that follows many of the articles I write, and I even take time to respond to each and every mail I receive in connection with these pieces.
I have been vaguely threatened before, but I did not take the threats seriously because they were made in the context of angry outbursts and could not therefore be taken further than the utterances.
Two days ago, a dark coloured Toyota RAV4 followed me upto a few meters from my gate, and then turned back, and I would have thought nothing of it had I not noticed yesterday that someone had cut through my perimeter fence while I was away. Apart from cutting a man-sized space through barbed wire, the perpetrator had also cleared through the live fence, and it seemed as though preparations had been made for an attack on my home at an appropriate time.
I am taking this seriously now. I will go this afternoon to the Central Police Station in Eldoret town to report this.
I hope these incidents are not related, and that they are not related to my writing or other work, for I do not intend to change any of that!
So, there!
Lest I be accused of not having spoken when I should have!

The bane of tribal loyalty will be our undoing

Sunday Nation 20 September 2009

Kenya Bureau of Standards CEO Kioko Mang’eli was recently relieved of his job in unclear circumstances after what was reported as a disagreement with the office of the Prime Minister. The Industrialisation minister implicated the head of the public service in the sacking, who now claims Mang’eli falsified information to justify a huge pay rise. This allegation was denied by the bureau.

Soon after the issue was reported in the press, a fresh angle was introduced, with certain politicians from Eastern Province fulminating that Dr Mang’eli was sacked as part of a wider scheme against Kambas. The CEO then came out fighting and declared he would not quit.

Ever since the destruction of the Mau forest complex entered the national consciousness, a clear tribal perspective became evident. Some Rift Valley politicians went to town with allegations that “our people are being finished”, and that their community was being blamed for all sorts of ills, ostensibly in a conspiracy to demonise them and prevent someone from the community from ascending to power.

Other groups of politicians from other communities are also playing the same game, ratcheting up the rhetoric on protecting the Mau complex, and issuing statement after statement to counter those issued by their perceived protagonists on the other side of the tribal divide.

There have even been noises about there being a conspiracy by the rest of the country to “gang up . . . to block any political appointees from the Mount Kenya region” to quote a letter in the Daily Nation on Tuesday last week.


Indeed, it is instructive that, barring a few ideologically driven Kenyans with no tribal motive whatsoever, most of the actors on the national stage have been taking a blatantly tribal line.

This tendency is bringing to the fore the role of the tribe in our national discourse but, as usual, we are keen to camouflage it as pursuing the “national interest” or some other politically correct euphemisms.

If there is such a thing as a Kenyan, why is it that most of our political disputes follow such a predictably tribal pattern? Why is it that those who speak out loudly in defence of Mr Aaron Ringera today are led by a vanguard of politicians mostly from his tribe and kindred communities?

Why is it that these are the same fellows expected to spring to the President’s defence whenever he is attacked for some executive misstep or other?

Why is it that whenever the Prime Minister is attacked for whatever perceived political failing he may have, the first “Kenyans” to rush to his defence are from his own ethnic community? Conversely, why is he more likely to receive flak from members of communities other than his own?

The situation has degenerated to such an extent that no public servant can be legitimately censured without a subsequent chorus from his or her community alleging some vendetta against them. The sum of this is that mediocrity is being perpetuated at the tax-payer’s expense in the name of tribal loyalty due to the ethno-political decisions being made by all branches of government.

Before the last General Election, there was heated debate on all sorts of topics that were thought to have the potential to influence the outcome of the election. In a commentary published in the Daily Nation on November 29, 2007, I argued that it was not edifying to listen to the arguments being advanced by analysts of all shades of opinion, and that all they needed to do was to utter their surnames and their opinions would become clear to all and sundry.

To be honest, despite the experience we had after the last General Election as a result of this sort of politics, we have learnt absolutely nothing. On any topic of discussion, all one needs to do is to find out what the main tribal chieftains on the political field think, and the opinion of most of their tribesmates would not be much different.

This position prevails on almost every national issue, from conservation of the Mau forest to the reappointment of Justice Ringera and even the rulings by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Kenneth Marende. That Kenyans sit idly by and sometimes applaud and repeat the same opinions held by their “leaders” indicates that we are least bothered by them.

This mentality robs us of the right to seek change in our national governance platform, given that any systematic change would significantly overturn the applecart in favour of meritocratic considerations that would give tribal loudmouths a wide berth.

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

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dependence on luck ruining our sports

Sunday Nation 13 September 2009

Perusing through the sports pages of our dailies, one may be forgiven for thinking that Kenya is a nation of the most unlucky people in the world.

Before any major tournament, there is plenty of hype despite the fact that very little advance preparation is done or even contemplated. After the inevitable heavy thrashing, there are recriminations and protests, as though the very best team we had lost by some unlucky happenstance.

Last week’s defeat of Harambee Stars by a solitary goal away to Mozambique, as well as the disastrous performance by the “Hit Squad” at the world boxing championships in Milan are examples of this sort of attitude that seems so pervasive in all spheres of Kenyan life that it can be considered integral in our national psyche.

Most of the problems in our sports have been exacerbated by the realisation by politicians that the fastest route to political Nirvana is through sports administration in this country.

Many clubs and sports federations today count, among their leaders, failed and aspiring politicians marking their time until the next General Election when they will don their party colours and hit the campaign trail with the clubs counted as feathers in their caps.

As a result, the same wrangles that characterise our national political landscape have found another battleground in sports, and a look at the football landscape in this country demonstrates just how deleterious this can be.

No idea

Today, the average football fan has no idea who runs the sport in this country, with a plethora of private companies and individuals each contending for a piece of the pie.

The national team is often unsure who hires even the team coach, and at some point the situation was such that there were two coaches before the Prime Minister waded into the murk and introduced German Antoine Hey as the new coach.

Even as the team jetted into Maputo for the match described as “make-or-break” for them, the media was awash with reports that the government could not afford to pay the coach!

Our subsequent collective surprise at the dismal performance by our national team is symptomatic of the national attitude to success, that it is due mostly to luck and Godly favour.

Hard work, planning and foresight are alien in the lexicon of the average Kenyan, and it is no surprise that the commonest peeve for most Kenyans is that the coach is earning over a million shillings monthly and has not ‘delivered’.

The malady afflicting football administration in this country is replicated across most sports federations nationally. Most of them are steeped in juvenile wrangles that result in stagnation of the game due to the oversized egos of the protagonists.

Even games like chess, thought to be played by individuals of above average intelligence, are equally embroiled in similar circumstances with many of the players constantly at variance with whatever team happens to be managing the sport.

Everybody expects miracles with little investment, and is surprised that this does not happen more often. Similarly, we condemn our entire political class for their obvious failings and corruption and then froth at the mouth in their defence whenever their Karma catches up with them.

Crisis management

Our leadership in all areas consists mostly of crisis management, and the little planning we carry out is short-term and often poorly organised.

It seems that the only reason our athletes continue to perform well despite the prevailing problems in leadership may be due to the fact that athletics is often an individual sport, and Kenya has a depth of talent that is difficult to hold down, even on a bad day.

Sports that require even a small degree of organised preparation and investment in the future are doomed to fail in this country because our enduring vision of the future consists solely of a vague picture of ourselves with fatter bellies than we have currently and a coterie of admirers singing our praises.

This is the same fate that faces the country on the political front, where we seem to have placed all our hope on a rapidly ageing cohort of politicians whose names were already in the headlines even before the vast majority in the current population was born!

The situation prevails despite our protestations that it is time for generational change in leadership if this nation’s future is to be guaranteed.

What we need to realise is that success has very little to do with luck or supernatural intervention, but is often the result of meticulous hard work and planning.

As long as we continue sitting back and waiting for our lucky break or divine intervention, we are doomed to continue lamenting about our poor lot even as other less endowed countries continue on their journey towards prosperity.

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

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Don’t bribe anybody, for whatever reason

Sunday Nation 06 September 2009

There has been heated debate about President Kibaki’s decision to reappoint Mr Justice Aaron Ringera to head the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission.

Some of the arguments have focused on the fact that he ignored the provisions of the law that stipulates that the director and his assistants should be appointed on the advice of the advisory board.

Attempting to unravel the legal implications of the President’s decision would be an exercise in futility for, in Kenya, it has become clear in recent history that anything goes.

It may be more useful to interrogate the nature of the cacophony being generated on behalf of a body many Kenyans treat with indifference at best.

Since the formation of the anti-corruption authority, questions have continually been raised about commission’s efficacy in combating corruption, with many insinuations being made about the big fish going free while the occasional small fry get caught and punished.

It is common talk that in many corruption scandals, the real masterminds go scot-free. But where do the so-called “big fish” go? It does not take a genius to see where they are. The who is who in Kenya’s corrupt past currently populate the highest echelons of governance in this country, as well as being celebrated “captains of industry”.

Indeed they are cheered whenever they show their faces, and many of them only need to whisper a few incoherent sentences before they are offered tribal chieftainships and political leadership.

Some even occupy prime positions in our religious organisations, and get healthy chunks of airtime in the mass media with their crusades for righteousness and repentance.

The same Kenyans that fete those they allege stole their birthright are the loudest noisemakers when it comes to condemning the anti-corruption bodies in this country and enumerating their perceived failures.

Another interesting observation to be made in our peculiar country is that once a prominent individual is accused of corrupt practices, he often retreats to the safety of his tribal homeland and proceeds to issue threats to the rest of the country and the government in particular about the dangers of targeting his “community”.

The spectre of bloodshed is often invoked at this point, and often the threats prove to be quite effective because the accusers quickly fall silent and the status quo remains unchanged.

It is, therefore, highly duplicitous for people who do not want justice to be done to their corrupt sons to turn around and accuse the government and its anti-corruption organs of doing nothing to rid the country of this malignant vice.

Many Kenyans do not stop to ask themselves what their role is in the perpetuation of corruption in this country.

It must be remembered that when the National Rainbow Coalition government snatched power from the vilified Moi administration, wananchi briefly styled themselves “Wenye Nchi” (owners of the country) and loudly demanded an end to business as usual. The result was a plethora of citizens arrest of corrupt government officials and exposure of corrupt deals at all levels of government.

The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission was not even being mentioned at this time, yet corrupt officials found it much more difficult to demand bribes and kick-backs.

As the Narc government settled into place, however, it came face to face with the allure of grand corruption and found it irresistible. Citizens lapsed back to their bribing ways and the only thing left was the endless lamentations about the anti-graft commission doing nothing to fight corruption.

All over the country, Kenyans are perpetuating corrupt practices. For instance, many owners of defective vehicles are bribing traffic police officers to turn a blind eye to their faults and allow them to carry passengers, often to gory ends.

Parents are still struggling to bribe recruitment officers for the police and the armed forces during their recruitment drives. Voters are registering twice to vote in elections in order to influence the outcome in favour of their candidates.

Parents are even buying examination papers from unscrupulous education officials to help their children get ahead academically. Patients are colluding with corrupt hospital staff to inflate their bills so that they can pocket the difference from insurance companies.

In fact, crooks are even buying their freedom in our legal justice system! The examples of so-called “petty corruption” are legion, and yet all anybody talks about is the failure of the “Ringera team” to control and eradicate corruption from our midst.

It is time we all played our part in this fight; we must recognise that if all Kenyan citizens refused to bribe or steal other people’s property, there would be no need for Mr Ringera’s team in the first place.

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