Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Violence threats must not derail wheels of justice

Sunday Nation 19 December 2010

As I finished writing this piece, I was watching the long-awaited announcement from The Hague on television at a public venue in Eldoret.

Some of those in the audience expressed fears that violence may break out following the naming of some high-ranking politicians.

A few minutes earlier, I had just read a report purporting to reveal plans for further ethnic cleansing in case some prominent politicians were named in the Ocampo List.

Just the previous day, I had had a conversation with some friends about the possible outcomes of the indictments, and the majority were also of the opinion that fresh hostilities were likely to break out if certain politicians were named.

This, therefore, appears to be the popular line -- that violence is inevitable if certain politicians are indicted over our so-called ‘‘political violence’’.

Indeed, this is not just a position held on the Kenyan street. On Monday last week, which was a public holiday, the President and Prime Minister called an urgent Cabinet meeting to discuss what to do about the Ocampo announcement.

They came out with a lame statement indicating that they will support a local tribunal to deal with the perpetrators of post-election violence.

Suddenly all sorts of busy-bodies started crawling out of the woodwork, as ‘‘elders’’ called on Ocampo to go easy on ‘‘our’’ suspects and let a ‘‘homegrown’’ solution deal with them.

A neglected ‘‘Tribunal Bill’’ drafted by Gitobu Imanyara was dusted and prepared for presentation to Parliament, with a promise of speedy passage to forestall the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutions.

Sovereignty and patriotism became buzzwords once again in this fight against the international criminal justice system.
In all this, the whole point of the ICC indictments was lost.

The memory of the hundreds of victims who perished, and hundreds of thousands who lost their homes and livelihoods, has been seriously desecrated as we rush to protect our own political ‘‘sons’’.

Many are ready to pour into the streets in defence of their indicted political leaders without thinking about the implication of such actions for the future generations.

The fact that our own government is reacting like a flock of panicked chicken to threats of violence indicates that the state does not have full and exclusive control over the instruments of violence.

This is one of the reasons that led to the cases being referred to The Hague in the first place and, despite passage of the new Constitution, the situation has not changed much.

More frighteningly, however, suspects in these trials have had the audacity to threaten Kenyans with dire consequences, and to cajole the government to acquiesce to their whims with regard to initiating a local tribunal.

It seems that the government is captive to these suspects and, therefore, Ocampo’s indictments must be regarded as an indictment of the entire political class.

In a civilised society, and ours is far from becoming one, William Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta, Henry Kosgey, Francis Muthaura, Hussein Ali and Joshua arap Sang would quietly organise their legal defences and confront the ICC with strong exculpatory evidence, leading to their speedy acquittals.

In Kenya, however, threats, bribery and old-boy networks always work to frustrate the justice system to such an extent that the eventual outcome is often meaningless to the victims.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine. www.lukoyeatwoli.com

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A psychoanalyst’s view of Kenya at 47

Sunday Nation 12 December 2010

According to the celebrated psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, a human being goes through eight ‘‘ages’’ before finally confronting the grave.

Characterised as stages of psychosocial development, Erikson described key dilemmas and tasks that an individual must navigate at each stage in order to successfully move to the next stage of development.

He described issues ranging from an infant’s struggle between trust and mistrust to the older person’s musings on ego integrity versus anguish and despair.

What applies to individuals may at times also apply to communities and nations. Within this model, Kenya would be an individual in middle adulthood, between the ages of 41 and 65.

The pre-requisite for a healthy transition into this stage is the successful navigation of the challenges of early adulthood (ages 21 to 40), including forming lasting relationships and ‘‘settling down’’ on the home front, establishing oneself in an occupation and initiating some process of giving back to society.

At this point, one may wonder if Kenya has really ‘‘settled down’’, or is still grappling with challenges she should have resolved several years ago. Are we really ready for middle adulthood?

In middle adulthood, the key task is referred to as generativity, a process by which persons guide the oncoming generation, or make efforts to improve society in one way or another.

Failure to achieve generativity results in a state of rudderless stagnation. Many individuals who have difficulties in this stage of development end up with what is popularly referred to as a ‘‘mid-life crisis’’, a period of intense emotional turmoil due to perceived and real failures in an individual’s life.

As Kenya celebrates her 47th birthday, what diagnosis would the psychoanalyst give her? Would our psychoanalyst be satisfied that Kenya is fulfilling her role in generativity, or would the final diagnosis be one of hopeless stagnation or an even more destructive ‘‘mid-life crisis’’?

Has Kenya raised her children well, sheltering them from the vagaries of this world while allowing them to pick up useful lessons for their own journey in life?

An honest appraisal of our country’s development would lead to only one answer: A resounding No! Kenya has failed to successfully deal with most of the developmental tasks Erikson set for an individual of her age.

At 47, she is still emotionally immature, throwing violent tantrums whenever her childish demands are not met.

Her latest tantrum resulted in the death of over 1,000 of her own children, and the intervention of her neighbours to try and minimise the damage was received with singular equivocation.

At 47, Kenya has not been able to develop a cogent set of values for her children, many of whom are now starting their own families with little guidance.

In fact, as she contemplates her past, one would forgive her if she fell into a period of prolonged ‘‘mid-life crisis’’.
However, all is not lost. Our neighbours’ intervention after the latest tantrum resulted in stricter rules of conduct, complete with a set of enforcers called Moreno-Ocampo and Kofi Annan.

They have helped us to craft a set of internal rules that are based on the consensus that certain human rights are universal and inalienable.

Hopefully, our mother can be compelled to live by those rules, for the sake of future generations. Happy birthday, Kenya.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine. www.lukoyeatwoli.com

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Homophobia only serves to spread homosexuality

Sunday Nation 05 December 2010

For a long time now, Kenyan religious organisations have used a significant amount of their time demonising and ostracising homosexuals.

Last weekend, Prime Minister Raila Odinga joined the fray with a particularly vitriolic outburst against male and female youth who ‘‘ignore members of the opposite sex and choose same-sex partners for relationships’’.

The Prime Minister even went as far as suggesting that these people must have a mental illness to behave like this!

It is not clear if this was meant as an insult to the mentally ill or to the homosexuals, but it must be stated unequivocally that the PM’s choice of words (or even topic) was completely inappropriate.

Firstly, people with mental illness deserve to be treated with dignity and respect like other citizens.

They also have varied sexual preferences, and identifying them with Kenyans of any one sexual orientation is wrong and insulting, not least when it comes from one of the principals of our government.

Secondly, and perhaps more pertinently, homosexuality is not recognised as a mental illness in any system of classification of mental disorders known to mental health workers.

It is a sexual orientation, and health workers do not busy themselves trying to unravel their clients’ private sexual behaviours unless they cause some sort of distress or dysfunction.

Homosexuals, therefore, do not need treatment for their sexual orientation, but for the same problems that afflict all human beings.

The only time their sexual orientation becomes a subject of concern in a therapeutic environment would be when they have problems with their sexuality.

In such a case, the role of a therapist is to help them practise their sexuality in a way that is safe and gratifying to them and their chosen, consenting partners.

Another point that needs to be made is that many scientists now believe that sexual orientation, including homosexuality, is at least partly genetically determined.

As research gradually moves in this direction, it may eventually turn out that the most virulent critics of homosexuality are actually the greatest promoters of its spread.

By encouraging homosexuals to engage in liaisons with members of the opposite sex, the gene that supports the development of this behaviour continues to be forcefully propagated, and homosexuality continues to thrive as a result.

Additionally, it is generally accepted that behaviour and personality are often shaped by the home environment and upbringing, and people increasingly tend to adopt the behaviour they have observed in their same-sex parent.

Homosexual parents are, therefore, more likely to have, and pass on to their biological offspring, a largely liberal attitude towards sexuality and the concept of morality!

By opposing homosexual relationships and literally railroading homosexuals to conceive and raise children with opposite-sex partners, our clerics and political leaders, including the PM, appear to be the foremost supporters of the spread of homosexuality.

Finally, all those involved in this homo-bashing should know that the Constitution of Kenya outlaws discrimination on most grounds, and further discourages hate speech and expression of hatred that constitutes, among other things, ‘‘vilification of others or incitement to cause harm’’.

Having chosen the path of civilisation and dignity with the passage of the new Constitution, we must not unnecessarily delay the realisation of its dreams through prejudicial rhetoric, even if it is politically expedient.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University School of Medicine. www.lukoyeatwoli.com

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Scrap KCPE, but fix our schools first

Sunday Nation 28 November 2010

The recent call for the scrapping of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination has raised temperatures all over the country.

Much of the noise is attributed to supporters of this examination while very few voices have been heard supporting the call for it to go.

Unfortunately, the political angle to the debate has robbed it of serious intellectual input that would have placed everything in context and led to a more reasoned outcome that would be more beneficial to learners.

Instead, this debate therefore looks set to be settled in the political arena rather than in the Ivory Tower where it belongs.

It is important for us to identify the key issues in order to facilitate a more sober result.

Why do we have these national examinations in the first place? The answer to this question will provide the way forward with this and other national examinations.

Independent Kenya’s first education system was borrowed directly from the colonialist.

The colonial curriculum had the very simple goal of educating the native just enough to enable him to assist with lowly administrative tasks, but not enough to “swell his head” and give him ideas of self-rule.

Several examinations were therefore introduced even in early primary in order to filter out the potential clerks and other lower cadres of staff in the colonial service.

British curriculum

Getting to university involved navigating a bewildering array of examinations culminating in passing the prestigious Ordinary and Advanced level examinations based on the British curriculum.

Piecemeal modifications were progressively carried out on this system after independence until former President Moi came up with his 8-4-4 brainwave in the mid-1980s.

The aftermath of this change saw only two “hurdles” between a primary school entrant and entry into university – KCPE and its secondary school counterpart, KCSE.

Apart from the segregative motive of the earlier examination “roadblocks”, a deeper philosophy underlies these multiple national examinations.

This is based on scarcity of resources needed to educate every citizen to the highest level available in the country.

Shortages of teachers, equipment and brick and mortar necessitate some sort of filter to ensure that those that do reach these high levels are assured of a high quality of education that would be useful to society.

As a society’s means gradually improve, the shortages become less and less acute and it becomes unnecessary to stop the willing student from proceeding with their education to the level that is satisfactory to them.

KCPE apologists are displaying a kind of thinking akin to the Oriental allegory about a king who planted a tree and instructed a soldier to guard it and water it to ensure it is not destroyed by the elements or mischievous subjects.

Centuries later, soldiers would still be posted to guard the tree, even though nobody could remember the original reason for this!

The question everyone should be asking at this point is whether we have enough resources to convert every primary school into a complete school with primary and secondary school facilities.

Indeed, the goal of the Education ministry should be to develop enough resources to ensure that every child who enters Standard One can, if they so wish, go all the way to a tertiary learning institution of their choice.

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ranneberger must reveal names or shut up

Sunday Nation 21 November 2010

The American Ambassador to Kenya, Mr Michael Ranneberger, has announced that four top government officials and a prominent businessman had been banned from visiting the US due to their links to drug trafficking activities.

He went ahead to announce that the American Drug Enforcement Agency would set up an office in Kenya in the coming months to help combat the international drug trade and bring the traffickers to justice, “no matter how senior or politically well-connected they are”.

No right-thinking Kenyan would have any problems with this move by a friendly government to help make our society safer from criminals who would destroy it in the quest for quick riches. However, two giant red flags are raised by this ambassador’s statement.

First, he persists in making these statements about banned “prominent Kenyans” and “senior government officials”, but has never once publicly named any of those involved.

Some time last year, Mr Ranneberger made a similar announcement in respect of some “senior government official” who was characterised as the single largest manifestation of impunity in this country.

However, he fell short of naming the individual, even though Attorney General Amos Wako came out guns blazing soon after that to declare that he was happy staying away from the US, and defending his legacy as Kenya’s foremost lawman.

Despite the assertion by the US Government that the individuals they are banning from visiting their country are really horrifying monsters unfit to lead even the village cattle dip committee, failing to name them makes the whole thing a completely useless charade.

The ordinary mwananchi lining up to vote at a General Election makes decisions based on more temporal considerations like food in the stomach and money in the pocket.

Lofty issues like integrity and moral probity are left to the chattering classes that hardly ever vote in the first place. The only way of really protecting Kenya from these sleazy characters is to name them and shame them in the court of public opinion.

Keeping their names secret only serves to embolden them to raise the bar on looting in the knowledge that their days are truly numbered.

As I argued in this column in March last year, “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”.

The second issue raised by Ranneberger’s rabble-rousing charade is really one of Kenya’s place in the community of nations. Since the bungled 2007 elections and the subsequent conflagration, Kenya has become a theatre for competing international interests.

The election of an American President with Kenyan roots tilted the balance in favour of the US, increasing their involvement in even the tritest of our affairs.

However, it must be noted that unsubstantiated public attacks on political leaders are often counter-productive. Indeed, Ranneberger’s “regime change” rhetoric, though welcome, needs to be expressed more surreptitiously and with some degree of finesse that will not alienate the very citizen it seeks to “liberate”.

As things stand today, it appears as though, at some point in the recent past, Kenya became the newest territory of the USA.

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

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The future is here, go ahead and grab it

Sunday Nation 14 November 2010

Kenya is once again approaching that period in its historical life cycle when showbiz is more important than substance.

As we enter the twilight years of the Kibaki reign and approach the end of the Grand Coalition government’s life, politicians are becoming ever more alert to the symbolism of seizing the moment and capitalising on it for the next elections.

We have entered once again a period of divisions in government, where ministers are accusing each other of corruption in a sick game of one-upmanship that only serves to raise queries about the integrity of all those involved, and perhaps the appointing authority as well.

Politicians with an eye on the future are on the lookout for every opportunity to permanently hobble their opponents in order to ensure a free ride for themselves at the 2012 elections.

This is the light in which we must perceive suspended Higher Education minister William Ruto’s recent “triumphal return” from The Hague, as well as the infantile commotion in the Water ministry between a former assistant minister and the current minister.

In politics, image counts for a lot. In Kenya, where the average citizen has the memory of a gnat, image is all that counts.

We have no qualms at all rewarding with leadership positions those among us with the most despicable habits, and quashing the ambitions of honest young men and women whose aspirations go beyond the traditional tribal kraal.

I have argued before that the war on corruption needs to be personalised and politicised, and I still hold that this must be done to ensure a hostile environment for those that would fleece us even with the best of intentions. As has been pointed out ad nauseam by others before us, the price of democracy is eternal vigilance.

With the changing demographic profile of our country, a gradual shift is occurring in our national consciousness. Sooner rather than later, our political class will realise that making lots of noise and causing disruption and commotion will not necessarily translate into increased popularity and immunity from close scrutiny.

The herd mentality that has protected high-profile kleptocrats is slowly dissipating as more and more young people enter positions of responsibility in this country.

The clueless young “leaders of tomorrow” are rapidly giving way to very highly motivated global citizens with a more sophisticated worldview than their forebears. They are asking for more quality time with positive role models, and not more money or material comforts.

These young people are asking for more fairness and equity, and not the prevailing favouritism and nepotism. They do not want to be unfairly rewarded, but are asking for opportunities to exercise their creativity and entrepreneurial ideas. Kenya’s youth are demanding justice.

At this rate, the days of the tribal chieftain are numbered, considering this army of a global-oriented youthful population operating in the new political dispensation.

The law requires all of us to become the guardians and guarantors of the new constitutional dispensation, and to ensure that the rights of all Kenyans are respected and upheld by all.

The message to the youth is therefore loud and clear – the future is here. All that remains is for you to step up to the plate, and take it.

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We can't preserve culture by lynching people

Sunday Nation 07 November 2010

Close to three months ago, the Kenya Psychiatric Association held its Annual Scientific Conference in Nairobi.

During this meeting, one of the psychiatrists from the then Nyanza Province made a moving presentation on the mortal dangers many Kenyans are exposed to in the name of religion and culture.

Participants were shown a video clip from a Kisii village in which several elderly women were literally roasted to death on allegations that they were witches.

This memory was rekindled last week when a group of young high school students were shown on national TV burning houses allegedly belonging to local witches.

TV interviews

In one of the TV interviews, one man expressed his excitement that the young people had taken the lead in eradicating witchcraft from the society.

He wished that all Kenyans would behave in a similar manner to root out this evil from our midst. There are many things wrong with this country, but this must rank up there with the worst of them.

Our singular lack of respect for human life, all in the name of propagating our “culture”, is one of the key reasons we continue having difficulties progressing as a nation.

Moral questions

For a long time, it has been difficult for all of us to agree on what is right and what is wrong, as evidenced by the many arguments about so-called “moral” questions such as abortion, sexuality, gender-based violence and even substance use.

However, it is clear that we all agree on a basic code of behaviour, which is the reason some of the things that take place in the villages and in private homes would not be repeated in cosmopolitan urban settings.

For instance, how often do we see elderly women lynched in the streets of Nairobi for being old and having red eyes? How often do we see houses being burnt in any of our major cities because the owners or occupiers have been accused of witchcraft?

At the basic level, we all agree that such acts are barbaric in the extreme, and the only reason we turn a blind eye to them or even encourage them to continue is because we believe they are culturally sanctioned, and the wazee in the village think they are necessary.

At some level we even feel that as long as these practices are restricted to our rural villages they are mostly harmless. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

People actually lose their lives in these incidents, and others are left mourning their relatives killed for no fault of their own. Indeed I would challenge any right-thinking Kenyan to give up their elderly mother or grandmother to be lynched and roasted by the roadside for the singular “crime” of living long and maybe having red eyes.

Celebrating these barbaric acts of murder and arson in the name of culture is the height of irresponsibility on the part of all Kenyans.

Orgies of violence

Actually participating in the orgies of violence only demonstrates how close we still are to our cave-dwelling ancestors who, out of ignorance, would kill first and ask questions later.

Let us celebrate our culture, yes, but let us also appreciate that culture is dynamic, and deleterious cultural practices must be discarded in favour of more progressive ones.

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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Parliament mustn’t overstep its mandate

Sunday Nation 31 October 2010

During his confirmation hearing last Tuesday, former Law Society of Kenya chairman Ahmednassir Abdullahi questioned Parliament’s role in “vetting” him and other appointees to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

The lawyer argued that, having been elected by the LSK as provided for by the Constitution, no other authority had powers to purport to “vet” him before his appointment to the JSC.

The parliamentary committee that was tasked with this vetting process was taken aback, but the lawyers in its midst claimed to be acting on the authority of the people of Kenya to ensure that “the names before it are adequate”.

A committee member assured Mr Abdullahi that what they were doing was “perfectly legal, perfectly constitutional and perfectly within the procedures of the National Assembly”, further asserting that “the National Assembly has its rules on how Parliament approves the nominees”.

Herein lies the problem. A plain reading of Part 4 of the Constitution of Kenya reveals that the only role the National Assembly has in the appointment of members of the Judicial Service Commission is provided for in Article 171 (2) (h).

This section of the Constitution provides that two members of the public, a woman and a man, shall be appointed by the President “with the approval of the National Assembly”.

Parliament further has a role in the appointment of the Chief Justice and the Attorney General through separate mechanisms, and the two are members of the JSC by virtue of their positions.

Beyond these, the Constitution confers sole authority on the judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, the association of judges and magistrates and the Law Society of Kenya to fill the remaining vacancies in the JSC under Article 171 (2).

The National Assembly therefore has no constitutional mandate to vet or otherwise interfere with the appointment of those members of the JSC elected by other bodies.

The framers of this section of the Constitution had very clear intentions of separation of the organs of state, restricting the National Assembly’s role to that of scrutinising and approving or rejecting appointments made by the President in order to ensure that the larger national interests were served.

It is important to raise this important point early in the implementation of this Constitution in order to prevent future attempts by the legislature to usurp the roles of other arms of government and the citizenry at large.

Purporting to “vet” individuals who are duly appointed to a constitutional commission amounts to overstepping its mandate, and reverting to the pre-promulgation stance where Parliament once sat as the authority that nominated, vetted and virtually appointed the members of key constitutional commissions.

Under the new Constitution, members of these commissions must owe allegiance only to the Constitution and to the people of Kenya collectively, and not to any single individual or institution.

The committee’s assertion that Mr Abdullahi was seeking a constitutional interpretation falls flat, given that he was only stating the clear provisions of the Constitution.

In any case, if the MPs insist on this course of action for the remaining members of the JSC, someone must quickly ask the Court of Appeal to perform the “interpretation” function of the Supreme Court as provided for in Section 21 of the sixth schedule.

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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Siege mentality only protects thieves

Sunday Nation 24 October 2010

After my comment on the appointment of the Kenya Bureau of Standards CEO was published last Sunday, my inbox was inundated with responses, most falling in either of two categories.

The first group of responses expressed disgust at the minister’s decision, lamenting similar past occurrences in the grand coalition government and asking that due process be followed in such appointments. These were in the minority.

A larger number of correspondents lamented that the minister’s decision was being bashed simply because he is Kalenjin and had appointed a fellow tribesman to a prominent post in his ministry.

They averred that there would have been no furore had the minister appointed an individual from any other tribe to the position, whether the law was followed or not.

The suspension of the Higher Education minister William Ruto in the middle of the week only served to intensify the vituperation, with many pointing out that a conspiracy to demonise and eliminate prominent Kalenjins from positions of authority was afoot.

One of my correspondents actually stated it more graphically: “Kalenjin-bashing seems to be the in-thing now”.

It should be noted that the people holding these opinions are upright Kenyans to whom a significant level of intellectual achievement can be ascribed. Many are opinion leaders and what they say often reflects in an intellectual manner what the crude feeling on the “street” is.

It is also interesting to note that all those that supported the minister’s action were from his tribe, while those against his decision were more heterogeneous.

It would be completely dishonest to say that these reactions were unexpected. Kenyans have perfected intellectual arguments to clothe their own tribal chauvinism, and whenever a person is touched who belongs to the “other tribe” they eloquently wax lyrical about good governance and transparency.

However, whenever one of “their own” is touched, they come out guns blazing with pseudo-intellectual arguments about “good judgment, balancing the ethnic equation” and similar apologia.

This phenomenon is not restricted to intellectuals from any one tribe in this country.

We witnessed it recently with demonstrations in Bungoma over the fate of the Foreign minister Moses Wetangula over the Japanese embassy scandal.

Similar tribal demonstrations have been held in the past whenever the fortunes of some tribal chieftain are threatened and he utters the famous war-cry: “My people are being finished”.

It is time to expose this kind of reasoning for the vacuous hogwash it is. Many people belonging to communities whose members have occupied powerful positions in this country perpetuate a siege mentality in which they see any action against their tribes mate as a tribal witch-hunt.

They refuse to objectively examine the evidence, in the mistaken belief that loyalty to the tribe comes first.

We must realise before it is too late that we cannot eat our cake and have it. We cannot continue spouting platitudes about a taunet ne lel (new beginning) for Kenya while at the same time hiding behind pseudo-intellectual posturing to maintain a thieving cabal in power.

We must realise that it is either one or the other.

We either accept the dictates of the new Constitution and allow a dispassionate application of the law, or dispense with it altogether and continue with business as usual.

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

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Kosgey’s decision evidence of impunity

Sunday Nation 17 October 2010

Very few post-promulgation actions by the grand coalition government demonstrate the need for a truly fresh beginning like the recent action by the Industrialisation minister Henry Kosgey.

The minister, in keeping with a time-honoured practice by successive post-Kanu governments, allegedly chose to ignore the recommendations by the board governing the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and selected an individual who shares his name to be the organisation’s CEO.

Notwithstanding the subsequent arguments about the lack of unanimity in the board’s decision, and the interpretation of the minister’s powers under the relevant Act of Parliament, the minister’s action needs to be scrutinised more closely.

Scientists operate on the premise of probabilities in most of the analyses they do. Coincidence plays little or no part in a scientist’s life, and every event can be explained fully, provided all the initial conditions are known.

Consider this scenario: Under some future government, you are appointed the Cabinet secretary for one ministry or other. Now a vacancy arises in one of the parastatals under the ministry, and there are very clear statutes governing how the vacancy is to be filled.

The board governing the parastatal follows the laid down procedure, and finally hands you the name of the most qualified applicant. To your utter surprise, you discover that the candidate is none other than your own brother.

Average Kenyan

What would the average Kenyan do in such a situation? Inevitably, the answer to this question appears simple to many — they would just go ahead and, on the strength of the board’s recommendation, appoint their brother to head the parastatal.

They would thank their lucky stars that their brother is so clever that he did not need any influence-peddling on their part to clinch the coveted position in the ministry. But in a civilised society, the answer would not be that simple.

The best approach, in my opinion, would be to ask the board for all the minutes and documents they relied upon to make their decision, and scrutinise these with a fine tooth-comb.

The aim of the scrutiny would be to satisfy oneself that one’s brother is indeed the most qualified of all possible candidates, and that he won the job purely on merit and in a competitive, objective process.

Only after being satisfied that this was the case should one make the appointment, and be prepared to answer all sorts of questions from a suspicious public whose first reaction would be that the minister is a despicable nepotist.

In relation to the Industrialisation minister’s decision, is it possible that the minister went through a process such as the one proposed above?

Has he adequately addressed the concerns of the suspicious public that his decision was swayed not least by the similarity between his name and that of the prospective Kebs boss?

Public officials

Of course this question should be asked of all the ministers and other public officials concerning the appointments they make and the tenders they award.

Indeed, this is the spirit of Chapter Six in the Constitution focusing on leadership and integrity, and any public official who does not measure up to this standard of moral probity should be compelled to seek employment elsewhere. But of course, as a friend likes to remind me, “this is Kenya”!

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine www.lukoyeatwoli.com

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It’s a mistake to ignore mental illness

Sunday Nation 10 October 2010

Today is World Mental Health Day. With the possible scrapping of Moi Day as a public holiday, it is to be hoped that Kenyans will today join the global community in marking a day dedicated to reducing suffering due to illnesses of the mind.

This year’s theme is: “Mental health and chronic physical illnesses: The need for continued and integrated care”. The focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day is on the interplay between mental health and chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, respiratory diseases, and obesity.

Globally, the burden of mental illness is well understood to be higher than that of the more “glamorous” diseases like HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.

However, due to the immediate and more visible morbidity and mortality of infectious diseases, lots of resources are being spent on them, often neglecting chronic illnesses that have a bigger impact on quality of life and productivity.

For instance, in 2003, it was estimated that mental and neurological disorders alone contributed up to 13 per cent of Disability-Adjusted Life-Years (DALYs), and this was projected to rise over 15 per cent by 2020.

Depression alone accounts for a huge burden of disease, greater than HIV/Aids, TB and malaria combined.

In Kenya, recent research has shown that up to half of patients who visit our public hospitals suffer from some degree of depression.

The violent nature of our political and social interactions has played a huge role in increasing the unrecognised burden of mental illness, and previous studies on survivors of Mau Mau concentration camps, ethnic violence in the Rift Valley and sexual and gender-based violence have demonstrated very high rates of trauma-related mental disorders.

The World Health Organisation estimates that four chronic diseases – cardiovascular, diabetes, cancer and respiratory illness – are responsible for 60 per cent of the world’s deaths, with over 80 per cent of these deaths happening in the poorest nations in the world, including Kenya.

Untreated mental illness increases the risk of these chronic physical conditions, makes it more difficult to manage them and worsens the outcomes after treatment.

Conversely, most of these chronic conditions increase the risk of many mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders.

As the world shifts focus from infectious diseases to chronic physical illnesses, there is a risk that mental disorders will continue being ignored as governments prioritise and rationalise their health budgets.

This will be a huge mistake. Instead of seeking to reinvent the wheel, we can learn from the experience of the HIV/Aids pandemic.

Initial efforts at control of this infection focused on scaring people about the consequences of getting HIV and Aids, and most campaigns carried pictures of emaciated individuals said to be dying of Aids.

This evolved to an emphasis on anti-retroviral treatment and other approaches aimed at reducing suffering among those infected with HIV.

It is only with the later involvement of mental health specialists that the huge burden of mental illnesses among many people living with HIV/Aids is being recognised. Today, many funding agencies expect to see a mental health component in every HIV/Aids proposal if it is to be successful.

It is our hope that mental health services will be integrated into any chronic disease management programmes that our government develops.

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

Monday, October 4, 2010

Renditions: It’s time for due process

Sunday Nation 03 October 2010

It is very possible that the coterie of young men who have been recently arrested and sent to Kampala on terrorism charges are part of a conspiracy to spread terror in Kenya and the wider East African region.

It is, indeed, not beyond the realm of possibility that they were intimately involved in planning and execution of the suicide attacks on football fans in Kampala on the night of the World Cup final match in July.

Both the Kenyan and the Ugandan governments have assured all and sundry that there is reasonable suspicion that this is the case, and that the young men will receive fair trials in Kampala that meet the highest standards of justice.

However, we must remember that in the same vein, it is quite likely that the governments are either not telling the truth or honestly mistaken, and that the young men may be completely innocent of the crimes they are charged with.

It is also possible that they are being used as scapegoats, as visible demonstrations that justice comes swiftly to suspected terrorists in our region.

Because of this uncertainty on the true facts of the matter, we all acknowledge that some sort of arbitration is necessary to reveal who the real culprits were.

The government must have an opportunity to present its allegations, and the suspects must be given an opportunity to present a defence in open court.
In civilised societies, it is recognised that nobody holds a monopoly on truth.

For this reason, every suspected criminal is subjected to a judicial process that presumes them innocent until proved guilty under the law.
The said law is only administered with the consent of the governed, either directly or through their elected representatives.

Anything short of this so-called due process is considered an affront to the laws of the land and to the rules of natural justice. It is in this context that all Kenyans of goodwill must judge the recent renditions of their citizens to face “justice” in a far-away land without application of due process.

It must be appreciated that in all organised societies, laws are made not for the upright citizens of the land, but for those that would destroy social order if allowed to do so.

Laws are made for the lowest individuals in our societies – the misfits and miscreants who prey on fellow citizens and cause them untold harm and suffering.

We cannot, therefore, ignore these same laws and send our citizens across our borders to face an alien justice system just because their alleged crimes are particularly reprehensible.

The government is evidently relinquishing the much-vaunted “sovereignty” in this matter, a concept that is only polished and displayed whenever our darker natures are pointed out by our erstwhile “development partners”.

The true sovereign under our recently promulgated Constitution is the citizen, and not the government.

In order to begin checking the excesses of the state, the sovereign must now begin to exert his authority and bring our political leadership to account.

It is time we started questioning these renditions for, if we do not, some day in the future we shall repeat the immortal words of Pastor Martin Niemoller, to paraphrase, “First they came for the Muslims . . .”

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why IIEC has made elections boring

Sunday Nation 26 September 2010

With the three constituency by-elections held last week, the Interim Independent Electoral Commission achieved a feat many thought unimaginable just a few years ago. They made elections boring, routine stuff.

People voted in the morning and, by the time they went to bed in the evening, they knew who had won the election. Media houses that had prepared for night-long vigils found themselves having to revert to regular programming since there was no real “breaking news”.

The IIEC has taken all the secrecy out of the electoral process and, using the Internet and other technological innovations, it has ensured that every interested party has access to the election results as they stream into the tallying centres.

It has also become very easy to predict the likely winner of the elections due to the random nature of the polling station returns.

In a manner of speaking, the IIEC has robbed election nights of their old glamour and palpable tension.

This is not to detract from the impeccable behind-the-scenes manoeuvring that goes on in the IIEC back offices to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

As a matter of fact, the mark of a good electoral body (as with any service organisation) should be the ease with which they deliver their services.

The end-consumer of the product should not be troubled by the mechanics that go into making his experience fast and trouble-free.

It is, therefore, in order for me to formally join the chorus of congratulations to this body run by relatively young Kenyans who appear hell-bent on destroying the murderous excitement that has historically attended the electoral process in this country.

Perhaps as this trend continues, we may in future have elections or referenda in which the citizens wake up early in the morning, vote at the nearest polling station and report to work on time.

They would then find out who the winner was on the early evening news, and move on to more important issues in their lives.

In other words, elections should not be such a big deal in a citizen’s life that everything must stop to accommodate them.

Having said that, it is imperative that we do not get too euphoric about the achievements of the IIEC and the other transitional bodies set up to midwife the process of fundamental change in this country.

There have been murmurs about the tenure of office of the Interim Independent Boundaries Review Commission, and it will not be surprising for the same comedy to recur when the IIEC’s term nears its end.

In my opinion, all these bodies must obey the Constitution and pack up and leave when their mandate comes to an end. An important constitutional principle that is being ushered in by the new order is that nobody is indispensable.

All the good work the IIEC is doing can be done by any collection of competent Kenyans selected on the basis of their intellect, experience and character, in the manner set out in the Constitution.

The transitional commissions must ensure they bequeath comprehensive structures and guidelines to the incoming more permanent institutions in order to keep the momentum of reform going. That is the best legacy they can leave behind for future generations.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Decision on doctors was ill-advised

Sunday Nation 19 September 2010

A couple of weeks ago, the Ministry of Medical Services, through the Director of Medical Services, Dr Francis Kimani, released a circular to all provincial medical directors, medical superintendents and medical officers in charge of health facilities advising them that, although selection of doctors to pursue post-graduate training had been finalised, they would not be released to go for studies due to lack of funds.

The circular practically embargoed all post-graduate training in the ministry, implying that even those who had already been selected to proceed to various universities for further studies would have to put their plans on hold and continue working in their stations until further notice.

This decision has only served to worsen the already low morale among junior doctors, who are now bound to continue working with poor remuneration and little prospects for professional development.

The only other option open to them would be to resign from the public service and raise enough funds to pay for their own post-graduate training, a difficult decision for many doctors at the beginning of their careers.

It should also be borne in mind that the DMS is also the registrar at the Medical Practitioners’ and Dentists’ Board, and is theoretically in a position to intimidate all registered doctors in Kenya.

Government sponsored post-graduate training is the glue that holds many young health workers in the civil service. They have continued working in the civil service with the knowledge that after a certain number of years, the government would offer them scholarships to pursue further studies in a field they are interested in.

This motivation has ensured that there is at least one doctor in most corners of the republic. The DMS’s circular is set to change all that.

Given that the government is the largest client of our universities as far as post-graduate training in medicine is concerned, this decision also has the potential to interfere with university programmes.

Many post-graduate programmes will not be able to mount courses this academic year in the absence of government sponsored doctors, and the greatest loser is the citizen who will continue to suffer from the shortage of specialised staff to provide high quality services.

With the proliferation of universities offering medical courses all over the country, there is already a shortage of skilled teaching staff, and this embargo will only serve to worsen the situation.

Further, the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) is angling to increase the contribution rates for its members, with a promise of better quality care almost anywhere in the country.

It is a mystery how this will be achieved with the current shortage of specialised staff and the expected exodus of young doctors as they seek greener pastures elsewhere in the country and abroad.

The problems bedevilling health service delivery in Kenya go even deeper, and are compounded by the continued split in the Health ministries.

Hopefully, with the expected reduction in the size of the Cabinet, these ministries will once again be reunited to reduce the massive duplication of functions and wastage of public funds that is resulting in the current mess.

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

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tragedy of inaccurate census results

Sunday Nation 12 September 2010

One year ago, I wrote in this column about the phenomenon of census and election “migrations” of urban dwellers to their rural homes, and the dangers this posed for planning and service provision.

I argued then that “due to the census and election ‘migrations’, the data on population densities is inaccurate and of little use for decision-making purposes”.

A close analysis of the census results released a couple of weeks ago reveals just how true this statement was, and a good example appeared in the press soon afterwards.

Apparently, due to the reduced, more “accurate” number of residents, Kibera slums lost its title as one of the “largest slums” in the world. This only goes to demonstrate, as I argued last year, that “an area in Nairobi or Mombasa may be neglected due to reportedly low population figures when, in fact, it holds a huge population of ‘up-country’ people who are never counted during the census”.

It is clear to me that Kibera and other informal settlements in this country fell victim to the “being counted at home” mentality, and they will be among the very first victims of this malady when devolved funds are disbursed based on population data and geographical dispersal.

Largely rural counties like Kakamega and Bungoma probably benefited a lot from this migration, and will also benefit from more devolved funds in the new dispensation.

This should serve as a lesson to Kenyans who pack their bags and travel to their rural homes every election and census season, only to spend the intervening periods languishing in poorly planned urban settlements and poorer political leadership.

Another suggestion I made in last year’s census article was that most Kenyans would only be interested in the numbers of their tribesmates for one reason or another.

This, too, was borne out by the reported large number of inquiries by citizens seeking just this information in order to start making political calculations in preparation for the next General Election.

At a funeral ceremony I attended recently, a succession of local politicians plaintively urged their “people” to make haste and increase their numbers in preparation for future political alliances.

A clergyman at the same event wondered aloud whether the night is different for “his people” as opposed to other more populous tribes.
Many Kenyans indicated that their tribe was “Kenyan” during last year’s census.

Although information on their total number has been hard to come by, some sources indicate that 610,122 individuals identified their tribe as “Kenyan”.
I am proud to be counted among that number, and I hope this will become a common occurrence in subsequent censuses.

Hopefully this will help make nonsense of the national infatuation with tribal statistics for political and social reasons.
On a different note, this census revealed something that should deeply disturb all our mainstream religious leaders.

According to the statistics bureau, 922,128 Kenyans indicated that they had “no religion”, which could be interpreted to mean that they are atheists. A further 61,233 individuals said they had no idea what their religion was.

Unless religious organisations evolve to meet the needs of the modern Kenyan, they may be doomed to irrelevance in future.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at the Moi University School of Medicine www.lukoyeatwoli.com

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Kenya's new Constitution

You may download Kenya's new constitution (warts and all) here...
Of course the Attorney General has his work cut out for him (probably in conjunction with the Commission on the Implementation of the Constitution and the relevant Parliamentary committee, in dealing with the numerous typos as well as preparing the separate pieces of legislation necessary to make the document fully functional.
Is Smiling Amos up to the task?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Missed opportunities at promulgation

Sunday Nation 05 September 2010

On May 8, 1996, the then South African Deputy President, Mr Thabo Mbeki, made a speech on an occasion no different from our own promulgation ceremony held on Friday, August 27, 2010.

The speech, remembered today for its inspiring refrain, “I am an African”, is thought by many to be one of the greatest speeches ever made by an African leader on African soil.

Although the ceremony was meant to mark the adoption of the South African Constitution, Mr Mbeki correctly understood that his audience was not just restricted to South Africa, not even to the African continent, but covered the whole world.

The speech traced the origin and place of the African in the world, with soaring rhetoric taking in the influences of nature and the admixture of peoples that make up the African.

On the occasion of the promulgation of our Constitution, one would have expected at least one of the speechmakers of the day to rise to the occasion and make a speech that would continue to inspire generations to come, long after he is gone.

Of course, this was too much to expect from our rusty political leadership.
Instead of inspiration, we ended up showcasing only our typical bungling ineptitude.

Firstly, the government contrived to demonstrate to the whole world our chief character flaws as Kenyans – impatience and lack of attention to detail. After the Constitution was signed and sealed appropriately, the dignitaries lined up to release doves and balloons to mark the historic symbolism of the moment.

Although Kenyans had been made to understand that everything was carefully choreographed, the brightly coloured balloons simply refused to fly. Clearly, whoever organised the event had never heard of Helium, an inert gas lighter than air that would ensure the balloons remained afloat!

Only time will tell if this bungling is indicative of the future of the implementation process for the new Constitution.
The appearance of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir only served to compound matters for us.

On a day when impunity was finally expected to be buried and forgotten, the state signalled that nothing had changed in the attitudes of our leadership, and that the ICC could be ignored without consequence.

It is now clear that whoever shall be indicted by the same court over our own 2008 pogrom will find a very safe haven within our hallowed borders, and even in the corridors of power.

The subsequent protestations by the Foreign Affairs ministry about inviting all our neighbours is absolute hogwash, as is the assertion that Kenya must remain neutral in the Sudan situation.

By law, we are bound to side with the ICC and hand over any indicted individual found within our borders, unless we decide to repudiate the treaty.
Finally, of course all the speeches were dour and platitudinous, with none having the ringing rhetoric characteristic of leaders who actually care about what they will be remembered for.

Just like the abortive attempt by our entertainment “celebs” to showcase their talent on the big stage, our leaders miserably failed to rise to the occasion.

We shall obviously remember the promulgation ceremony mostly for all the missed opportunities and unnecessary missteps of our political class, and not for the enormous promise the occasion portended for the entire nation.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University of School of Medicine www.lukoyeatwoli.com

Monday, August 30, 2010

Case for a health professionals council

Sunday Nation 29 August 2010

Now that the new Constitution is well on its way to full implementation, Kenyans must remain vigilant to ensure that they are not short-changed in this process.

It is time the church and others opposed to certain provisions in the Constitution accepted the will of the majority and suggested ways of implementing the document to the satisfaction of all Kenyans.

To this end, it may be necessary to find creative ways of dealing with some of the more emotive issues raised by the church and others in the ‘No’ camp during the campaigns.

One such issue concerned the provisions allowing health professionals to terminate a pregnancy if the mother’s life or health is in danger or she is in need of emergency treatment.

During the process of writing this constitution, health workers were very vocal in demanding a Health Services Commission entrenched in the constitution to regulate the health sector and ensure that providers are properly qualified and offer high quality services.

One of the functions of the proposed Commission would have been to license health professionals and provide for the sort of educational and other qualifications they needed to practise.

In my opinion, this would have been the body to determine who a health professional is in the context of the abortion clause, removing any ambiguity and laying the clergymen’s fears to rest.

Unfortunately, this proposal was rejected at some point in the process despite there being no obvious objections from all those involved. However, even in the absence of this Commission, all is not lost.

Although most health workers do not think the abortion clause allows for “abortion on demand” as articulated by the clergy, it is necessary to address their fears in the spirit of reconciliation and in order to bring everyone on board the implementation train.

Parliament should move with speed to set up a Health Professionals’ Council that will, among other things, determine who health professionals are and what sort of training they require to offer health services.

This would include making a determination as to who is allowed to make a decision that the life or health of a mother is in danger and the pregnancy needs to be terminated.

The same Council would license health professionals and outline what level of service delivery they should be involved in, and would bring together all the regulatory bodies in the health sector.

Apart from dealing with the abortion issue, this council would act to safeguard the health rights of the citizens, by giving meaning to such terms as “emergency treatment”, “the right to health” and other health related issues in the constitution.

The upshot of this is that in coming up with the Commission on the Implementation of the Constitution, Parliament must look beyond the traditional areas of expertise.

It has been customary for such commissions to be crammed with lawyers and very few other experts, if any, even though it is agreed that the constitution covers a wider range of issues than lawyers alone can handle.

The Commission should be broad-based and should include social scientists, health professionals and educators among others. This is the only way to ensure that the document is implemented practically and holistically, safeguarding the interests of all Kenyans.

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

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hospital fund tax is a sick decision

Sunday Nation 22 August 2010

In the late 18th century, someone in the then American colonies coined a catch-phrase that has survived through the years as a clarion call for democracy and representation.

The Americans, protesting against the principle of being taxed by the “mother” country without having any say in the way they were governed or how the tax money was used, cried out that there should be “no taxation without representation”.

Most modern democracies now provide that all taxes on their citizens must be approved by their elected representatives, and that any use the money is put to must also be approved in a similar fashion.

This is the philosophy behind the annual budget ritual in Kenya and other similarly governed nations.

It has also lately become the basis for the international push for true universal suffrage where all people that are eligible to pay tax in a particular jurisdiction are also entitled to vote for their leaders.

Presumably, this is the same reasoning that recently drove a Kenyan court to assert that even prisoners have a right to vote at the referendum, and even at future General Elections.

It is, therefore, a grave anomaly that in this day and age, there exist certain organs of state that have the power to tax Kenyans and decide how that tax money is used without approval from parliament.

The recent decision by the National Hospital Insurance Fund to increase the monthly membership “contributions” by over 600 per cent has served to open the eyes of Kenyans to this anomaly.

Whether it is allowed by law or not, how can an institution unilaterally decide how much money to deduct from a worker’s payslip without negotiating with the worker or an elected representative?

How can the same institution have the power to vary those deductions without a process of consultation involving the workers or their representatives?

It is insufficient to argue, as the hospital fund has done, that workers and other “stakeholders” are adequately represented on the organisation’s board.

The increased deductions will not only affect the members of the “stakeholder” organisations, and it is imperative that a process of consultation involving the peoples’ elected representatives be used to determine the amount of money anyone should pay to NHIF.

The benefits must similarly be audited both by Parliament and by the government’s own auditing mechanisms to ensure that it is commensurate with the payments and that it is sustainable in the long run.

As matters stand now, the hospital fund has only indicated to workers through the press that their deductions will increase beginning next month.

Nobody in formal employment has received any direct communication asking for their opinion on this increase.

In any case, it is being argued that the increased rates are much higher than those offered by private insurance companies for similar insurance cover.

If the law allows the National Hospital Insurance Fund to make such unilateral decisions, then it is bad law inasmuch as it lets a government institution impose extra taxation on Kenyans without parliamentary approval.

In my opinion, it is imperative that the directive be rescinded pending a more consultative method of determining deductions and benefits.

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

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Debunking myth of R. Valley’s ‘No’ vote

Sunday Nation 15 August 2010

Soon after the historic referendum on the constitution one-and-a-half weeks ago, some campaigners on the ‘No’ side went to town with claims that the Rift Valley voted overwhelmingly against the new constitution.

This information was meant to force fresh negotiations on what they consider to be contentious issues in the newly passed document, in order to engineer another constitutional review circus to last us another lifetime.

Of course it should be clear by now that no one has any discretion on how the new constitution may be amended once it is promulgated. Any negotiations or processes aimed at amending the new constitution must follow the provisions laid down in Chapter 16 of the document.

As it was so eloquently pointed out by various commentators last week, the era of backroom deals is behind us, hopefully for good.

The media have been largely complicit in propagating this myth by analysing the referendum vote as a constituency vote, rather than a national one.

Reports abound of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ wins in this or the other constituency, yet each individual vote counted towards the final result, no matter which constituency it came from.

Ideally, when people vote at a referendum, it is only the votes ‘for’ that matter. Indeed, the emphasis is often on what percentage of votes the document must garner to pass, and not on the percentage that votes against it.

Alluding to a possible ‘No’ win or a ‘No’ loss is therefore fallacious, given that the ‘No’ camp was not presenting any proposal capable of winning or losing. They were simply expressing opposition to the then Draft Constitution.

The referendum result was therefore only going to be twofold — a ratification, or a rejection of the draft.

Looking at the results as published on August 6 by the Interim Independent Electoral Commission, it becomes clear that the reality on the ground is radically different.

The number of votes contributed to the ‘Yes’ basket by voters in the Rift Valley Province was 971,331, constituting about 16 per cent of the total ‘Yes’ vote.

Of all the provinces, only Central (1,274,967) and Nyanza (1,174,033) produced more votes in favour of the new constitution than Rift Valley.

Saying that the Rift Valley voted almost to a man against the constitution is therefore extremely misleading, and those peddling this myth might actually harbour ulterior motives.

To further illustrate the point, one only needs to look at Eldoret North constituency, represented by the ‘de facto’ leader of the political wing of the ‘No’ campaign. Over 40,000 voters in this constituency supported the new constitution, and no amount of whitewashing can change this fact.

This pattern was repeated in most constituencies in the Rift Valley, with ‘Yes’ votes being found even in the most ethnically homogenous areas.

Rather than demonstrating the homogeneity of the Rift Valley as far as electoral politics is concerned, this referendum actually shattered this myth, and the residents of the Rift Valley can look to the future with pride, as co-authors of their own collective fate and contributors to the great moment that changed Kenya forever.

In any case, the process of dismantling the provinces will soon begin, and future generations will only speak of constituencies and counties.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine. www.lukoyeatwoli.com

Sunday, August 8, 2010

This is a clean break with the past

Sunday Nation 07 August 2010

One quiet August morning 28 years ago, a six-year-old boy ventured from his house on Muyuyu Street in Eastleigh to go to the nearby kiosk to buy milk and bread as was his daily routine.

On this day, things seemed different. He did not manage to buy the provisions he had been sent to get because he found that all kiosks were closed and, instead, all he could see were heavily armed uniformed soldiers everywhere on the street.

He went back home and explained to everyone why he had been unable to get milk and bread, but had difficulty understanding the significance of the armed fellows at every street corner.

Today, he remembers sitting on the floor in his bedroom, scared stiff, as explosions went off at the nearby Eastleigh Airbase. Leonard Mambo Mbotela’s voice still rings in his mind as he announced on the then only national radio station that ‘‘serikali imepinduliwa. Polisi wanatakiwa wakae kama raia’’ (the government has been overthrown and the police are advised that they are now civilians).

He remembers the soldiers who later visited his home and went from room to room looking for ‘‘subversive material’’, some of which, like The Green Book by Muammar Gaddafi, had been hidden away in advance.

Publications from the then Soviet Union on communism and socialism had also miraculously disappeared from the bookshelves long before the soldiers came calling.

He remembers later that evening watching on television as the President, dressed in jungle fatigues and flanked by a contingent of soldiers, announced that the elected government was back in control.

This boy lived through the transformation of the Moi regime from a benign paternalistic government into a violent dictatorship.

This past week has brought back all those memories as the country marked the 28th anniversary of the 1982 attempted coup and at the same time voted to radically alter the governance landscape for the first time since independence.

History will record August 4, 2010 as the day when Kenyans spoke up unequivocally to change every aspect of their governing institutions, giving themselves greater say in matters of state.

Although it is fair to assume that the majority of the voters did not vote on the basis of their reading of the proposed constitution, the overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote maintains the reform momentum that has built up since the chaotic 2007 General Election.

Kenya is now irrevocably set on a path to institutional reform that may yet prove to be the most fundamental change in the history of our young republic.

We must not rest on our laurels. The country faces perhaps the most dramatic times since independence and the citizens must not relax their vigilance in ensuring both the legislature and the executive arms of government fulfill their responsibilities as outlined in the new constitution.

The little boy of 1982 is now an adult Kenyan, trying to do his bit to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

I know a lot about that little boy because, in 1982, that little boy was me.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine. www.lukoyeatwoli.com

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cyberterrorism over ‘Yes/No’ campaigns

Sunday Nation 1 August 2010

There are only three short days to go until Kenyans go to the ballot to decide whether we shall have a new constitutional dispensation or not.

The truth of the matter, as has been articulated by various commentators on this issue, is that in the referendum we shall be choosing between the current Constitution and the proposed constitution. There is no Bomas draft, no church draft and no ‘No’ draft to compare with the two documents above.

At this point, presumably everyone who is going to vote has already made up their mind how they will vote, and very little can be done to change these positions.

This is why I was so stunned early last week when I fell victim to a phishing scam perpetrated by someone sympathetic to one of the sides in the referendum campaign.

In view of the fact that the attack was so brazen and many others may have fallen victim to similar schemes, I will disclose the full particulars of the attack, and hope that something can be learned from it.

Early last week, I received a message on Facebook from someone claiming to have sensitive information concerning funds secretly wired to the ‘No’ campaign. She invited me to open a certain link to access the information.

The link seemed to be pointing to a website going by the curious name “amenaswa.t35.com”. For a while I dismissed the message as a piece of propaganda given that, if such information existed, I would hardly be the first person to hear about it.

Eventually, however, curiosity got the better of me, and I resolved to try and open the message, and at the same time change my password just in case it was a phishing scam.

I did both, but as it turns out, I was a few seconds too late in changing my password. Shortly after discovering the message was indeed a cyberterrorist attack, I lost control of my Facebook account. Soon I started receiving email messages indicating that I had posted something outrageous on my profile.

I managed to momentarily regain control of the account, and discovered that the hacker had posted something to the effect that I had decided to publicly express my reservations about the proposed constitution, giving completely ridiculous reasons such as that the Draft supports abortion and homosexuality and similar inanities.

It took me over three hours to be able to regain full control of the Facebook account, as well as of my alternate email address (which they had also hacked into), by which time the hacker had engaged at least one of my friends in some sort of conversation about “my” reasons for the apparent change of heart.

This incident brought home to me the degree of desperation in these campaigns.

The final point demonstrated by this attack is the misconception that many hold about the draft constitution and entire referendum — that the outcome hangs on the opinions of some influential individuals in society, and not on those of individual Kenyan voters.

The country today stands on the cusp of history, and if we throw away this opportunity at re-engineering the architecture of the state, we might as well give up and let the next generation do it for us.

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

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Civil servants shouldn’t campaign

Sunday Nation 25 July 2010

With only 10 days left to the referendum over the Proposed Constitution of Kenya, campaigns have gone a notch higher, and both camps are presumably unleashing their secret weapons.

A dispassionate examination of the Proposed Constitution clearly demonstrates that despite its bulk and lots of legal theory, it is a vast improvement on the current constitution.

Indeed, listening to the proponents of the ‘No’ camp, it is very difficult to find irrefutable proof of the “badness” of the draft.

All the objections over the land chapter, Kadhi’s courts, abortion, homosexuality and even the relevance of international treaties duly ratified by the government can be easily dismissed by reverting to the Proposed Constitution itself.

Despite the obvious advantages enjoyed by the ‘Yes’ camp, which also brings together most of the senior politicians in government, strange tactics have been employed to ensure a ‘Yes’ victory.

The aim may be to ensure a landslide victory for the Proposed Constitution, but the strategy will definitely backfire in future.

The strategy, which sets a very dangerous precedent, is the use of permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants in campaigning for the document.

This may look like a very bright idea at this time in our history, when the government feels that all resources must be deployed to ensure that this great opportunity is not wasted.

However, viewed as a precedent, nothing will stop a future administration from declaring another political contest a “government project” and ordering all civil servants to campaign for it!

In 2005, the government “proper” decided to push for the enactment of the so-called “Wako Draft” after the collapse of the Bomas process.

Critics pointed out then that the draft could not be characterised as a “government project”, and use of government resources in campaigns were denounced as illegal attempts to force a flawed draft down the throats of Kenyans.

Because the opponents of the Wako Draft were more adept at galvanising the national mood against it, Kenyans voted against it by a modest margin of 55 per cent to 45 per cent.

The organisational skills of the opponents were demonstrated later with the formation of the Orange Democratic Movement, which managed to secure a majority in Parliament.

Today, many of the Orange campaigners are on the ‘Yes’ side, and it appears hugely hypocritical for them to accept that this time the Proposed Constitution is a government project and it is alright for civil servants to be employed in campaigns all over the Republic.

The ‘No’ side is well within its rights to complain that the government is denying them a fair playing ground.

Despite Agenda Four of the National Accord identifying a new constitution as one of the key reforms needed to save Kenya from itself, it did not specify that any draft would be considered a government project.

Coercing civil servants to support the Proposed Constitution and even requiring them to campaign for it probably constitutes an abuse of the rights of those opposed to it.

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

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why Kenya is, indeed, a fragile state!

Sunday Nation 18 July 2010

A recent editorial published in the Daily Nation and attributed to the minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Moses Wetang’ula, purported to defend Kenya against claims that it ranked highly in the league of failed states.

This was in response to a publication by the Foreign Policy Magazine that allegedly ranked the country at number 13 on its annual list of failed and potentially failed states.

For the avoidance of doubt, it must be noted that Kenya has featured in this index since it was first published five years ago, when we debuted at position 25 among failed states.

Every year subsequently, we have managed to maintain our place near the top of the list, and many events since the ranking began have demonstrated its accuracy, at least with respect to Kenya.

The Foreign Affairs minister was on hand even in 2005 to trash the index claiming that, in addition to the fact that it is the only developing country hosting a UN agency headquarters, it was also ‘‘a regional and continental powerhouse that makes a critical contribution to peace-keeping missions around the world and is respected across the board’’.

In his opinion, this was abundant evidence that Kenya was not a failed state and was not even at the risk of failing in the near future.

The rest, as they say, is history.

According to the American non-profit organisation Fund for Peace, the characteristics of a failed state include: the loss of physical control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein; erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions; inability to provide reasonable public services; and inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

Mr Wetang’ula’s defence of the country from allegations of state failure bear the hallmarks of a textbook response that does not benefit from any intellectual input from the ministry’s civil servants.

Instead of addressing the issues identified in the index, the minister simply rehashes the arguments made since 2005 that our security role in Eastern Africa and hosting the UN headquarters is evidence of our stability.

To maintain currency, the minister threw in the forthcoming referendum as further evidence of the stability of our nation.

Unknown to the minister, such rehearsed but thoughtless responses only serve as further evidence of the fragility of our state.

For instance, despite strenuous denials in the years preceding the 2007 elections, post-election violence and the need for intervention by the international community demonstrated clearly that state failure was a distinct possibility in our case, if not the reality.

The government completely lost physical control over vast swathes of the republic. The legitimate authority of the Kibaki Government disappeared, and was only partially redeemed by the formation of the coalition government under the supervision of the international community.

The inability to provide reasonable public services is acknowledged even by the government itself! Senior government officials are to this day unable to travel to the US and other countries to participate in international affairs.

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

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kenyans, stop this hypocrisy over MPs’ pay

Sunday Nation 11 July 2010

In their usual inimitable fashion, members of the Kenyan Parliament voted to increase their salaries and allowances to levels dozens of times higher than the national average income.

Predictably, there has been a hue and cry from all segments of society, including some MPs, Ministers and the Prime Minister himself.

Listening to this hullaballoo, one is reminded of a person continually hitting his head against a wall in the hope that it will give way and allow him passage in the same way a door would.

Instead of addressing the root cause of the problem, we are happier ranting and raving against the symptoms for a while, before we move on to the next big thing.

In my view, parliamentarians have not broken any law, written or unwritten, in approving their pay rises. The constitution gives Parliament the powers to appoint tribunals to review their pay and recommend new rates.

It does not bar Parliament from varying the recommendations of the tribunal upwards or downwards and in fact states in section 45B sub-section 14 that “This part shall have effect notwithstanding any other provision of this constitution and, accordingly, if any such provision is inconsistent with a provision of this part, the provision of this part shall apply.”

Specifically, Parliament cleverly exempted itself from the provisions of section 48 of the constitution, which forbids the discussion of any “Money Bill” in Parliament without “the recommendation of the President signified by a minister”.

Section 45B was crafted to overturn this provision, allowing the MPs to run riot with the Exchequer in order to satisfy their financial needs.

The net effect of this move was to protect their salary and allowances from any oversight body other than themselves, finally confirming Parliament as a supreme body above even the constitution.

The second thing that we must consider before we condemn our parliamentarians is the nature of the Kenyan psyche. It probably is human nature to want to live a better life in future than you did in the past.

It is even more imperative to ensure that your offspring live a better life than you did. If one’s past is riddled with visions of poverty and want, it is only natural that one will do everything in their power to ensure that they never have to face the same difficulties again in future.

Our MPs are therefore only being true to type, and there is no use condemning them for succumbing to their own base instincts at the expense of their starving constituents.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to self-preservation!

This explains why even the wealthiest people in this country, who acquired their wealth fraudulently from public coffers, still consider themselves poor and in need of state largesse.

How else would one explain the spectre of grizzled old men taking up cudgels to fight for ‘‘our land’’ in the new constitutional dispensation?

How would you explain the involvement of some of the country’s richest families in monumental scams in the class of Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing?

To illustrate this point, one would challenge the loudest noise-makers to put themselves in the MPs’ shoes, replete with the almost completely unchecked powers and privileges they enjoy.

It is a dead certainty that if you put any of the loudmouths into Parliament, they would have no qualms at all voting to double their salaries.

As a matter of fact one need not engage in thought experiments over this issue. Erstwhile reformists in the Ninth and Tenth Parliaments joined hands with their bitter rivals every time it came to discussing their salaries.

The first order of business for the Ninth Parliament, which marked the end of the Kanu kleptocracy, was to increase their salaries and allowances.

Subsequently, they have unanimously voted to prevent the government from taxing their pay, despite loud protests from their own constituents.

It is the height of hypocrisy for Kenyans to keep making noise about the gluttony of their representatives when, in real fact, they are just envying the positions these people hold.

Members of Parliament are merely representative of the society that elects them, and we should not saddle them with values and attributes that are alien to them.

Where do we expect them to get values such as integrity, humility, and a pro-people mentality when these are absent in our society? How should they behave when they discover that they can exercise their avarice unfettered by any legal or constitutional bottlenecks?

To paraphrase a biblical injunction, let those without greed and envy in their hearts cast the first stone at our MPs.

The rest of us should just shut up and allow them to run roughshod over us while we applaud and egg them on!

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


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Kenyans should insist on sane leaders, not voters

Sunday Nation 04 July 2010

The recent court ruling on the right of prisoners to vote at the referendum adds to the increasingly fashionable trend that has seen the Kenyan judiciary transform itself from the traditionally stuffy conservative outfit into an activist institution.

The key finding in this ruling was that prisoners constitute a segment of “all Kenyans”, and thus share the constituent power to participate in determining the structure of the state through a constitutional referendum.

Notwithstanding the firmness or otherwise of the academic and practical foundation on which the ruling is anchored, it opens an aperture through which future governments will be compelled to allow prisoners to participate in general elections.

This will happen even though the court indicated that the present ruling applies only to the referendum, and not to parliamentary and presidential elections. Indeed, the reasoning elaborated in the judgment suggests just this eventuality given that it questions the role of restriction of voting rights in the rehabilitation of convicted criminals.

We must of course defer to learned legal minds to clarify the implications of this ruling that has been hailed as landmark jurisprudence before we can fully comprehend its import. We must even anticipate similar rulings in future regarding other special interest groups as Kenya enters the era of prodigious litigiousness. However, a certain portion of the ruling raises interesting issues as far as the right to vote generally is concerned. In their judgment, the judges averred that the Constitution of Kenya “does not in any way exclude inmates who are over 18, of sound mind and who have not committed an electoral offence from voting in a referendum”.

Read in isolation this ruling implies that there are only three conditions that must be satisfied as far as voting in the referendum is concerned: Age over 18 years, having a sound mind, and not having been convicted of an election offence.

The age of a citizen and his or her criminal history are relatively easy to determine, and they can be easily codified for purposes of determining eligibility to register as a voter.

Determining soundness of mind would, however, be more troublesome. Under ordinary circumstances, the law presumes everyone who has attained the age of majority to be of sound mind, and anyone who makes claims to the contrary would be required to provide concrete proof of the fact.

This is why throughout the constitution and most written laws, the finding of unsound mind is never implied and must be actively proved. For instance, the constitution only bars people who are lawfully “adjudged or otherwise declared to be of unsound mind” from registering as voters or vying for political posts. This means that the “unsound mind” must not only be alleged, but it must also be competently demonstrated.

This raises questions that seem to have been largely glossed over by the learned judges. Why do we bar individuals declared to be of “unsound mind” from voting? Who determines whether someone is of unsound mind, and under what circumstances? Can an individual be declared to be of unsound mind today, and later regain “soundness of mind” for purposes of voting?

There is no medical equivalent for “unsound mind”. We know that there are a variety of mental disorders of varying severity that may affect an individual’s thinking and reasoning abilities for variable periods of time. Many of these conditions are amenable to treatment, and as long as they are under control, the individual is capable of making important decisions in his or her life.

Only a very brave psychiatrist (probably with an intractably ill patient) would declare their patient so mentally impaired that they should never be allowed to vote or make other important decisions in their life. The upshot of this argument is that “soundness of mind” is a difficult state to prove, and even when clearly demonstrated in one instance, it may not persist long enough to make a difference in the long run.

If the intention of the law was to prevent people with impaired mental health or poor reasoning capacity from voting, it should have mandated a mental status examination before one is allowed to vote, given that there is often a time lapse between registration and voting when a person’s “sound mind” might develop other ideas.

In my opinion, more stringent mental health criteria should be applied to those aspiring to political leadership in our country, instead of going out of our way to ensure that a voter’s decision is the product of reason, and not insanity. Indeed, it is voters with arguably “sound minds” who have repeatedly saddled our country with “leaders” who would be better served with an involuntary admission to a mental hospital.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University School of Medicine. www.lukoyeatwoli.com

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Failure to prove case against officer indicates need for reforms

Sunday Nation 27 June 2010

Last week, the police officer who was video-taped shooting and killing protesters at the height of the post-election violence was released by the High Court due to insufficient evidence.

Unlike other recent cases, this acquittal cannot be blamed on the judiciary alone. In a murder trial, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, which is required to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that the person in the dock was responsible for the crime.

In this case, it appears there was a discrepancy in the serial number of the weapon allegedly used to commit the offence and the one produced in court as evidence.

Despite the fact that even the judge would be hard pressed to unequivocally state that the suspect is not guilty, the rigours of our trial system demand that the judge must not entertain even the slightest doubt about the culpability of the accused, given the gravity of the charge and the severity of the sentence.

It, therefore, behoves the prosecuting authority to be meticulous in preserving evidence to ensure that the case is decided only on its own merits and not on technicalities.

Notwithstanding the arguments about the lack of facilities and personnel to ensure flawless investigations and prosecutions, it is difficult to imagine what sophisticated equipment is required to properly store a murder weapon and identify it correctly in court.

The events leading up to the acquittal of this police officer, therefore, raise questions about the possibility of a conspiracy at some level in the police force to protect one of their own by ensuring that no matter the facts of the case, he would be acquitted on some technicality. Although it looks good to brother officers in the force to know that they would be taken care of in case they run afoul of the law in the course of their duties, it is eventually counter-productive to allow these infractions to continue.

At the end of the day, it diminishes the confidence the public has in the police force, reducing the cooperation of citizens in initiatives such as community policing. It also demoralises the upright officers in the force who would like to see justice being done, leading to a state where they eventually degenerate to the same level of incompetence in other areas of their work. At a more fundamental level, the acquittal of this officer raises questions about the ability of the Kenyan legal justice system to handle the even more complicated cases arising from the post-election conflagration.

If such a case that many would have considered open and shut and replete even with video evidence and a plethora of witnesses can fail, what about the more involving crimes such as the burning of people in their houses, forceful circumcisions, rapes and beheadings?

Can we actually continue talking about a local tribunal to try the so-called small fry, if we cannot even successfully conclude a case such as this one? It may be difficult for the ICC and the international community to understand why Kenyans are so fixated on The Hague, but looking at this case it should be easy to figure this out.

Kenyans know themselves so well that they would rather let someone else deal with the stench emanating from our moment of darkness than allow our flawed legal justice system to whitewash the crimes and perpetrate miscarriages of justice.

The tragedy with this situation is that as time flies, it will become more and more difficult to prosecute the so-called small cases arising from the violence. If we are still relying on our police force to preserve the evidence from that time, we are clearly setting ourselves up for massive failure. Indeed even if an international tribunal were to be formed, it would need an independent investigation and prosecutorial arm that would not be dependent on government resources to complete its tasks.

Perhaps only a new constitution stands a chance of correcting these glaring problems with our legal institutions by restructuring the entire state apparatus and enabling the vetting of important office holders.

This may result in a more accountable system of dispensing justice.

However, as far as the crimes of 2008 are concerned, it may also be necessary to begin thinking about a more credible truth, justice and reconciliation process that can comprehensively deal with both the crimes and their antecedents. The current travelling circus led by Bethuel Kiplagat and his team should be disbanded and restructured to be able to deal with this onerous task.

The alternative is continued festering of old and new wounds, waiting for an opportune time to erupt and cause untold suffering to future generations.

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