Sunday, February 28, 2010

Two years of ceasefire but little progress on key issues

Sunday Nation 28 February 2010

On February 28, 2008, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan emerged from a meeting with President Mwai Kibaki and his then bitter political rival Raila Odinga and uttered the immortal words “We have a deal”.

His declaration marked the beginning of a ceasefire designed to provide space for fundamental reforms in the architecture of the state, resulting in institutions that will stand the test of time and prevent a similar electoral dispute from ever happening again.

In the “Agreement on the Principles of Partnership of the Coalition Government” signed on this date two years ago, the President and the Prime Minister acknowledged the temporary nature of the coalition arrangement, stating that the agreement provided “the means to implement a coherent and far-reaching reform agenda, to address the fundamental root causes of recurrent conflict and to create a better, more secure, more prosperous Kenya for all”.

In a subsequent agreement signed on May 23, 2008 by negotiating teams from PNU and ODM, the Agenda 4 items were enumerated and an implementation matrix developed to monitor progress in addressing them.

The items listed under this agenda were: constitutional, institutional and legal reforms; land reform; poverty, inequity and regional imbalances; unemployment, particularly among the youth; consolidation of national cohesion and unity; and transparency, accountability and impunity.

Institutions fingered at the time as being so broken down as to pose a significant threat to the survival of the state included the judiciary, the security forces, the political executive, parliament and the civil service.

Along with early actions in resettling the internally displaced persons and restructuring the electoral system, reforms in these key institutions were meant to create an environment in which true democracy would flourish and all Kenyans would finally be proud to be identified as such.

Two years down the line, it is difficult to identify concrete movement in any of the items identified above as being crucial to national survival.

Slowly but surely, our political class is reorganising itself for a renewed political contest without paying heed to efforts needed to reform the imperfections in state architecture that resulted in the 2007 election debacle.

Just a few days ago, a disagreement over the interpretation of the National Accord regarding firing and discipline of ministers threatened to torpedo the coalition arrangement and introduce unnecessary anxiety into the conduct of affairs of state.

Indeed, this came to pass on Wednesday when parliamentary business was seriously constrained due to power plays between key members of the ODM party.

The only item on the agenda that seems to have any sort of momentum is the constitutional review process, even though it is over one year beyond its initial target.

The Committee of Experts on Wednesday released their “final draft” of the proposed constitution for parliamentary consideration and possible approval for presentation at a referendum.

However, if the document available on the committee’s website is any guide, there seem to be serious communication problems within the Committee of Experts itself. The draft on the website still has proofing comments from the drafters, and there appear to be a number of unresolved issues clearly marked in its margins.

Aside from editorial issues, the draft still contains certain potential weaknesses including the retention of a weak senate, language purporting to authoritatively state the origin of life and a large size caused partly by the continual harping on “principles” and constitutional theory.

Removal of non-contentious but important institutions such as the Health Services Commission raises questions about what we consider to be our national priorities.

Despite the need for serious interrogation of this document, Parliament is so divided that any positive outcome will be a pleasant surprise. It is entirely conceivable that the Grand Coalition leaders and their wrangling minions will eventually determine the fate of this new draft, long before it appears at a referendum.

As far as the other items on Agenda 4 are concerned, Kenyans might as well forget about any progress until another government comes into power after the next General Election.

The only fear is that as political temperatures rise, the need for these reforms will slowly recede until we arrive at the next election exactly as we did at the last – divided, angry and ready to fight and kill for a few politicians.

As we mark the day on which our own Armageddon was postponed, the greatest lesson we must meditate upon is that we too often allow politicians to play an inordinately large role in our lives, and it may be time to remedy this anomaly once and for all.

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

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why resignation craze will not end corruption

Sunday Nation 21 February 2010

Last week, on Valentine’s Day, the Prime Minister made an announcement that may yet mark the beginning of the end for the shotgun marriage we have known as the Grand Coalition Government for the past two years.

He purported to suspend, pending investigations, the ministers for Education and Agriculture for allegedly being mentioned in corrupt deals in their respective ministries.

A few hours later, President Kibaki’s State House nullified the suspensions due to what it termed “lack of consultations and concurrence”.

This tiff between the so-called principals has raised a furore that threatens to, once again, consume the entire minuscule imagination and memory of our nation, derailing important issues like the constitution review process and the other processes geared towards truth, justice and reconciliation.

The Attorney-General has argued that both the spirit and the letter of the National Accord compels the principals to consult and concur before making any major decisions, a term whose meaning he argues includes appointment, sacking, suspension and all related activities.

The PM’s advisers and supporters hold a radically different view asserting that according to the constitution, suspension is an exclusive function of his supervisory and coordination role in government.

The way this grand coalition government has been carrying itself, it is not far from the truth to assert that politics is playing a greater role in this hullabaloo than anything to do with fighting corruption.

Since its formation, it has consistently behaved like a two-headed snake, with the two heads constantly at war with each other.

Each side has been eager to expose the shortcomings of the other in the hope of finding favour with the myopic voter who is easily swayed by the prevailing political mood.

The current disagreement finally brings to the fore the doctrine of political responsibility as espoused by Kenyan scholars, politicians and civil society activists.

According to this doctrine, whenever a scandal is unearthed in one’s ministry, the permanent secretary, as the chief accounting officer of the ministry, must be held responsible and must resign pending investigations.

Taken a step further, this doctrine also asserts that the minister must take responsibility for the failings of civil servants in his ministry, and should also step aside until investigations are complete to determine the level of his/her involvement.

Often, the pace at which the investigative and judicial arms of government move means that such a resignation is in fact terminal, and there is little hope of the individuals ever reclaiming their former posts even if they are subsequently cleared by a competent authority.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this doctrine could be used to argue that as the supervisor and coordinator of government functions, including ministries, the man who holds the ultimate political responsibility is the Prime Minister, and he must also step aside and face investigations just like the ministers.

The fact that his office has been implicated in some of the corrupt dealings only serves to enhance this view among his opponents.

To illustrate just how ridiculous this reasoning can get, political responsibility as practised in Kenya would probably require the President himself, as the appointing authority and head of the Cabinet, to step aside and face investigations whenever a monumental scam is exposed in any government ministry or department.

Analysing most of the instances where there has been a clamour for a minister to take political responsibility and resign, it becomes clear that political motives and long-standing resentments have played a major role in determining the pitch and persistence of the resignation calls.

The targeted ministers have consistently pointed at their political opponents as the architects of these calls, while most of those clamouring for resignations have often had a bone to pick with the concerned individuals.

Evidently, then, the line between the criminals and the innocent has progressively become blurred, and the proverbial buck now stops at an arbitrary point determined by the interests and political inclinations of the accusers.

It is my contention that this clamour for political responsibility has been pushed too far.

In my opinion, as long as a minister has not been named in the scam, and there is evidence that he acted promptly and transparently to deal with the perpetrators when he became aware of it, he should not be forced to step aside just because he was in charge when it happened.

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

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mandela set the standard in African leadership

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 14 February 2010

On Thursday, the world marked a day on which -- 20 years ago -- the icon of Africa’s final “independence” struggle was released from detention.

On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison by the apartheid regime, and began his final push for a true “rainbow nation” free of discrimination of any kind.

This poignant moment resonates with Kenya’s situation 12 years later, when the Kanu kleptocracy was shown the door and a new era under the National Rainbow Coalition was ushered in.

The amount of hope invested in the new regime in Kenya paralleled the optimism of the South Africans in the early nineties.

That is the point at which any similarities between Mandela’s moment of triumph and Kibaki’s rowdy inauguration end.

As the world celebrates the legacy of a man who ruled for one term, groomed his successor and gracefully waltzed into retirement, Kenyan talking heads are agog with the recent declaration by one government minister that President Kibaki may vie for a third term at the next General Election.

Some pundits point out that this would be quite in character, and it would be in keeping with the tradition established by his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi.

Whereas Nelson Mandela will be hailed into the future as the man who saved South Africa from a post-apartheid implosion with his decent and thoughtful leadership style, our current president risks being dumped into the dustbin of history as the man who presided over the bloodiest period in our history since the Mau Mau uprising.

Should he follow his minister’s advice and vie in 2012, he will most likely retire a damaged man and, whatever good he has achieved for this country, will be buried in an avalanche of ignominious accusations.

Nelson Mandela should serve as the beacon that sets the standard in African leadership, and not the exception that proves the rule.

As a leader, he presided over a divided country, with many survivors of apartheid era atrocities baying for the blood of their tormentors while some extremist whites agitated for a separate homeland.

Mandela formed a government of national unity to manage the transition, and embraced his erstwhile foes from the National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party in order to bring on board a sense of national belonging.

Unlike his modern Kenyan counterparts, he did not need any external prodding to do so. Once he perceived the danger facing his country, and the real risk of disintegration through a civil war, he did the only thing he considered natural – reaching out to his fellow leaders from across the political divide to reunite the nation.

Extremists on both ends were silenced by his reconciliatory gesture, and he eventually formed a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to allow everyone to tell their story in relative safety.

South Africans may appear to have been “lucky” to have had a leader such as Nelson Mandela at their moment of crisis in the early 1990s. A closer examination of the circumstances will indicate that luck had nothing to do with it.

Mandela made a conscious decision to unite the country and, in so doing, sacrificed many of his own hopes and dreams as well as those of his supporters.

The lesson we learn from this great African is that a leader chooses his moment, and not the other way round. Whenever a nation is in crisis, the leaders present at that moment in time may choose to do the right thing and save their country, or to continue in belligerence and selfishness and destroy it forever.

Leaders who are remembered long after they are gone are often those that forego their own interests and choose to follow the path offering the greatest good for the majority.

It is in this light that the current low-grade push for Kibaki’s third term must be seen. The President can today choose to start working on his legacy, totally ignoring the plaintive cries of the rent-seekers in his entourage.

Such a legacy, like Mandela’s, would necessarily include a new constitutional dispensation accompanied by respect for the rule of law by all.

Simple actions like punishing those closest to him whenever they break the law, would serve to send a strong message that the days of impunity are over and done with.

President Kibaki’s legacy must include a governance structure that allows for healthy competition without unnecessary antagonism between communities after every electoral contest. The President could still craft a succession agenda that will raise him higher than any of his predecessors.

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

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Life begins both at conception and at birth

Sunday Nation 07 February 2010

Early last week, the National Council of Churches of Kenya declared that Christians would vote against the draft constitution if, among other things, it contains provisions for the kadhi’s courts.

This opinion is not new, and it agrees with the views that have been doing the rounds in cyberspace and elsewhere among members of the Christian right. Three main reasons are cited by these elements for rejection of the draft constitution:

One, the proposed constitution purportedly contains provisions for Sharia law. To demonstrate just how bad this law is for Christians, someone even pointed out to me that a provision in the said draft provides for the prosecution and jailing of Christians who proselytise Muslims.

Many are utterly convinced that this clause will be included in the final draft of the proposed constitution, and this conviction forms one of the basis of their antagonism towards the document.

Two, it is claimed that the draft contains provisions allowing for same-sex marriage. This belief apparently stems from the “fact” that the writers of this draft have failed to clearly define marriage as a union between two adults of opposite sexes.

Many Christian leaders argue that this leaves a loophole that could be exploited to allow homosexuals to form legal unions.

The third reason being given for being against the forthcoming draft constitution is that it fails to define when life begins, and thus allows for abortion. Many insist that the constitution must explicitly state that life begins at conception in order to protect the life of the unborn.

It is difficult to tell if the reasons advanced by these Christians coincides with those of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, but it seems clear that there is concurrence with the churches that the proposed constitution ought to be rejected if it does not address the issues raised above.

Indeed, in the case of many, it is a foregone conclusion that these issues will not be addressed and, therefore, their minds are made up to vote “No” at the referendum.

Concerning the issue of kadhi’s courts, there are even suggestions that there is a grand scheme by Muslims to take over power in this country by using Sharia law and practically forceful conversion of non-Muslims.

It can only be surmised that the source of these messages is the same one that insists that neglecting to mention that life begins at point X is tantamount to legalising abortion, and that ignoring same-sex relationships is the same as allowing them.

If even well educated Kenyans strongly believe these assertions to be true, what of their less exposed relatives in the village? These relatives look up to their “elite” to correctly interpret the draft for them, and to practically tell them how to vote come the referendum.

To put this discussion in perspective, it is important to assert here that there is as yet no ready draft constitution for submission to Kenyans in a referendum.

All we currently have is the revised harmonised draft constitution that was handed over to the Parliamentary Select Committee on the constitution by the committee of experts.

Additionally, we have a statement from the select committee indicating the areas in the draft they would like to see revised further in order to arrive at consensus in the political class.

There is simply no Parliamentary Select Committee draft constitution for debate by Kenyans. Purporting to take positions based on information being discussed in the media is at best premature, and at worst betrays an attitude dead set against any changes to the status quo in this country.

The “facts” as stated by the Christian right concerning the role of kadhi’s courts and gay marriages are in fact gross distortions of reality, and are only meant to instil fear in most non-Muslims and other conservatives in order to defeat the draft constitution.

The “concerns” being raised about abortion are similarly possible red herrings aimed at scuttling the whole review process. Clerics, philosophers and scientists are still grappling with the issue of the origin of life, and Kenyan clerics cannot purport to have received divine revelation about this.

It is true that “life” begins both at conception and at birth, depending on one’s definition of “life”. Some would even go as far as asserting that life does not begin or end, since the transmission of genetic material is a continuous process from one generation to another.

Either way, it is pointless to discuss when life begins when the issue at hand is why women are having abortions, and how to help reduce and eradicate them.

Kenyans should just wait for the draft constitution and interrogate it on its own merits, without unnecessary bigotry and prejudice. If it means ignoring the unsolicited advice from religious leaders, so be it.

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

Monday, February 1, 2010

Creative Writing

For those who enjoy occasionally losing themselves in an intersting read, there is a story writing competition going on on the Storymoja blog. To read and rate a story submitted by yours truly, please visit the site on
Every vote counts towards some prize and recognition(!). Please ensure you also read the stories submitted by other contestants both for entertainment and for comparison!