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

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

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