Monday, January 31, 2011

Tribe and age are not political statements

Sunday Nation 30 January 2011

Our politicians never learn. And it is probably fair to state that the Kenyan voter never learns either.

For the past few weeks, a bunch of politicians has been traversing the country popularising the idea of forming a coalition of tribes to win the next General Election.

No matter how much they protest, several ethnic alliances have been floated, coalescing around prominent politicians purporting to represent their tribes.

At the same time as the formation and reformation of these alliances, some of our politicians began singing the “generation change” song.

They argued that no politician aged over 50 years should be allowed to be president of this republic.

They have vowed to galvanise the youth vote in order to facilitate this “generation change”, ensuring that only “young” people rule the country under the new dispensation.

At the core of these messages is the unspoken declaration of war against anyone who does not meet the criteria being proposed based on age or tribe. For this reason, I feel that we seem to be stuck in a time-warp resembling the thermodynamic law that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and can only change from one form to another.

In our new “thermo-politics” (hot-air politics), ideas can neither be created nor destroyed. They only change from one form to another, but remain unchanged at the core.

Tribal alliance

Underlying the tribal alliance and generational change talk is the politics of exclusion that has remained at the root of most of our governance problems.

It is a form of politics that sees any opponent as a mortal enemy fit to be eliminated together with all his supporters.

It is the form of politics that culminated in the conflagration three years ago, resulting in the formation of the Grand Coalition. It is the form of politics we sought to change by passing the new Constitution last August.

In the minds of our politicians, tribe and age are sufficient political statements, and one does not need any ideology beyond stating these attributes.

Unfortunately for all of us, our tribe and age are accidents of history and geography, and we had no role in deciding them.

In civilised societies, one must state their political ideology or position before being branded one thing or the other, and personal attributes are never used as the basis for political organisation and the struggle for power.

Using ethnicity as a political manifesto has resulted in bloodbaths all over the world, from Hitler’s Germany to Kibaki and Odinga’s Kenya; from Milosevic’s Serbia to the Rwanda genocide.

Youth, on the other hand, is a truly transient state, and the evidence for this is the penchant for Kenyan politicians to keep shifting the ground on the definition of “youth” for personal reasons.

Our Constitution clearly stipulates that youth are individuals under the age of 35 years, while our “youthful” cabal of politicians have reset this figure to 50 in view of their own rapidly advancing years.

Advancing years

It is time the Kenyan electorate violated this Kenyan law of “thermo-politics” and insisted on real political ideology and manifestos as the basis of political organisation.

Failing this, we must then brace ourselves for another round of ethnic baiting resulting, perhaps, in a bigger conflagration than we saw in 2008.

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

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why a doctors’ union is long overdue

Sunday Nation 23 January 2011

Just over four months ago, the Ministry of Medical Services threatened to stop funding post-graduate training for young Kenyan doctors.

After much hue and cry, the ministry seems to have quietly backed down and things seemingly returned to “normal”. However, it would be important to heed the saying that still waters run deep.

One of the outcomes of the outcry four months ago was that some junior doctors started organising themselves to agitate for their rights in a more coherent fashion.

Unfortunately, the ministry hierarchy attempted to crack down on the perceived leaders of the “rebellion” and a few of them received interdiction letters.

Instead of silencing dissent once and for all, this action only served to galvanise doctors in employment towards a common cause.

The new Constitution’s progressive Bill of Rights came to the rescue just at the right moment. Unlike the previous document, it guarantees every worker the right “to fair remuneration, to reasonable working conditions, to form, join or participate in the activities and programmes of a trade union and to go on strike”.

In the spirit of the new Constitution, therefore, young doctors have embarked on a process that will very soon see the registration of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union.

Under the framework of this union, medical professionals will be able to enter into collective bargaining agreements with their employers, who will include the Government’s ministries of Health, parastatals and private hospitals.

It is expected that this union will escape the paralysis that has for a very long time stopped the Kenya Medical Association (KMA) from successfully representing doctors as far as remuneration and better working conditions are concerned.

KMA’s main handicap was that it was operating mainly on a gentleman’s agreement with the minister in charge of health. Negotiations were often informal and entirely at the mercy of the minister and Afya House functionaries.

A further handicap was that negotiations often left out doctors employed in parastatals and in the private sector.

With the formation of a union, it is expected that the true worth of a doctor’s service will be revealed, and both the government and the private sector will be compelled to fairly remunerate their doctors or face industrial action.

For a long time, efforts to improve the lot of doctors in employment have been hobbled by the notion that because doctors hold a “special place” in society and provide an essential service, they should not dirty their white-coats by involving themselves in “lowly” union activities.

Indeed, under the previous regime, they were expressly banned from forming or joining unions.

Thanks to this notion of nobility, doctors continue to provide their services to a thankless populace while receiving pay that was average over two decades ago.

Most junior doctors enter the civil service with a net pay of less than KSh50,000, yet they spend days on end attending to all sorts of emergencies with little sleep or rest.

Climbing through the ranks is no consolation either, as the levels of remuneration do not match that of people with less education or skills.

Anyone interested in greater investment in healthcare must therefore support this noble initiative. Remember, if the doctors are not well, no one’s health is guaranteed.

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

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Secondary school quotas miss the point

Sunday Nation 16 January 2011

Every parent wants the very best for their child. If they can afford it, they will buy the best clothes and food for their children and ensure that they live in the best house available to them.

Having taken care of these basic needs, most parents will then want their children to have the best education they can afford.

This is what drives even the poorest parent to skimp and save to take their child to the best school in the neighbourhood, often in the hope that the child will benefit from a good education and help the family get a better life.

With the advent of free primary education, schooling became available to a majority of children who would otherwise have missed out.

This was a commendable achievement by the NARC government and any future administration will be hard pressed to match it.

However, the government did not react early enough to deal with the increased numbers of learners, leading to a gradual decline in the quality of the education being provided for free. Hiring of teachers has not matched the demand and facilities continue to be overstretched.

In many areas, parents who can afford it are now taking their children to private schools in the hope that they will get a better quality education than in the public system.

Many ‘‘academies’’ have sprouted all over the place to fill this quality gap and, even in rural hamlets, one finds private schools in the vicinity.

The result is that private schools and ‘‘academies’’ are now producing the ‘‘best’’ overall students and scoring better mean grades than public primary schools.

The Education ministry’s reaction has been very predictable. In a knee-jerk response to the outcry over the poor performance by public schools, the ministry decided to restrict the number of pupils from private schools who will join national secondary schools.

Given that many middle and low-income earners deny themselves a lot of necessities in order to see their children receive a quality education, it beats logic for the ministry to use criteria other than academic merit in selecting pupils to join national schools.

This mentality perpetuates the disdain for meritocracy that had come to characterise the Moi kleptocracy and no one should be surprised if, in future, a leader from this generation maintains that merit counts for nothing.

The bigger problem with this decision, however, is that it glosses over the reasons why learners are performing so poorly in public schools.

If these schools were well equipped and staffed with well-trained teachers, would they still perform as dismally? If teachers in public schools were highly motivated by commensurate pay and a good working environment, would their pupils still lag behind those in private schools?

It has been said that parents who can afford private primary schools can also afford private secondary schools. Are we now advocating the creation of a parallel private education system? Soon learners from private secondary schools will be denied places in public universities.

Eventually, graduates from private universities will not be eligible for jobs in the public sector.

Maybe we should just go ahead and create a private government to run affairs for private citizens whose only craving is a better life for themselves and their offspring!

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

Monday, January 10, 2011

Nothing wrong with youth driving change

Sunday Nation 09 January 2011

Much has been made about the recent allegations that the American ambassador and his government were funding youth groups with the ultimate intention of “toppling” the government.

Echoes of Kanu-era accusations of envoys “interfering with Kenya’s internal affairs” are being heard, and there was even a move to censure him in Parliament before the Christmas recess.

Several self-evident points need to be made before delving further into this discussion. First, most Kenyans are young people aged 35 years or less.

Second, most Kenyans, including the youth, are dissatisfied with the way the government is running this country. Indeed, many are so fed up with their political leaders that they have vowed to throw them out at the earliest opportunity.

Third, there are many political parties in Kenya, all with the declared aim of taking and maintaining power by constitutional means. Indeed many politicians, young and old, have expressed their interest in leading the country despite the fact that there is no vacancy at the top echelons of the national executive.

Nobody has yet accused these parties of raising funds with the intention of “toppling” the government.

Contextualise allegations

Having made these opening assumptions, we can now contextualise the allegations of a youth movement out to lawfully change the government. It is pretty obvious that many youth movements and organisations exist in this country with varied aims and purposes.

Equally obvious is the fact that many have the clearly stated goal of mobilising young people to eventually effect a change in the governance of our country, hopefully for the better. It may even be true that some of these youth movements are funded by foreign governments and organisations.

None of these assertions, however, constitute a breach of the law, and most of the youth organisations have been carrying out their activities with more transparency than most political outfits.

Indeed, most political parties have been receiving funds from foreign-funded institutions since time immemorial, and it is the height of hypocrisy for our political leaders to start claiming that the US government is funding groups to destabilise the government just because they feel that their interests are threatened.

To be honest, most of the long-lasting elements of government activity are foreign-funded. Just recently, it was reported in the press that modernisation of Parliament was being “supported” by the US government and its agents, among many other “foreign” sources.

Reforms in various government ministries are still driven and largely funded by foreign governments, including reforms in the sectors of health, law and justice, roads and infrastructure and even education. Yet nobody claims that foreign governments have taken over the running of our government.

The upshot of this is that we cannot escape some degree of “foreign” involvement in our activities as long as we still rush to Western capitals with begging bowls every year.

We must accept that at independence, we were only handed nominal independence by our colonial masters while the real power remained in capitals in the West.

Instead of constantly whining, we should take advantage of the external “meddling” to improve our institutions, infrastructure and governance mechanisms.

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

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Here’s my wish list for the country this year

Sunday Nation 02 January 2011

The year 2011 promises to be an interesting one for Kenyans. It is a year that will, in all probability, be approached with marked trepidation because many were glad to see 2010 go but are afraid to face the realities that 2011 may bring.

Being the penultimate year for the Grand Coalition Government, we are sailing in totally uncharted waters as far as electoral politics is concerned. There are so many imponderables that one may be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that inevitable conflict looms towards the end of this year.

However, many of us remain optimistic that we shall be able to confront our challenges and face the year with courage and, above all, that peace shall prevail in this country.

To this end, today I have chosen to share my wish list for Kenya this year.

First, I wish the International Criminal Court (ICC) moves with speed to make a ruling on the Ocampo Six, declaring whether they have a case to answer or not.

For the sake of Kenya’s stability and political future I hope that the prosecutor did his homework well, and has enough evidence to indict at least two of those described as having the “greatest responsibility” for the 2007-2008 conflagration.

The atrocities

Whether these two will come from among the already public list of the Ocampo Six or from elsewhere is not important, as long as someone is eventually held to account for the atrocities that visited our country after the last General Election.

Secondly, my wish is that Parliament reconvenes early, preferably in the next few days, to resume its important work of operationalising the new Constitution.

We are currently behind schedule in many of the timelines, and I will not be surprised if an enterprising citizen goes to court while Parliament is on recess and asks for its dissolution on the grounds of contravening the Constitution.

Many constitutional commissions remain in abeyance and dozens of laws are yet to be passed due to procrastination on the part of our parliamentarians, and it is time they stepped up to the plate and fulfilled their constitutional mandate.

Thirdly, I am hopeful that the boundaries review fiasco will be sorted out within the next few months.

The circus that the Ligale commission and politicians subjected us to towards the end of last year must not be allowed to recur. We must realise that every time we engage in cynical political games, we are endangering the very fragile fabric of our nation.

Hopefully our politicians will keep off the process and let professionals do their thing this time.

Finally, I fervently wish that the executive arm of the government will this once ignore the motion brought to Parliament late last year calling on the executive to pull Kenya out of the Rome treaty that established the ICC.

Although the Leader of Government Business preferred to characterise the motion as “government business”, we must choose to view it only as an expression of the MPs’ feelings at the time, coming hot on the heels of the ICC prosecutor’s public naming of his suspects.

Hopefully the President and the Prime Minister will ignore the MPs and focus on preparing the country to deal with the existential challenge that the first General Election under the new Constitution will present.

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