Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The church is not an authority on being ‘African’

Sunday Nation 29 May 2011

This past week, a section of church leaders held a press conference and opined obliquely that some of the nominees for high office in this country were of questionable morals and had traits that are “unAfrican”.

They declined to give details on these assertions, allowing only that Parliament must select a chief justice and deputy who, among other things, are of high moral standing and respect the place of religion and African culture in Kenyan society.

The insinuation here, of course, is that the two judicial nominees were behaving in ways that are, at some level, inimical to what is African.

These scurrilous attacks on the character of the nominees do not deserve discussion in a family paper, and it is regrettable that our clergymen can sink this low.

However, the assertion about what constitutes African culture merits some in-depth examination. Apart from the church leaders, many other individuals and groups have often taken to labelling behaviour as unAfrican when it does not meet with their own approval, or when they have an agenda they are too ashamed to publicly proclaim.

Traits that have been labelled unAfrican include certain modes of dressing, sexual behaviours including homosexuality, reproductive health issues such as the question of abortion, and even certain types of music.

Interestingly, these issues are often left on the back-burner whenever serious professional attempts are made to address them, but are quickly resurrected whenever some controversy is required to muddy the waters of public opinion.

Judicial nominees

Although the church leaders chose to avoid a frontal attack on the characters of the judicial nominees, it is fair to ask a question or two about their own locus standi in deciding on matters African.

We are all agreed that many of the ascendant religions in Kenya today have origins outside of this country and outside of the African continent as well. By definition, then, none of the religious creeds that command millions of followers in this country is Kenyan, let alone African.

The official appellation of the Catholic Church actually makes allusions to its Roman origins, and the hierarchy owes allegiance to the Pope who sits at the Vatican, a sovereign state under international law. The Anglican Church and many others do not fair any better.

Coupled with the ecclesiastical paraphernalia preferred by the church hierarchy, it defeats logic for these purveyors of a “foreign ideology” to accuse another Kenyan of being unAfrican.

If anyone wanted to learn the behaviour of Africans today, all they would need to do is to find the people meeting the definition of “Africans” and study their behaviour under various conditions. If accurately done, the resultant conclusion would describe what being African is all about.

Peculiar traits

As a matter of fact, there is no transcontinental agreement on what being African entails. Today, there are Africans of all colours, shapes and sizes, with their own peculiar traits determined by their environment and interpersonal interactions.

Dismissing certain behaviours as “unAfrican” presupposes that the clergymen have the manual on what constitutes Africanness. We must not tire to remind them that anything Africans are capable of doing is African.

Further, given its place as the cradle of mankind, Africa lays claim to all the peoples of the world. To paraphrase Thabo Mbeki, we are all Africans.

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

Monday, May 23, 2011

Somebody save ‘Sonko’ from himself now

Sunday Nation 22 May 2011

Mental health specialists rarely make any comments about individual cases they have attended to, unless the clients themselves or their caretakers (where appropriate) give consent for this to be done.

It is even rarer for us to venture an opinion on the mental status of someone we have never interacted with except through the eyes of a media outlet.

However, it is my considered opinion that when a person in a position of responsibility begins behaving abnormally by all standards, including those of his nearest and dearest, something must be done to restore normality.

It is thus with a heavy conscience that I will comment on the case of Makadara Member of Parliament, Mike ‘Sonko’ Mbuvi, alias Gedion.

Youthful MP

Last week we saw this youthful MP leading a demonstration about an issue that one wouldn’t be bothered to remember.

The antics he engaged in would have resulted in immediate arrest and an order for a mental status evaluation if he were an ordinary citizen of this country. He boxed a mabati structure until he sustained serious injuries to his hands, requiring medical attention.

He shouted, lay in the middle of the road, and banged his head a few times on various structures before making his way to some office to register his complaint.

His supporters

Many of his supporters happily went along with his antics, but a few had the presence of mind to try restraining him to prevent further injury to himself or damage to property.

This behaviour was clearly out of the ordinary, and he needed a firm hand to stop him and offer him assistance.

However, his family and friends may be having trouble telling him the truth about his behaviour and the probable need for help for several reasons.

One, they may actually think that there is nothing wrong with his behaviour. This would be a tragedy of monumental proportions, because then this young man would be completely on his own.

He would travel a downward spiral that would only end in tragedy, and the rest of us would be left wondering why we did not pick up the early warning signs.

Two, it is possible that he does not have people close enough to him to tell him whenever he goes overboard with his behaviour. This would be equally tragic.

All those people who are currently enjoying his largesse should be generous enough to make time to help him.

This is obviously in the beneficiaries’ best interests, given that saving Sonko now would ensure that he survives long enough to continue with his much-vaunted philanthropy.

Finally, and more likely, it is probable that his friends and relatives really do care about what is happening to him, but are afraid to confront him with this information or to offer him help.

If this is the case, then they should gather courage and use this column to point out to him the folly of his ways, and offer to help him deal with any social or psychological issues he may be going through.

Responsible citizens

Leaving things as they are would be a dereliction of duty on their part.

At the end of the day, it is the duty of all responsible citizens to point out the king’s nakedness, in order to save the kingdom the embarrassment of seeing their ruler parading through the streets in all his natal glory.

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

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Doctors too suffer from poor health services

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 15 May 2011

The health care delivery system in Kenya is in a mess. Almost everyone agrees on this.

Indeed, prominent Kenyans would not trust their lives with the local health facilities, and often travel abroad for treatment that even newly-qualified doctors in Kenya could deliver.

Despite this acknowledgment of the poor state of affairs in this sector, the Kenyan populace often turns against the poor health care worker whenever things go wrong, blaming them for all sorts of things including profiteering and unethical practice.

Whenever doctors appear in the streets or at press conferences complaining about the conditions under which they work (which incidentally are also public health facilities), the average citizen is wont to dismiss them as pampered overpaid brats just asking for more money.

Nothing can be further from the truth, as illustrated by the following incident. Less than two weeks ago, a young public servant working in Busia managed to get some time off to visit with his family in Kiambu.

While there, he developed malaria and decided to visit the Kiambu District Hospital for treatment.

Malaria is usually a straight-forward diagnosis, and the medications are readily available at all public hospitals, so everyone expected the young professional to be treated quickly and get back to his usual routine.

Unfortunately for some patients, malaria can complicate and cause more damage than normal. In this young man’s case, he developed kidney failure and his doctors determined that he needed dialysis to save his life. This is where the problem began.

There is no dialysis machine at the Kiambu Hospital, although there are doctors qualified to administer this life-saving treatment.

Transport arrangements were quickly made and the patient was put in an ambulance for transfer to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) for dialysis.

I am made to understand that the only other public facilities with dialysis machines are the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, the Coast General Hospital and the Provincial General Hospital in Nakuru.

The young civil servant did not make it to KNH. He is said to have died in the ambulance. This incident is an indictment of the health sector in this country.

While our ministers fight over turf, and struggle to introduce programmes for the treatment of cancer and other exotic illnesses, people are still dying of easily manageable problems all over our country.

While the government spends large sums of money on the ICC process and foreign trips, many are still contracting malaria and dying of its reversible complications.

The larger tragedy in this story, however, is that the young civil servant who suffered this fate was a new doctor who had just completed his internship and had a brilliant future ahead of him.

Although I never met the young civil servant, his short life and unfortunate death provides a big lesson for all of us working in health.

Evidently, even doctors cannot afford the care they give to their patients in high-cost hospitals.

A friend remarked that the doctor’s life might have been saved had he been able to visit the Karen Hospital or some other private hospital in Nairobi.

Clearly, a rational plan needs to be developed, with appropriate health priorities for our population. And don’t get me started on the ministry’s pet project — the opaque taxation system christened NSHIF!

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

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Public interviews of CJ candidates unnecessary

Sunday Nation 08 May 2011

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) started the process of interviewing candidates for the position of Chief Justice (CJ) this past week.

The extent of accountability and transparency in this process is unprecedented, and one doubts whether it has been done similarly elsewhere in the world.

Obviously, Kenyans should brace themselves for more open appointment processes for public office, and anyone aspiring to high office must be ready to submit to public scrutiny and an examination of their personal integrity.

Seen in light of constitutional requirements, this process would be a welcome breath of fresh air into our public service. However, it is my contention today that at the present stage in the recruitment process, public interviews of candidates for the position of CJ constitute an overkill.

According to the Constitution, the President is expected to appoint the Chief Justice “in accordance with the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission, and subject to the approval of the National Assembly”.

This suggests that the JSC will perform the initial (professional) interviews to short list the candidates from among whom the President (and the Prime Minister under the National Accord) will select their preferred candidate.

The selected candidate must then be “approved” by Parliament, which through the committee system provides an avenue for public participation in the appointment.

A basic understanding of this process is that the JSC conducts the technical work of getting a number of clearly qualified candidates for the President to choose from, while Parliament vets the chosen candidate for any issues outside of technical competence that may impinge upon the performance of the office of Chief Justice.

From this perspective, therefore, it is doubtful what value a public interview process adds to the technical evaluation of a candidate’s capabilities.

Public interviews will often only subject the candidates to humiliation and badgering by members of the JSC playing to the gallery, a job that would be better done by politicians sitting in the various committees of Parliament.

If the JSC relinquishes its technical job description and engages instead in a public (read political) “vetting” process, what will the parliamentary committees do when confronted with the eventual nominee?

In my view, the JSC’s technical interview process, as opposed to the more political “vetting” process, should be done in private to ensure that the dignity of the applicants is protected, given that not all applicants will be successful.

The successful candidate may then be subjected to the full glare of publicity to ensure that apart from technical competence, the judge meets societal expectations in areas of social comportment and personal integrity.

In my opinion, Kenyans have a massive challenge in interpreting and implementing constitutional provisions dealing with transparency and accountability, probably because we have grown up physically, psychologically and socially in totalitarian regimes where we knew only repression and unilateral “roadside” declarations.

In our attempt to break clear of the past regimes’ practices, we run the risk of going overboard and raising mediocrity to the high altar of public service, all in the name of increasing public participation in public appointments.

Hopefully, there are at least a few trained legal minds that would find it worth their while to critically interrogate what professional commissions such as the JSC are doing in the name of constitutional implementation.

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Labouring Kenyans must take blame for their misery

Sunday Nation 01 May 2011

Thousands of Kenyan workers will on Sunday congregate at Uhuru Park to mark Labour Day. They will listen to speeches by labour leaders and maybe a few government officials.

Most will listen to the speeches for entertainment value only, while a few will be listening keenly for any policy shift in government and the labour movement that would benefit them directly.

Many are hoping for wage increments and tax breaks to enable them make ends meet, and are thus full of hope that this will happen on this day dedicated to their hard labour that keeps our nation afloat.

Unfortunately, anyone hoping that any act done today will significantly change their life is living in dreamland.

No matter what the government announces or does not announce, there will be no significant shift in the well-being of the ordinary Kenyan.

This message needs to sink into the minds of every Kenyan toiling for a thankless employer who pays them peanuts at the end of the day, week, or month. Nothing is going to change!

My message today is intentionally cynical, but it is guided by past events and the behaviour of the average Kenyan. Let me clarify. Over the past few years, the cost of living has been rising exponentially, and the rise in wages has been unable to catch up with it.

Domestic budgets

Many people have had to make changes in their domestic budgets, foregoing most of the things they used to consider essential, and going after the very basic of needs.

In this same period, salaries for politicians holding public office and other high-ranking public servants have sky-rocketed, with many of them earning upwards of a million shillings every month.

Additionally, these “leaders” have chosen not to pay taxes on their earnings despite clear constitutional injunctions against tax evasion.

Kenya Revenue Authority continues to dither and prevaricate on this matter, utterly unable to stand up to the bully politician. After all, the commissioners’ jobs depend on the collective goodwill of politicians for whom paying tax is anathema.

As the prices of basic commodities sky-rocket, the self-same politicians have established cartels to fleece the exchequer through dubious import deals.

An attempt to control the price of oil products has been captured by the same self-interested goons, and indeed many Kenyans would now be happy with the pre-regulation regime!

It is not as if these things are happening in the dark, and that most Kenyans are unaware of them.

Quite to the contrary, anyone interested in the matter knows that our parliamentarians and Cabinet ministers do not pay tax on their pay, and many are involved in grand schemes to defraud the citizens of their tax shillings.

Logically, therefore, the next course of action for the suffering Kenyan should be very clear.

At the very minimum, we must require that the Cabinet is trimmed to a more sensible size.

Second, we must insist that everyone who earns any money in this country pays tax on their income, regardless of status.

Finally, all politicians implicated in corrupt deals must relinquish their positions as required by the law, and be prosecuted accordingly.

Short of making these demands, Kenyans must continue taking the blame for remaining poor and helpless at the hands of ruthless politicians.

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