Monday, February 20, 2012

Civilisation, not tolerance, is what Kenyans need

Sunday Nation 19 February 2012

As we enter the campaign season with its enhanced risks of violence and disorder, it has become common to hear politicians and other opinion shapers asking Kenyans to exercise tolerance. We have been asked to be tolerant of opposing religious or political opinions and, significantly, of other tribes as well.

Though well-meaning, it is doubtful that those asking for tolerance have really examined the real meaning of the word. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the meanings of this word is “the act of allowing something”. Others include “the capacity to endure pain or hardship”, and “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own”.

Unpleasant situation

In other words, that which is tolerated is often unpleasant or objectionable, and the tolerant individual endures the situation for only as long as is necessary. When the opportunity presents itself to eliminate the unpleasant situation, tolerance is no longer necessary, and the situation is changed accordingly.

Hence, for instance, many Kenyans only tolerate their politicians, and at every General Election, they get rid of roughly two-thirds of them, unfortunately in exchange for yet another bunch to be tolerated for another five years.

Tolerate minorities

Exhorting Kenyans to tolerate each other is akin to asking them to pretend to love one another, and allow the unpleasant “other” to exist only as long as the opportunity has not presented itself to eliminate them. We are urged to tolerate minorities, as if they are not Kenyan, and exist only because we allow them to.

We are asked to tolerate people who believe in different gods as if we have the power or authority to stop them when we feel that they have had this freedom for too long. We are implored to tolerate members of other ethnic communities as if we have more claim to the land than they do.

It is my contention that what we need in Kenya is not more tolerance, but a healthy dose of civilisation.
Currently, we are behaving like beasts right out of the Stone Age. As demonstrated by the events of early 2008, most of us are in fact wild animals constantly straining at the leash of law and order, waiting for an opportune moment to break free and indulge in our debauched fantasies.

The current violent disagreements over electoral boundaries clearly illustrate this point. One tribe has even gone to court asking for its own constituency, oblivious of the fact that it will not be possible to restrain members of that tribe from registering and voting in other constituencies.

Further, it is not clear what will happen to members of other tribes living in that constituency. Will they be denied the right to vote and vie for political posts? Finally, will they ask for more constituencies in future when the tribal population increases?

County politics

The division of county political posts along tribal lines in the spirit of tolerance further demonstrates this problem. Obviously, then, tribe has this uncanny ability to bring out the uncivilised beast in us.

If we had even an iota of civilisation in us, we would recognise that none of us has any perpetual claim on the land we call “ancestral”, given that all our ancestors migrated in and out of this region in the past.

Depending on how far back one goes, we are all “foreigners”.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Time to implement the health task force report

Sunday Nation 12 February 2012

At the height of the doctors’ strike last December, sceptical observers wondered whether doctors would be willing to go back to work if nothing but their pay demands were met. The answer was not a simple yes or no.

The doctors’ main condition was that the government should show some commitment to addressing the 13 issues raised by the union in their memorandum; the matter of salary and emoluments was not even the main one.

The strike was eventually called off after the government agreed to introduce new allowances for doctors, as well as to establish a task force to address the policy issues and a negotiating team for a comprehensive collective bargaining agreement. The sceptics laughed at the “naivety” of the doctors in accepting “peanuts” and leaving the health sector in as bad a shape as it had been at the beginning.

The union leadership took this step in realisation of the fact that a doctors’ strike could not go on indefinitely, and that the biggest loser was the common mwananchi who could not access quality health care in the absence of doctors. The promise made by the union to Wanjiku was that her needs were still at the top of the agenda and that, now that we had been heard, we were ready to get to work providing solutions for the problems we had identified.

A couple of weeks ago, the task force appointed to look into health policy issues raised by the union presented its report to the permanent secretaries in the Ministries of Health. The report identifies serious gaps in the management of the health sector and provides solutions for each of the identified problems.

If the report is implemented, it is unlikely that this country will ever see another doctors’ strike in this generation. Among the issues addressed, the main one was that the ministries of Health continue to be grossly underfunded despite increasing health needs of the growing population and the growing burden of infectious and non-infectious diseases.

Other problems included inadequate infrastructure, drugs and equipment, understaffing, little investment in the training of health workers, lack of compensation for some doctors in training and the lack of a proper legislative framework for health.

Key recommendations from the task force include the allocation of a Health Stimulus Package of about Sh220 billion over the next three financial years and a commitment by government to gradually increase regular health allocation by two per cent per year until the Abuja target of 15 per cent is met.

Specific recommendations were also made for revitalisation of the health infrastructure, including the identification, equipping and staffing of county-level referral hospitals across the country. Recommendations were made on the management of the health workforce and health facilities across the country.

A major plank of the report is the formation of a Health Services Commission through a constitutional amendment to manage the human resources for health and provide guidance on health policy to the government.

This report needs to be fully implemented if we are to revolutionise Kenyan health care. Indeed, one hopes that all political parties competing in the coming General Election will take up this report and make it their health manifesto, in order to guarantee better health for all.

Only then can Kenyan doctors finally say to Wanjiku, “You were not forgotten”.

Dr Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Councils of elders pose a threat to democracy

Sunday Nation 05 February 2012

Amorphous groups calling themselves “councils of elders” habitually gain prominence in election years in Kenya. They purport to represent tribes in diverse areas of national life, and issue press statements in support of one thing or the other. This year is no different.

Last week one of these councils issued a press release on the subject of “confirmation of charges by the ICC”. The statement began by indicating that they had conducted “serious deliberations and assessment of the ruling, the issues raised, including the evidence given by all the parties concerned”. Their main concern was not the court’s ruling, but the “evidence upon which the ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo used and upon which the court based the ruling”.

The council suggested that the ICC prosecutor was “deliberately selective in deciding on those he considered as bearing the highest responsibility for the violence”. Apparently, the council knows the true causes and perpetrators of the violence, and feels that they have been deliberately ignored.

Tellingly, however, they indicate that they share the thinking of, among others, the dissenting judge Hans-Peter Kaul. This ICC judge has indicated in his numerous opinions that he believes heinous crimes were committed in Kenya, and that the accused may have had a role in the commission of those crimes.
His only gripe has been that the crimes do not meet the threshold of crimes against humanity, and should be prosecuted in Kenyan courts.

In my opinion, their claim to legitimacy aside, the council has every right to express its opinion on this case, just like any other group in Kenya. However, they can neither purport to represent a community’s thinking, nor successfully deal with the ICC through the media.

Ideally, they should have sought to be enjoined to the ICC case, and provided the evidence in their possession to the court to acquit those they consider to be wrongfully prosecuted, and nail those that are truly responsible. That they chose to address it in a newspaper advert suggests ulterior motives on their part.

The statement, however, addressed a very important outcome of the post-election violence – the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs). No matter who was responsible for the violence, it is completely unconscionable for any national leader to sleep peacefully while innocent Kenyans continue to languish in makeshift camps across the country.

The fact that it takes a tribal council of elders to ask that the President’s orders on this matter be obeyed speaks volumes about the stability of our State. The President has issued numerous orders on the resettlement of the IDPs, but nobody seems to be paying him any heed.

Kenya has an elected government whose primary role is to ensure that the welfare of citizens is placed above all other considerations. When citizens start feeling that the elected government is unable to address their needs, and they turn to unelected “councils of elders” and vigilante groups, the integrity of the State is imperilled.

In purporting to represent whole communities, these councils invalidate the need for the democratic infrastructure we are building in our country. In my view, they are an anachronism that we ostensibly replaced with several elected individuals and institutions, and their re-emergence poses a threat to these same institutions, and to the unity and security of our country.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine