Sunday, March 31, 2013

Governors must seek advice from health experts

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 31 March 2013
On Wednesday, newly elected governors were sworn into office across the country. Most will have lofty dreams about what they intend to do for their people, and the next five years will be a study in prioritisation and prudent policy implementation.
However, most will need to reread the Constitution to clearly understand where their mandate ends and that of the national leadership begins. For instance, some have talked about boosting the capacity of security agencies while others are keen to improve the performance of primary and secondary schools.
But the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution clearly provides that these roles are in the exclusive domain of the national government. The county government has no role to play in the areas of policing or defence, and their role in education is restricted to “pre-primary education, village polytechnics, homecraft centres and childcare facilities”.
This is not to say that their roles are trivial or inconsequential. Governors shall have almost exclusive control over county health services and the transport infrastructure. Handled intelligently, these are services that will make a real change in the lives of the citizens.
While infrastructure needs can be assessed by almost any layperson, the health needs will require experts to determine and provide strategies for implementation. Health is a complex matter which when mishandled can result in death and disability, crippling the county economy and even necessitating intervention by the national government.
Clever governors, therefore, will already have assembled teams of formal and informal advisers. The formal advisers will be presented to the county assemblies for vetting, and appointment as members of county executive committees. The informal advisers will not necessarily hold any position in the county government, but will be instrumental in advising the governor on important policy initiatives.
Governors must identify health policy experts to help them draw up a health strategic plan, perhaps even in tandem with the national health policy. These experts will identify the county health priorities and help develop innovative ways of dealing with these issues effectively. The national government can assist by maintaining a record of best practices that can then be adopted by other counties with similar profiles.
Professional societies such as the Kenya Medical Association have a presence in most counties, and governors must take advantage of the experts who are members of such associations. A formal relationship can be developed between the county governments and the county divisions of these associations, ensuring that professionals can be relied upon to give advice whenever the need arises.
Due to the challenges the county governments will encounter in administering health resources, it is foreseeable that management of the human resources for health will be problematic. This is likely to be even more acute in resource-constrained counties, and it is therefore prudent for the government to seriously explore the proposal to establish a Health Services Commission to take care of this end of business. 
Unless this is done, skewed distribution of the health workforce will continue to plague our health sector.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Some lessons from the General Election

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 24 March 2013
The Supreme Court will within the next few days rule on the petitions filed by various groups with regard to the conduct and results of the General Election.
This ruling will be final and all Kenyans will have the duty to abide by it. For the time being, we must begin to discuss some important lessons learnt about ourselves as a result of the elections.
The first lesson we must take away from this election is that publicly funded individuals and institutions must be held to the very highest standards if we are to ever grow to our full potential.
The cavalier attitude displayed by public officers when dealing with important issues will have to end, and they will have to be forced to begin counter-checking all information before releasing it to the public.
For instance, the electoral commission’s problems with numbers and technology were pointed out a long time before the elections. Towards the end of voter registration, we pointed out that some of the provisional figures put out by the commission were erroneous, and we expressed the hope that action would be taken against the individuals responsible for such errors.
Since we are not aware that such action was ever taken, it would seem that nothing prevented negligent staffers from allowing problems such as those witnessed during announcement of the presidential results occurring.
The second lesson we must take away from this election is that we must begin to see elections as merely contests for the power wielded by the common citizen.
Politicians are competing to receive this power in order to do certain things that they must convince us are in our best interests.
The quarrels must therefore only be restricted within the political class, leaving the citizens to make their choices at the elections and return to their daily lives. We must never arrive again at a place where we subordinate our collective fates to the fortunes of any politician.
The third, and most ominous lesson for those of us who observed this election with interest, is that we are yet to deal with tribal motivations that drive electoral behaviour.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) and the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), formed in an attempt to address the root causes of the ethnic hatred in this country, have turned out to be spectacular failures.
The TJRC is yet to present its report long after the original deadline and subsequent extensions expired. The NCIC continues to be long on rhetoric and short on action. They continuously threaten “hate-mongers” with dire action and then fade out of sight, only to re-emerge with fresh threats.
But the clearest demonstration of the failure of these commissions is the amount of veiled hate that was uncovered by this election, especially among the so-called middle-class of this republic.
Anyone with access to an Internet connection and a keyboard has become the principal advocate for his or her tribal chieftain, and the messages swirling around in private circles are extremely frightening.
It would appear that the generation that presented the most realistic opportunity of slaying the tribal monster has been swallowed whole by it, and now provides the energy that propels it forward, devouring all in its path.
In accordance with the ancient Chinese curse, these are interesting times indeed.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Sunday, March 17, 2013

New tactics needed to slay ethnic monster

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 17 March 2013
In all the General Elections since 1992, Kenyans have lined up behind their tribal chiefs or their nominees. However, during the 10 years of Kanu rule under the multiparty system, this trend was masked by the then regime’s divide-and-rule tactics that ensured there was a multiplicity of parties that had difficulty uniting to end the Kanu kleptocracy.
In 2002, many praised the end of ethnicised politics when an overwhelming majority of Kenyans elected President Kibaki and a majority of aspirants under the National Rainbow Coalition banner. It was said that for the first time since the introduction of multiparty politics, Kenyans had seen beyond their tribal boundaries and chosen a person not necessarily on the basis of his tribe, but on a platform of change.
Of course this over-exuberant interpretation of events could not go unchallenged. The truth is that the two main candidates at that election were nominated precisely because of their tribe, keeping in mind that they hailed from the country’s most populous ethnic community. Tribal political chiefs lined up behind one or the other candidate, with a majority of them backing President Kibaki due to frustration with then President Moi’s political antics. President Kibaki, therefore, won by securing the support of the leaders of the most populous ethnic groups.
In 2007, ethnic profiling hit a peak. The campaigns openly focused on the candidates’ tribes, and a narrative about one tribe versus the rest took root, leading to the election result which was disputed by ODM and its violent repercussions continue to reverberate across this country.
This year, after attempting to fix the system and encourage issue-based politics, many had hoped that the election would be fought and won on issues and not tribe. Indeed, many observers without the experience of interpreting local political messages thought that the campaigns were exemplary in their focus of the issues that are important to Kenyans.
The presidential election results released on Saturday last week demonstrated just how deep-seated the ethnic sentiment is among Kenyan voters. The reaction to the subsequent dispute by Cord over results confirmed this to anyone who doubted it.
First, the two leading presidential contenders managed to get huge margins of victory from their ethnic “strongholds”, scoring over 99 per cent in some constituencies. There was no logic to this pattern, except the candidate’s tribe. Poverty, unemployment, insecurity, poor healthcare and education, and dilapidated infrastructure affect all Kenyans similarly, and the voting pattern would have been more random had we voted on the basis of issues.
Second, when one of the presidential candidates disputed the results and yesterday challenged them in court, members of his community showed almost unanimous support for this move, while those belonging to the leading candidate’s tribe were almost unanimous in demanding that all the “losers” concede and let Kenyans move on.
Obviously, we are still a long way away from slaying this stubborn ethnic monster, and we shall need to employ new tactics in this struggle. Of course this is predicated on the assumption that we want to slay this monster in the first place, an assumption that may turn out to be off the mark.
One can only hope that we are raising our children differently, and that they will make their decisions based on more than just a candidate’s surname.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Monday, March 11, 2013

Electoral commission owes us an explanation

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 10 March 2013

Last Monday, Kenyans finally conducted the first elections under our new Constitution.
These elections were meant to mark a new beginning in our national life, a break from a past we were in a hurry to get away from. Kenyans subsequently handled themselves admirably despite the issues that arose during and after the elections.

From my point of view, we do not deserve to be overly congratulated for this. It is the responsibility of every upright citizen to conduct their affairs in a manner that does not infringe upon the rights of others. When the citizen obeys this injunction, the only reward is the assurance that the law will protect them from those that would cause mayhem and disorder in society.

The fact that Kenyans behaved in a largely civilised manner during and immediately after the elections therefore only goes to confirm that over time, we are gradually getting better at dealing with our problems. The only reason Kenyans can claim accolades for their behaviour is that they resisted extreme provocation from the one institution that was supposed to give them the least amount of grief, given the amount of resources that we have poured into it.

In my view, the Electoral Commission bungled the election big-time, and the fact that the whole enterprise is still in office is testimony to the patience and civility of Kenyans.

First, they promised that the voter identification procedures at polling stations would be electronic, in order to prevent inflation of voter turnout statistics. In most of the country, this process failed, leading to suspicions of mischief.

Second, the Commission indicated that provisional results would first be beamed instantaneously to the Elections Headquarters at Bomas of Kenya and to the media and other interested parties. After streaming figures characterised by suspiciously high numbers of rejected votes for a while, the process was suddenly stopped. The Commission claimed that the equipment meant to transmit or store the data had failed, necessitating the stoppage of results transmission.

Third, the Commission had earlier indicated that the tallying and release of presidential results (even in the interim) would take precedence over all other positions. The reason given for this was that in the last General Election, a delay in announcement of the presidential result was thought to be one of the causes of violence in the country. One can therefore imagine the surprise of many Kenyans when all the results were delivered except those of the presidential race.

It is therefore my contention that any success in carrying out this election peacefully can only be attributed to the choice by Kenyans to take the hitches in their stride, rather than any technical competence by the electoral commission. In any case, there was no technical difference between the procedure at this election and that of the 2007 General Election.

In my view, this commission will have several questions to answer in the coming days.

They will have to account for the billions of shillings spent on equipment and staff in preparation for this election. They will have to explain what went wrong with the laid down procedures, and what led to the breakdown in the tallying and release of results.

They will also have to convince us why we should ever allow them to carry out another election in this country. 

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

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Kenya elections: Don't worry about things you cannot change!

People. Once again let me say this.
 The elections are over. There were obvious flaws at all stages of the process, and I think all coalitions will agree with this (the two leading teams have addressed press conferences expressing worries at various points, usually when they sense a disadvantage).

Results are still being released, and legitimate questions have been raised (including by me) about some of the figures; this will obviously need clarification).

For the Kenyan voter, this thing is now out of your hands. No matter how much you huff or puff, the IEBC will do what they will. I advise my clients (not that any of you is one!) not to waste time worrying about things they cannot change. Worry only about that which you can change, and then change it as soon as you can in order to stop worrying about it.

For the politicians, I feel your pain if you are on the losing side, especially if you consider the loss unfair. Please do the following:

1. Meticulously collect evidence of electoral malpractice and store it safely. Consult with electoral law experts, if you must.

2. As soon as the IEBC announces the final result, lodge your complaint in the appropriate court (The Supreme Court in the case of the Presidential election).

3. Argue your case as convincingly as possible before the courts. Since, obviously, the evidence you have is incontrovertible, it should be very easy to persuade the courts to nullify the election and order a fresh one.

4. Don't bother with popular sentiment. Your supporters still support you, and if they are in the majority, they will obviously vote for you again. Those that do not support you will not change their opinion just because you are being treated unfairly. Don't waste valuable resources on them!

Finally, for the IEBC, why are you taking so long to call this thing? History will judge you harshly if you continue to play around indecisively with results that you already hold!

And stop telling Kenyans to maintain peace! That is the default position here. Nobody has expressed any intention of causing violence (except of course the outlawed gangs that the security forces are already aware of!)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Your behaviour will determine Kenya's future

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 03 March 2013

Finally, the campaigns are over. Today Kenyans take a break from politics and can begin thinking about a future after Monday’s elections. All candidates and parties have shouted themselves hoarse and danced themselves lame trying to convince us that they are the best option for a better Kenya. We have listened keenly, danced with some of them, and derided others.

That time is now over, and we must now be allowed to reflect in silence on the choices we are going to make on Monday. The decision we make on Monday determines whether this country holds together or finally disintegrates into its more natural mono-ethnic units as it has been trying to do at every election in the past two decades.

And this has nothing to do with which candidate or coalition we vote for.

What will determine the future of our country is actually how we behave after we vote, and after we receive the election results. How we behave when we discover that our “extremely popular” and well-loved candidate has been white-washed by a hitherto unknown upstart. How we behave when our coalition, which was slated to win the election with a “landslide”, loses by such a wide margin that the election is decided before the night is over. 

Shoulder high

How we behave when supporters of our opponents start singing and dancing the night away, deliriously carrying their chosen candidates shoulder high and exchanging celebratory high-fives.

These are the decisions that will make or break our country. Will you reject the loss of your candidate, and lash out at everything around you? Will you arm yourself and rush into the streets to block roads and attack your neighbours in protest against a presumably “stolen” election? Will you accept money from a candidate to demonstrate in the streets in the wake of a disappointing result?

If these decisions characterise your planned action, and if you and your ilk constitute the majority of Kenyan voters, then it is time for those of us who are more liberal-minded to pack up and find another country to call home. It is those that answer “yes” to these questions that will destroy the fragile peace that exists at this time in our beloved country.

If, on the other hand, you intend to accept the results as presented by the electoral commission, and plan to go to court if you are dissatisfied with how the process is handled; if you are willing to congratulate your neighbour on the win of his candidate whom you campaigned vigorously against; if you cannot countenance a violent thought in relation to the forthcoming elections; and if, as I hope and expect, you are among the majority of Kenyans, then we have already won this election even before a single ballot is cast. 

Stature of our country

In this, as in all future elections, let us remind ourselves that the reason the candidates are struggling so hard to win our votes has at least something to do with their desire to improve the stature of our country in the community of nations. Let us set up the system such that no matter who wins, the best interests of our nation will prevail. Let us banish the possibility of election-associated violence to the dustbin of our history, where it rightfully belongs.

Once again, may the best candidates win. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and a senior lecturer at the Moi University’s school of medicine; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli