The continued prosperity of Kenya lies in your hands
Monday, 25th February 2013
As election campaigns enter the homestretch this week, tension is palpable. Kenyans are unsure what next week portends. While it is reassuring that many of the top contenders have gone public and committed to holding peaceful elections, their pronouncements throughout their campaigns did not cultivate such confidence.
In this atmosphere of free-floating anxiety, there is talk that some organisations in the private sector and schools will be closing for the week, just to be sure their businesses and programmes are not disrupted, and that property is not destroyed or people hurt in the event of violence.
Magnify this scenario, and you realise that elections occasion massive losses to the economy, especially for a country that seeks to promote international investors, or is heavily reliant on perception-driven sectors like tourism. Already, there have been reports of Kenyans leaving farmlands and properties in areas where they are perceived as “outsiders.” There have also been erratic accounts of leaflets being circulated, warning perceived aliens to leave or be ejected.
Put another way, regardless of what happens on March 4—and we hope Kenyans shall keep the peace—there are silent losses being registered. Of course, the tension is occasioned more by anxiety than by objective cases of anarchy. Whichever way one looks at it, fragile is the character of our politics.
On the face of it, this is a security issue and probably reflects failure of sorts by the State to guarantee safety of Kenyans’ lives and property. But it could be a lot more than that. The paranoia that the election campaigns have generated perhaps points to institutional failure of key agencies. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC); the Registrar of Political Parties; and the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), among other State actors, stand accused for failing jointly and independently.
The IEBC, whose ultimate test is only days away, could have done better in the vetting of candidates’ suitability and saved the courts the countless suits before judicial consideration. Undoubtedly, the legal battles in and of themselves trigger unnecessary localised tensions. The credentials submitted by some of the contestants have been successfully challenged in court. This exposes IEBC’s underbelly.
The Registrar of Political Parties, on the other hand, has been unable to regulate the conduct of politicians in the most crucial arena: campaign financing. If the registrar is not empowered to carry out this function, there is need for the next Parliament to legislate on the disclosure of campaign funds. This will ensure more accountability by politicians, and minimise the temptation by corrupt individuals to use elections as forums to launder money.
But it is TJRC that has failed the most. Five years ago, the government created the commission to help reconcile Kenyans by getting to the root of so-called “historical injustices,” even as more injustices were being committed on the citizenry.
Instead of getting busy executing its mandate, however, TJRC could not agree on who among its staff could lead, and enormous resources were put to waste in endless catfights. Now Kenyans are paying dearly for the TJRC inertia. The country appears to be more divided along ethnic than political lines, partly because all political activities are organised along ethnicity.
It is important to clarify that there is nothing wrong with harbouring some ethnic distinctiveness—identifying with one’s tribe of origin. All of us come from some place that is geographically distinct, a place with separate mannerisms, language and behaviours—and it would be hollow to claim that we do not. This being the case, the true enemy is not geography, or culture, or belief; the real enemy is negative ethnicity: favouring one’s tribesmen or tribeswomen and holding persons from certain locales in higher or lower esteem.
There is a fully operational agency whose mandate is to educate Kenyans on the need to co-exist with their neighbours—irrespective of origin—and perhaps emphasise that there is more in our diversity that brings us together than divides us. This is the National Cohesion and Integration Commission. This being the case, a crucial lesson has been lost in our ethnically charged campaigns.
Founding President Jomo Kenyatta and his short-lived Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, were great friends and patriots. They parted ways because of ideological differences as Africa, at the height of the Cold War, was balkanised into capitalist and communist enclaves. Jomo turned to the capitalist West; Jaramogi turned to the communist East. Now their children, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, are locked in a tussle over the leadership of this country, and their fathers’ rivalry has been elevated to a top campaign issue.
Our continued prosperity and survival as a country is more important than the personal or political ideals of these two individuals—or any other person’s ideals, for that matter. We must defend the doctrine that our country, Kenya, is greater and bigger than any one person who occupies public office. Keeping your peace on March 4—no matter the outcome of the elections—is one contribution you can make towards that realisation. But your best articulation of your commitment to your country is to vote. So vote wisely.
Kenya’s Landed Gentry
Monday, 26th November 2012
Land is the festering wound that has refused to heal over our nation’s nearly 50-year life. As most Kenyans are starkly aware, the sanctity of land stems not just from its economic value but its cultural and even spiritual significance.
Youths remained well-behaved because they stood to inherit a piece of the family land upon maturity, and would rely on the land to fend for themselves and their families. And when they expired, they would return to the soil.
The centrality of land in Kenyans’ cultural discourse, and its persistence as a core grievance in our political debates signify that import.
And with the ever-expanding population, the available space is far out-stripped by need.
That’s not to say land is in short supply. Nearly 80 per cent of the nation’s available resources are held by just about 20 per cent of the population.
One might argue that such matrix is replicated elsewhere in the world. That could be so, but ours is one of the most unequal societies in the world.
This week, we demonstrate why this is so. And those who led us in the past have something to do with it.
The founding President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, used his executive authority to simply grab land. That’s not our term; it’s what Jaramogi Oginga Odinga called him, way after their fall-out in 1969.
But Kenyatta was not alone. His cronies similarly “sold” themselves massive farms that had been dispossessed other Kenyans for a song, after the departure of the white settlers.
We have a compelling story that provides one such snapshot to explain why landlessness among Kenyans is unlikely to end any time soon, especially where political opportunism is succeeded by corporate greed.
That provokes need for national dialogue on land to propose a mechanism that would guarantee we do not spend the next 50 years trying to undo the mess left by our forebears.
We also pay attention to public sector corruption, and how corporate oligarchs lined their pockets by demanding hefty kickbacks from foreign firms interested in investing in the country.
While one might argue wananchi did not lose money in such transactions, we should be reminded such monies are considered business costs, so recoverable through conventional business operations.
If a firm is scammed several millions of dollars, they simply revise their charges to recover the shortfall. This would be particularly easy to enforce when those approving the new rates are the self-same thieves who pocketed the bribe money.
Put another way, monies stolen from foreign firms to procure contracts in Kenya end up being paid for by Kenyans.
The other drawback is that our reputation as a business destination is ruined because those who pay bribes are likely to tell their associates and affiliates.
This denies Kenya legitimate businesses that could create new employment opportunities and open up different parts of the country with better infrastructure and services.
This is a challenge for our revamped Judiciary to prove Kenya is not a safe haven for locals stealing from foreign firms, who then rob from Kenyans. There is no reason former Finance Minister Chris Okemo and former Kenya Power and Lighting Company boss Samuel Gichuru shouldn’t be handed over to Jersey Island to answer to 53 charges awaiting them, ranging from money laundering and corruption.
On Politics of Patronage
Monday, 19th November 2012
Our news site got off to a flying start last week thanks, in no small part, to you, dear reader, who accessed and shared the material. This catapulted www.mavulture.com to top three most visited sites in the country on its launch day, according to Trendsmap, a leading forum that maps Twitter trends in Kenya.
There are several inferences to make from this: Firstly, it validates our instinct that Kenyans hunger for credible information that mainstream media are hesitant to touch. Secondly, Kenyans are keen to enhance their decision-making in the forthcoming General Election by discovering more about their leaders. Thirdly, and quite crucial to us, is the enormous trust that readers have invested in us to provide credible and accessible information.
That’s an obligation we shall honour and uphold, and we are grateful to all readers for their participation, and the challenge they have set for us.
We also appreciate the feedback that swamped our forums on social media and SMS.
We also acknowledge and appreciate politicians’ responses. Some, predictably, opted for the familiar route of intimidation and blackmail when complaining about some aspects of the published stories. Such antics are neither helpful nor effective at this stage of our political evolution.
It would be remiss on our part to dismiss any claim without scrutiny, and where genuine mistakes filter through our rigorous editorial processes, we shall make amends without hesitation.
But in the absence of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, we shall defend our position to inform Kenyans without fear or favour.
This week, we turn our spotlight away from presidential candidates to the friends they keep. After all, it is easy to judge a man from the friends they keep.
Yes, this is not just a simple question of camaraderie; our deeply established culture of patronage is an off-shoot of those social ties, so Kenyans can safely predict who is likely to bankroll whom at every election year.
What’s hard to predict, however, is the sort of deals that those on the receiving end might promise their benefactors, and which in turn sets corruption wheels in motion as each party tries to keep their part of the deal.
Put another way, our collective future is mortgaged by politicians cutting deals with their wealthy backers. We can stop that through enhanced vigilance.
Even better, we can insist on full disclosure of how candidates intend to fund their campaigns. Since charity begins at home, candidates should start by declaring their worth, and how they acquired their wealth.
That’s actually a legal requirement that’s rarely enforced. And when it is, politicians only offer a sanitised version that covers up footprints of their dubious pasts.
Our inquiry should not end with a simple money trail. Where past or present public servants express an interest in elective office, there should be some interrogation of their intentions.
What remedies can we prescribe when such individuals are irredeemably discredited through a litany of errors of commission or omission during their past tours of public duty?
We are reminded democracy is about the will of the majority, so it is you, dear reader, who has the last word on such issues, because it is your vote that counts. And, one might, add, we get the leaders that we deserve.
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Our freedom to new heights
Today marks the beginning of an exciting news venture that aspires to extend our growing democracy. The launch of www.mavulture.com comes at a critical time when our country is poised for a General Election under a new constitutional dispensation.
The news site www.mavulture.com provides that forum where deep questions are presented to the citizenry in our quest for answers to pressing social and political issues of the day. We appreciate politicians wield immense influence over the citizenry, yet their only qualification to public office is our trust in them. Yet, the regularity with which that trust has been violated compels us to rethink integrity threshold.
That brings us to the truism that we cannot, and should not, expect a different outcome if we employ methodologies that have failed us in the past. We have to have new ways of doing things if we are to avoid the mistakes of the past. Our list of regurgitated politicians from over the past several decades, and who have announced their interest in seeking public office in the newly created regional assemblies as well as Parliament prompt us to be circumspect about our future. Many politicians have pending business with the courts, yet others used been exposed for using their positions in the past to entrench their influence and using ill-gotten riches to defeat the cause of justice.
Those are the kind of questions that our so-called “independent” media, but who are beholden to self-same politicians through their business an social ties, are reluctant to pose, or expose, and demand accountability from our leaders. This news site www.Mavulture.com seeks to redress that challenge. We shall not shirk from asking those tough questions about the suitability of those who aspire to govern us when their past is questionable. As a non-partisan, non-political outfit, it is not for us to decide whom Kenyans wish to vote to power. Rather, we are interested in empowering the citizenry make informed decisions. We shall provide a forum where Kenyans can engage in a conversation about issues that affect them. The philosophy behind our brand, “Mavulture” reflects the avarice that afflicts nearly just about every politician.
Our contribution to that conversation shall come by way of penetrating reviews and analysis of events that have shaped, and continue to shape this country, for better or for worse, and the individuals involved. We shall offer a range of information packaged to the highest journalistic standards, from news articles, video and interactive forums. Please join us in the coming weeks and months as we unveil politicians’ profiles, news and analyses from perspectives that are not always heard.
Your participation by way of feedback or even story tips worth follow-up is the sure way to make your voice heard, and deepen our democracy. In that connection, our switchboard is waiting for your SMS through number 2540, as well as through the social media: Facebook, Twitter and email.
Sit back and enjoy, and don’t forget to shout out. Your voice is critical to this conversation.