Of Jubilee, NASA and the ‘Informed Voter’

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto of Jubilee Party

With the political party nominations coming to a close, the countdown begins towards the August 8th elections. The yet to be concluded party primaries have seen a surge in the number of youth seeking elective seats whether as Members of the County Assemblies, Members of the National Assembly, Governors as well as Senators. The general youthful argument being to provide leadership that is a stark departure from the old guard ethnic balkanizing of the electorate as well as the open voter bribery incidences that have marred elective politics for decades. It, however, remains to be seen whether these sentiments are merely populist public pronouncements or whether the youth actually desire to be different in preaching political tolerance and accommodating diverse political views. This badge that many claim to wear with pride and honor is unfortunately just that, a badge. Deep down, many still desire the raw ethnic profiling and making politics about ethnic communities and not policy or ideology.

The social media today, unlike 10 years ago has become a key battleground in the scramble for a favorable public opinion. Unfortunately, it has also doubled up as a platform for bullies and ethnic chauvinists to quash alternative opinions with the hope of anchoring the very same divisive notions that took Kenya to the doldrums in 2007/2008. No Kikuyu or Kalenjin is obligated to support the Uhuruto ticket for re-election. In the spirit of democracy, the power to choose is vested on the voter, even where he or she may suspend reason in electing representatives. Similarly, the alternative leadership presented by the Railonzo ticket is never a do or die affair for the voters. The candidates have a right to sell their agenda to the people, who also have the right to apply or suspend reason in choosing or rejecting their political ideology. Therefore, like in the case of the Uhuruto ticket, no Luo, Luhyia or Kamba is obligated to support the Railonzo ticket.

The 5 NASA Principles during unveiling of their flag bearer at Uhuru Park

Kenyans have for the past 54 years of independence allowed politicians to colonize their mental faculties, operating like automated robots when engaging in civic processes. We have belonged to political parties because our ethnic kingpins subscribe to them, shifting allegiance in a heartbeat when our tribal henchmen change parties. No wonder elected representatives hardly deliver in the roles assigned them. All they need to do is take a swipe at a particular ethnic community or its leading figures and voila, their electoral base reeling in euphoria, fall in line. Aspiring politicians also play this very card to earn popularity within a desired ethnic base then present themselves as party loyalists and defenders of party leadership. But Kenyans already know this. We have read and re-read such analyses but opt to turn a blind eye because we believe that everyone else is playing by these crooked rules. We feign helplessness even when we know very well that we are getting a raw deal and suffering the repercussions with every passing day.

I fall in the bracket of Kenyans that believe that we can do something to change the dominant political narrative. Nothing, however, happens where the will is lacking. For starters, we can actively interrogate the political ideologies as presented by the political parties and coalitions we subscribe to. Secondly, we can look at the individuals constituting a political party or coalition and question their track record in meeting the ideologies they have outlined. There can be no two ways about this. A little bit of research to inform popular statements that we reiterate once spoken by politicians can go a long way into transforming the electorate and especially opinion leaders from ‘Yes Men and Women’ to principled individuals with a grounded idea on the type of future we want for ourselves and our country Kenya.

The Writer is a Research Consultant for Savic Consultants in Nairobi.

Graft Theater: Contextualizing Kenya’s Fight Against Corruption

By Ooko Victor

corruption1Kenya was ranked position 139 out of a total 168 states in the 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International. The CPI tool has been used to rank countries based on perceived levels of corruption elicited by opinion surveys and expert assessments.The latest rankings put Kenya 29 places above, Somalia, perceived to be the most corrupt nation in the world. A more recent report released by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) however paints a different picture altogether. According to PwC, the rate of economic crimes in Kenya is 25% above the global average! For this stellar thieving performance, Kenya secured its place in the medal standings as the 3rd most corrupt country in the world.Asset misappropriation, bribery, and procurement fraud have been on a steady rise in Kenya from 54% in 2014to 61% in 2015. In fact, Kenya is estimated to be losing approximately KES600 BILLION equivalent to 8% of the GDP. To sum this up, one of the leading anti-corruption crusader in Kenya Mr. John Githongo labeled the current Kenyan Government as the most corrupt in this nation’s history.

This sad state of affairs begs the question, is Kenya genuine about its fight against corruption? Or is all this rhetoric about waging war against corruption another convenient government gimmick for political mileage with little being done to actually clamp down on the vice?

History of Anti-Graft Bodies

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission(EACC) is the body tasked with the investigation of corruption allegations against individuals and organizations and recommending legal action where necessary to the Director of Public Prosecutions(DPP). However, the history of the fight against corruption in Kenya lends little credence to EACC or other anti-graft agencies that came before it in as far as independently effecting their mandate is concerned. The first agency constituted in the fight against graft was the Anti-Corruption Squad, a unit withing the Police Department constituted in 1993. The squad was however disbanded in 1995 before it could register any meaningful gains. In early 1997, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority was created and former Kilome MP, Mr. John Harun Mwau appointed its first Director in December of the same year.

Mr Harun Mwau

lumumba

Prof. PLO Lumumba

Mwau would only serve 6 months in office before he was hounded out of office in 1998 and replaced with Justice Aaron Ringera in 1999. However, the High Court in December 2000 found the existence of the KACC unconstitutional and this followed its immediate disbandment. In August 2001, following an executive order, the Anti-Corruption Police Unit (ACPU) was created under the Criminal Investigation Department of the Kenya Police to fill the void left by the scrapping of KACC. ACPU would go on to operate until the creation of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) in May 2003.
Justice Ringera was reappointed as the Director and served in that capacity until his

resignation in July 2009 following pressure from Parliament. Prof. PLO Lumumba was then appointed Director of KACC in September of 2010 serving for a year before the establishment EACC in September of 2012, under the new constitutional dispensation. Mr. Mumo Matemu was appointed as the first Chairman of the new anti-graft body and Mr. Halakhe Waqo as its Secretary and Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Matemu would resign in 2015 and be replaced by Mr. Philip Kinisu in January 2016 who would go on to serve less than 6 months in office. This is the metamorphosis of a troubled institution that reflects upon the lack of political will to fight corruption.

Political insincerity

The fight against corruption reeks of political insincerity on the part of government and politicians alike. Mr. Mwau recently received adverse mentions in relation to the international drug trafficking racket, yet he once served as the head of an institution charged with prescribing ethical codes of conduct and the investigation of unethical practices in Kenya. Mr. Kinisu, on the other hand, was able to assume office despite pending questions over his involvement as a Board Member of his family Company, Esaki Ltd in the National Youth Service scandal involving loss of billions of shillings of public funds.

Kenyans are paying the ultimate price

Kenyans are paying the ultimate price

Today, Kenya is far worse into corruption than we probably were 10 or 20 years ago. According to the PwC report, Bribery and Corruption were reported at 47% as compared to 23% and 27% in the 2012 and 2014 surveys respectively. This increase could be catastrophic to economic growth and fair market competition. The rate at which state officials are fleecing national coffers is at an all time high. Several public institutions have suffered the brunt of corrupt dealings set to benefit a few at the expense of the general public. In 2015, Kenya experienced arguably the largest examination leakage scam in the history of the country! Examination papers were procured and all one needed to do to revise for examinations was to sit tight and watch the actual question paper in the full glare of the media! The former retail giants, Uchumi Supermarket, on the other hand, is facing another collapse with several of its officials charged with misappropriation of its cash and assets. Staff previously fired from the retail chain are alleged to have formed companies that currently supply the supermarket with products at inflated prices, rendering the supermarket unable to compete in the saturated retail stores market. A recent financial audit on the national carrier Kenya Airways on the other hand also revealed a scheme by several managers, lenders, and suppliers to defraud the company. Senior officials have been named as having diverted large chunks of money to the Dubai Bank(now under Receivership) thus starving the airline of necessary funds to effectively undertake its operations. Not even the body charged with overseeing Kenya’s involvement in Olympics has been spared the corrupt practices! Aside from the doping-related bribery allegations against a top official of the National Olympic Committee(NOC), athletes complained over missing kits despite the kit sponsors Nike categorical insistence on having provided sufficient kits for the athletes and their coaches. NOC officials also carried with them family members to Rio at the expense of Coaches for the selected athletes. There was also allegations over accommodation arrangements with some Kenyan athletes having been locked out of the Olympic Village due to late arrival. Then there is the land issue that involves politicians grabbing public land for personal gain. The Deputy President, for instance, had lost a court case and was ordered to pay KES 5million after he was found to have grabbed land from a private citizen, Mr. Gilbert Muteshi.

Historical justification

In addition to these public institutions, there is speculation concerning the utilization of the Eurobond proceeds with the government unable to satisfactorily account for close to $1.2 Billion(KES 120Billion) . The actual amount lost to the National Youth Service scam is also emerging to be around KES 2 Billion.  Various other scandals continue to haunt Kenya, chief among them the Anglo Leasing Scandal and the Triton Scandal involving the Kenya Pipeline Company. In his dossier released to the public addressed to the former President Mwai Kibaki, Mr. Githongo while serving as the Permanent Secretary for Governance and Ethics, provided a chronological account of his investigations into the Anglo Leasing scam, mentioning top government officials including the current Senator for Meru, Hon. Kiraitu Muriungi and former Vice President Moody Awori. Anglo leasing was actually Kenyan Politicians fundraising for the 2007 general elections, a practice that further casts similar doubts on the current utilization of the Eurobond proceeds as borrowing from this long-standing misuse of public funds to maintain governments in power
corr

Is the government really sincere in its fight against corruption? Comparing the Kenyan situation to our Tanzanian neighbors under President Magufuli, the political will to stamp out corruption is apparent. The public faith in government is restored and more and more intolerance to corruption adopted by the people. The result is a more committed and accountable public service and of course, reduced corruption and wastage of public funds. The long-term strategies, however, will involve legislation to ensure the system seals avenues that would enable corrupt practices. Kenya, on the other hand, lacks this political will. The public faith in crucial institutions are low and getting lower. Crimes remain unsolved because police demand kickbacks and brokers continue to infest the system hijacking ordinary citizens out to seek services from government offices dangling the promise of quick and efficient service at a fee. Reporting of such cases by citizens goes hand in hand with the confidence that action will be taken.

How do we get back to a trusted public service?

corruption-4First, we would need to ensure freedom of the press to enable them to expose corruption without encountering unnecessary bureaucratic red tapes in their pursuit of information or access to government officials. Secondly, the government needs to take advantage of the available media channels to provide readily available data to the public. Several government departments are already implementing this practice but much more could be done to ensure access to this data. When the government is forced to release information as a result of pressure from the Civil Service Organizations or the Opposition, it raises further speculation over a possible cover-up. Third is ensuring zero interference with judicial activities. A truly independent judiciary restores public confidence in the pursuit of justice. Luis Franceschi intones, ” It is not sufficient for the Judiciary to be independent; it is also necessary to appear to be independent.” The general public understands the difference between what the law says and what is actually happening. Fourth, amendments to the Penal Code and the Economic Crimes Laws is also highly necessary to ensure the imposition of stringent sanctions and stiffer penalties to those found guilty of the offense. Restrictions should also be instituted against the use of proceeds from corrupt dealings. This would tame the larger than life perceptions that suspects of economic crime float around further giving credence to the vice. Finally, there is a need to check on the wastage of county government funds. The Members of the County Assembly are almost becoming the main consumers of County funds with unwarranted travels and seminars that add no value to their constituents.

Conclusion

The Kenyan government needs to move beyond the numerous policy formulations and reign down on real culprits at the top of the chain. The fight against corruptions is impeccable on paper yet so empty in practice.corruption-endThe fight against corruption should be a movement and Kenyans need to believe. None of this, however, will be achieved without the government leading the way in breeding intolerance towards the vice and persons mentioned in relation to graft. The ultimate decision is made by the electorate on the ballot.

The writer is a Research Consultant with Savic Consultants in Nairobi, Kenya.

Substituting the ‘cut’: A Look into Alternative Rites of Passage

xBy Ooko Victor

One Palestinian woman when asked what she thought about some of the retrogressive cultural practices that women and girls have to live up to said this, ‘When we are born, we are controlled by our fathers, we grow up and we are controlled by our brothers. We are married and controlled by our husbands; then we give birth and are controlled by our sons.” This statement, though probably spoken in a context devoid of the optimism of a world in which gender equality was a possibility, summarizes the challenges that an average girl and woman continue to face and the desire to be free of this domination. Like other forms of violence that seek to exercise control and belittle the place and person of women in society, Female Genital Cutting(FGM) is both physical and psychological in its ramifications. It has caused untold pain, suffering, and humiliation to over 125 million women and girls the world over. In addition to severe pain, FGC has put women through shock, hemorrhage, bleeding, tetanus, sepsis and the risk of death.

There have however been a tremendous effort to fight female genital cutting and instead explore Alternative Rites of Passage(ATP). Various communities and organizations are involved in this exercise that ensures the preservation of the cultural value of the right of passage while empowering women and girls by doing away with the dehumanizing practice of female cutting. In addition to that, girls are not expected to be married and raise families immediately after. Rather, key stakeholders in the community are engaged in concerted efforts to popularize these ATPs that are slowly gaining popularity within various ethnic communities in Kenya that practice FGM.

Amongst the Meru Community of Kajuki, Kenya, ATP seminars are conducted as part of a St. Peterslifeline UK sponsored program. These seminars are preceded by discussions with the local circumcizers, parents, and elders as well as the teenage girls who would otherwise be considered ripe for ‘cutting’.  Permission is granted by the girls’ parents and the local leadership to have the girls congregate in a secluded location for the 5 day exercise. The seclusion is a similar practice to the 1 week period provided in actual traditional initiation ceremonies for the girls and provides a different setting away from the chores and responsibilities that await the girls on a typical day at home. xxThe daily forums include lectures, group discussions and games with breaks for meals and helping out in responsibilities when assigned. The girls are taught their rights from all forms of sexual violations and how to raise the alarm if they feel threatened. Other topics covered include the male and female anatomy, friendship, dating and marriage processes, various forms of female cutting as well as the dangers involved in the practice. Upon graduation the initiates are awarded with certificates in a public celebration in which their parents and the local community are invited. The program is supported by the local Catholic church and has been instrumental in reducing the FGM cases in the area.

The Maasai community of Loita Hills, in South Western part of Kenya, have a slightly different form of ATR. The girl has her head shaved as is the case during the actual ceremony. However, instead of the cut, she has milk, an integral product in Maasai culture, poured on her thighs. The girl then reappears wearing a traditional headdress as a sign of the transition into womanhood and a bracelet as a symbol of her graduation.

Shompole Maasai’s work hand in hand with Amref Health Africa to provide ARP to the young girls.  Most of the traditional rituals are retained with the exception of the actual cut. The girls have 2 to 3 days of seclusion in which they are taught the dangers of FGM, early marriage, and teenage pregnancies. To mark the graduation, the girls are paraded and blessed by the elders after which a big celebration is held for the ‘new women’. Amref has also helped to dispel the notion that ‘uncut’ girls will not find suitable husbands by involving the ‘morans’ in these programs where they publicly promise to marry ‘uncircumcised’ girls.More than 9,000 girls have gone through an Alternative Rite of Passage since Amref began partnering with Maasai communities.

xxxAmongst the Kisii and Kuria Communities, the Young Women Christian Association has set up rescue centres to which young girls escape when faced with the ‘cut’ especially during school holidays. The local communities have also largely embraced the ATP programs provided to their girls and in some cases, the parents have become members of YWCA to help advance the cause of zero FGM in the locality.

The successful implementation of ARP requires the integration of all stakeholders.  Without input from the parents, local schools, and religious and community leaders, little progress can be realized. Education also plays a key role in ensuring the proper understanding of the negative effects on the girl child.

The writer is a Research Consultant with Savic Consultants in Nairobi

Why Kenya is Ill-Equipped to Contain Fires

indexBy Ooko Victor

Just how prepared are you in case of a fire outbreak? What safety measures do you have in place in your area of residence?

Whereas emergencies require immediate response, foresight comes in handy in predicting the exact habits necessary to guarantee safety. Yet I can bet that the Nairobi County Government and by extension the entire country has this vital component all wrong. I will focus on just one component, the fire extinguisher, and show just how this component could be the game changer in the way the city is managed.

A fire extinguisher is easy to operate. Yet to someone who has never learnt how, leave alone seen one, it could be quite as complex to handle. Better still, the instructions on how to use it, complete with the image breakdown on how to use it to fight fires is inscribed on it. However, in a country where reactionary approach is preferred to anticipation, none of this seems to be of immediate importance.

How many buildings have fire extinguishers?

index1 The first question would be on the availability of the fire extinguisher. Do you have one in your house? How many are available in the apartment you live in? Do you think it is important to have one around? Have you engaged your landlord/lady over the same?

We all take it for granted that fire extinguishers are necessary if not important in all artificial spaces we occupy. When a fire emergency occurs, we are left flat-footed and lose friends and family in addition to property of great value. Businesses have time and again been razed to the ground, and in numerous of these cases, basic fire-fighting skills and equipment could have come in handy to contain the situation.

Nairobi County is reported to have a paltry 100 firefighters employed in its ranks; this against a population of 4 million and steadily growing. With such glaring staff shortage, minimizing the risk of fire outbreaks could be the game changer to ensure the safety of numerous dwellers beyond the reach of this vital resource.

Government Intervention

Nairobi Residents living to the South of Uhuru Highway feel this brunt more than their compatriots to the North. With the booming real estate industry, numerous buildings are put up without the slightest regard for emergency evacuation scenarios. I am yet to read the law in relation to this. It is almost as if the only thing that matters is that the buildings erected are strong enough to last! Yet setting up legal stipulations that ensure all buildings have at least a functional fire extinguisher could go a long way to improving the way our city is managed. This is how;

index2Ensuring that all buildings under the Nairobi City County’s jurisdiction has a fire extinguisher before it can be used by a customer would most definitely trigger conversations surrounding legislation to ensure the extinguishers are made mandatory. These legislations would also include periodic training to tenants and businesses occupying these premises. Such training would in turn go a long way to improve communication within residences in a Nairobi where ‘Nyumba Kumi’ is hardly effective. With such communication, then it is not only the fires that would matter, the same would translate to security issues, further bolstering neighborhood response to insecurity. In addition to this, it becomes even easier to talk about proper waste management in our neighborhoods! These by-laws developed in neighborhoods with loose relationships ultimately matter in ensuring conformity.

There is so much that ails our city. Our leaders unfortunately, try to focus on doing everything at the same time. This strategy is all wrong. We can perfect on one thing and use it to enhance all other aspects of our lives. And if not worthy of consideration as a development strategy, then at least, give it consideration as a basic safety requirement, because it is.

All this seems difficult until someone comes up with a sober implementation plan to oversee the same. I have taken the first step to write about this, then, I will approach my agent for a follow-up. It can be done and it should be done. As the convenient cliche goes, better safe than sorry, right?

The writer is a Research Consultant with Savic Consultants in Nairobi.

Is Africa really ready for African Solutions to African Problems?

Children are among the key victims of the strife in Burundi

Children are among the key victims of the strife in Burundi

It is Christmas today, yet Africa has very little to celebrate. As the leadership clings to power, African nations continue to burn, and with them, the hope of ever benefiting from what we all thought was a break from colonial subjugation. Countries are held ransom, and all in the guise of advancing national interests.

Today especially, my heart goes out to the Burundians, and I will give a brief history as adapted from Wikipedia

Burundi gained independence in 1962 and initially had a monarchy, but a series of assassinations, coups, and a general climate of regional instability culminated in the establishment of a republic and one-party state in 1966. Bouts of ethnic cleansing and ultimately two civil wars and genocides during the 1970s and again in the 1990s left the country undeveloped and its population as one of the world’s poorest (An estimated 250,000 people died in Burundi from the combined conflicts between 1962 and 1993).

In addition to poverty (Approximately 80% of Burundi’s population lives in poverty), Burundians often have to deal with corruption, weak infrastructure, poor access to health and education services, and hunger. Burundi is densely populated and has had substantial emigration as young people seek opportunities elsewhere.

2015 witnessed large-scale political strife as President Pierre Nkurunziza opted to run for a third term in office, a coup attempt failed and the country’s parliamentary and presidential elections were broadly criticized by members of the international community.

President Nkurunzinza at a previous function.

President Nkurunzinza at a previous function.

In a nutshell, since gaining its independence in 1962, Burundi has not known peace. All Burundians have been treated to is tiny morsels of peace over a 50 years. And by the look of things, the situation is not bound to get any better.

My political sociology lectures cited governance and especially in relation to term limits as one of the main problems bedeviling the African continent and curtailing our cruise through to development. Yes there is corruption and ethnicity as key issues, but then the governments in place have played the role of a catalyst to an already volatile situation.

Attempts have been made all through to compromise between the two dominant ethnic communities, the Hutu and Tutsi, and in fact, in 1995, talks were initiated by Julius Nyerere, the former Tanzania President and upon his death, one of the prominent figures of African nationalism, had a continued with the negotiations that apparently bore little fruit. These were African leaders attempting African solutions to African problems.

Government forces apprehending protesters

Government forces apprehending protesters

Fastrack to 2015 and the story is the same. Today, a woman with her 6 children are homeless. Aimlessly wandering the streets hoping to stumble upon a refugee camp in a neighboring country because of political strife. Peace keeping attempts by the African Union have been rebuffed by the incumbent, and now, the whole continent watches as Burundi reverts to civil war.

This is indeed a sad development. Do we have a shortage of leaders in Africa? Rwanda under Paul Kagame and Uganda under Yoweri Museveni have already sought to doctor their constitutions to give an extra term to the sitting presidents! Whereas their track records may be ‘impeccable’, this is a blatant disregard to the spirit of constitutionalism. Whatever is wrong with a sitting president just retiring and becoming an elder statesman?

Nelson Mandela did it in South Africa, Daniel Moi of Kenya is slowly getting good at it despite his earlier reservations and the same applies to Thabo Mbeki, Benjamin Mkapa, to mention a few.

For how long will we watch as innocent civilians bleed all in the name of advancing a hard-line political statement? Till everyone has fled Burundi? Till more mass graves are unearthed in the deep forests outside the capital of Bujumbura? Till when?

It is not enough for Africa to claim that we can solve our own problems. It is necessary that we show the political goodwill, in the interests of common mwananchi, a factor that keeps lacking in the midst of greed and the politics of amassing wealth and robbing the public coffers.

The AU is a toothless body. At least that is a conclusion we can make thus far. And by the foregoing, we could very well say that without the United Nations, without the International Criminal Court, we may never remember what a semblance of justice feels like. The African leadership wouldn’t want to accord us such a long leash.

African solutions to African problems has not yet matured enough to stand on its own two feet. Today, sad as it may be to admit, we still need #UncleSam to hold our hand and guide us to the generally right direction, and keep hoping that we find it right.

Ooko Victor.

#WeAreOne: Celebrating the Mandera Heroes

image

The security threat posed by the Alshabaab on Kenya has refused to go away. Every other day, we live with the fear of a new report about an explosive device recovered here or a hijacked passenger bus elsewhere. In each of these instances, the real test has been on whether we as Kenyans would allow ourselves to be divided alongside radical religious lines.

The selfless move by the Muslim passengers in the ill fated bus to shield their Christian counterparts from the Alshabaab bullets is an embodiment of true brotherhood. It is a victory of sorts against the religious propaganda wars waged by the fundamentalist groups. And a refreshing counter narrative for Kenya at this time before the seeds of religious intolerance began to take root.

The Pope’s recent visit to Africa reminded all people that it doesn’t matter what religion you are in. The most important thing for us is to keep our humanity. To maintain true brotherhood and to have great love and compassion to our neighbours.

The Alshabaab are a politically disgruntled lot that has opted to use religious allegiance to sow discord amongst nations and to further play god in deciding who deserves to live or die. The rate at which fellow innocent human beings are losing their lives, all in the name of making a political statement is sickening. And the whole world needs to borrow a leaf from the #ManderaHeroes on the need for uniting as one against terrorism.

Terrorist activities are in no way meant to benefit the Muslim religion either. Examples of countries that have experienced untold strife as a result of these fundamentalists are largely dominated by Muslim populations. Countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran are not predominantly Christian. Terrorism therefore is not Islamic in nature, and hence the need to rise up and unite against its perpetuation.

It is close to a year now since the Garissa University attacks which left families of more than 147 victims devastated. The #ManderaHeroes have greatly contributed to a change in that narrative. Today, we can hope again. Today we can look at each other United as victims of a war we never asked for. And because of that, we can choose to overlook religious differences as a determinant of who lives and who doesn’t.

The media should gobble down this story like never before. We now have a new lease of life against terrorism. A new narrative behind which we can renew the call for brotherhood and nationalism. As a country, we are grappling with a number of economic and governance issues, but we should not let religious intolerance find its way to that list. And even as we struggle for survival in these harsh economic times, let’s keep reminding these terrorists that indeed, #WeAreOne.

Ooko Victor

Of Kenya, Uganda, Sugar and Brookside…

sug

Sorry I could not come up with a better title. This one appeals to me best; the tale of two countries, sugar, and a dairy processing giant in East Africa! To top it all, the politicking surrounding this entire issue having created a buzz that just refuses to go down. The big question here however is, does any of the political factions have the farmers interests at heart?

First, this is not the first time that Sugar has dominated the Kenyan political scene. The decline of Mumias Sugar Factory has been in the limelight for quite sometime now. Just recently, the Kenyan Government released Kshs. 1 Billion to help salvage the dying industry. Whether or not the mission is on its way to fruition is not public knowledge. At least not until it is realized that just like there is always an inlet to pour in ‘rescue funds’ in the name of the farmers, there is also an outlet that is very keen on siphoning every last penny off the sugar millers coffers. This angle however remains unaddressed.

The quantity of sugar consumed locally stands at 720,000 metric tonnes. This against a meager 520,000 metric tonnes produced by the local sugar millers. This therefore implies that we have a deficit of around 200,000 metric tonnes, the exact value for which COMESA had allowed for importation into Kenya, in accordance to the agreed on tonnes. What faces us now is the opening of the floodgates that would in turn see the influx of sugar into the country and a massive reduction in the purchasing cost of the same. The flip-side however will be massive losses by the local companies and maybe even their closure if they are unable to keep up.

 

Is it time we interrogated the level of technology of our local industries vis-a-vis the quantity and quality of sugar produced? If Malawi’s sugar production costs are 4 times lower that Kenya’s, doesn’t that point at something that could be done to improve on our current sugar woes?

It is common knowledge that we shall not always be protected from the market forces. Our industries have to keep up or risk losing out. Kenya needs to keep up pace with the rest of the world if at all we expect to compete effectively, not just where we have strengths but weaknesses too. If the sugar industry is so hot a task to manage then we really should consider privatizing it. That way, not only will efficiency be improved and bureaucracy eliminated, the farmers will be in safer hands. As things stand today, the government is perfecting the art of failing. And no matter the step they take, the ghosts of misappropriation of funds are not going away soon.

 

The opposition has a role in keeping the government in check. However, would they have approached the issue any different from the way government has? The Uganda deal aside, the Kenyan market was set to be opened to sugar products from the COMESA region anyway! So, is the calls for mass action just because Uganda was mentioned somewhere, or is it also in protest of Kenya’s trade agreements within the 19 countries in the COMESA region?

The opposition has not only to be realistic but thorough at approaching the whole issue. The elephant in the room is the high costs of sugar production. If they were lower, then maybe even the threat posed by COMESA would have been of no consequence. If we want to sell we must also buy. And that rule of trade will catch up with us one of these fine days, no matter what the opposition thinks.

Lastly, The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy has threatened to rally its supporters to boycott the products of the Brookside Dairy Company that is affiliated with the President Uhuru Kenyatta. My opinion is that this is a low jab. It is time we stopped personalizing national issues and actually sought to address the real problems affecting Kenyans. How will the boycotting of Brookside products reduce the cost of producing sugar in the country? Singling out companies associated with personality in the name of fighting for the well good of the entire nation is trivial. Does sabotaging one company that also provides jobs and revenues to the country necessarily contribute to national growth?

The opposition needs to get its act together if indeed they are keen on steering this nation one day. Otherwise, they will remain the whining dog that watches another dog gnaw at a bone they so much wish was theirs.

 

Ooko Victor.

Who will drive Kenya’s Entrepreneurship Agenda beyond the GES2015?

oba
Obama has come and Obama has gone. The Euphoria and excitement is slowly dying down. Kenya is gradually resuming normalcy. The streets are busy again. The roads thick in traffic. And our problems, just as they were before the POTUS grand visit, are here with us.

All except for one thing, the reawakening of imagination amongst the Kenyan youth has been immense. Along the streets of the varsities, many talking, eating, drinking and walking entrepreneurship. Yet many more have just as well forgotten the yesterday. Today, we are talking about the millions of shillings unaccounted for by the various governmental departments. Today, we are keen on the great losses posted by our national carrier and indeed the “pride of Africa” Kenya Airways. That is typical of any nation with a myriad of problems to grapple with!

A day after President Obamas powerful speech at the Kasarani, a friend of mine posted that it is up to the Kenyans in attendance at the Pre-GES, GES and at the Stadium to spearhead the Nation’s entrepreneurship agenda. Yet my opinion is that there is no guarantee in this. The nation that watched, keenly followed, and internalized the powerful messages presented have a larger stake. The youth of this country may not have needed Obama to realize that innovation and entrepreneurship greatly stimulates development. Yet the Global Entrepreneurship Summit provided a greater impetus to this message. It provided a platform on which the rallying call was effectively delivered. And the mouthpiece of this necessary reality check was conveniently the son of the Kenyan soil! How convenient!

It is now 5 days since the summit. Since Universities sent their products to listen to the leader of the free world. Since the members of parliament humbled themselves before the ‘god’ of the moment and clapped furiously when the fight against ‘corruption’, ‘negative ethnicity’,’gender equality’ and ‘retrogressive cultural practices’ was reiterated. Since the youth of Kenya looked in them and around them and saw of themselves the images of accomplishment through innovations. All this may just be that- imaginations.

POTUS inspecting the guard of honour

POTUS inspecting the guard of honour

National Government still has to play it’s role in streamlining the field to be viable enough for budding entrepreneurs. This begins with offering protection to Keroche Industries against persons with vested interests in their downfall. Promotion of incubation hubs through the county governments and Universities may also go a long way into nurturing the innovative minds from the onset. Priority should be given in further developing the road networks to enable access to the interior parts of this country where there is so much that remains untapped. A fair ground for competition is only realized where there is adequate resources.

More focus should be given to the Science Contest symposiums at the high school levels and worthy projects brought to the limelight, improved and funded. The Universities should be pressed further to focus not just on the academic achievement of their students but also in encouraging innovations in science and technology and showcasing such developments. My fellow students in the Engineering and ICT fields may not have the vision to and aggression to follow through with their great ideas. Yet it may need the keen eye of another to make you see just how bright you glow!

Finally, not all of us will become entrepreneurs. Some of us are good at making the ideas of others succeed. Through the mobilization of resources or hands-on implementation, we may be the foot-soldiers that see our nation’s ideas give back to its citizens. There is no need to panic if you are not the innovator or entrepreneur. We all have a role to play in our society. Maybe yours is just to lead the team. Or follow the lead. Be good at it. Ensure it gives returns.

Obama may not have ever been an entrepreneur himself. Yet he very well befits the role of the mobilizer! We need some of us to inform us when we go wrong. To pressurize us to get back on track. To be the consumers of the products and ideas generated. We need to dialog among ourselves and realize that above all, African problems require African solutions.

Ooko Victor.

Muslims Should Openly Denounce and Fight Terrorism.

Kenya is a secular state. No religion can therefore claim monopoly over the nation and it’s systems. Christians are more than Muslims, yet they are not any more Kenyan than the Muslims are. We are all children of Kenya.

There may have been historical injustices, unequal distribution of resources and outright disregard to the plight of particular regions of the country. Yet we are far much better off than we were ten years ago. We have a new constitution. We have increased representation. We gave devolved governments. The common man’s plight can finally be listened to.

Today, Kenya finds itself where it was close to 17 years ago. The year was 1998 and the scar though healed, is hardly forgotten. Then there was the Kikambala bombings, and much more recently, the Westgate, Mpeketoni, and Garissa massacres. All having the hallmarks of religious chauvinism and faith based intolerance.

What is disturbing is the great silence from our Muslim brothers and sisters. Why when your friends, neighbors, colleagues and even fellow Kenyans are being butchered? Is Allah really a reflection of the fundamentalist foot soldiers that kill, butcher and maim in his name?

Never have I seen Muslim activists take to the streets to protest these killings! Yet when Sharia laws were being reconsidered, there was disquiet. Or does Sharia law allow this heinous murder of innocent civilians just minding their business?

Where is your anger, my Muslim brother, on seeing all those gory images splashed on social media in the name of Allah and Islam? Where is your loud reaction of pain and disgust? Or do you enjoy it when others die while you walk scot-free for being able to recite the ‘Shahada’? Where is your humanity?

If it were the other way round, I would not have sat down to see anyone persecuted for their faith. This is not just terrorism. This is persecution. This is the crudest form of advancing religious ideology!

It is good that Hon. Duale finally saw the need to crack the whip on Alshabaab financiers and sympathizers. It is even more sad if he knew that these people existed all along. All through Westgate, all through Mpeketoni and now Garissa.

I want to be able to trust my Muslim colleagues. Just as I want to see them vent their anger via social media. I want to see them pray for the victims of Alshabaab in their Mosques. I want them to organize forums with other religions to reiterate their stand on freedom of religion.

If none of these happens, and after every attack you are continually spared, then you lack a conscience. How else can I explain the fact that in 5 daily prayer sessions one cannot find time for a Christian friend under persecution?

And worse still, how can someone who prays 5 times a day still find time in between to help in the senseless killing of Students just out to study?

My questions are numerous. Yet desperation drives me to ask them. Type your response. Or write an article to respond to this. I just need to get your opinion on this.

@Ookoscope on Twitter
Email – victorooko@gmail.com

A Government of Condolences?~Reminiscing the Garissa Attack

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Is the Kenyan Government nothing short of a scavenger that only comes to count and mourn the dead? Are Kenyans at all safe? Does the Kenyan Government really have an idea what they are up to in matters security?

These are the questions on the minds of numerous Kenyans today. From #WestgateMallAttack to #MpeketoniAttacks and now it is #GarissaAttacks. Sandwiched in between is the Thika Road blasts and the list is endless. And what does the government offer in return? Empty reassurances and messages of condolences. We bury our dead and the cycle continues.

The police force is unable to ensure security in the country. And so is the entire ministry that has seen its fair share of sackings and resignations. Only that the new players play under the same defunct conditions. The system is not working. No matter who is at the helm of the chain.

Joseph Ole Lenku was clueless. Yet Joseph Nkaisserry is not proving to be any better. Yes, the tough talk seems a little bit more convincing; but that’s just it, convincing. The actions or inaction continue to haunt us several months later.

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The sequence is the same. Foreign countries; Britain, America, France or Germany issue travel advisories; President Uhuru Kenyatta rubbishes these insinuations as baseless, reiterating just how safe Kenya is; then BOOM! Alshabaab strikes at exactly one of the areas mentioned as the basis for travel advisories.

When Kenyan Security Agencies claim to be on high alert, it must be in relation to collecting bribes by the roadsides! Since their efficiency is hardly noted. Either that or they intentionally stay away from loud gunshots until guns run out of bullets. A very costly tactic indeed!

At this rate, Mr. President, there may be no more Kenyans for you to govern. That is unless you are serious on our security.

The 147 souls lost in the hands of terrorists were breadwinners; parents and the youth. Bright young minds out to pursue their education with the goal of transforming the lives of the societies in which they reside. A price they paid for so dearly!

It is apparent that the most concerned persons about the state of Insecurity are the General Public. We don’t have bodyguards, unlike the president and the political elite. They are protected with the best of officers who should be out there protecting the country and its citizens. How can they understand the pains of the family of Miss. Janet Akinyi, terminated for being a non-Muslim student in Garissa?

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The President has once again issued a tearful message of condolence. Seems like this is what the government is best in. Putting on a forlorn face before the cameras and blurting out their #RESTINPEACE phrases. Then the shift focuses on the Opposition and the game of musical chairs continues.

Ooko Victor