Of thieving State Officials, Failing War on Terror and a Clueless President

By Ooko Victor

Any concerned citizen waking up in Kenya today would cast a dejected soul at the disturbing goings-on envisaged in our country with every dawning day. In the middle of all political rhetoric and faction loyalty, three things stand out clearly for anyone, caring and objective enough to see.

  1. The thieving by State Officials is rising with every minute this administration spends at the helm of power.
  2. More and more civilians are finding it unsafe to live, work or visit North Eastern Kenya  with the unabated threat of the Al-Shabaab.
  3. The President, in the full glare of the media, has admitted to his inability to execute his mandate in the war against corruption. And as is evident, the war against terror.

Runaway Corruption

I recently published an article detailing the growing cases of corruption that seem to be sprouting towards the end of the first term of the Jubilee Administration, and how this is a similar occurrence to the 2005 discovery of the Anglo Leasing scandal that to date, remains unsolved. Its culprits living large and some even holding public office (see John Githongo dossier here). The article Graft Theater: Contextualizing Kenya’s Fight Against Corruption details the strategic use of state machinery to cover up corrupt details while hoodwinking government supporters of attempts by the opposition to tarnish the name of the government, with the intention to ‘steal’ power.

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Maternity section at Komarock Modern Health Care at Utawala, Nairobi. Photo courtesy of Daily Nation.

The past 4 years is a testimony of just how fallacious and manipulative such a statement could be.  Indeed, the discovery of a scandal, bigger than the National Youth Service scandal, and right at the center of a key pillar of the Jubilee Manifesto; Delivery of Free Maternal Care, would point at two things; the unrestricted greed among senior ministry officials ostensibly appointed to oversee operations by the government or, and worrying so, the complicity of government in abetting this thieving with the intention of siphoning money for 2017 campaigns that are almost here.

The latter, of course, would never be publicly admitted by anyone from past experience. The last time an official resigned over a similar-type corruption scandal, she elevated her game and is now set to take a shot at a gubernatorial seat with the capacity to manage much more than just public funds.

A positive out of this latest scandal, however, is the auditor’s insistence on an above-board audit process and the public informed of any attempts to cover-up the investigations into the missing funds. The health sector has enjoyed a relative period of progress and these latest development seek to point out just how bad things were under the uneasy silence. The county governments have been worst affected, having to own up the public image of opposition to noble government projects while, as we can now see, the rot was growing elsewhere with plunderers, not the least concerned about the effect of their actions on ordinary citizens without the financial capacity to pay medical bills. And just to put matters into perspective, KES 5 Billion would be a  hefty reprieve to cancer treatment, enough to buy 16 state-of-the-art cobalt cancer-fighting equipment to add to the only one available at the Kenyatta National Hospital.

Is Kenya winning the war against terror? 

I recently contemplated joining the army. Yet that’s where it ended, a contemplation. I respect the courage of these great men and women of the soil. The sacrifice they have made, and continue to make for this country has no price tag to match it. I recently watched the video on the El Adde attack that claimed more than 100 lives of these diligent soldiers (You can view the video here), and the corresponding cover-up by the government without publicly acknowledging the exact number of soldiers killed. I would consider this a betrayal of the cause for which these ardent young men and women enlisted. Is it time we brought our soldiers home? It is time we invoked an exit strategy out of Somalia. Our borders remain porous even with government claims that the building of a wall was underway. A wall which now, after public chest thumping and endless PR, looks nothing short of a wire meshed fence, and only for several kilometers along the border. In 2016, more than 2010, the number of youth crossing the border to join this war for our enemies skyrocketed. These youth, are crossing over the same borders we are securing to wage war against us. Ironic!

Leaders from North Eastern Kenya decrying Insecurity.

Leaders from North Eastern Kenya calling for increased government intervention.

Attacks on civilians have continued unabated. The border towns are under constant threats of Al-Shabaab attacks with some regions within our borders, less secure than similar towns within Somalia. Yes, we are in a war, but are we taking care of our people while at it?

The non-Muslim population in Mandera whether teachers or quarry workers, not to mention young thespians out to fork out a decent living and a few coins to spare continue to perish under our watch. Time and time again we have heard of intelligence reports of imminent attacks that were not acted on. The images of families torn apart by the ‘execution’ of their loved ones including breadwinners are stories of the average Kenyans out to eke a living for their dependants. They like hundreds of others becoming a historical statistic of the price of the Kenyan war on terror. Or the failures of the government and security agencies to protect its civilians.

A Clueless President?

Honesty is a virtue long admired in every human being. Few still embody this key mark of integrity. President Uhuru Kenyatta is among the few who fit into this bracket of ‘nobles’, we would all cheer him more if he listened to his soul and relinquished the powers bestowed on him by the voters as well. Let us look at this in a simpler way:

#CryBabyPresident?

#CryBabyPresident?

If you were to give me a job, with all the tools to effectively undertake that job. Then towards the end of the contract period, I come out to you, my employer, declaring my inability to do the job assigned to me, would it make sense if I asked for a new contract, to undertake the same job I had already confessed to being unable to perform in the first place? Honestly, if it were up to me, I would fire your sorry ass!

President Kenyatta last week just admitted to being clueless in his job. He is clueless about corruption, he is clueless about insecurity and until last week, he has been clueless about the conditions attached to the social contract that he swore allegiance to serve and protect.

All this, however, may not mean much to radicalized political supporters who care not to question such weighty matters. I would say political radicalization of intellectuals, is the worst form of radicalization the world can ever have. Far much worse than radicalization for the cause of terrorism. It hurts individuals capacity to make rational choices, rendering factual information secondary to ethnic allegiances and the fear for change.

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

Decision 2017 Not all about the Money

By Ooko Victor

15 Billion: the legally sanctioned upper limit for campaign funds for a single political party in Kenya which translates to about 0.24% of our GDP (as at 2015). Never mind that there are 2 leading rival political factions with the mathematical capacity to land the top seat, campaign funds notwithstanding. This is proof of just how expensive the price of ‘democracy’ in Kenya could be. The IEBC early this year alluded to a budgetary estimate of 40 billion, necessary to effectively conduct the 2017 General Elections(Business Daily 14/01/16). Against 12 million registered voters, this would translate to Ksh. 3, 300 ($33) required to enable a single registered voter to cast their vote, a record high for the country.

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The entire nation has been treated to the political show of might this past weekend during the grand launch of the Jubilee Party at the Capital which coincided with  their arch rival ODM’s  10th anniversary at the Coast. The message was clear. The battle lines have been drawn; the war chests filled and aching to be opened. Mwananchi must be dazzled and impressed with grand convoys branded in party colors and multi-billion worth of premises bought or leased to serve as the respective headquarters. All this is to convince the fence-sitting citizens to stand in line with the winning team.

Where does all this money come from?

To say ordinary citizens experience hard times in between elections would be an understatement. In contrast, the run-up to general elections are accompanied by attempts to ‘repair roads’, ‘organize tournaments’ and ‘visit the constituents’ all in a bid to remind them that the elected representatives are working for them and with them.  6 months into office and the default political modus operandi is activated. Kenyans keep falling for the same trick over and over again. We keep selling our stake for community development not to the highest bidder, rather to the bearer of the cash in hand.

Political power brokers accumulate campaign funds for a preferred candidate at whatever cost. Whoever said charity begins at home did not envisage the political arm-twisting that comes with political contributions. Yet, who will vote for a broke but visionary leader?

The laws are ineffective

It still remains to be seen whether the limits to Campaign financing will be observed. From personal experience, money recorded can be tracked. The same however cannot be said of unrecorded finances. In a country where corruption is a preserve of political geniuses, it would be interesting to see how this law would be implemented. I would however mention here that despite the high rate of election offenses, few politicians have been charged with the crime. Voter bribery is a demanded right by the electorate. The arresting officers are not any better. What use is the law if a few people cannot line their pockets with advance salary?images

Too much money in circulation during elections is synonymous to auctioning our democracy to the highest bidder. It is a disadvantage to the women, youth and persons with disability whom despite great leadership potential may not have enough finances to match their loaded counterparts. The alternative for which of course is power brokerage.

Ensure implementation

The IEBC needs to do much more than just communicating the laws. Actual strategies should be laid on the ground and candidates’ accounts keenly scrutinized to ensure compliance.  Election hotlines could also be instituted where cases of voter bribery could be reported. A media team if not currently functional, could be formed to monitor the IEBC website, Facebook Page and Twitter handles and a round the clock customer care center for instant information on the happenings in the constituency in real time so as to dispatch police officers where necessary for swift action. Whereas this may not curb electoral malpractices 100%, it would make the violation of electoral laws a cumbersome affair.

It should also be mandatory for all aspirants to declare their wealth before seeking elective office. Electoral laws formulated to that effect would go a long way in protecting public finances from thieving hands.

The buck stops with the voters

index1Despite the legal frameworks crafted to protect the electoral space, the buck stops with the Kenyan voters. Whereas we compare ourselves to Botswana and Republic of Korea and wonder where the rain started beating us; we need to realize that we are the product of our choices. We are the leaders we elect into office. And the only way of ensuring radical change that mirrors our expectations is to vote in sound leadership.

Whereas finances are necessary in fronting a good campaign, it should not override the candidates’ policies and character. The goal is not to eat today without considering tomorrow.

Mr. Ooko is a Research Consultant with Savic Consultants

The Political Combination that could topple Jubilee

kalmuEvery supporter of Raila Odinga seems to believe he is the only candidate able to wrestle the reins of power from incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and thereby topple the Jubilee administration. That may be true as long as the perception is from a solitary point of view. Yet political strategy cannot just have a single stand point.  At least, not if the saying ‘there are many ways to kill a rat’ persists.

Raila’s greatest successes have come not while fronting himself as the candidate, rather, when standing up for the greater good. He is a mobilizer extraordinaire! And his loyal troop of soldiers from the Luo community would provide any general some level of pride and self-assurance, almost to the point of sheer arrogance and overconfidence. Yet even with three attempts under his belt, Raila could only be as close as to caress the presidency despite his political mastery. The game plan needs to change!

First, Raila should support the calls for Luhya Unity rather than seek to undermine it. If indeed the opposition is the best alternative government, then the unity of purpose would ensure an endgame to the Jubilee strategy. The people of Mulembe have been their own greatest undoing for quite some time now, it seems like they are now willing to unite and speak in one voice. And not just Luhya Unity, the Coast Leadership is crumbling too with Gideon Mung’aro keen to mastermind its eventual division. The Jubilee forays into the region have seen a few leaders singing to their tune. The hostility between Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and the Senator Mr. Hassan Omar is public records. When battling against the tyranny of numbers, a little disunity should be a cause for severe headache.

Secondly, Raila could then recuse himself from contesting the CORD ticket and rather support Hon. Kalonzo Musyoka, with the condition that Western Kenya produces Hon. Musalia Mudavadi as his running mate. Now look at this combination! Odd? Indeed but capable of working. A growing number of Kenyans may not want Jubilee in power, and neither does Raila as the alternative. Therefore Kalonzo would provide a much better alternative. And why the Presidency? He is the only original co-founders of CORD beside Raila remaining in the equation. Besides, I have never really imagined Wetangula as the Western Kenya Kingpin. With the support of the Western Kenya Unity, Mudavadi may be just the person to deliver the Luhya vote if the Luhya unity were to actually work.

Thirdly, Raila could then mobilize the entire Nyanza machinery behind the proposed leadership and make these candidates into contestants for the Presidency. And like I had already said, Raila is the go to politician when you are after actual mobilization. And with this combination, all key players would urge their strongholds to come out and vote in a Kalonzo-Mudavadi ticket as fronted by the general himself, Raila Amolo Odinga. I believe a deal like this could be struck to first of all end the current air of political mistrust and disloyalties abound. And Raila could finally have another major win since 2002, enough to make him bow out gracefully and focus on matters of African statesmanship.

And talking about the numbers, uniting the Luhya population and concentrating the all other regions together is the best possible shot the opposition has at the Presidency. In fact, even Gideon Moi could finally throw his entire weight behind the CORD presidency without compromising his own family in the historical Raila-Moi feud. And with this pact in place, of course other deals may be stuck here and there to accommodate the political egos, then the ‘Kibaki Tosha’ memories that pushed President Kibaki from the confines of a wheelchair to State House are bound to get even better.

Would this combination be a wild card? Maybe, yet you cannot assume the capacity it has to actually work! In order to win, you must not always be the one on the front-line. Sometimes, being the one to push the others could be all that is needed for the country to take on a different course. Sacrifice.

Ooko Victor

[victorooko@gmail.com]

Of Kenya, Uganda, Sugar and Brookside…

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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.