Sunday, September 17, 2017

Electoral malpractices reveal deep ethical, moral crisis in our society

After a bruising and noisy campaign, Kenyans went to the polls in August to elect their president. According to the pollsters, this was one of the closest elections. Millions voted peacefully, and as always believed their voices would count.

As is their custom, election observer, notably the European Union Observer Mission and the Carter Centre found the election to be largely free and fair. Foreign missions were quick to congratulate the people of Kenya for a peaceful election. The will of the people was upheld and democracy was on the march. 

Mr. Raila Odinga, leader of the National Super Alliance (NASA), refused to concede defeat. Mr. Odinga claimed the elections were rigged. Initially the leaders said they would not file a petition at the Supreme Court to challenge the elections. A country with a history of post-election violence was on edge again.

First forward, the opposition was persuaded to file a petition to challenge the outcome of the presidential election. The petition was premised on two critical issues. First, that presidential election was not conducted in accordance with the principles laid down by the constitution and the law relating to the elections. Second, there were irregularities and illegalities committed in the conduct of the 2017 elections.

In a ruling that stunned the a nation and the world, restored confidence in our courts and made law students and young lawyers proud, Kenya’s Supreme Court declared the 2017 presidential election invalid, null and void. Justice Maraga also declared that incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, the third respondent to the petition was not validly declared president, and hence the declaration by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chair was invalid, null and void.

The Supreme Court directed the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to organize and conduct a fresh Presidential Election in strict conformity with the constitution and the election laws within 60 days. “It is so ordered”, Justice David Maraga declared.

First, Kenyans have very little faith in public institutions. We don’t trust our justice system. The police and judges have a price. Second, we are a society where corruption is neither immoral nor criminal. Third, elections and politics are a zero-sum game.

The scale of the irregularities and illegalities in the manner in which IEBC conducted the elections suggests that Kenyan citizens, acting in their private and official capacity were compromised. Bribes were given and taken. I have said that as a society we are gravely deficient in trust, moral standing and integrity.

What has been revealed about the 2017 elections validates the disturbing findings of the Kenya youth survey. The survey revealed that young Kenyans were highly inclined to corruption, rule violation (impunity) and electoral fraud.

Ours is a case of a rotten barrel causing to rot every new harvest of apples. We must reflect deeply on the words of Chief Justice Maraga; “The greatness of a nation lies in its fidelity to its institutions and strict adherence to the rule of the law, and above all the fear of God.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Women key to achieving shared prosperit

Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania are often hailed as Africa’s success stories. But Kenya is never left too far behind. Consistently, we have exhibited hope and positive prospects. Huge development opportunities abound. Our challenges persist. 

A relatively well-educated youthful population, expansion of access to education and huge investment in infrastructure present great opportunities. Intractable poverty, growing inequality and ethnic discord pose the greatest challenge to our progress. These are challenges of our own making. And only we can and must resolve them.

Reducing inequality is perhaps Kenya’s single most critical challenge and, it is integral to delivering shared prosperity. According to the New World Wealth 2014 report, 8,300 people or 0.02 percent own about 62 percent of the country’s wealth.  It is estimated that the poorest 10 percent of receive only two percent of the national income.

The emergence of extreme wealth among the African elite, after independence, was driven by systematic and sustained political in which personal interests of politicians, their families and lackeys influence state decisions and abuse office for personal business and financial gains. Things have not changed. The stakes just got higher, with new opportunities through large infrastructure and public sector service deals.

Regional inequalities are equally stark. These inequalities map neatly along ethnic, and political cleavages. Geography, as expressed by natural endowments – rainfall, temperature, vegetation and soils – exerts a huge influence on livelihood options. The inequalities also track the footprint of the commercial and administrative interests of the British colonists.

In counties like Wajir, Mandera and Turkana poverty rates are above 80 percent. Maternal mortality in Mandera is 3795 per 100,000 live births; giving birth is death sentence. In Turkana County, a skilled birth attendant delivers less than 25 percent of babies. At 227 deaths per 1,000 live births, Siaya County has the highest child mortality in the World. The country with the highest child mortality in the world has 156 deaths per 1,000 live births. 

Devolved governments, working in partnership with the national government must double down and grapple with the challenge of creating shared prosperity. Citizens at the county level must now begin to ask questions about public spending priorities. Their voices, backed up by their taxes must count. Government, national or county must be about service equitable service delivery.

While the big project investments are critical, the household level and especially the role of women is vital to stimulating and driving shared prosperity. We must pay attention to women, increasing their participation in education, training, business, leadership and employment. The minimum acceptable level of women participation must be parity. It is estimated that less than 30 percent of those earning formal employment wages are women. And even the few women in formal employment don’t receive equal pay for equal work compared to their male counterparts

Moreover, we have to take of the shackles of culture and tradition. Issues around property rights and assets for rural women must be attended to urgently. Women must have unfettered access to productive assets.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Efficient management, re-use, recycle of plastic bags is more sensible than a total ban

Kenya has banned the manufacture and use of plastic carrier bags and flat bags used for commercial and household packaging. However, the ban does not apply to plastic bags used in primary industrial packaging.

The ban took effect August 28, 2017. This landmark law has been widely acclaimed, especially by environment and conservation aficionados. The Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, Erik Solheim, tweeted, “Fantastic news! Kenya bans plastic bags. Congratulations!”

The shining role model for Kenya is Rwanda, which banned the use of plastic bags in 2008. The streets and residential neighborhoods of Kigali are nearly spotless clean. This is in sharp contrast to Kenya, where public and private spaces are choked in garbage, with plastics being the most visible trash.

The negative impacts of plastic bags are indefensible. Here in Nairobi, plastic bags are chocking storm drains and strangulating our rivers. They litter our streets and precious open public spaces. Plastic bags are an eyesore when they dangle from our trees. In the ocean plastics kill fish, seabirds and other forms of marine life.

Reliable evidence suggests single use plastics valued at $80-120 billion is lost to the global economy annually. About 32 per cent of plastic packaging is improperly disposed generating unknown but staggering costs by fouling water systems and damaging urban infrastructure. The production of plastics is also associated with emission of greenhouse gases.

We have demonized plastic bags. Hence, on the face of it the ban in Kenya is the right thing to do. But the real demon dwells in the revolting levels of corruption and dysfunction in urban governance. Waste management is private and unregulated. Waste is not sorted and disposal is run by greedy cartels that have politicians in their pockets.

Such chaos hampers the development effective after-use systems and effective environments for innovation. Hence, there is another side to the plastic bags saga. An opportunity beckons; through efficient management of plastics we can achieve better outcomes, for the economy and the environment while continuing to enjoy the benefits of plastic packaging. 

The opportunity is the ‘circular economy’, a term not well known a few years ago but has stirred imagination globally, as a practical option to the current linear take-make-dispose economic model. At the heart of the circular economy idea is the fact that circularity must be a concrete driver of production innovation and value creation in the 21st century.

The material savings potential of the circular economy is estimated at about a trillion dollars annually. Studies have shown the in Europe 53 per cent of plastic packaging can be recycles in an ecologically efficient way. The job creation potential across the circular economy value chain exceeds a million in the European Union.

The tradeoff is loss of the opportunity to create a new industrial system that is restorative and regenerative. Thousands of new products and millions of quality, durable jobs could be created. And yes, re-use plastics could reduce demand on finite raw materials and save the planet.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Build Kenya nation on wisdom and reason

If nothing else, the just concluded elections have revealed who are. We revel in the fact-free, anything goes precinct. We abhor thoughtful introspection. Narrow self or ethnic interests tightly frame our prejudiced opinions. And yes, politics and public discourse is a zero sum game.

There are two other ways to characterize our society. We can be dreadfully and ominously silent. We can also be annoyingly loud, bellicose and irreverent. Kenyans are capable of deafening silence and hollow loudness especially when careful introspection is demanded. Is it the case that the path of logical and reasoned conversation is narrow path and not many of us find it?

Who is at the public square? Both TV and radio talk shows have dredged this land for the least edified, most unsophisticated talking heads. The universe of Twitter and Facebook is virulent detachment of narrow tribal zealots and bigoted lynch mobs. Many of the so-called columnists in mainstream print media are revolting pseudo-intellectual legionnaires.

I am persuaded that we are on the cliff’s edge here. We are just about to keel over. As I have said before, the Dark Age of unreason is upon us. We are about to descend into an era of a dominant national culture, which abhors rationality and scorns civility in human interaction.  This inexorable decline manifests as eerie silence and or thoughtless loudness on critical issues, especially the unresolved question about who we are.

I know this is rather mean to say. For reasons economic, most academics spend precious time doing consultancy work, most of which is not deeply intellectual. Hence, there is a catastrophic dearth of public intellectual activity and academic scholarship. If there is any it is happening in infinitesimal quantities and in absolute obscurity. It’s private, rather than public. This is unnerving.

In the early 1970s through to the late 1990s, critical scholarship and public intellectual activity was nearly treasonable. The detention of scholars like Ngugi wa Thiongo, Edward Oyugi and Main wa Kinyatti come to mind. These scholars asked pertinent questions about the state of our society that made the political class uncomfortable.

Piercing public intellectual activity and critical scholarship is not alien to this land. The question is why have we stopped thinking about and debating critical, urgent issues of our time? An ominous halo of incuriosity stalks students across our university campuses.  

In the lecture halls, students are inglorious clerks, taking notes dictated from the professors’ pale yellow notes of yore. For the professoriate, appearances in the lecture halls have become a chore. Is the relationship between the academics and knowledge one of unrequited love? Money is short, bills are stacked high. You got to do what you got to do. 

The Bible in the book of Proverbs 24:3 is unequivocal: The building of a house is by wisdom, and by reason (understanding) it is made strong (secure). This house called the Kenyan Nation must rise on a terra firma of wisdom and each brick must be laid carefully through reasoned, critical thought. 


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