Nuggets of Wisdom by Josiah Omotto

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On BBI

The histrionics of BBI. “This is an excellent document”, a senior lawyer proclaims on national TV, at Bomas. “BBI offers a remedy to Kenya’s problems”, the wiper of Kenya’s politics waxes lyrics, in Nyeri. “The best deal for women”, a distinguished governor endorses. Clap, clap-clap. And, a leading trade unionists detests the time wasting – “shenzi”, he megaphones, “bring! it on – the referendum”. We presumed the report was an organic document subject to review? Apparently NOT. Intriguing. Misreason is overtaking reason and roles are reversing. We recall Maalim Ali Mazrui. Of the histrionics, he would say, “the social democrats of yesteryears have become gramophones of kakistocracy. And yesterday’s apologists of kleptocracy have become proponents of social democracy”. Ebindu vichenjaga. The histrionics of BBI, now loading…..

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The BBI steering committee. The choice of key members was deliberate & premeditate. The chairman’s name featured in the report on illegal excision of the Mau forest. Would he generate radical ideas to tackle Kenya’s land injustices? NO. The BBI report is rather mute on the land question. A ranking member mutilated the Bomas draft – a benchmark, the best in Kenya’s history. Would he generate radical ideas to promote equity, dignity, democracy & accountability ? NO. Sections of the revised BBI report echo the discredited Kilifi alias Wako draft: they weaken parliament and megaphone a Nyayo era presidency – the Return of the Dragon? BBI steering committee. The choice of key members was deliberate, premeditate. Left out? Yash Pal Ghai the modest guru of people-centred constitutions. He lives in Nairobi. Left out? Custodians of best practices – Wanjiku Kabira, Abdikadir Mohamed, Otiende Amolo, Ekuru Aukot, PLO Lumumba, Asango Chesoni. They live in Nairobi. Left out? The cool, collected thinker, Nzamba Kitonga. He was in the city. This day, he transitions to the cosmic rhythm beyond the skies. As we “dance in the forest” (Wole Soyinka) in frantic search for the “bridge”:-

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Selling BBI won’t be a walk in the park. “We shall allocate more money to devolution”. The return of “shall”? Even with 15%, government is yet to disburse all the funds to counties. “It will put an end to the politics of winner-take it all”. Then, why hold elections in the first place? In which country does the winner lose it all? “It is about national unity, inclusivity, national ethos & shared prosperity”. Einglish. DP William Ruto muddies the waters – BBI must be about boda boda & mama mboga. Who are they? He has just landed from Mars? And Hon. Babu Owino qualifies: “BBI is about making one a president, the other a prime minister – and dishing out a slot for deputy PM!” Aw! Selling BBI won’t be a walk in the park – a gargantuan challenge. If it won’t sell, a fear option: “if you don’t buy BBI the country will burn – recall 2007?” Oh! Ah!

On evictions

The day after. Evicting houseflies is easy – they’ll simply secure new breeding grounds & prosper. Evicting cockroaches is easy – they’ll get new trails & hideouts to aggregate. It may be difficult for dogs & cats, their owners gone and their habitat reduced to rubble… These thoughts crossed our mind as we took the long walk from Kianda, past Gatwekera to Kambi Muru the day after the brutal evictions, to make way for the railway – an eviction so callous, without adequate notice, as is become the practice. Yeah. Evicting human beings may be easy – what with armed police and the excavators so mechanized and so powered. It leaves behind in it’s wake, a trail of destruction and a people so bitter, the hopes of children in tatters. The day after, the mothers as determined will put up makeshift structures with plastic sheeting, to continue selling vegetables, teas and foodstuffs. Back to base, the captains of inhuman evictions will be celebrating task accomplished: at last, getting “flies” and “cockroaches” out! of the way:-

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Burning “Bedroom” Initiative? What, who, is lighting fires in Kibera? On Wednesday evening, it was the turn of Uchumi Ndogo, Gatwekera – leaving hundreds homeless and in need of emergency support. Before, there were fires in Silanga, Laini Saba, Kianda and Mashimoni. Last March, the raging fire visited Toi Market, razing down many, many stalls. What, who is lighting fires in “bedroom” – Kibera? There was a similar pattern in Mathare, Mukuru, Deep Sea and Kangemi. Who, what! is lighting fires in people’s urban settlements?

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On Mashujaa day

It is 20,767 days since Kenya attained it’s “independence” – in a country where 10,000 super-rich eat, drink, cloth and shelter in luxury as millions survive on usury – harsh shylocks, M-Shwari and Fuliza. It is 20,767 days of extreme inequality in a country of brutal evictions without adequate notice – in a country the Pope has to call for urgency in tackling the crisis of land, labour and lodging. It is 20,767 days of struggle for hope, decency, dignity and equity by many – in a country of 10,000+ millionaires – they used to be 10 during JM Kariuki’s time? Today, we honour the ordinary people – Mashujaa – the list is endless – past and present. Because like Karl Marx, each one believed and believes, people “must first of all eat, drink, have clothing and shelter before they can pursue politics, science, arts or religion”. Everyday, 20,767++ days.

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Kibichiku village, 20-10-20. Bold, fearless, creative, selfless and youthful. Kenya’s human rights fraternity – our comrades. They “tremble at indignity” (Che Guevara) and won’t allow themselves to be ringtones of impunity. Never. In the words of Bob Marley “stand up, stand up for your rights” they do – they are not about to “give up the fight” for freedom and social justice. Kibichiku village, 20-10-20, Mashujaa Day. The words left off, the music went on. We sang, danced and celebrated. Wasn’t it Miriam Makeba who told us “in the struggle, songs are not simply entertainment they are the way we communicate” – a literature of the conscience? At Kibichiku, the words left off and the music went on. Thanks! comrades for the rare honour, privilege and generosity. There’s “no easy walk to freedom” (Nelson Mandela): the struggle, continues:-

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On Corona heists

Government is losing it. From Maparasha to Kibera, Mathare and Kitui the people are proclaiming “victory” – corona is over, no! to physical distance, NO to face masks, unless one is going to school or to the mall. This is worrisome, at a time infection numbers are surging “in the past 24 hours”. Government is losing it. The people know pandemic millionaires ate corona funds, in countless sums & “corona is over, we can now, shake hands”. Government is losing it. Under it’s watch, fake companies have minted millions & supplied items of questionable quality. The DPP won’t prosecute the relathieves yesterday & big people at Afya House won’t take political responsibility to resign, yesterday. They lost moral authority – and public trust, a long, long time ago. Left on their own, the people are proclaiming a pyrrhic victory over a deadly virus, so present.

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Mutahi Kagwe’s dance of the forest. “We are flattening the curve”. Impressive. “We brought down the price of the items”. Aw! “Reduced imports & encouraged local manufacturing”. Good! To claims of looting at Afya House: I will dismantle the network – Ah! And mister in the past 24 hours is bold: “as the health minister I’ve to speak! to the CEOs in my ministry”. He won’t explain how a company by an eerie name “Escobar” won a lucrative tender in the war against a deadly virus. And he denies influencing award of tenders – “it wasn’t me!” Mutahi’s dance of the forest. The present no better than the past. “The claims are schemes by our nemesis”… “corruption is being weaponized” – oh! We’ve heard all this before! Wole Soyinka would of him ask: “have you no sense of history?” In the play “Dance of the Forest”, a Physician of a Yoruba king tells a slave driver, “don’t try your oily words on us. Liar!” He had in mind, the dance of the forest at Afya House?

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On “national” prayers

Follow we did, the shepherds. Really low, the imposing bungalow on the hill made them hollow and mellow. And Biblus came alive. “Let my people go!” Moses told Pharaoh in the old testament. And John the Baptist was so bold: – “might is not right, what you are doing is not right in God’s sight”, he told Herod Antipas. Jesus of Nazareth spoke truth to power and for that they crucified him, on the cross, on the cross. And on Saturday, follow we did, the shepherds on the day of national prayers at the bungalow on the hill. Yellow, they were so mellow – an overflow of faith. Was it the glow of real-time TV or a promise of cashflow to the church? Perhaps Mahatma Gandhi had the shepherds in mind when he said, “I like Christ. I do not like you Christians. You Christians are so unlike your Christ”. And one shepherd was left out. He couldn’t – won’t be invited – his name? Reverend Timothy Njoya, author of the book, “We the People: Thinking Heavenly, acting Kenyanly”. A must-read, forgive me, for the hollow, mellow shepherds of the Lord?

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On State elders

It is the season for the “tribal” elders, sitting under trees, hillsides or in dark, smoky huts. Where do they suddenly emerge? It is the season of the paraphernalia – totem sticks, goatskin and headscarf made from ostrich feathers, a season to crown leaders – we saw the Tugen “elders” in Bonde la Ufa the other day and yesterday, Kikuyu “elders” visited Bondo. Democracy can take a break. It’s the season of gerontocracy, a governance of & by old men. Was it Plato who said “it is for the older men to rule & the younger ones to submit?” That was then, before tectonic shifts, before school, the internet and urbanization. In modern times, the council of elders still expect to impose their will on a people? Not so, Omotaden  Adegbindin argues in “The problem of gerontocracy in Africa – a case study of the Yoruba”. In his view, elders tend to excel in “it is so decided” rule – authoritarianism. And in the words of T. Drake, the old guard suffer two incurable maladies, “digital illiteracy and” age-related cognitive decline” – new wine in old gourds. Have a gerontocratic Sunday :-

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On the Police State

Police state. This is not about DP Ruto or Covid-19. Saw the police clobber ordinary people (watu wadogo) to enforce curfew & face masks, saw them arrest activists at night, saw police teargas guests at an MP’s home in Western Kenya – we’ve just seen Joseph Kinyua issue a long edict & cabinet team set up to reassert. A police state. A government of the police by the police with the police, to retain power by all means – a naked exercise, of power. A government, for the “eating chiefs” (Taban Lo Liyong’). A government that is “never sorry” (Weiwei). The police state – a dictatorship simple and straightforward. In her book “The Origins of Totalitarianism” German philosopher Hannah Arendt tells us, the climax of a police state is evident when the system “begins to devour it’s own children, when yesterday’s executioner becomes today’s victim”. This is NOT about DP Ruto or Covid-19, it is a preface to consolidation of power by persons who believe they have the title deed, to Eric Wainaina’s “nchi ya watu wakuuubwah, nchi ya kitu kidogoooh” :-

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Philip Alston. He came, saw & listened to accounts of a police force gone rag-tag – 11 years ago, in May 2009. His report speaks about the use of police to settle personal scores, deliberate failure by government to prosecute perpetrators of violence and, extra-judicial killings. Australian law professor, UN special investigator Philip Alston. He came, listened & reported; a pattern of intimidation of human rights defenders, use of the police to stop peaceful protests – an entrenched culture of impunity alias “calls from above”. In his own words, “the Kenya police are a law unto themselves”, he wrote. And recommend he did, the sacking of the police chief and the Attorney General. Prof. Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur. He came saw and reported, 11 years ago, in May 2009. Were he to return today, he would make the same recommendation – and add the CS Interior to the list of persons to be sacked, yesterday. The more things change…..

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Constitution (2010) vaccinates Kenya from a police state. Article 244 postulates a police service that “respects human rights and fundamental freedoms”. That’s why we have in place an independent judiciary, a policing oversight authority (IPOA) & constitutional commissions on police service, gender, human rights & administrative justice. In his book, “Our Enemy in Blue: Police & Power in America”, Kristian Williams tells us a police state begins “when an agency responsible for the law relies on illegal practices” – teargasing peaceful protestors, supervising illegal evictions & starring in selective prosecutions. In the words of Williams, a police state is evident “when the police act not from principle or legal obligation, but according to the needs of the ruling class”. A police state flourishes when the men in blue whip & make people weep on the whims of political survivalists. When, as is Jubilee’s legacy, the state populates the above civilian-led agencies with loyalists, vocalists & ceremonialists. And, the police state can be unmade. When the people win back the oversight offices and ELECT persons of proven integrity who genuinely RESPECT the Constitution:-

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On Wheelbarrow politics

Wheelbarrow is trending in Kenya, a new frontier in our poverty of politics. It is “preposterous” (Susan Kihika) to dismiss it so early because wheelbarrows make lots of sense to a people so lowly – “I mean even if we had a wheelbarrow, that would be something”, she echoes American novelist William Goldman. The “hustler nation’s” wheelbarrow reminds us of a song by Death South – “I’m going to heaven with a wheelbarrow, I’m going to heaven yes sir, with a wheelbarrow”. Throw off balance it has, many a leader in town – a scarecrow to the have been to Heathrow? Pushed like a wheelbarrow, academics on hire burrow their heads in notebooks of yesteryears and arrow narrow, shallow and sparrow responses. A case study of palpable panic. Is it raining on mister “tyranny of [ethnic] numbers”? Well, the wheelbarrow is trending in town. Perhaps a better and nuanced response would be found in the anthem of an average English football club, Notts County? It goes, “I had a wheelbarrow and the wheels fell off”, I had a wheelbarrow and the wheels fell off…” Sing on:-

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The politics of wheelbarrows is fast catching up among the unemployed and low-income cadres across Kenya. And Kieleweke’s reaction is shallow, narrow and intemperate. The President’s men are recycling crude and vernacular tactics applied against Jaramogi a long time ago – isolate No. 2, frustrate his MPs, use the police, propagate the ethnic card and, attempt to change the Constitution. These are own goals, achieving the very opposite. The politics of wheelbarrows is registering a spike in popularity as “the corona coalition” (Kimani Ichungwa) finds itself caught up in a miasma of one mega-theft after the other. ODM’s reaction is no better. They, miscalculate and castigate the wheelbarrow. And, few of our analysts are reading Misha Glenny’s “The Rise of the Iron Men”. This audiobook depicts President Jair Messias Bolsonaro, the iron man of Brazil as one of the “emotive power seekers who run a great campaign but are uniformly useless at governing”. Misha has the politics of wheelbarrows, Kenya’s “Bolsonaro” in mind?

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William Ruto’s definition of poverty is work in progress. He is not alone. Many of our leaders do not really understand poverty. The “hustler nation” misses out on a critical mass of underserved, under-budgeted for & powerless population – esp. children, the youth, women & girls. A recent comprehensive poverty report launched by the bureau of statistics (August 2020) indicates 24.3 million Kenyans (53%) are multi-dimensionally poor with 15.9 million (36.1%) living below the poverty line. Matters are not made better by a ruling class that migrates from one mega-theft to another, a recurrent pattern the “watu wa boda boda na Mama Mboga” (William Ruto) are alive to. Encore. The “hustler nation’s” definition of poverty is work in progress, the easy option – escapist, simplistic. The donation of motorbikes & wheelbarrows is but a mini-skirt solution to an intractable challenge.

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“Kut kut-kut”, prime minister Raila Odinga dazzles, in reference to the art of using maize to lure a rooster – or hen. A tool for the sinister? Since the target knows not it shall soup of be made. Yes, it is yet another semester in Kenya’s politics of kut-kut, the season to speak in tongues. “Kut-kut” and crowds suddenly register at roadside rallies; “kut-kut”, the youth receive wheelbarrows and church ministers sing hallelujah! In Msambweni it is “kut-kut and candidates scramble to defect from “parties”. Gava is not spared: you deserve improved services? “Kut kut-kut!” register for Huduma namba (the other day they stole Covid-19 funds; “kut-kut”, a governance of fraudsters). “Kut-kut” Baba dazzles – the art of luring roosters and hens with maize – a tool for the lackluster, a disaster-in-waiting. Perhaps, he will soon tell us again, why one faction in Jubilee has suddenly become the face of reform and anti-corruption. “Kut, kut-kut kut”:-

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On Hustler Politics

Politics of the hasola. “I am the people!” Hugo Chavez used to chant in Venezuela. He was an avowed socialist. During his time, he tackled private sector greed and improved health for all. In a neighbouring country, the slogan “Brazil first, God for everyone!” swept Jair Bolsonaro to power. He is unable to tackle unemployment, permits land grabbing, and has grossly mismanaged coronavirus. Yet the people love him. To each poor person, he has paid (not set aside!) 110 dollars a month to cope with the pandemic. Politics of the hasola. “Drain! the swamp!” and charged Americans voted for strongman Donald Trump, persuaded he was their man to stand up against the “Washington elite”. He has since, embarrassed. Politics of the hasola appeals to the passions of ordinary persons. It’s other name? Populism. It has a branch in Kenya with preset ringtones – “Canaan”, “Big 4 agenda” and “hustler nation”. In the words of Zbigniew Brezinski, the prime target of politics of hasola is “a public susceptible to simplistic slogans by candidates who have no track record but mouth appealing slogans”. A poverty of politics?

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On a collapsing state

Denied entry on arrival. The image of rage of an expectant mother in pain giving birth on the street outside Pumwani maternity hospital is painful – a disturbing pattern, of raptured uteri. Last week, Siprosa Akinyi and her unborn baby died in labour at the Ukwala sub-county hospital in Ugenya. The ambulance was not in a hurry to take her for specialized care at the Siaya referral hospital, 30 minutes away: it arrived 6 hours, late. Yet another statistics in a country of “shared prosperity”, a state of under-recorded maternal deaths. Kenya the country of world class athletes (& noisy, clumsy & messy leaders) is listed among the top 20 globally – when it comes to maternal deaths. And Covid-19, mega-theft and a curfew that ignored expectant mothers have made matters worse, leaving many a hapless mother at the mercy of traditional birth attendants. Denied entry, the image of rage, of a mother in pain giving birth in the streets outside a hospital is, painful. There are many, many unphotographed cases:-.

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All is well that ends well. At long last the Senate has resolved the revenue allocation stalemate – a win-win settlement. The protracted season saw Sen. Irungu Kang’ata, the government’s chief whip lose his temper – “we may reconsider our support for building bridges”, he fumed. Police officers found themselves arresting 3 senators in unexplained circumstances – “mademoni?” Not to be outdone, proponents of BBI sold it as the cure to future allocations. A sweetener for a referendum? In “All Is Well That Ends Well”, Shakespeare tells us: “many a man’s tongue shakes out his master’s undoing”. And, the stalemate in the senate had its fair share of schemers and praise singers. Of them, in the play, Shakespeare is unforgiving: “who knows himself as a braggart let him know this, for it will come to pass, that every braggart shall be found an ass”. Oh! All is well that ends well. At long last, the “white smoke” from the senate. In the meantime, the 21 days to investigate the Covid-19 mega-theft elapsed this week. And in “All is well that ends well”, Shakespeare is unforgiving: “no legacy is so rich as honesty” :-

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Seneti mutharabani. Cajoled & warned, they’ve 10 times failed! to pass the revenue allocation formula. “Crucify them!” ring cries from the Gethsemane of political correctness. As if it was the “Senate”, the other day that arrested 3 of it’s members to bar them from voting. Crucify them! It was the Senate the other day that plotted to filibuster (delay debate) and end sessions prematurely? “Crucify!” It must be one-man-one shilling. Government has done its best and will allocate to the counties 50 billion more next year. “Crucify them!” Seneti mutharabani. The words of Eric Thomas, an American motivation speaker comes to mind: “Stop the blame game – stop! Stop looking out the window and look in the mirror!” Unfortunately there are no mirrors in the Senate and at the big house on the hill? A poverty of, leadership?

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On the politics of maternal insults

The politics of maternal insult. It doesn’t start with MPs Johanna Ng’eno and Oscar Sudi, Kenya’s poverty of politics is rich with “Mama Yako”. Jomo Kenyatta was a specialist of unquotable maternal insults and  his son President Uhuru has on occasion, deployed it: “ICC is not owned by your mother!” he once railed at ODM party leader. The politics of maternal insult is an industry, of shame. Some ODM leaders hire specialists to thaw crowds with epithets “Mama yako”. And, gramophones of mega-theft select maternal insult to defend impunity – “hii pesa ni ya Mama yako?” Shame! Maternal insult is the lingua franca of our poverty of politics. And the angry women marching in the streets must speak up! against a totality of a politics that objectifies and suppresses women. All mothers are equal!

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On youth deception

“More jobs for the youth” is a standard campaign ringtone by candidates seeking elective office. Alfred Mutua has just promised 5 million jobs – Jubilee’s campaign catchphrase was 1.3 million jobs every year. “More jobs for the youth” addresses an “existential threat” (Alice Wahome). 38.9% of Kenya’s 14 million youth are jobless, getting hopeless and rebel. A majority of the registered voters (51%) are under 35 years of age. “More jobs” becomes an attractive proposition, even when a candidate has absolutely no idea or intention to create jobs. When in deed, their idea of “job” is that of the youth unclogging streets, pushing wheelbarrows, slashing grass, collecting garbage and clearing village paths. As old men are rewarded with appointments in government, industry andparastatals. “More jobs, for the youth”?

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