What I Learnt Flipping Burgers and Apportioning French Fries in California.

A couple of days ago, someone thought they had “embarrassed” me by telling their followers that I was “…..now flipping burgers…..(instead of)…..making thousands of dollars from the comfort of my couch…..’conning men’…..” The individual made that claim with a triumphalism and self-congratulatory laugh that made it seem like there was something wrong working in a fast-food restaurant; that it was beneath him to “flip burgers.

I ignored the last part of the comment, i.e., the baseless, childish, and silly accusation about “making thousands of dollars from the comfort of my couch….

However, I thought about the supposed put-down – “…..flipping burgers….” – and wondered when it became fashionable to poke fun at hard, honest work – because I did not feel it beneath me or ashamed to work at a fast-food restaurant – something I did when I was in college.

Flipping burgers” is the catch-all phrase/put-down some Kenyans (and Americans) use to describe working at a fast-food establishment – effectively “flipping” hamburger patties – to cook both sides – in preparation for making a hamburger. The job is menial, manual, and uncomfortable. It is menial because it is repetitious. One uses a spatula to physically turn over (“flip”) the round (or square) hamburger meat to cook both sides. Every so often, one must scrape the carbon build-up on the hot cooking surface and depending on the frequency with which one cleans the surface, the task can be physically challenging. Standing and working in front of a hot surface whose temperatures range from 155° – 175°F (68° – 79°C), in close (cramped) quarters with one or two other colleagues, is hot and uncomfortable. The additional heat generated by the 375°F (190°C) frying oil from the near-by fryers does not help matters.

However, flipping burgers, cleaning toilets, and getting abused and assaulted by irate customers paid my way through college. Dodging human waste tossed at me by a late-Friday night reveler as I worked the drive-through window also paid my rent and put clothes on my back. Beyond the obvious benefits of being gainfully employed, working at the fast-food restaurant famous for its zany commercials, tacos and New York-style cheesecake taught me life skills that have stayed with me since.

Flipping burgers and scooping/apportioning French Fries taught me patience and discipline. Working the grill, just before the inevitable lunchtime rush, taught me how to plan, prioritize and work efficiently. Working the cash register honed my communication and problem-solving skills while also improving my focus on the task at hand and yes, it taught me honesty – because I was handling cash – at a time when I was broke and often hungry! Importantly, flipping burgers taught me empathy – for customers who were oftentimes short a dime (KSh.10) for their order or completely down on their luck, flat broke and “just want something small to eat.” And no, these are not some abstractions I’ve concocted for effect. I served many customers who did not enough money to pay for their orders. Others simply did not have any money – but their hunger far surpassed their pride and ego – so they threw themselves at the mercy of the cashier (and restaurant manager)!

Yes “flipping burgers” was physically and emotionally draining, but at the risk of sounding trite, it did not kill me. It made me stronger – apologies to Friedrich Nietzsche. It also gave me a sense of working in the service industry and reaffirmed that I did not want to do this if I had a choice. After a two-year stint at the fast-food joint, I left and joined a family-style diner famous for its pies. I was fortunate to be assigned to a diner located in one of the toniest neighborhoods in San Diego – the beachside enclave of Del Mar. The location of the restaurant proved an absolute “blessing” for my personal and professional life – and NOT in the Kenyan sense of the term “blessing/s.” I was with the diner for approximately two years when two events that would change the trajectory of my personal and professional life collided:

The first event was the chance meeting of a former boss and one of the restaurant’s regular customers. Dennis (his actual first name) was my boss at a small injection molding (IM) company where I worked as a machine operator before I moved to the fast-food restaurant. He was also an avid athlete (triathlete) as I was but importantly, he lived in Del Mar. The coastal community was home to many of San Diego’s corporate executives and near-by Sorrento Valley housed many biotech start-ups that traced their roots to their proximity to the University of California at San Diego’s (UCSD) highly regarded biotechnology and engineering programs. The two of us reconnected thanks to my working at the diner, i.e., “flipping burgers” and subsequently bonded over multiple long runs and bike rides up and down the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway.

One Friday evening, Dennis stopped by for dinner and being a 3-day weekend, business was slow since most people had left – to start their long weekend. This gave us time to talk. During our conversation, the former Navy captain asked me a series of questions that got me thinking about my future. Two questions stood out:

– Was I going to continue working in the service industry even after graduation?

– Beyond my college classes, what work experience had I acquired since leaving the IM company where the two of us had worked some 5 years ago?

Over a period of many discussions, Dennis, a seasoned executive helped me characterize and define my two years’ experience flipping burgers in ways I hadn’t imagined. The Senior Director of Operations saw in me, a human resource that was service-oriented, patient, competent, well-read, approachable, and communicated effectively, i.e., the proverbial “management material!” In short, talking about the experience I had gained “flipping burgers”: Patience, Discipline, Dependability, Planning, Prioritization, Efficiency, Effective Verbal & Written Communication, Empathy, etc. proved invaluable.

As “they” say, success is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. We kept in touch and maintained our workout routines and periodic discussions and in late 1994, years after we reconnected, the second life-changing event happened:

Dennis offered me a job supervising one of the production lines in his company – a medical device manufacturer that was expanding. He offered me the opportunity because he was able to think of and characterize my experience “flipping burgers” in ways I hadn’t done and frankly hadn’t thought of. Dennis had seen me at work, i.e., “flipping burgers.” He saw how I interacted with him and with other customers. He experienced first-hand and heard me explain my dedication to the job, yes out of necessity, but also because I didn’t know what else to do given a most violent turn in my family’s life back in Kenya. Additionally, I was not ashamed to ask him (along with other customers) for advice.

Again, as the proverbial “they” say, the rest is history – a history that brings me to the comment at the beginning of this piece:

That somehow, as a culture, Kenyans appear less interested in putting in the time and effort to rise through the ranks; to start from the bottom and work their way to the top – wherever that “top” may be from one individual to the next.

That hard, honest work is somehow to be frowned up and disparaged!

That working hard (and if needed, smart) to earn a living is for those “who do not know…..”

I am sorry but given the infinite possibilities offered by hard and honest work, I cannot understand why some folks would ridicule those of us who work/have worked in restaurants, drive/driven taxis, buses or trucks and my favorite, diss men and women who “wipe after ‘old’ people.”

If the ongoing COVID-19 (COrona VIrus Disease – (20)19) has taught us anything, it is the indispensable role CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistant), LV/PNs (Licensed Vocational or Practical Nurses) and RNs (Registered Nurses) play in the health and well-being of people in societies – across the world.

And yes, they also “wipe after ‘old’ people.”

So What?

Leave a comment

Filed under Kenya

“Lord Charles of Kabeteshire” Still Has Time to Pen/Record His Memoirs and He Should!

Charles Mugane Njonjo, the former Attorney General (AG) of Kenya has been in the news of late. The ageless anglophile is fast approaching the “10th Floor” of his existence on God’s green earth and in his practiced courtly fashion, the soon-to-be centenarian spent the occasion touring Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park aided by a $300 “sedan chair” specially kitted for those unable to lord over the park’s demanding terrain. The “helicopter” – as the contraption is called – is carried, much like some colonialists were, by a team of eight to twelve African porters who take turns at ferrying their “tracker/s”.
Njonjo joins an exclusive group of humans who have lived to see their 100th birthday. According to United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the site Statista.com, the former AG is one of approximately five hundred and thirty-three thousand (533K) members of the world’s Centenarian Club and THAT, in any language and/or any country, IS an achievement.

Happy Birthday “Sir Charles” and may you live another one hundred years!

Having dispensed with the salutations, let me now turn to an issue I have championed and will continue to do so:

Given the prominence Charles Njonjo (has) played in Kenya’s socio-political life and his longevity, the man represents a fountain of knowledge that Kenyans are most likely going to miss out on because he has yet to pen his memoirs or autobiography even though he has proffered opinions, many that have been captured in publications and in books.

Unfortunately, giving an opinion or offering a quote is usually not enough given some of the weighty matters (of national and regional importance) Njonjo has been involved in orchestrating in his role as a public servant notably, Kenya’s Attorney-General and Minister for Constitutional Affairs. One such matter of note would be Kenya’s peaceful transition from the tribal authoritarian rule of Jomo Kenyatta to the tribal authoritarian rule of Daniel Moi.

I would be curious, indeed very much so, to hear Njonjo’s take or counter to the characterization over his role in the “Change the Constitution Movement”:

That the AG, who quashed the attempted legislative putsch by lawmakers and powerbrokers from Central/Mt. Kenya aimed at preventing then-Vice President Daniel Moi from ascending to the presidency after Jomo Kenyatta, did so because he thought that Moi was a “pliant transitional figure he could manipulate until the time was ripe (for him) to succeed….” (p34, “Rogue Ambassador: An African Memoir”, Smith Hempstone)

One can grab on to Moi biographer Andrew Morton’s characterization of the nonagenarian – that he (Njonjo) “took him (Moi) by the hand and told him not to worry…..(that) nothing will happen (to him)…..” – as evidence of the man’s humanity/compassion and constitutionalist creds but I would like to hear what he, Njonjo, has to say in response.

I would be curious to hear from the so-called “Prince of Kenya” or “Lord Charles of Kabeteshire” regarding his academic chops – as called into question by Fitz de Souza (p231, “Forward to Independence: My Memoirs”) Did he, Mugane Njonjo, graduate from the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) and if so, what does he make of de Souza’ insinuations?

Mugane’s failure to pen his memoirs has allowed others to characterize his person and his role in creating the corrupt and balkanized anglophilic shithole that the former British colony remains six decades after independence. And the likes of Jeremiah Kiereini (“A Daunting Journey”), Marshall S. Clough (“Mau Mau Memoirs: History, Memory & Politics”) and Fitz de Souza (“Forward to Independence: My Memoirs”) among others have only been too willing to fill in the void – or offer their insight.

For my part, I will offer this qualification: I never met the 99-year-old former Attorney-General so I cannot attest to his person other than what I have read (as written by others) including the afore-mentioned books and the heavily researched and footnoted book “Kenya: A History Since Independence” by historian Charles Hornsby.
Keith Somerville, writing in “Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa” implicates Mugane in the slaughtering of Kenya’s ivory to line the pocket of his boss Jomo and of family and of friends. Citing Game Warden Ian Parker’s EBUR Report on the ivory trade in East Africa, Somerville writes that “the AG, Charles Njonjo, had, on a number of occasions intervened to prevent charges being brought against those involved in illegal (ivory) deals……(with) President Kenyatta…..described as personally authorizing permits to export ivory…..” (p113-114). The so-called stickler for the law is described as offering cover for the illegal trading in ivory – “for a fee” with a Githeri Media that only commented on illegal trading affecting “those in menial positions.” (Ian Parker Collection of East African Wildlife Conservation: The Ivory Trade – University of Florida p38). Parker goes on to write that the illegal ivory trade i.e. “disregard for the law” that Charles Njonjo was willing to countenance, “for a fee” would have been “a minor if it concerned ivory alone…..it did not. Corruption extends to all walks of national life, in business, land purchases, acquisition of citizenship to specify but a few instances.”

In fact, Kipchumba Some’s piece “Gems from History as former AG Charles Njonjo turns 98” (Daily Nation Jan 23, 2018) offers the plausible proposition that one can draw a direct line linking the imperial president that has been the bane of Kenya since independence to Mugane’s self-serving tweaks of Kenya’s Constitution back in the late 70s – to ingratiate himself with the fast-becoming senile Jomo Kenyatta and his kitchen cabinet, the shadowy “Kiambu Mafia”.

Underscoring the diabolical nature of the man with penchant for bespoken Savile Row tailored pinstripes and Northampton’s handmade wingtips is the revelation that Njonjo was actually one of Tom Mboya’s groomsmen. While this speaks to the premium Charles Njonjo placed on “personal relationships”, said attribute did not stop his boss Jomo Kenyatta from ordering or countenancing the assassination of Njonjo’s “friend” Tom Mboya! What does the centenarian say about the murder of his “friend”?

Keith Somerville adds that JM Kariuki, before he was disappeared and murdered “had seen (Ian Parker’s report on poaching implicating the Kenyatta family) and intended to use it in parliament to embarrass the government” (p113). We all know how the investigations into the death of the former MP for Nyandarua North was handled by Njonjo’s crack team of investigators who in the words of de Souza, “kow-towed to him” and “followed his (prosecutorial) preferences.” (p234)

Wow! Will Mugane let such conjecture go unchallenged?

The foregoing itemizes a series of charges/accusations against Charles Mugane Njonjo that make it difficult for me to hold true to the (African) tradition of cherishing, revering and eschewing speaking ill of the elderly.

On the other hand, given the hypocrisy between the man’s many public pronouncements and the realities of his behind-the-scene machinations as documented by many writers, historians and journalists, wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity for the man the former US Ambassador to Kenya called “the second most powerful man in the land” (after Moi) to “set the records straight” in a “tell-all” book – “in his own words”?

I know that I would buy a copy and gift 2 or 3 copies to family and friends!

Leave a comment

Filed under Kenya


This post tries to summarize the upcoming US Elections for my non-American/Kenyan friends who are interested in the event and in America writ large.

While the post also reflects MY personal interest in politics (US and World) since that’s what I studied in college, it was further prompted by an interesting finding by the Pew Research Center (PRC). In an article titled “How people around the world see the U.S. and Donald Trump in 10 charts” Jacob Poushter, a Pew Research Center associate director (of global attitudes) offered this finding:

That “65% of Kenyans surveyed had faith in Donald Trump”. Only the Philippines (77%) and Israel (71%) ranked higher than the East African nation in their support of Donald Trump.


This PRC finding is consistent with an observation I made some ten years ago as I was writing my book “WUODHA: My Journey from Kenya to These United States”; findings that have since been buttressed by several articles readily available in the public domain:

That the divide/animus between two of Kenya’s largest (numerically) tribes – Luo and Kikuyu – seemingly travelled with them across the Atlantic and came to fore during Barack Obama’s two runs for the White House – in 2008 and 2012. (“Tribe and Prejudice” – Guardian, November 2008 and “Mitt Romney’s Kenyan connection, Barack Obama’s problem with Pakistan, and other insights from global polls” – Quartz, October 2012). At a minimum, this dynamic between these two tribes (and tribal conflict in Africa in general) remains a topic of intense, interesting and oftentimes disparate research and findings.

Back to the on-going Democratic Primaries, the winner needs a majority of the 3,979 delegates up for grabs in the 2020 Democratic Primaries. This works out to 1,990+ delegates for the nomination.

Without getting into the weeds, the delegates are awarded “proportionally” i.e. a candidate who wins 40% of a state’s vote in the primary election will win 40% of that state’s delegates.

As typically with near-everything related to the Democratic Party, there are exceptions to this rule – including the requirement that a candidate must win at least 15% of the primary vote in order to receive any delegates.

Then there is this thing known as a “Super Delegate”.

Oh, a “Delegate” is a person selected to represent the interests of a group of people, in this case the Democratic Primaries while a “Super Delegate” is an unpledged delegate who is seated automatically and chooses for themselves whom to support/vote for. I told you this can get confusing so for now, just remember that there are “Delegates” and “Super Delegates” and the winning candidate needs a majority of the three thousand nine hundred and seventy-nine (3,979) delegates available for grabs to face Donald Trump in the General Elections scheduled for November 3, 2020.

One last set of terms and their meanings:

CAUCUS: A meeting/gathering of supporters or members of a specific political party or movement. These gatherings allow participants to openly show support for candidates – by raising hands or breaking into groups according to who the caucus goers support. (Factcheck.org)

PRIMARY: A statewide voting process in which voters cast secret ballots for their preferred candidates. In an “Open” primary, all registered voters can vote for any candidate, regardless of their political affiliation while in a “Closed” Primary, voters can only vote for candidates of the party they are registered for. (Factcheck.org)

Below is the calendar for the respective primaries/caucuses beginning with the all-important Iowa Caucuses less than one month away:

– Monday, Feb. 3: Iowa caucuses (49 delegates)
– Tuesday, Feb. 11: New Hampshire primaries (33 delegates)
– Saturday, Feb. 22: Nevada Democratic caucuses (48 delegates)
– Saturday, Feb. 29: South Carolina Democratic primaries (63 delegates)
– March 3 (“Super Tuesday”): Alabama primaries (59 delegates), Arkansas primaries (36 delegates), California primaries (495 primaries), Colorado primaries (80 delegates), Maine primaries (32 delegates), Massachusetts primaries (114 delegates), Minnesota primaries (91 delegates), North Carolina primaries (122 delegates), Oklahoma primaries (42 delegates), Tennessee primaries (73 delegates), Texas primaries (262 delegates), Utah primaries (35 delegates), Vermont primaries (23 delegates), Virginia Democratic primary (124 delegates)
– Tuesday, March 10: Idaho primaries (25 delegates), Michigan primaries (147 delegates), Mississippi primaries (41 delegates), Missouri primaries (178), North Dakota caucuses (18 delegates), Washington primaries (107 delegates)
– Tuesday, March 17: Arizona Democratic primary (78 delegates), Florida primaries (248 delegates), Illinois primaries (184 delegates), Ohio primaries (153 delegates)

Of the more than twenty candidates who threw their names into the ring to vie for the nomination, the following are still in the running though I will confess that the state of the race is very fluid and dynamic:

1) Former Obama VP Joe Biden
2) Vermont Senator/2016 aspirant Bernie Sanders
3) Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren
4) South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg
5) Hawaii’s House Representative Tulsi Gabbard
6) Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar
7) Entrepreneur Andy Yang
8) Billionaire Tom Steyer
9) Billionaire & Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg

Notables who have dropped out for one reason or another include incumbent US Senator/former State Attorney-General (CA) Kamala Harris, incumbent US Senator (New Jersey) Cory Booker, former Obama Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Secretary/Mayor of San Antonio Julian Castro.

Also out of the running are former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, incumbent New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and a handful of other not-so-notable aspirants including US Rep (CA) Eric Swalwell, Jay Inslee and the latest dropout, Texan-born author, spiritual leader, politician, and activist Marian Williamson.

All told, the contest for the Democrat who will face Donald Trump in the November 2020 General Elections will begin in earnest next month when all the prognostications, analysis, barnstorming and kissing babies take a back seat and the voters finally cast their vote for their preferred candidate.

Stay tuned!

Leave a comment

Filed under Kenya


The hypocrisy/double-speak of the pockets of Kenyans now pulling out the “Rule of Law; Adherence to the Constitution” contortionism in the Miguna Miguna saga would be infuriating were it not so obvious and/or so predictable.

It is maddening because of the corrosive impact the convenient and selective call for adherence to the rule of law continues to have on the long-term viability of Kenya’s transition into a society of law/order and equality of its citizens before her laws.

It is predictable because this is not the first time these same pockets of the country have supported the weaponization of the country’s legal system – against opponents of those they support – in this case the incumbent Jubilee Party

Yes M-Sqd is a brusque and cantankerous loud-mouth – almost to a fault. But aside from the fact that he is NOT the only brusque and cantankerous loud-mouth trolling Kenya’s socio-political landscape or that being so is not against the law, when one juxtaposes the man’s brashness alongside the Building Bridges Initiative’s (BBI) stated need to “build bridges”, presumably between Kenyans of ALL stripes and political persuasions, then the only viable outcome in what Jeff Koinange referred to as a “quagmire” would have been to allow the man back into the country – consistent with the many stated goals of the initiative including the now meaningless:

“Humane Government, predicated on equality, freedom, democracy, social justice, human rights and the rule of law” emptiness. (“Building Bridges to a United Kenya: From a Nation of Blood ties to a Nation of Ideals”)

Even more important than reflecting the “building bridges” spirit of the yet-to-be-formalized initiative is the undeniable fact:

The ruling Jubilee regime can allow Miguna back into the country in full compliance with the rulings of Justice Weldon Korir and/or at a minimum, consistent with what can loosely be described as “supervisorial/prosecutorial discretion”.

At the drop of a dime and as it has done repeatedly, the Jubilee regime can set aside (“ignore”) the supposed legal requirements articulated by its spokesman, the unbelievably incompetent Col. (Rtd.) Cyrus Oguna, during the former soldier’s choppy and rambling articulation of the government’s position re: Miguna Miguna’s return to the country of his birth and allow the exiled lawyer back into Kenya – PERIOD.

My take is that were Miguna Miguna anything/anyone OTHER than the loud and brash articulator of the very hypocrisy Kenya’s current socio-political zeitgeist, his return to Nairobi would be a non-issue.
Why Uhuru Kenyatta’s regime refuses to allow the man to return to his country of birth remains a mystery, but I have my take:

In Miguna Miguna, a failed contestant for the gubernatorial seat for Nairobi County in 2017, Kenyans have a voice that has forcefully, unapologetically and consistently articulated near-EVERYTHING that is wrong with the government of Uhuru Kenyatta (and unfortunately**, with Raila Odinga).

** – I say “unfortunately” because I am on record supporting the ideals Raila Odinga supposedly stood for AND run on in the 2013 and 2017 Elections – the latter being the nullified Round 1. Raila/NASA did not compete in the re-election and Uhuru “won” with 98% of the votes re-casted! Notwithstanding, as much as the “handshake” between the two men – UMK and RAO – ushered “peace” and “stability” into an arguably failed state or one teetering on failed statehood, RAO’s support credentialized one of the Horn of Africa’s most corrupt and inept government and in so doing, legitimized a certified kakistocracy AND kleptocracy. Raila A. Odinga, the undeniable face of Kenya’s struggle for multi-partyism, incorruptible government and her opposition is now forever linked with a Jubilee government that many see as the most corrupt government in Kenya’s storied 60years of independence.

Allowing Miguna back into Kenya would not only shine a spotlight on this reality, it may just give other Kenyans so inclined to speak out against the “handshake” and its offspring “Building Bridges Initiative” (BBI) boondoggle the impetus (courage) to do so.

Additionally, Miguna Miguna “lost” the governorship to one Mike “Sonko” Mbuvi whose term atop the country’s and one of the Horn of Africa’s economic and political jurisdiction has been a flaming fiasco. Late last year, Sonko was arrested trying to flee the country and currently faces “economic crimes” charges as laid out by the country’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC). For good measure, Sonko, the sitting governor of Nariobi County is reported to have escaped from Mombasa’s Shimo La Tewa Prison “some 20 years ago” (“Shimo La Tewa wants governor back to complete his sentence” – Standard Digital, Dec. 2019)

Miguna Miguna’s touchdown at JKIA, in the Sonko-led Nairobi County no less, would be the classic: I hate to say I told you so – but…. Moment for the man.

In short, allowing the dual Canadian/Kenyan passport holder what I can only refer to as a “triumphant” return to the proverbial (and literal) scene of the crime would be a “Made for Miguna Miguna” dog-and-pony show the incumbent Jubilee Party wants to avoid at all cost.

Unfortunately, in so doing, Uhuru Kenyatta’s government only continues to highlight its ineptitude and its cowardice while rising the exiled activist’s already high profile.

Leave a comment

Filed under Kenya

All Throughout His Presidency Same Song

Okay so I “plagiarized”; make that paraphrased a line from Digital Underground’s song “Same Song” but the relevance of its hook given President Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2016 State of the Nation (SOTN) address is spot on.

In the 1991 hit, Shock-G nee Gregory Jacobs offers that life as a rapper — with the “jennies” or ladies — is the same all over the world. Shock-G, along with the late Tupac Shakur, goes on to sing that they’ve “Been all around the world” and nothing has changed i.e. “same song” regarding life on the road as a successful rap group.

Lost in the non-partisan self-flagellation over the childish and disruptive conduct of some elected officials during President Kenyatta’s address was a SOTN speech which may as well have been recycled from SOTNs of 2014 and 2015.

To be perfectly clear and to temper the ethnic vitriol and outright lies (libelous) directed at me, the conduct of the five members of the opposition was unacceptable and only enhanced the narrative that they hail “from a community of ‘stone-throwers’” or to quote a tweet by columnist and consultant Ngunjiri Wambugu; one that portends a dark and slippery slope of ethnic stereotyping:

“These Luo MPs! Shaking my head” — instead of “These 5 MPs!….”

When news of the disruption in parliament first broke, I wrote that it is one thing to express displeasure when one disagrees with a comment AFTER the comment is made just as it is to cheer a comment AFTER it — comment — is made. Either behavior is commonplace during the State of the Union (SOTU) here in the US as it is in the British Parliament — two institutions whose structure Kenya’s is modeled after — at least in part.

I then went on to write that it is an entirely different thing to disrupt or deny anyone the right to make the remark; that the MPs were wrong to disrupt the president’s SOTN address — plain and simple.

Having called out the offensive behavior of the five legislatures, let me now point out the elephant in the room:

– That regarding the existential threat that corruption and theft of public funds has become during Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency, there was nothing new in the 7,267-worded sermonizing that voters did not hear in 2015 and 2014 or to quote Shock-G, it was the “same song”.

– To wit, a consistent omission from this and other flowery, lofty and lengthy presidential bloviations are specific AND immediate presidential actions, well within the purview of his office, against those implicated in corruption and other economic crimes. This sense of urgency is fashioned by the dangerous reality that corruption has reached dizzying and untenable heights during the last 3 years; think the saying “desperate times call for desperate measures”.

A former high school mate pointed out that President Kenyatta “gets a high five for his coolness” in the face of vocal and disrespectful protestation; a point I agree with — to some extent. My friend, who shall remain unnamed, went on to write that “what the opposition did (during the SOTN speech)…lack(ed) finesse.” Gerald (not his name) also professed doubt whether “finesse and style in the delivery of their message” was a major consideration for the unruly parliamentarians. The former Old Cambrian alum argued, albeit tangentially, that the disruption in “bunge” was fashioned by the patently selective and erratic execution of the president’s “war on corruption and other ‘monstrous’ economic crimes”.

Simply put, President Kenyatta has demonstrated utter impotence confronting corruption inside HIS very office and government; a fact fully evidenced by his handling of the saga involving his appointee Anne Waiguru. The litany of statistics cataloguing Jubilee’s “success” in the fight (against corruption) are immediately rubbished by the president’s appointment and re-appointment of individuals, some in their seventies, to the very institutions whose resources and funds they are accused of plundering and mismanaging:

So much for the campaign promise to create “employment opportunities for the youth” and “hold those implicated in ‘monstrous economic crimes’ accountable”!

The puerile behavior of the few members of the opposition is also tame compared to the prescription put forth by Daily Nation’s David Ndii in his piece “Kenya is a cruel marriage, it’s time we talk divorce”.

In social phenomena it often takes varying levels of disruption to jolt society into action against an untenable status quo and God knows Kenya needs to be jolted out of its apathy towards corruption given the presidential acquiescence (tacit) on said subject, through his repeated dithering.

Leave a comment

Filed under Kenya

Where Do I Count Myself?: An Open Letter

In response to a comment I made re: the article “Okemo, Gichuru Cost Taxpayers Billions in Loan Repayments”, someone in Mwaklishi accused me of “making it about myself” and being “a huge man with a big empty head”.

Another commenter asked me where I was when my “Godfather Raila Odinga” was “freecing (sic) Kenyans, with SCANDAL AFTER SCANDAL.” This same person then asked me to tell readers what I knew about a litany of scandals implicating the CORD Principal and/or those close to him.

The invectives and childish personal attacks aside, the one comment that drew my attention was the poignant “where do you (I) count myself?” presumably in the fight against the issues I repeatedly write about. The same commenter posed the question:

Why can’t you (I) lead these Kenyans crying foul to action?

Being in the public domain, I avoid exchanges that portend confrontation or abusive language. I will occasionally engage folks who seem to have genuine concerns/differences of opinion about something I have written but my rule of thumb is to avoid engaging angry, obnoxious and impolite folks.

I do agree with the sentiment that there is a certain level of repetition re: what I write about, a “cut-and-paste” hum-drum drone on the subjects of corruption and impunity in the (current) Government of Kenya. These topics CAN be dry and tedious unless you are wonkish.

Confession: I am a public policy/political science wonk my profession in biotech engineering and passion as an author notwithstanding.

It is with this knowledge that my mother’s caution continues to be my North Star whenever I put pen to paper:

Wuoda, ka iwacho adiera; kendo kiwache gi heshima gi dwond ma oluoro ji, kik iluor kendo kik ng’ato bwogi.

Loosely translated, my madhe was saying thus:

My son, if you are saying the truth using respectful language, don’t be afraid and don’t let anyone scare you.

So let me be as clear as possible:

  1. I am NOT interested in political office.
  2. I am NOT an investigative journalist i.e. “jicho pevu”.
  3. I WILL NOT repeat my position vis-à-vis Raila Odinga (or Gov. Kidero for that matter) because that is old news and available in the public domain for anyone interested.
  4. Finally, I won’t even deign to respond to the baseless and bovine charges that my writing peddles “tribal politics”, “tribal hate” or “tribalism”.

Now about “leading” individuals who share a common goal, in this case a Kenya free of wanton corruption, there are many ways one can do that.

I choose to “lead” using my writing (posted) on platforms the internet affords ANYONE. If and when I “cut and paste” any material, I almost always credit the source. I certainly don’t want to be accused of plagiarism especially being a contributor to a leading global aggregator of news. In writing about the proverbial “issues of the day”, I oftentimes give my readers some historical context re: the articles hence the sometimes pedantic nature of the pieces.

There are Kenyans in the diaspora who make significant contributions — monetary and non-monetary — to the country. They are also non-Kenyans with significant (vested) interests therein. Finally, thanks to the internet AND jet travel, the world has become a global marketplace of ideas and best practices. This being the case, I think of myself as a purveyor of perspectives on issues affecting a country — Kenya — the global audience including the “ignorant jungus” seem to care about.

The tinge of Schadenfreude some may detect in my writing is a function of the portmanteau “Kensanity” — “the country’s tendency of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” i.e. electing known kleptocrats and criminals into office then wringing their collective hands when these same people are implicated in one scandal after another.

I will end by paraphrasing Barack Obama and Mohandas Gandhi:

Don’t Complain: Publish YOUR riposte to my “cut-and-past” monotony and YOUR “interesting reading” re: the many scandals implicating Raila and those close to him – including Evans Kidero.

And finally, Yes You Can Be the Change You Want to See in Kenya.

Leave a comment

Filed under Kenya

Fueling Extremism: Poor Governance, Corruption, Lack Of Accountability and Hubris.

In a piece titled “Hot Spots: The Intersection of Corruption, Poor Governance and Ebola” I argued that as the epidemic ravaged the people that elected them into office, African leaders avoided discussing the impact of corruption and poor governance on their ability to effectively manage such crisis. I wrote that it was not surprising that all the countries in the “hot zone” of the disease: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were demonstrably ill-prepared to deal with its occurrence or contain its progression: That crisis such as the Ebola pandemic are exacerbated by poor leadership, incompetent, corrupt and unaccountable governance.

Within six months of the pandemic, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta and others in the African Union (AU) went on to offer a stunning display of split personality; going from blaming the west for “failing to do enough to fight” Ebola only to turn around and bloviate about “forgetting foreign intervention because Africans are better placed to solve their own problems.”

The same hubris  was again on display a few days before the tragic events in Garissa when “Mutongoria Jamba” derisively responded to a travel advisory issued by Great Britain by saying that “We (Kenya) want to send a clear message (to Great Britain) that they will not intimidate us (Kenyans) with these threats (travel advisories).”

So how does Kenya’s Commander-In-Chief explain the repeated attacks under his watch seemingly perpetrated by the same group – al-Shabaab – using the same modus operandi – taking advantages of failures in the system primarily introduced by the human component of said system? What are some of the lessons that seem to be escaping Kenya’s leaders in their war against extremism?

Frankly I sympathize with Mr. Kenyatta because he’ll be criticized regardless of what he does. On the other hand, he has demonstrated an inability to keep the country safe and secure in spite of repeated warnings of impending attacks and repeated opportunities to change tactics. Having said that, I would offer the following, at a minimum, since the buck stops with him:

That the President:

– Should hold accountable whoever advised him to minimize or diminish the travel advisory from Gt. Britain only to have an attack occur less than one week of the warning. Frankly given the number of terrorist attacks Kenya has experienced since the “digital duo” assumed office, it is my hope that Kenyans hold the two accountable come Election Day.

– Should put ego aside and listen to those who have experienced such tragedies and have developed better bulwarks against them. To quote Rasna Warah in her article “Garissa Could Have Been Avoided”, “(W)hen foreign governments with better intelligence than Kenya issue warnings about imminent threats, it should take them seriously.”

– Should note that tribalism and other socio-political divides are real and portends grave danger: Groups such as al-Shabaab along with politicians exploit said fissures – tribal, religious, economic – for selfish reasons – ideological and personal. Alluding to his country’s success in mitigating attacks by extremists, former Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya Shamsudin Ahmed pointed out that “…good cooperation between the people and security forces is the secret that his country has used to successfully ward off attacks from the Al Shabaab militant group.”

– Should realize that corruption is an existential problem, is destroying Kenya and has demonstrably made its citizens vulnerable to attacks by extremists. As evidenced by the allegations of looting by those sent to rescue the victims of the Westgate attacks and the many scandals that have engulfed his administration, corruption has seeped into the very fiber of Kenya and her various institutions. The president makes matters worse when he offers fiats that contravene the very systems designed to address corruption like he did when he ordered reinstatement of 10,000 police recruits whose selection was annulled by the courts. For an institution that is the perennial poster child for corruption in Kenya, allowing introduction of police trainees recruited under an odious cloud of mass corruption, irregularities and blatant violations of the Constitution is both irresponsible and dangerous.

Beyond freezing the assets of those suspected of funding extremism, his government should also freeze the assets of those suspected of corruption because there is a demonstrable link between corruption and terrorism.

– Has to stop politicizing the institutions responsible for keeping the country safe. Since independence, Kenya’s presidents including the one now facing blowback because of an ineffective, undermanned and ill-equipped security apparatus – police, military, paramilitary (GSU), CID – have used said institutions to cement their grips on power rather than keep the country safe and secure. They have accomplished this by installing incompetent and/or unqualified sycophants AND siphoning off funds meant to fund the agencies and pay their salaries. Instead, these critical organs have been used to harass, torture and assassinate political opponents. It is this politicization that has now come home to roost in an era of globalization and asymmetrical warfare by non-nation/state actors such as al-Shabaab.

– And his supporters need to understand that they do not have a monopoly on patriotism. The modified expression “dissent rooted in genuine policy and philosophical differences is patriotic” comes to mind. Just because I hold opposing views, oftentimes as passionate as Jubilants hold theirs, does not make me a “sympathizers” of the enemy. This demonization of honest disagreements reminds me of George W. Bush’s use of 9/11 as a bludgeon with which to stifle open and honest debate – in the run-up to America’s invasion of Iraq.

Asking for the withdrawal of KDF from Somalia does not make one an al-Shabaab “appeaser”. It gives the president an opportunity to re/state his case for keeping them there. It also allows his military commanders to refine and re-strategize their war plans given the developments since the initial invasion. Think the “surge” strategy America deployed in Iraq after the original “shock and awe” went awry.

Criticizing incompetence, corruption and tribalism is not unpatriotic especially given the spectacular failures since Jubilee took office. The fact is Kenyans have witness Westgate, Mpeketoni, Lamu, and now Garissa – all in the last two years.

To paraphrase Chinua Achebe: The trouble with Kenya is simply and squarely a failure of leadership; a failure that now defines the national character and ethos of Kenyans and reflected in the people they elect into office. Until Kenyans stop electing leaders on the basis of the “tyranny of numbers” and more on their stated and demonstrated ability to competently discharge their sworn responsibilities, the country will continue to lurch from one crisis to the next while its elected leaders “step aside” only to return – 60 days later – unscathed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boko Haram, Corruption, Failed State, Governance - Kenya