Monthly Archives: November 2013

With “friends” like this: Jubilee’s desperate attempts at im(mp)unity

Like my wise mother continues to remind me every chance she gets:

Wuoda (my son), show me you friends and I will show you your character – an endearing take on “birds of a feather…” or as only the good book can put it: He that walketh with wise [men] shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed. Proverbs 13:20.

According to Kenya’s deputy president, the United Nation Security Council’s (UNSC) rejection of the country’s ridiculously expensive and increasingly desperate and embarrassing efforts to defer the crimes against humanity cases facing Mr. Kenyatta and his deputy at The Hague “…was a clear testimony of who the true friends of Kenya were…” Mr. Ruto went on to assert that the Friday November 16 eight-to-seven vote by the UNSC against the “digital” duo’s request for a deferral of their cases was “…a clear testimony of genuine friends who can stand with us when it is shining or raining…” The DP then thanked the soon-to-be-50year-old polity’s new “best friends forever” (BFFs) for standing with them claiming that the “digital” duo has “a plan” to work and “endure any difficulties.”

The junior partner in the “digital” duo and his Jubilee counterparts in the parliament went on to excoriate the main targets of the party’s ire and wrath United States, United Kingdom, France and Ghanaian Kofi Annan complaining that the former Secretary General of the United Nations was “…behind ‘a well-orchestrated international plot’ to have President Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto jailed by the ICC”. I want to believe that the deputy president has evidence to support this rather outlandish claim.
Also included on the list of countries that torpedoed the duo’s attempts to have their charges deferred were Australia, Argentina, Guatemala, Luxembourg and South Korea.

Breathing fire and casting aspersions one minute and lathering effusive praise the very next, Mr. Ruto went on to shower praise on Kenya’s newest and “bestest” of friends Azerbaijan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Togo – all who voted in favor of the deferral. The other three countries that voted in favor of deferring the charges – China, Russia and Rwanda – were already inside Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto’s “circle of BFFs”: The former two, China and Russia, playing their usual and expected role of opposing anything their fellow UNSC veto-welding counterparts US, UK and France supported!

So in summary, Jubilee’s revised Kenya@50 “Taking Our Country Back” guest list reads as follows:

Kenya’s “cowardly enemies”: Australia, Argentina, France*, Guatemala, Luxembourg, South Korea, UK*, USA*

Kenya’s “true and genuine friends”: Azerbaijan, China*, Morocco, Pakistan, Rwanda, Russia*, Togo.

* – Permanent members of the UN Security Council.

At the risk of posing a rhetorical question, has Kenya, a country once described as an “oasis of peace in a troubled region…” become bosom buddies with countries that are the very antithesis of what it aspires to be; countries that are all synonymous with repressive regimes, corrupt government official and less-than-democratic forms of government?

I would NOT describe myself as a dyed-in-the-wool “westophile” i.e. an anglophile, Francophile or Amerophile given some of my pieces – On the other hand, I do not consider the governments of China, Russia, Pakistan or Azerbaijan representative of the types of government I want the country of my birth to emulate. Similarly, I do not have anything against Presidents Xi Jinping (China), V. Putin (Russia), Mamnoon Hussain (Pakistan), or Ilham Aliyev (Azerbaijan) but they lead governments that do not have a track-record on democracy and good governance that the “digital” government of Kenya should be aspiring to mimic.

A simple key word search on the internet using any combination of Kenya’s newest BFFs along with the words “corruption”, “human rights violation”, “media suppression” or any other less-than-appealing non-democratic quality will tell one all they need to know about Kenya’s latest motley crew of “genuine friends who can stand with us when it is shining or raining.” It is ironic that the duo’s self-proclaimed Christian faith takes a back seat as they seek “friends” of all strips, some who persecute the very faith the two practice, in their selfish attempts to avoid being held to account:

Under the headings Desperate times calls for desperate measures, The enemy of my enemy is my friend or The friend of my enemy is my enemy, the Jubilee administration is lurching the country from one extreme and bizarre partnership to the next all in pathetic and selfish attempts to save the two suspects, Kenyatta in particular, from answering charges of crimes against humanity at The Hague. The Kenyatta government is doing this even though his deputy’s case is well underway!

In a prior piece titled “The Enemy of My Enemies” written early this year for the blog, I argue that Uhuru and his deputy “…will get legitimacy, not by cavorting with the Chinese, Russians, Syrians, Cubans or other countries that are eager to thumb their nose at the west or that are pariah states, but by being exonerated of the charges they…face for the sickening crimes against the very people who provided the two with their margin of victory in the just concluded presidential elections.” My position has not changed and their antics since they took power have only reinforced said position.

I further write that the desperate and expensive efforts by Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto to have their cases deferred may give them short-term gains as their try to avoid the embarrassment of being the first sitting president and deputy president ever to face charges at The Hague for crimes against humanity! The one thing their global gallivance and odd alliances will not do is erase the permanence of the pain and suffering Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto are accused of fomenting on the very people who elected them into office.

It is very sad that Kenyans gave Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto the “gravitas” and “bully pulpit” – as a sitting president and deputy president – the two, Mr. Kenyatta in particular, are shamelessly using as a shield against being held accountable for crimes – committed against the same Kenyans!

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On Conflicts of Interest: Wealth-generation and Politics in Kenya

In my book “Wuodha: My journey from Kenya to these United States” published by Friesen Press, I write that there is an unusually strong and incestuous relationship between political power and wealth in Africa/Kenya (pge 22). This relationship is illustrated by the high number of wealthy Kenyans who also happen to be politicians, family members of said politicians and/or those close to said politicians. To be clear, I also write that this complementary relationship between political power and “mbesha” is not unique to Kenya. My adopted home America has its share of wealthy individuals who have transformed their economic wealth into political power and vice versa. The Kennedys and Bushes parlayed the wealth of their respective patriarchs Joe Kennedy and George Prescott Bush into three occupancies of the White House. Conversely, Bill Clinton, notoriously less-than-wealthy when he became president in 1992 now sits atop a foundation – Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation – worth a quarter billion dollars Finally, the current occupant of the White House Barack H. Obama (and his wife Michelle) famously paid off their student loans in 2004; the same year he made his well-received speech at the July 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Mr. Obama went on to author the block-buster memoir “Dreams of my father” and the more wonkish “The Audacity of Hope”; a detailing of his vision on how Americans can tackle everyday societal problems. Royalties from the books form the basis of the former community organizer’s familial wealth.

Unlike Kenya, the one thing that most developed countries have that does not make the relationship between political office and wealth accumulation near-immutable is a system of checks-and-balances that tempers the avarice that is a function of being human AND having (political) power! The checks-and-balances that compel those seeking political office, indeed most prominent political/public figures in the west to put their wealth in a “blind trust” is almost non-existent in Kenya. Wikipedia defines a “blind trust” thus:

“A….trust in which the trustees…..have been given power of attorney (and)….have full discretion over the assets and the….beneficiaries (owners) of the trust have no knowledge of the holdings of the trust and no right to intervene in their handling. Blind trusts are generally used…….to keep the beneficiary unaware of the specific assets in the trust, such as to avoid conflict of interest between the beneficiary and the investments. Politicians or others in sensitive positions often place their personal assets (including investment income) into blind trusts, to avoid public scrutiny and accusations of conflicts of interest when they direct government funds to the private sector.”

It thus comes as no surprise when the publication “Business Daily” publishes the article “Kenyatta Business Empire Goes into Expansion Drive”; an article whose message is pretty simple and straightforward: With Uhuru as president, it is indeed the Kenyatta family’s turn to eat – again!

The following quote is from said article and underscores the point on the uniquely Kenyan trait of political power and the rabid accumulation of wealth sans any regards for considerations such as conflict of interest!

It also helps that Uhuru is now president, providing the family with a strong shield against any risks arising from unfavorable and unpredictable government policies that send fear down the spines of many investors in Africa.”

The quote from the article, in a nutshell says it all: The marriage of politics and business interests in Kenya is complete in a process first set in motion after independence when the country’s first president and Uhuru’s father Jomo Kenyatta allegedly taunted former Mau Mau veteran Bildad Kaggia for having little (material wealth) to show for his liberation war even as he, Jomo “generously helped himself” to healthy portions of “matunda ya uhuru” or “fruits of independence – “It’s our turn to eat” by Wrong et Githongo; (pge 50). If anyone ever wondered why those in power are willing to go to any lengths to maintain their hold on said power, the fore-going article, summarized by the foregoing quote should put the wonderment to rest. Similarly, anyone who doubted that the brutality these paragons of the Kenyan society would deign to sink to just needs to look at the sickening amount of money/wealth some of them have accumulated over the years they have been in or close to the country’s political power.

While I am not against the legal and fair accumulation of wealth, it is not inconceivable to draw the chilling, indeed rather dark conclusion that those already owning boatloads of cash are willing to allow/facilitate the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands with nothing so as to protect said wealth. Kenyans are quick to point out that the US invaded Iraq because its oil…but are curiously silent when asked to delve into the true reasons behind the tribal violence that one can almost set their clock by every 5 years!

It is equally telling that the publication Business Daily can make the assertion that Uhuru’s presidency is a boon for his family’s businesses without being called out by the parliament or the fourth estate. The claim that Mr. Kenyatta’s presidency “…provides the family with a strong shield against any risks arising from unfavorable and unpredictable government policies…” embodies the very definition of insider trading, a charge the Kenyan-equivalent of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Capital Markets Authority (CMA); certainly the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) would be very interested in – I think!

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Equivocating Corruption and Impunity

“Combating corruption is not straightforward or easy. But it is not impossible, especially with increased public awareness of the problem.”

Dr. Gesami; Secretary, Policy Coordination Office of The Deputy President

The foregoing is quote from an article in the August 7, 2013 issue of the Daily Nation. The piece was written by a Dr. Gesami who is identified by the newspaper as a “Secretary, Policy Coordination Office of The Deputy President.” I could not believe the equivocation and rationalization of and on corruption put forth by a seemingly senior official in the DP’s office. The doctor appeared to be justifying and excusing poor governance and corruption.

Maybe I have been in America for too long, as I am often told but combating corruption, from the spectacular Goldenberg or Anglo-Leasing types to the petty “kitu kidogo” variety that Kenya and Kenyans patented a long time ago is as easy as choosing not to ask for a bribe. It is also as easy as choosing not to pay out a bribe when asked for one. I wondered aloud what was difficult or to quote Ms. Gesami; “not straightforward” about saying “NO” when asked by an officer to “ongea vizuri” after being pulled over, ostensibly because of a nondescript and benign traffic violation such as a broken tail light? If the issue is the widespread culture of corruption that is Kenya and Kenyans, then the country would have already created a professional and well-paid police force with the relevant checks-and-balances to mitigate the culture (of corruption); something it has and cannot do, in part because its leaders continue to be more interested in cementing their (tribe’s) hold on power by creating a force based on tribal/regional allegiance, not professionalism and/or competence. The recent tragedy at the Westgate Mall and the subsequent attempts by government officials to explain the botched rescue efforts not to mention charges of looting by the soldiers is a prime example of equivocation and tolerance of incompetence and corruption at and by the highest levels of the government! For good measures, I will throw in the current storm swirling around Ms. Charity Ngilu, the Cabinet Secretary of Lands and the inevitable “circling the wagons” by “her people” who pleaded with her boss Mr. Kenyatta that “to err is human” and asked that the errant secretary be “forgiven” for her transgressions!

Dr. Gesami works in the office of the deputy president. She should therefore have access to the best resources Kenya has to offer: Assuming this to be the case, what, therefore, is “not easy” about surreptitiously recording an
exchange between someone attempting to obtain title to a piece of land and a bureaucrat at the Land Bureau to expose any corrupt dealings during the exchange? The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently asked by the Jubilee government to help investigate the fire at JKIA and the attacks at the Westgate Mall routinely run “sting operations” that expose and take down corrupt politicians and businessmen with ease and regularity here in America. Kenya has the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), not to mention the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC), presumably investigative and prosecutorial bodies with adequate resources to emulate the American “feds”.

At the risk of asking the obvious: Is it difficult for the CID and KACC to run the FBI-like “sting operations” because the very people they’d be targeting for investigations are the very people said agencies report and pledge allegiance to? I will argue that the main reason Kenya and Kenyans have continued their corrupt ways is because corruption in its many mutations has existed and continues to exist at the highest level of the society with an impunity that allows the erstwhile Minister for Finance, now president of the country, to flippantly refer to a suspicious and inexplicable kshs. 9billion line item in a supplementary budget as “…a computer error, a typing error or whatever...” without being called to explain said typo or glitch to the nation: A nation that probably does not care because “ their son is being persecuted” by mischievous opponents!

It is the same impunity that has allowed perpetrators of high crimes and misdemeanors to walk around the country with nary a care in the world…because the crimes they are accused of committing, including murder most foul, of cabinet ministers and of members of parliament (MPs), have long since been swept under the rug…forgotten by all except those affected by said crimes.

Now presiding over Kenya is the same person who was at the helm when the “computer error, a typing error or whatever…” was uncovered at the Ministry of Finance – Mr. Kenyatta – the very person trying to woo investors by “… promising drastic measures to fight corruption…

Where have we heard that song before?

Oh yes…from Mr. Kenyatta’s predecessors. The current president’s father continued the politics of patronage and of divide-and-conquer when the colonizing Brits “left” Kenya in early 1960s. Jomo aka Mzee continued governing Kenya colonialist-style and in effect cementing corruption and impunity into the fabric of the country and its people. Kenyatta Pere was then succeeded by M1 or Mr. Moi, also Kenyatta Fils’ mentor. Google “Kroll Report on Kenya” for some sobering reading on corruption in Kenya during the Nyayo (Moi) era. He, whose political vision is like that of a giraffe, gave control of the trough that is Kenya to Baba Jimmy and world-renowned economist Mr. Mwai Kibaki. Successive Kenyan presidencies have at one time or another promised to “wipe out corruption”…”end impunity”…or “take stern measures against grafts”.

I remember when President Moi set ablaze a mountain of ivory tusks in late 1989. Now if ever there was political gamesmanship, drama and spectacular images symbolizing a “resolute” leader taking on the threat posed by poachers who threatened to wipe out the country’s elephants along with the tourist dollars the majestic pachyderms brought into the national coffers, this was it: The ignition of 12 tons of elephant tusks, artfully arranged by pyro technicians should have signaled to all that the Moi government was serious about putting an end to the killing off of Kenya’s elephants. Alas! It did not. The country’s elephants have been poached to the point of extinction in part because implicated in the scourge was the Kenyatta family! (Pges. 312-313, Charles Hornsby, Kenya Since Independence).

The point of the forgoing digression is to illustrate how and why the efforts to stem corruption and impunity in Kenya have been ineffective. The country’s presidents have bequeathed its citizens a country ranked near the bottom (or top) by Transparency International; an international organization that monitors and publicizes political/governmental corruption throughout the world: 

Let me blunt:

Until corruption and impunity are dealt with at the very highest level of Kenya’s government, the country will continue to be a poster child for the twin evils while lurching from one scandal to the next even as its leaders “promise drastic measures to fight” the two!

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