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Insecurity in Kenya and Patriotism

Criticizing an obviously over-whelmed President Uhuru Kenyatta does not make one a “self-hating” “unpatriotic” Kenyan who is “gleeful” about the plight of the country including the on-going attacks on innocent civilians.  Likewise, questioning his administration’s inept and haphazard stewardship of the country including its endemic corruption does not make one a “Raila sycophant”.

Taken together, the fore-going reactions are cynical ploys at deflection by people who willfully overlook the elementary relationship between the leaders they elect into office and the evolution/viability of the country. Such people seem unable to sustain a substantive response to the reality that Emperor Uhuru really has no clothes!

Irish poet Oscar Wilde wrote that “patriotism is the virtue of the vicious” while Englishman Samuel Jackson argued that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Anyone interested in the meanings of the foregoing quotes can google them because I won’t delve into a protracted discussion about their meaning but suffice to say, I find the quotes very instructive given the on-going discourse on the darkness and uncertainty Kenya and Kenyans are going through.

The recent terrorist attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa have confused and divided Kenyans and like clockwork, one of the fault lines has been along tribal lines. The divide has also pitted rabid flag-wavers and self-proclaimed “patriots” who hold steadfast to the dictum “Kenya: Love it or leave it!” on one side and “unpatriotic” folks who display the bumper sticker “Don’t blame me, I voted for CORD!” between moments of Schadenfreude and acceptance, on the other.

I would add a third category of people who love Kenya but want to see its leadership and people come together and do better. I would then lump the full spectrum of perspectives under the heading “Democracy At Work”; the making of sausage allusion notwithstanding.

In a piece titled “How Kenya lost billions since independence,” Dr. David Ndii of Africa Economics writes that “Uhuru is Kenyatta’s biological son. He is Moi’s political son. It is said he is Kibaki’s godson. Apples don’t fall far trees.” Much like the Anglo Leasing scheme that just cost the country KSh. 1.4Billion for security goods and services yet-to-be-delivered, it is not implausible, irresponsible or “un-patriotic” to posit that the ease and frequency with which the extremist attacks are currently occurring in Kenya has been in the making for some time.

It is disingenuous and naïve to separate Kenya’s history of corruption, nepotism, impunity and tribalism from its on-going flailing fight against extremism, corruption, tribalism and nepotism. The fore-going is the very point Alex Ndegwa makes in the piece “Anglo Leasing follows President Uhuru Kenyatta to State House”. Mr. Ndegwa writes that “…Anglo leasing deals were conceived in 2001 under similar pressure for cash and runaway insecurity, as the spate of terror attacks gripping the country today.”

At the risk of repeating myself and stating the obvious, Kenya is a society where anyone with money or connections can get anything – legally AND illegally – and in the latter scenario, without suffering any consequences in a court of law or in the court of public opinion. This perspective dovetails with Mr. John Githongo’s assertion that “corrupt individuals resort to security matters when other avenues for looting (are) tightened.” The former head of the country’s anti-corruption commission further noted that “one of the major contracts in the Anglo Leasing scam was to have tamper-proof passports as a security matter that was vital for the country”; arguably for its security.

The fact is corruption, nepotism and impunity are not unique to Kenya but to paraphrase Senator Obama during his visit to Kenya in 2006, the three isms have attained crisis-levels in Kenya, the American president’s father’s country of birth.

The world has changed since Kenya’s war with the Shiftas shortly after independence. As romantic as some would like it to be, it is highly unlikely that the tactics used by Kenyatta Pere to deal with the secessionist movement in Kenya’s Northern Frontier DIstrict would work in an era where the internet and jet travel have made possible asymmetrical warfare and attacks by one or two “lone wolves” with extremist views and/or an axe to grind against countries.

Shortly after 9/11, the US put in place systems – Department of Homeland Security – aimed at closing the loopholes that were exploited by the 19 extremists who perpetrated the dastardly acts. Even more important, the bureaucracy was staffed with competent professionals who owed their allegiance to the country, not a person or group. The story of Bernard Kerik offers a glimpse into the seriousness with which the US took the scourge of extremism. It also offers a template that Uhuru can use in structuring and staffing Kenya’s security bureaucracy. The simple version is that Mr. Kerik, a politically-connected former commissioner of NY Police Department withdrew his name from consideration as secretary of DHS because of past indiscretions – “personal challenges” if you may. That he lost out on the cabinet position was the least of his worries because the confirmation process shone a light on his unsavory and criminal past. “Bernie” was discharged from federal custody on October 15, 2013, after serving 5 months of home confinement for a past that begun to unravel during the confirmation hearings.

My point?

Fighting extremism is extremely difficult under the “best” of circumstances.  It is made almost impossible when security systems/measures are staffed/overseen by incompetent and unethical individuals who are seemingly “protected” thanks to their relationship with or proximity to the center of power.

While the foregoing Monday morning quarterbacking is made from the safety and comfort of a café using a laptop, a fact some have used to ridicule my opinions, it dovetails with my larger point on tribalism, nepotism, corruption and their impact on Kenya’s on-going tribulations. With that said, let me offer Kenyatta Son’s own assessment back in 2006. Said the man now leading the country:

“…Anglo-leasing related projects represented three of the most prominent characteristics of corruption in our country. They represent impunity, negligence and recklessness in the management of public resources. They also represent the regrettable feature of lack of responsibility and unaccountable conscience on the part of those charged with the management of national resources that are put under them.”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Kensanity indeed!

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May 29, 2014 · 5:18 AM

Kensanity: The Sequel

Kensanity (noun); Ken-san-i-ty: the practice of accepting or tolerating corruption and incompetence as long as it keeps one of “ours” in power and prevents those “others”/”foreigners” from doing unto “us” what we do unto “them”. Kensanity: A portmanteau of the words “Kenya” and “insanity”.

Kenyans are once again in the throes of a disputed presidential election and as was the case in the prior dispute in 2007; they are forced to wait until an organization other than the body charged with overseeing the elections decides the legitimacy of the election results. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Kenyans had to sit on pins and needles until Dr. Kofi Annan crafted a power-sharing agreement between out-going POK Mr. Mwai Kibaki and current challenger, CORD’s Raila Odinga in 2007. The incompetence of the Election Commission of Kenya (ECK) caused ethnic violence that earned the president-elect and his vice – Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto – a date with the good folks at The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity! It was also during that time when Kenyans heard the late head of the Election Commission of Kenya Mr. Samuel Kivuiti famously say that “he doesn’t know who won the (2007) elections” even though the charter of the organization he headed at the time included the seemingly simple and yet obviously lofty goal of being “…a model electoral commission that will manage free, fair, credible and professional elections…” It was also in 2007 when Mr. Mwai Kibaki was surreptitiously and hurriedly sworn in by a political appointee Chief Justice Evans Gicheru in a cagy ceremony attended by a handful of loyalists one (1) hour after Kivuiti’s team had bungled the elections and set the country ablaze!

Fast-forward to 2013 and the country is again faced with the apparent failure of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), another bureaucracy whose website offered the error message “Fetching of original content failed with the following error: Proxy Publisher Failure CONNECTION_ERROR. If you own this domain, please consult this FAQ” on March 25, 2013 @12:21PM Pacific Standard Time when this article was being drafted! I visited the organization’s website to get information on its charter and/or mission statement to see how either lined up with its current performance! That I received an error message, presumably from the organization’s server, is fitting given one of the issues at the center of IEBC’s current morass – servers that crashed or as inelegantly put by the chairman Mr. Hassan Issack; “experienced a database query problem resulting from high traffic” thus crashing the electronic system and forcing the IEBC to resort to manual tallying of the votes which were at the root of the 2007 fiasco! And here I thought it was only the Romney campaign team that was still living in the era of the typewriter and dot-matrix printers! To add insult to injury, it is also being revealed in the on-going investigation of yet another bungled management of an election, that the tender awarded to Face Technologies of South Africa to provide the voter registration kits was mired in irregularities. I am shocked; absolutely shocked that an issue in Kenya involving oodles of money is steeped in irregularities and possible wrong-doing – please note the dripping sarcasm!

On the other hand and given the definition of my newly-coined portmanteau “Kensanity,” it makes perfect sense that the tender was awarded to the second-most expensive bid which was almost kshs. 1billion ABOVE the body’s (IEBC) budget! The Daily Nation of March 25, 2013 reported that the team charged with overseeing the tender process resigned because “it could not go on with the work because it was being judged harshly on a number of issues by people who did not have full disclosure of what was happening.” The unnamed IEBC member went on to say that they “were for sure uncomfortable with the pressure that was being piled on them by various quarters…” Let me see if I get this right: The very people who were most likely paid princely sums of money because they were supposedly qualified and able to manage an election are now saying that they cannot handle being called to account for their incompetence?

People, how many times are we going to see this movie? And how many times are we, as a society, going to allow corruption, incompetence and the various permutations of “isms” to affect our lives to the point of “killing the goose (Kenya) that lays the golden egg (a vibrant and capable country)?” And just out of morbid curiosity, are we going to hold to account those responsible for the current fiasco? The elections currently being litigated are coming in the wake of the elections of 2007 whose results yielded an orgy of ethnic violence. This alone should have been motivation for all those who claim to love Kenya to demand an election devoid of the chicanery of 2007: No patriotic Kenyan should have been part of a decision that risked an event similar to the tragic paroxysms of 2007. That we seemed to be facing the same situation we faced six years ago is indeed the latter half of my portmanteau – insanity. As a country we seemed to be doing the same over and over again and expecting a different result.

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March 26, 2013 · 5:04 AM