Thursday, 25 August 2011


Recently, there has been a lively debate in Kenya on whether the principle (article 81) in the new constitution that states “not more than two thirds of the members of elective bodies shall be of the same gender” can be achieved, without some form of affirmative action.This is because at the same time, the constitution restricts the number of constituencies in Kenya to 290 seats, with 59 nominated seats of which 47 are reserved for women, and 12 for special interests including the youth, persons with disabilities and workers (article 97). Hence, the political class cannot “nominate” their way out of this quagmire. The number of women elected to the national assembly next general elections must rise substantially if a constitutional crisis is to be avoided.
The general consensus, in my view, is that this numbers cannot be achieved unless some formula is devised to restrict some posts for women. Hence the cabinet last week decided to scrap away this principle by amending the constitution. This raised a lot of anger from quarters of the women’s rights movement, which said it had not been consulted in this decision yet it was their lot that was to be directly affected.
These groups, supported by most of the women nominated members of parliament, want a system of affirmative action devised, whereby a good proportion of constituencies are reserved for women, so that to ensure the constitution is not violated after the next general election, leading to a constitutional; crisis. But what is affirmative action? The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy defines affirmative action as the “positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education and business from which they have been historically excluded. Some of the ways in which affirmative action can be carried out is through quotas, where a specific number of positions in the school, organization or indeed, parliament are set aside for the minority group.
But this idea has not been received well, to say the least, by a good majority of Kenyans. Every voter has a right to choose his favored candidate, as long as he/she complies with the code of conduct, and article 99 of the constitution. How will vetting candidates according to gender improve service delivery, accountability, good governance and responsibility among members of parliament?
That question brings me back to the real issue in this argument: why cant women achieve a third of the seats in parliament without any special considerations or affirmative action?
Some of the reasons include:
• Lack of economic resources to compete with their male counterparts in political campaigns.
• The irregular and highly corrupt methods of political recruitment by political parties that are mostly headed by men hinder women (as well as the physically disabled, youth and other minorities)
• Chauvinism and lack of education that views women as incapable of doing well in such positions
• Political culture that favors violence, militias and voter bribery which are conditions that favor the men
• Lack of political mentoring and role models in the political field

• “jealousy” from the women voters that would rather vote for a man (I have never bought this one)
Hence to even out this unbalanced playing field, affirmative action should be done to ensure that women are well represented in parliament, as well as fight these institutional problems to make it easier for women and even other minorities to vie for and clinch the positions in politics.
Yet there are persuasive arguments AGAINST affirmative action. These include:
o It may not lead to true diversity of opinion which is so important in a national assembly
o It leads to reverse discrimination( discriminating against men while fighting discrimination against women)
o Lowering standards of accountability needed to push women politicians to perform better. ( a recent study by Stanford university indicated that the women representatives in America tend to bring in more money to their home districts, attract more sponsors and introduce more bills than their male counterparts. Of course this may not be true for Kenyan women parliamentarians, but it is obvious that women who succeed in politics, in Kenya and America alike, are ‘the most politically ambitious and talented of their pool, having potentially overcome hurdles including voter bias and self-doubt about their ability to win.” Open up “special seats” for women and the caliber of women getting seats to parliament is likely to suffer as a result.
o Once enacted, affirmative actions are tough to remove, even after the underlying discrimination has been eliminated.

In my conclusion though, I would say that as long as women cannot achieve at least a third of parliamentary seats in any country, then there is a problem with that society. Affirmative action should only be used as the most temporary of measures to correct this discrimination and wrong situation. For Kenya, measures such as the political parties bill, that will regulate the membership and nominations of political parties, strict electoral code of conduct that is well enforced by the IEBC( Independent electoral and boundaries commission), voter education, more women mentoring each other and encouraging each other to vie for seats in politics, more transparent and possibly government sponsored campaign financing, and democracy in political parties will promote a greater involvement of women in political affairs and elections than affirmative action alone can.
Affirmative action has a good number of weaknesses despite its advantages. hence, it must be used very carefully to minimize any discrimination towards the men, promote equality and harmony amongst all people in society, even as it seeks to empower women in Kenyan politics. for sure, restricting some parliamentary seats for women is not the answer. we would be better advised as a country to lay the groundwork for long term reforms of our political institutions and political culture by reading the article as a principle that can promote greater representation for women in the national assembly, as well as the disabled, youth and other minorities.

Monday, 15 August 2011


The riots that have rocked London have shocked many people all over the world. Somehow the picture of the Englishmen stealing shoes, wine, flat screen televisions and other things from the shops in London and other cities is just too surreal. Many people have commented that the policemen of Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya, among other African countries would have shut down the riots and looters in a day. Yet others have faulted the reporting of the west’s media houses such as cnn, BBC and sky news. They say that had these riots occurred in Kenya, they would have been broadcasted all over the world.
I think Africans can compare and learn from these acts of “brazen criminality.” Some of the interesting aspects of these riots such as police response, the role of social media, political response, materialism, multiculturalism and ethnic relations, democratic society and social alienation, as well as the role of parents and the government in children upbringing.
• The police
The London riots began after the mysterious shooting of mark Duggan by the police. The shooting occurred after a botched undercover operation the police have been accused of not being responsive enough to the family of mark Duggan when they went to see them and get information about his death. This led to protests that eventually turned ugly, and led to the riots in Tottenham.
The police have been accused of being too soft and reluctant to use force when dealing with the protesters. This is a rather peculiar charge, as policemen are mostly known for being brutal when dealing with public upheavals of any kind. African police have rarely been accused of being soft on any protesters or citizens. As Kenya police continues to reform, care must be taken to ensure that the right balance is struck between softness and high handedness.
However, the police in Britain have been very efficient n arresting the looters, with over 1500 arrests having been made so far. The police have been very efficient in arresting, processing and charging the looters. This is unlike cases in Kenya where police have frequently dropped the ball while investigating cases. Some of the reasons given for this have been lack of resources, knowledge of the law, corruption and incompetence.
• Political responsiveness
Most of the national politicians had been in recess when the riots occurred. The initial response was slow, although the British prime minister did eventually call a special meeting of parliament to debate on the riots.
The politicians in both sides of the divide have struggled to maintain a united front in the debates, at least in public, although cracks are surely just beneath the surface, with the conservatives blaming the looting on criminality and consumerist society, while those on the left seem to think society has not given the poor any reason not to loot or feel like they are part of society they live in.
These ideological conflicts can lead to lively debate on the issues and consensus building when trying to address these concerns. The important lesson to learn from this is that a modicum of unity by politicians is sometimes necessary when a nation is facing a major crisis.
The law in Kenya and other parts of Africa should also be amended to ensure that the small and medium size enterprises are protected from cases of political violence and upheaval, either by providing incentives to the insurance players, or setting up a fund to help compensate the business class from such wanton destruction.
• Social networks
The use of the social networks by the looters has been very efficient, by using applications such as blackberry messenger to communicate and organize themselves. This has led to calls to ban these looters from the social networks. In Uganda, the leading party is accusing the opposition of trying to lead an “armed insurrection” using twitter.
The lesson here is that social networks can be used for both good and evil by the general population. Hence legislation to guide how to protect the general population from crooks that use the internet to liaise and organize their criminal activities, without violating the right of the innocent. The right to privacy in social networks such as facebook and twitter seems to be nonexistent. Activists are being arrested in Zimbabwe and Uganda for notes and updates they posted on these sites. This is a very worrying trend.
.Of course it must be mentioned that the positive efforts such as #riotcleanup and the identifying of looters on flickr have also been done using the same social networks
Activists and the general public in Africa have to know that they may be putting themselves at risk when they tweet or post negative things about their governments, especially in countries with a history of oppression and dictatorship.
• Ethnic relations
The killing of a black man (Mark Duggan) by the police threatened to bring about race riots, however the situation seems to have been avoided. The murder of 3 Englishmen of Asian origin in a hit and run where the main suspect is an afro-Caribbean ha s threatened to bring about ethnic tensions. This reminds me of such cases in parts of Kenya such as kuresoi and other parts of the rift valley region, where a crime perpetuated by a member of one community can lead to reprisals and revenge attacks. The Kenyan youth and civil society at large have a duty to play to promote dialogue and peace among these communities. This will help downplay tensions between the communities, especially in the political contests that are ahead in the next general elections.
• Haves and have-nots
The most important thing Africans can learn from the London riots, however, is that the creation of a deeply unequal society such as Kenyans is a time bomb. The government must do all it can to promote economic development, creation of jobs and inclusiveness of all segments of the society to the economy. Right now we have a two tier education system, where the rich go to the best schools while the poor go to the worst. What is the government doing to correct this? Is giving more schools the national status the answer? Am highly pessimistic, but time will tell.
• consumerism
The other major issue is that of consumerism. Consumerism, according to Wikipedia, is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts. Many societies, Kenya included, are consumerist societies and this leads to people always wanting more and more goods so as to achieve a temporary high. This promotes greed and dissatisfaction among many people with their lives. Given an unguarded supermarket or shoe shop, how many Kenyans, or Africans would have acted in the same manner?
The British society will not find it easy to deal with such a problem. Is consumerism a bad thing? No doubt it promotes innovation and spending, which are necessary to economic development. But parents must curtail their and their children’s desires to spot the latest fashions, phones and designer clothes lest it damages our self esteems, sense of proportion, happiness and envy towards the more affluent in society.
In conclusion, the British government has been much more responsive, and united when dealing with these riots than many African countries would have. However, the issues their society faces, such as the vast underclass, poverty, dire economic times and an increasingly weak political class in the face of globalization, increasing power of MNCs and regionalism, as well as unemployed yet educated young population, are challenges all both sides of the north south divide are grappling with. How will our societies and governments deal with these?

Monday, 1 August 2011

tribalism: challenges to a united kenya

Many Kenyans, will tell you that one of the main problems that has affected Kenyans’ struggle to get a new constitution, good leaders, prosperity, peace and fight against corruption and impunity is tribalism. Tribalism is, according to Wikipedia, the possession of a stron“it is our turn to eat,”g cultural/ethnic identity that SEPARATES one member of a group from the members of another group. In the Kenyan context, this strong identity has been exploited “as a resource for interest groups for achieving secondary goals, such as increase in wealth, power or status, “by politicians.
Tribalism’s origins can be traced back to the colonial period where the British colonial state played the tribes against each other in a system of divide, rule and conquer, indeed in the book "it's our turn to eat" Michelle Wong says that some of the ethnic stereotypes such as the loyal kambas, the humble kalenjins and the slippery kikuyu can be traced back to this age.
Tribalism led to greater government expenditures for social expenditure in kikuyu areas, corruption benefits to insiders, privileged access to government and parastatal jobs for the kikuyu elite in Kenyatta’s government. Blatant discrimination against others, including intimidation and assassinations of popular leaders such as tom mboya, jm kariuki, pio Gama pinto etc who went against the grain or threatened the rulng elite’s interests occurred. The unresolved murders of these and many more injustices carried out by the two dictators who were the first and second presidents of Kenya, as well as kibaki to a lesser extent, have promoted ethnic tensions and a desperate urge by many Kenyans to bring about change, if not of this unjust system, at least of the tribe at the helm in government. When this failed at the general elections, the consequences were tragic, sobering and scary.
The multiparty system of democracy that Kenya adopted in 1992 ushered in a new era where a presidential candidate vied on the back of strong tribal support, and as a result more than 5 opposition candidates would vie against the then president Moi, helping him win the 1992 and 1997 elections without garnering 50% of the votes. This changed in 2002, and the opposition united to bring in change and evict the ruling party kanu from power for the first time since independence. But the honeymoon would not last. Scarcely a year had passed when the ruling party narc fragmented into pieces, with the faction led by Raila Odinga claiming that some MOU they had signed had not been honored when sharing the spoils of victory. This led to formation of a government of national unity, then the loss of the referendum by the government in 2005, and an increasingly tense and divided country leading to the 2007 general elections. With opinion polls pointing to a narrow Raila Odinga victory, increasingly violent, hate filled and propagandist campaigns and the unilateral appointment of some electoral commissioners by president Kibaki failed to raise the warning flags that the December 2007 elections would be a turning point on Kenya’s history.
What happened after the peaceful voting would shake the very foundations of the country to the core. The 2007-2008 crisis that followed these elections would lead to over 1000 dead, 600000 displaced, property worth millions destroyed and the economy of Kenya brought to its knees. After weeks of negotiations between the ODM and PNU factions, the National Accord and Reconciliation Act was signed by Raila and Kibaki on 28th February, a coalition government was formed with the mandate of bringing peace to the country, resettlement of the IDPs, political and legal reform, and the historical injustices as well as uneven distribution of wealth among different groups, the land issue as well as unemployment among the youth.
Fast forward to three and a half years later, are we close to solving these issues, and can we say that the political violence of 2008 will never again occur in Kenya? Some of the reforms that have been carried out include:
Passage of a new constitution. The new constitution creates a devolved system of government, that has the head of state and government as the president. It separates the three arms of government and strengthens the judiciary and national assembly at the expense of the executive. It also has a chapter on land, leadership and integrity and extensive bill of rights. How will this reduce tribalism?
It is hoped that by the devolution of power and resources to the county level, development and allocation of resources will be done equitably and not rely on the friendliness of a certain region to the powers that be. Hence tribes will not have to fight for the presidency and support their candidates and tribal chiefs despite the limitations and poor standards of leadership they may have. Major appointments by the president will have to be approved by parliament, such as cabinet secretaries, inspector general of the police and ambassadors will have to be approved by parliament. This system of checks and balances will help to ensure that the president will not be able to skew the appointments to favor any region, and by reducing the powers of the presidency, make it less attractive and imperial.
Any presidential hopeful must acquire 50% plus one of the votes, more than 25% of support in over half the counties, as well as declaring a running mate who will be the deputy president, before the elections are held. These provisions are to ensure that the president will be acceptable to a great majority of Kenyans, and promote nationalist politics that can appeal to all Kenyans despite their tribe, race or religion.
Other provisions that will hopefully reduce the tribalism and institutionalize issue based politics are the law on political parties that seeks to ensure that any coalition agreement between political parties must be transparent and reported to the independent electoral and boundaries commission, nationalize political parties (article 91 A), and reduce the party hopping and defections that occur when certain candidates lose nominations.
However, the presidency still retains its allure and power. The national assembly has to consist of legislators of impeccable character otherwise all the vetting and oversight of the executive and state officers will just take on an ethnic bend. Votes can and will be bought in the national assembly to pass the appointments of state officers. Tribalism cannot be legislated out of the hearts and minds of Kenyans, they must be educated, and they must talk to each other and practice non-discrimination when they vote for their leaders in 2012 and beyond.
The constitution must be implemented to the full. Bills and acts of parliament that add muscle to its provisions must be written according to its letter and spirit.
The ghosts of 2008 post election violence must be exorcised. How many culprits of the violence have been brought to book or charged? Very few, if any. low and high level perpetrators have been prosecuted. This kind of impunity is what will encourage these perpetrators to strike again in 2012. The Hague issue is one that will provide a hurdle that must be safely navigated. Reports that the witnesses the Waki commission used to get information were paid by both the PNU and ODM parties do not bode well for the Ocampo prosecution. How true are these allegations? What distresses me the most is that the perpetrators of the violence were much more than six people. The police have shown that they are not interested in investigating these people and bringing justice to the Kenyans who were uprooted, killed and raped after the 2007 general elections. Little wonder then, that a BBC 2009 report showed that kikuyu and kalenjin tribes are arming themselves with g3 and AK 47 rifles in readiness for the 2012 elections. If the police cannot protect them, and charge the culprits of the 2008 violence, they will protect themselves, is what they seem to be saying.
The tjrc hearings that are taking place in parts of the country have exposed deep lying anguish, injustice and disillusionment with the central government on past injustices that were committed and remain unsolved despite compelling evidence and witness testimonies. The assassinations of Tom Mboya, Robert Ouko and Jm Kariuki are some of them. The massacre of Kenyans in Kisumu at Tom Mboya's funeral in 1969, the Wagalla massacre of 1977, the 1992 and 1997 ethnic clashes in parts of rift valley, the 2008 post election violence and the 2008 human rights violations carried out by the military in mount elgon must all be investigated, among other injustices. This is the only way to ensure feelings of hatred, anger and revenge towards any communities perceived wrongly or rightly to be behind such atrocities are reduced.
Politicians such as Eugene Wamalwa have been heard recommending that appointments to the county government posts must favor the people who originate from his county, if such sentiments are shared by other politicians and Kenyans, then the county governments will have tribalism and discrimination based on ethnicity when it comes to employment of people, which is not only unconstitutional but will promote balkanization and tribalism at the county level. The rights of all Kenyans to live and work anywhere they want in the country must not be violated, despite the political wishes of such leaders. This is the only way to promote peace and harmonious existence among Kenyans.
The system of government still is a presidential form, and whether this is the best system of government for Kenya, the jury is still out. The committee of experts had initially drafted a constitution in which the executive power was separated between the president and prime minister but the prevailing attitude among majority of Kenyans was that given the wrangling within the coalition government, this experiment was not tenable as a permanent system. Kenyans of different ethnic groups will still vote for one president in the next general elections. So what will stop the tribal cocoons, alliances and historical ethnic voting patters from recurring??
Kenyans would be advised to vote for presidential candidates that pass the leadership and integrity test, and some of the criteria they should look at I have posted here. Realistically speaking, many Kenyans will continue voting for the leaders from their tribes. The new constitution has laid the groundwork to avoid a repeat of any violence due to this in the next elections. However, the minds and hearts of people who want to see their tribesmen only as the president will take much persuasion to convince otherwise. The new Kenyan leadership will take some time to take root, and the future does look brighter than the past in this respect.