It’s All Coming Back to Bite Us

Posted by on 29th July 2020

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The month of July has seen the highest number of confirmed positive Covid-19 cases and fatalities, painting a grim picture of the weeks to come as August and September are expected to mark the peak of the disease in Kenya. There currently is no light at the end of the tunnel, however long it may be. The country went from panic shopping for toilet paper and sanitizer, making memes from the press briefings, readjusting to the rules and regulations, processing deaths and night-time burials, dealing with police brutality and finally seeming unfazed by the growing number of cases and deaths.

How has the government responded to this? More stringent measures and unsurprisingly, more threats. Just two days ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta extended the nationwide curfew and ordered that all bars be closed for the next 30 days failure to which licenses would be withdrawn. This came on the backdrop of several Kenyans including elected officials being caught on the wrong side of the law, all in a bid to enjoy a drink. These actions have most definitely been condemned by the Ministry of Health officials and Members of Parliament that warned that the recklessness being displayed was bound to lead to even more infections. Which is true seeing considering most would ignore social distancing in those social settings.

The point being driven home by leadership is that to truly succeed in flattening the curve, we the citizens have to seriously embark on preventive measures. The challenge with this approach is that it is largely dependent on social behavioural change and spares the leadership from looking inward. Talk of the government scapegoating!

It would be unfair to place all the blame on Kenyans only. The social behaviour of Kenyans pales to the gaps and failures of the leadership in fighting the virus and its impact on all aspects of life. It is a fact that the virus originated from Wuhan, China. However, what led us to this point of thousands of ill Kenyans, a dying economy, halting of learning and general uncertainty? It is important for the government to self-evaluate and look at the opportunities they missed out on, past and present, that would not only prevent the virus from getting into the country but make it manageable.

“The Jubilee government has already delivered improved security, economic stability, jobs, expanded access to affordable health care and modernised public services. We must now redouble our efforts to build upon the foundations of success. The task is not yet complete. The work must continue and should not be derailed,” reads an excerpt of the first page of the Jubilee Party 2017 manifesto.

Had this vision been brought to life we wouldn’t be reporting thousands of positive Covid-19 cases and burying tens of Kenyans. Thanks to leaders’ incompetency, mass looting of public funds and poor accountability Kenya and her leadership is clutching onto straws to not only save lives but save face. Had the laptop project been implemented in full, thousands of learners would still be in a position to stay on track with the school year.

The Managed Medical Equipment System project, currently marred with irregularities, was an opportune moment for counties to enhance their health care services with more equipped facilities. But the multibillion project from the onset was bound to be surrounded by controversy given the way it was undertaken. There was little consultation with local leadership and the deals made were the least bit transparent. On top of this, different media reports have revealed that few counties are prepared to deal with the virus. In essence, devolution was meant to solve issues of county capacity but challenges that range from corruption to power struggles between the national government and county governments have stopped counties from realizing their full potential.

So it is hypocritical for the government to constantly call out Kenyans on derailing the fight against the virus as if their actions or lack thereof have not greatly contributed to the prevailing circumstances. It is then prudent for current and future leadership to realize that service delivery is a bare minimum that not only serves Kenyans on normal days but also prepares and cushions the country for such eventualities.

So when the leadership points a finger at Kenyans they should remember that three fingers point back at them.

MPs’ Poor Attendance in Committees is a Disservice to the Taxpayer

Posted by on 22nd July 2020

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A new report compiled by various committee clerks on members’ attendance in National Assembly Committee meetings paints a worrying picture of the casual nature of various legislators when it comes to performing their roles in Parliament. According to the report, 10 MPs did not attend parliamentary committee meetings from January to October 2019. Deliberately missing committee meetings for three months can be equated to an MP opting to stay out of the committees altogether, that is according to the Parliamentary Standing orders which stipulate that if a member fails to attend four consecutive sessions of the committee without written permission from the chairperson or the speaker, the Member of Parliament shall be replaced.

Committees have often been described as the engine roomsof Parliament because most of nature and load of the work carried out in committees. In brief, it is in the committees that concrete elaboration of the law is undertaken, budgets and expenditures for the executive approved, investigations on special issues carried out, public participation and proper scrutiny of policies and programmes to assess whether they meet the objectives of legislation and development plans are done.

Generally, the parliamentary committee hearings have been considered the best tools in undertaking the oversight of governance and administrative matters. Through the calls for public participation, parliamentary committees not only enable the Parliament to be in adherence with Article 118 of the Constitution but they enrich policies and legislation with experts’ input. Committees enable direct contact between the citizens and specific MPs and the flow of information to Members. The committees also serve as a platform for people in the opposition to voice their concerns and have input in the development of policies.

Therefore, the dismal performance in committee attendance by members is a great disservice to the citizens they represent and undermines the principles of democratic governance and should be condemned. The revelation that MPs are absconding their duties further weakens the public trust in the legislature as an institution that is mandated to address their needs. By missing committee meetings or any legislative proceedings without valid reasons, MPs leave the citizens with a feeling of being ‘unrepresented’.

The citizens who pay taxes and voted with the desire to attain progressive change often end up feeling shortchanged when the MPs fail to play their part. Because citizens have high expectations from their representatives, MPs should strive to utilize the available means to amplify and address their needs. Citizens have a myriad of issues ranging from healthcare, education, infrastructure and security that need to be addressed to the government and their only link is their representatives.

The primary need for the establishment of parliamentary committees is to gather members of parliament in smaller groups with a specific jurisdiction such as Health, in order to enable them to work efficiently and effectively. However, the mere presence of parliamentary committees is not necessarily a sufficient indicator for their effectiveness. Thus, there’s need for the respective members to actively engage in the committee activities. Avenues such as parliamentary committees are perfect opportunities for MPs to ensure that various policy development reflect the local needs of their constituents and at the same time promote the national interests. In addition, a parliamentary committee that performs its duties effectively promotes democratic governance.

Why it’s Important to Understand MPs’ Roles.

Posted by on 14th July 2020

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Upon gaining the new Constitution in 2010 one key area that was overlooked was the civic education of Kenyans who are now guided by it. Like it has been said before Kenya ails not from lack of laws, rather from the absence of the political good-will to implement them. This absence of political good-will is fed by the mismatch between Kenyans’ expectations and the mandate of elected representatives as outlined in the Constitution, and this mismatch is as a result of the electorate not fully understanding the roles of the different arms of government.
To give context, Mzalendo recently released the Annual Parliamentary Scorecard that analysed the plenary performance of members of the National Assembly and the Senate in the year 2019. One of the comments that kept coming up as Kenyans interacted with the analysis was that an MP doesn’t need to speak in Parliament if they’re pushing for development on the ground. In addition to this, most said that those who spoke in the House just make noise anyway and do nothing productive.
For most, a productive MP is one who brings development to his/her constituents in the form of better roads, better or new school infrastructure, affordable education, better hospitals and safer neighbourhoods. The issue however with gauging an MP’s performance on this scale is that these are among the Executive’s (at both county and national level) deliverables. Where development of this nature is concerned, a member of Parliament is tasked with providing an enabling policy and legal environment and to provide oversight over the national and county governments to ensure that Wanjiku’s socio-economic needs are addressed.
A big portion of Kenyans is fixated on the “we can’t eat laws” mentality failing to see the opportunities that lie in legislation. A great example would be these past four months that Kenya has been dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. Kenyans should remember that while President Uhuru Kenyatta has on different occasions given economic cushioning directives, they could only come to effect after Parliament provided a legal framework for them. Furthermore, the question of accountability of the funds being allocated to counties and different state organs can effectively be addressed by Parliament through their oversight role.
As it stands there is a stalemate in the Senate on the allocation formula as Senators fight to protect their respective counties from marginalization in the distribution of resources. If the Senate gets the sharing formula wrong vulnerable Kenyan will bear the brunt of the pandemic as infections seem to be on the rise in the wake of strained hospitals. This allocation formula in question seeks to solve the issue of county capacity and preparedness in fighting the virus and preventing deaths. One, therefore, need not overemphasize the crucial role of Parliament in flattening the curve.
The National Assembly, on the other hand, faces the important task of filling the vacant office of the Auditor General whose role is so keeping public finance books in check. Several experts have warned that the prevailing circumstances provide optimum conditions for the corrupt to steal from Kenyans. It would be unfortunate if the gap left by former Auditor-General Edward Ouko provided lee-way for corruption to take place as Kenyans fight for their lives.
Having all this in mind, it is important for constant, consistent citizen sensitization on the law to take place for Kenyans to be able to hold their leaders to account. An informed citizen is an empowered citizen.

Phased re-opening: Civic Responsibility Alone is not Enough to Keep Virus at Bay

Posted by on 8th July 2020

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Kenya on Monday, passed the 8,000-mark after confirming 181 new Covid-19 cases even as President Uhuru Kenyatta relaxed the containment measures in what he termed as a phased re-opening of the country. Kenya now joins African countries like South Africa and Madagascar who have tried to strike a balance in terms of saving lives and livelihoods. This decision is a relief to many, especially business owners. The effects of containment measures had seen curtailment of economic activities, with millions losing their jobs but health officials still dread it and consider it a path not to be taken anytime soon.
From the President’s address to the nation, it is clear that as a country, we have not met the irreducible minimum for lifting the restrictions. Even though there is a reasonable level of preparedness much has not been achieved. It is on the same background that the President notes that Kenyans will rely on their civic responsibility as the economy re-opens. In what seems to be a cautiously optimistic option, the President warns that any trends that signal a worsening of the pandemic will lead to a return to lock-down at zero-option.
Previously, in his 8th presidential address, President Kenyatta highlighted that expert advice recommends that for the country to reopen, each county should designate at least 300 bed-capacity by July 7th 2020, for Covid-19 patients. A spot check on county preparedness according to media reports indicates otherwise, only 23 counties have met the target. Cumulatively, counties had attained a total of 9,300 isolation beds, against the national target of 30,500 units. In addition, the 47 counties have 400 ICU beds. The general acknowledgement is that the level of preparedness in our counties is still wanting despite the fact that time and funds had been allocated for that purpose.
On the other hand, even with the restrictions in place, civic responsibility proved to be a challenge both on the government and the citizen’s side. Citizens have been trying by all means to circumvent the restrictions put in place. Life returned to normal in some places even as the country reported a spike of cases. The country has witnessed cases of violation of curfew orders, night evictions, political and public gatherings with little caution to physical distancing. Civic responsibility was also hampered by the fact that a section of Kenyans still doubt the existence of the virus stemming from their deeply rooted mistrust in the government.
There is little prospect of a vaccine becoming widely available any time soon, how lives and livelihoods will turn out is also uncertain. In addition, six months into the pandemic, WHO still warns that the worst is yet to come. The government is walking on a tight rope and the reality is that we risk a surge of infections that will overwhelm the already strained our health systems if we depend on civic responsibility to keep the virus at bay.
Experts have highlighted that how governments act today will shape the post-Covid world for years to come. Therefore, even where there is civic responsibility, the government needs to increase preventive measures and facilitate access to testing, isolation and quarantine facilities as the bare minimum.
The government’s capacity for surveillance and contact tracing must also be enhanced. Training and capacity-building of more Community Health Workers and Volunteers should be hastened to help facilitate the implementation of Homebased care to relieve the burden off regional hospitals. With statistics from the Ministry of Health indicating that the virus is now fully in community transmission there needs to be great coordination between the national and county government to enhance service delivery.
Indeed sustainable reopening is still unclear and as President Nana Akufo-Addo commented expressing Ghana’s commitment to containing Covid-19, “we know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life.”

No Room to Point Fingers in the Fight to Protect Democracy

Posted by on 3rd July 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

“Are we fighting Coronavirus or Democracy?”
“Police have killed more people that Covid-19 has”
“Where’s Parliament in all this? Why aren’t the MPs addressing police brutality?”
“Why is the civil society silent about police brutality.”
“Are counties actually prepared to fight Covid-19”
These are among the most common questions and statements ever since Kenya confirmed its first positive case of Coronavirus on March 13th 2020. Most, if not all, institutions were caught off-guard by the pandemic and have since been playing catch up especially under the circumstances of social distancing and lockdown. The past three months have seen massive job losses, loss-making by SMEs, increased cases of domestic violence, a sense of systems at both national and county level being overwhelmed and police brutality as the government measures are being enforced.
This uncertainty and outright violation of freedoms and rights has many Kenyans questioning the role of the legislature, civil society, judiciary, media and counties in the fight against Covid-19 but most importantly in protecting the rights enshrined in the Constitution. A study conducted by Mzalendo Trust recently reveals that all of these players performed poorly in the first few weeks of dealing with Coronavirus. Over time each of them has come to register some improvement with a couple of them marking a decline thereafter due to various factors as captured in the findings.
During the release of these findings, the panellists; Senator Isaac Mwaura, Hon. Gladys Shollei (Uasin Gishu Women Representative, seasoned journalist Macharia Gaitho and Policy & Governance Specialist Diana Sifuna all came to a consensus, that more remains to be done and it needs to be done now. As Mr Gaitho put it, the current circumstances present a breeding ground for a lot of scandals to happen. Truer words have not been spoken.
We have witnessed deliberate disregard of the Rule of Law and the Constitution over the past few months. The violence being meted out on journalists and curfew restrictions have limited the 4th Estate in executing its mandate to its full extent. Hard questions are not being asked yet the information being shared by the government has been questioned a couple of times. As it stands there have been doubts on the actual numbers of positive cases in the country, hospitals’ capacity to treat Covid-19 patients (depending on the different degrees of infection), counties’ capacity to treat patients particularly in economically marginalized areas and actions being taken against police officers who have used excessive force or extorted Kenyans in enforcing the curfew. Yet the media hasn’t pressed enough to get answers on very crucial issues of national interests leaving room for the government to spin and control the narrative.
As if this is not worrying enough, the recent purge in Parliament is slowly but surely making the legislative arm an appendage of the Executive arm where the latter’s proposals are likely to breeze through without any objection. That coupled with the lack of a robust opposition in both Houses threatens the role of oversight and representation of Parliamentarians. Accountability is needed now more than ever as millions and millions of funds in donations and grants are handed over to the government to fight Covid-19 and cushion the economy.
On top of this, the civil society hasn’t been as vocal as it has been expected to be. Again, presenting room for the government and its institutions to do as they please. Without a strong stance against the violation of civic and human rights, we are watching as the country is pushed to the edge with multiple injustices. It doesn’t help that the judiciary is yet to figure out a way to effectively carry out virtual proceedings not only in Nairobi but in all counties. It is hard to imagine how much needs to be done for an underfunded judiciary that was already dealing with a backlog of cases who now has to fight off the Executive that has been intentional in overstepping its authority.
The correlation among these institutions is so crucial in ensuring that the gains of the Constitution are not lost. Each of these players is like a gear in one big complex conveyor belt that is greased by their synergy to avoid any breakdowns. There needs to be a concerted effort to ensure we don’t just survive the pandemic but avoid waking up to a dictatorial state one day.

Finance Bill 2020: It is Not Just About The President’s Agenda but The Welfare of Wanjiku

Posted by on 25th June 2020

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Creation of a spending plan and revenue-raising measures for a country is a highly emotive issue and needs to be looked at with the precision of a surgeon. This becomes more complicated when a country is faced with a pandemic such as Covid-19. Resources are limited whereas the needs are high. During such a time it is important that the government does not harm the individual citizen even as it tries to save the economy. Therefore, the perfect spending plan and revenue-raising measures is one that reflects the social, political and economic realities on the ground.
It is in times of distress such as these when different sectors and businesses are struggling to remain afloat that citizens look to governments for information to avoid confusion, direction to plan for future investments and protection from the health and economic impacts. The situation is worsened by the fact that there are two uncertainties, one of how long the virus will last and the other is the economic outlook of the country even with the containment measures being scaled back gradually. Therefore, budgeting needs to address these uncertainties.
In a bid to increase the tax revenues the Treasury announced some changes in the Finance Bill 2020. These changes were a clear indication that much of the budget will be financed by tax revenue. Some of the changes, expected to take effect on July 1 include the income tax on pension for retirees aged 65 and above years, 14 percent VAT on cooking gas (LPG) removing it from tax-exempt goods, a minimum tax of one percent on company sales whether they are making a loss or not and a digital tax of 1.5 percent on sales of foreign tech firms with earnings from Kenya.
Contrary to the citizen’s expectation the government through the proposed tax changes had no plans of protecting them from the ravaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and neither was the budget seeking to safeguard livelihoods. It is vivid that the government was keen on improving its revenue collection and did not focus on the lives of Kenyans. Thus, the proposed measures elicited policy debates among young people, the elderly and business owners who have borne the brunt of not only the effects of Covid-19 pandemic but also the locust invasion and floods.
As these debates grew eyes were on the National Assembly to salvage the situation. Despite the present exceptional challenges faced by our legislators, the National Assembly moved with speed to save its lost glory as being an appendage of the executive.
Whereas the government seemed blind to the reality, the National Assembly during its consideration of the Finance Bill, 2020 through the Departmental Committee on Finance and Planning, resolved to put a smile on Kenyans by deleting several proposed changes. The National Assembly in its wisdom moved to zero-rate the price of unga, wheat flour and cooking gas and further opposed the imposition of the tax on the pensioners.
Local media reports indicate that the move by Parliament is, however, expected to set a protracted battle between the Legislature and the Executive should the President return the Bill to the lawmakers. What is good to note is that the National Assembly stood its ground and that it is not just about the president’s Agenda but the welfare of Wanjiku
As it has often been noted, COVID-19 opens opportunities for moving more decisively towards sustainable and inclusive growth. The pace has been set and moving forward our legislators still need to show Kenyans, through the policies that they make or approve that they are aware of the citizen’s vulnerability to COVID-19 and that its economic impact is very different across social groups.

Budgetary Allocation Must Not Impede Justice Dispensation

Posted by on 15th June 2020

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On Thursday 11th June 2020, the Cabinet Secretary in charge of National Treasury, Ambassador Ukur Yatani, unveiled a Ksh2.79 trillion budget aimed at serving the country for the next financial year until June 2021. This year’s budget was unique given the circumstances surrounding its unveiling. It came at a time when the country, indeed the whole world, is battling a rare crisis, the like of which has not been witnessed by virtually all the generations alive today. The COVID-19 Pandemic, whose origin is traceable to China, has brought the world to its knees, radically upending the hitherto entrenched norms and practices. In Kenya in particular, the impact to the economy has been just as draining as it has been negatively disruptive. No facet of life has been spared the consequences: Political, economic and social. Millions have been rendered jobless, owing to the grounding of various businesses from the hospitality sector, manufacturing, education, aviation, freight & logistics, public transport just to mention a few. For majority of Kenyan’s the unveiling of the budget could not have come at a better time.

In his statement, the Cabinet Secretary read out a break-down of the allocation expected to cushion the country from the shock, while readying it for recovery from one of the worst crisis ever witnessed. Keen not to be distracted from its agenda, the government ensured allocation to the Big Four Agenda, seen as key in boosting economic growth while improving the lives of Kenyans. Manufacturing was allocated Ksh18.3 billion; Food Security Ksh52.8 billion; Universal Healthcare Ksh50.3 billion; Housing Ksh6.9 billion. Devolved units were allocated a total of Ksh369.9 billion being Ksh316.5 billion of equitable share and Ksh53.4 billion of conditional allocation. Even with the allocations and determination to achieve its targets, the government is staring at a deficit in its budget of Ksh607.8 billion.

Keen to maximize revenue collection, the government has for the first time trained its eyes on the digital space, with the introduction of 1.5% digital tax imposed upon all online transactions. It is keen to leverage the expanding online space to generate more toward meeting budgetary responsibilities. Though in itself not a bad idea, care must be taken to the introduction of such measures so that they do not in any way frustrate public’s engagement with the increasingly significant space. In any case, all practical measures should be put in place to boost its growth. As a start, the government should closely monitor the implications of the new digital tax. Flexibility should be adopted to ensure that any bits that are inimical are arrested and contained before their full consequences can grow to a destructive maturity. Secondly, care should be taken to avoid any risk of misuse and exploitation, either by online service providers or by consumers of such services. Not to be left behind is any breach to the security of such transactions. Various experiences have demonstrated that online transactions are not immune to security associated risks.

There’s no doubt that the digital space is a frontier that has for the past three months seen an increase in revenue. With uncertainty on the resumption of normalcy, it would be safe to assume that the taxman will be collecting quite a dime under this new tax given the numerous business transactions taking place as Kenyans try to reduce movement in accordance to the social distancing measures. Keeping in mind that Kenya still faces a humongous debt burden, the revenues streaming from this front might be of good use to offset these debts. But only if the monies are properly utilised and not lost in the pockets of a few as has been the norm.

It would be interesting to see if the Ksh 3.1 billion allocated to the EACC and ODPP each would be utilized in taming the corruption that has brought the country’s economy to its knees.

The Fight Against Covid Cannot Be Won Without Youth Involvement

Posted by on 10th June 2020

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On 29th May 2020, Mzalendo Trust and Kenya Young Parliamentarians Association (KYPA) jointly held a Virtual Mock Parliament. Centring on their shared mandate on legislative processes and citizen engagement, the session was the first of its kind in Kenya bringing together youth from different parts of the country. The theme of the session, ‘Youth Participation during Covid-19” aimed at amplifying the voice of the youth during this unprecedented time of coronavirus.

The interactive session drew participants from ten different political parties, ensuring that the Virtual Parliament was actual replication of the diversity of Parliament itself.  There was representation from Jubilee, ODM, KANU, Wiper, ANC, Ford-Kenya, NARC-Kenya, Maendeleo Chap Chap, Green Congress of Kenya and the United Green Movement. Like the Parliament again, the participants selected a Speaker who ably presided over the session.

Held on Zoom for three hours, the session consisted of Honourable Chairpersons from four different committees who tabled their reports with relevant recommendations relating to the Covid-19 crisis. Other Honourable Members chipped in and contributed to the recommendations, either by adding content or asking the tough questions and thereby enriching the overall reports. Overall the lively session was a window into the realities and ideas that sit among the youth of Kenya thus showcasing the potential lies within the young populace.

Through this initiative, Mzalendo and KYPA sought to increase knowledge and awareness of the electorate on the roles and responsibilities of Members of Parliament; to promote public participation of youth and inter-party youth dialogue in governance process; to encourage proactive and performing members of Parliament to continue championing and advocating for public interest and youth issues; to advocate for the facilitation of virtual Parliamentary sittings to ensure that Parliament’s role on representation and oversight is not abdicated; to deepen the linkage between civil society organizations, caucuses and Parliament; and to promote an open, transparent and accessible Parliament that enacts youth-friendly legislation towards the responsiveness of Covid-19.

One of the outcomes from the session was the greater need to provide systemic structures that support the youth and promote their representation in Parliament. There’s a need for increased efforts to keep creating and curating spaces like these to allow the youth to provide their views elaborately on issues of national concern and specifically that affect them. The session dispelled the misconception that youth aren’t interested in politics, governance and policy and instead made it apparent that the youth’s voice can no longer be ignored in decision making. The breadth of knowledge of issues and the mastery in articulation proved that it is up to the government to shelve archaic methods of engaging young people in policy and law-making and embrace creative and alternative ways to make public participation more accessible and inclusive.

Covid-19 has indeed exposed the harsh reality that physical meetings are not the ideal method to ensure public participation takes place. Mzalendo, having recognized this shortcoming and taking cognisance of the evolving digital world, created Dokeza, a Bill annotation platform that allows users to comment and provide views on Bills in Parliament that will be sent to Parliament as memoranda.

Kenyan youth form the bulk of internet users proving that Virtual Parliaments or forums such as these are the most ideal to target the youth. It is ironical that while youth in Kenya consist of almost 75% of the Kenyan population, they consist of only a paltry 6.5% in Kenya’s Parliament. Political parties should take this up and continually nominate youth to representative positions in Parliament and in the political party internal structures.

Parliament should stand encouraged that a Virtual Parliament can work as long as the right mechanisms are in place as has been evidenced in the United Kingdom and Brazil. Members of Parliament should continue serving the people of Kenya as the constitutional roles of legislation, oversight and representation do not stop; especially during this time of crisis when strong and clear-headed leadership is required. It should be remembered that the only curve we are trying to flatten is that of Coronavirus, not democracy, not constitutionalism nor the Rule of Law.

And to the young people of this country, continue pushing to take up your place in representation. If the virtual Parliament is anything to go by, your voice is most needed to pull this country out of the darkness and into prosperity. The potential to effect change already lies in you, you just need to harness it.

 

What a MAD-araka Day!

Posted by on 2nd June 2020

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The number is 57. 57 years since Kenya attained self-rule but nothing on the ground reflects what our forefathers had envisioned for this country almost six decades ago. If you’re a reggae fan then the song Nothing to Smile about” by renowned Jamaican band, Morgan Heritage, aptly describes the current situation we are in. The chorus sings:

Look pon di gully side
Do you see anything fi smile bout
Look at that hungry child
Do you see anything fi smile bout
Look at the school weh deh youth dem go fi get dem education
Do you see anything fi smile bout
Look at the conditions of our police stations
Do you see anything fi smile bout

So do Kenyans see anything to smile about given our current state’s state? Majority would definitely respond to that question with a no. 57 years later Kenya is still fighting disease, poverty but more importantly inequality. The only difference between pre-independence and the post-colonial era is that there’s a different sheriff in charge but the truth is the oppressive colonial system is very much alive. While in the West it mostly manifests itself in the form of racism, here at home it’s the injustice borne out of a classist country that has many Kenyans angry.

Kenyans are mad. Mad at leadership that has time and again underperformed, even on a bare-minimum scale. This feeling of hopelessness is not one that’s just unique to the current regime. It is one that has been passed one from one generation to the other. Sins committed by a state against her people have continued to hurt their victims and their families for aeons. These sins that over time have exposed the discriminatory manner in which a country treats the haves and the have-nots. The poor Kenyan is currently dealing with joblessness, food insecurity, home evictions and demolitions, lack of education for their children and potential death by disease given the floods and Coronavirus pandemic we are fighting.

The existential angst among most Kenyans mirrored against the speech delivered by President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday reveals a big disconnect between Kenya’s leadership and her people.

Your dreams cannot flourish in a negative environment whose main currency is anger and animosity,” read part of President Kenyatta’s speech. The paradox in this statement didn’t escape the citizenry. We can’t have a discussion on people’s dreams when the said environment is one built on inequality. The anger and animosity that the President spoke of are well-founded. Between March 12th, when the first case of Covid19 and now, multiple lives have been lost in the hands of police in Kenya. The poorly executed curfew has seen Kenyans subjected to inhumane treatment, from being shot point-blank to others succumbing to the injuries sustained during their encounter with the police.

It should be remembered that on April 1st 2020, the President apologized to Kenyans over the brute force meted out on Kenyans by the police following the death of 13-year-old Yassin Moyo who was killed by a stray bullet and the footage of police mistreating Likoni residents at the ferry channel. Yet in recent days the internet has been awash with graphic images of a young man, Samuel Maina, who was an unfortunate victim of police brutality on 27th May for being 13 minutes late past curfew hour. Another gentleman, Charles Mwenda was put through a traumatic experience where he was forced to spend a cold, rainy night at a police station with the body of his late wife. This despite having all the required documents to make the trip to lay his wife to rest.

That we are witnessing cops treat other citizens as children of a lesser god in 2020 is just heartbreaking. One would expect that after the President’s apology there would be some change in police conduct. But the unjust justice system we have won’t let that come to be, simply because a good number of officers know that they can get away with it. The police’s conduct cannot be changed with one apology. There needs to be an overhaul of the whole system.

The Ministry of Interior gets a huge a chunk of the budget allocation yet it’s one that is clearly not held accountable. The abrasive nature we see with the cops every day is perhaps a direct reflection of the Interior Cabinet Secretary, Fred Matiang’i who has in the past ignored summons by Parliament and who speaks down on Kenyans forgetting that he is in that position to serve the country. To have people mandated to “protect and serve” be the same perpetrators is downright evil.

Indeed it is not a ‘Happy’ Madaraka Day because there really is nothing to smile about. Kenya needs to watch the mood in America. The multiple protests currently happening in the US echo the voices of millions of black Americans who continue to be discriminated against a country they have built. The action by the police officers who took the life of yet another black man, George Floyd, on camera speaks volumes of how much America values them. Here in Kenya, the treatment of people like Samuel Maina, Charles Mwenda and the death of young Yassin Juma speaks volumes of how much the government values the majority of its citizens.

Unless inequality is addressed in this country, Kenyans are bound to reach their tipping point as black Americans have.

Reclamation of Public Spaces is Important but the Timing of These Evictions is not Right

Posted by on 20th May 2020

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The president announced the extension of the stay at home orders and dusk to dawn curfew for an additional 21 days as a way of containing the virus, last weekend. At the same time, he called on citizens to comply with the orders set. It is sad to note that in his address he did not mention the violation of human rights resulting from the ongoing demolitions and sewerage evictions right under his nose and the risk that it exposes citizens to. This being yet another national briefing by the president where the plea for inclusion of citizens for a coordinated response to Covid-19 seems to be falling on deaf ears. At the same time, the government seems to be demanding the impossible from a citizenry troubled by the uncertainties of the future.
On the 5th of May, 2020 a statement was sought from the chairperson Standing Committee on Lands and Environment by Nairobi Senator, Jonhson Sakaja who also chairs the Senate Ad hoc committee on Covid-19 situation in Kenya, regarding the demolition of houses by government agencies in Kariobangi North ward constituency that saw 5,000 families left homeless without notice. The committee was to give a report on all the land in Nairobi city county that is officially marked as public land and road reserves in case of future planned evictions. The Speaker of the Senate directed that the committee visits the residents and provide a report to the Senate on Tuesday last week. Even before the tabling of the report, another demolition occurred in Ruai at midnight displacing hundreds of families without notice. The families most of whom were squatters claim that they were relocated there 12 years ago after the post-election violence.
These evictions are happening in areas where there is unequal access to services and also a great community mistrust of the government due to historical injustices. The most affected are the urban poor, slum dwellers, persons living with disability, minorities and indigenous groups, women, children and the elderly. But our policy and regulations, crafted by the National Emergency Response Committee and National Security Council, do not address these realities mostly because the voice of Wanjiku is not welcomed in the affairs of the state. This widens the fault of inequality that was there before. For these families then, stay at home orders do not really apply and the extension of the same orders for 21 days remains ironical and very inconsiderate.
In as much as reclamation of public land is important the timing of these evictions is not right at all. The fact that we are living in tough times cannot be questioned. There has been tremendous human suffering, social lives, jobs and incomes have been disrupted. Scores of lives have been lost and continue to be lost to the virus, on the other hand floods are ravaging parts of the country displacing and killing people day in day out. These occurrences continue to create anxiety and worry among citizens especially the vulnerable.
Generally, there is still marginalization of the already marginalized in the fight against Covid-19. It is worrying to see that the government can contravene court orders and supervise as its people are left in the cold. The government seems to be taking two steps forward and two more backwards and this waters down all the efforts to keep the country’s health and social systems afloat. The result is that more lives will be lost to the virus and other diseases and there will be a disruption in the implementation of programs designed to cushion the vulnerable. Additionally, the amount of money disbursed for the vulnerable in the end becomes even less as compared to the needs and the people in need. In a homeless state, there is more to worry about other than the fact that social distancing and attainment of basic needs is unachievable in a homeless state.
Evictions, supervised by the government, affect the perception of Covid-19 risk among Kenyans. It shows that the government can contravene its own guidelines when it demands that people stay at home and destroys their houses at the same time. Therefore, what is the need for the guidelines anyway; or are the poor immune to this virus?
The government needs to put the trust back to the people it is leading. The sensitivity of the virus we are fighting is great and we should not leave anything to chance when consolidating efforts. Therefore, formulating inclusive regulations that answer the public outcry is important. This can be achieved by consulting end-users of these regulations either through their representatives such as civil society organizations, NGOs or local administrators. The focus is to ensure that the end-users benefit optimally from the policies in place.
It is the role of the government to protect its people at all times, even in evictions, this protection should be without discrimination. Within this crisis therefore lies an opportunity for the government through the legislature to dust the Resettlement and Eviction procedures Bill 2012 that sets out appropriate procedures applicable to forced evictions. The Bill seeks to provide protection, prevention and redress against forced eviction for all persons occupying land including squatters and unlawful occupiers advocates for humane evictions by the elimination of brutality during evictions. Since there is no guidance regarding evictions and resettlement the victims are left to suffer. Proper legislation will go a long way in cushioning these vulnerable members of society.