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What do people think about the new Alcohol Bill?

Posted by on 8th December 2010

Categories: Citizen Engagement

By Mzalendo contributor Moreen Majiwa (on Twitter – @mmajiwa)

Kenya’s urban landscape is littered with bars. There are bars to cater for all demographics, palates, and wallets. From famed locals like ‘Njunguna’s’, ‘Mimunas’ and ‘Kathingati’s’, cobbled from little more than mabati and wood to sophisticated lounges, beer gardens and sports bars, the range is endless.

One can buy alcohol for as a little as Kshs.10. It comes in bottles, sachets, cans and some establishments require that you bring your own glass. Depending on your cash flow you can buy, brand name alcohol or elicit brews so potent that it has causes loss of sight and in extreme cases death. Last call is typically when the last client leaves.

Last month the government enacted the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act 2010, an Act that is set to dramatically impact how and when Kenyans drink. The Act prohibits the sale of alcohol before 5pm on weekdays and before 2pm weekends.  The Act is aimed at addressing the increase in alcohol outlets in urban residential areas and near schools, the increase in the drinking among people under 18, the aggressive marketing of alcohol to the youth, and the increase of injuries and death from consumption unadulterated alcoholic drinks.

With alcohol and nyama choma being big a part of Kenyan culture the issue of alcohol control is an emotive one and though most people I spoke to had not read the Act most had very definite opinions on it, here are some:

I haven’t read the Act, the truth of the matter is that there is a new alcohol act, but as a consumer I don’t know what I’m going to do about it if anything, because I don’t know what it says. If I knew what it said I would have a stance and I’d be thinking differently. Now I’m just scared that I’m breaking the law when I go drinking and I don’t think that’s right.

Alcohol control is essential for personal protection and for protection of the society. Having said that alcohol control is not new to Kenya, it has always been there but it was more for the manufacturers and sellers of alcohol. We were more aware of it being used against people who brew chang’aa and such. However given the rising levels of alcoholism particularly among young people there is need for more extensive alcohol control I support the Act, of course enforcement is a different issue.

I haven’t read the act but I heard something like you can only drink after 5. What if I want to have a drink at lunch-time, what if I am taking clients out for lunc,h does that mean that they cannot drink alcohol? And what about the office Christmas lunch? Is this Act really well thought out. You can’t control adults in the same way you control kids, and the government should not try to control my alcohol consumption. As long as I don’t hurt people how much and when I drink is a personal choice.

No, I have not read the Act but I’ve heard of it, I wonder why the government introduced the Act in December when people drink the most and when opposition would be strongest they should have introduced it in January by then people are tired of drinking and are focussed on work and school fees, and business of bars is slow and people might have been more receptive then, the government needs to be more strategic about these things.

The Alcohol Act is really good particularly for the village. I come from Western and this issue of arresting women who brew busaa is serious. Women are always being arrested for selling illict brews, yet this is their main source of income. I know women who have supported their families and educated their children through selling busaa, now their children are teachers and even doctors. These women often live in fear of arrest or have to pay protection money. This new Act will make them legitimate businesswomen, and they can package and sell their brews like any other brewery. They might even become the next keroche.

The Alcoholic Drinks Control Act can be found here.

What are your thoughts on the Act and its implementation?

A qualification matrix for Kenyan political leaders?

Posted by on 29th November 2010

Categories: 2012 Elections Citizen Engagement

The Mike Sonko saga has reignited the debate about leadership qualifications and vetting before one runs for office. Who should be vetting and what should the criteria be?

A local civil society group called the Change Associates Trust has put together a “leadership qualification matrix” all political positions under the new constitution, (elective & appointed), their job descriptions, and the proposed attributes of people aspiring to seat in any of those seats. The idea behind the matrix is “to help
us shift the discussion of post-2012 leaders from who to what.”

What are your thoughts? What would be in your leadership matrix?

Are Affluent Youth Politically Apathetic?

Posted by on 26th November 2010

Categories: Citizen Engagement Vox Pop

By Mzalendo Contributor – MOREEN MAJIWA (@mmajiwa)

If you’re like most Kenyans, you are probably still excited about the promulgation of the new constitution, cautiously optimistic about the implementation process and invigorated by the possibility of change in the new dispensation. You follow with interest the ongoing appointments for various independent commissions as well as the fight against graft that seems to have gained a second wind.

Or maybe not, you don’t follow politics, you don’t debate the issues, you didn’t vote at the referendum on the new constitution,  and are generally uninterested in the politics  i.e. you are politically apathetic. This was the description of affluent youth given by the participants at the panel discussion on the new constitution and the youth.

For the rest of this week I made it my mission to find out whether “affluent youth/ members of the emerging middle class” were truly apathetic about politics, why they were, and what it would take to make them take a more active role in politics.   This is what some of them said:

“I vote sometimes, I keep up with politics, but I don’t think voting is the most effective of influencing the government.  Especially since it is relatively cheap for politicians to buy votes. Why should I imagine that my one vote would make a difference? In that sort of situation does my vote really count? Also how many people voted for the constitution and have done nothing since it implementation, just the act of voting doesn’t change anything there has to be more. Voting just gives you the illusion of participating, but I think a better way to influence policy would be arguing ideas, writing, directly engaging with the politicians not just at elections and referendum times but throughout constantly challenging the philosophy of the system, and not ticking name or a yes or
no box every five years.”

I’ve voted at the previous referendum and in all the elections since I turned 18. I vote because it’s my civic duty to vote, but I don’t really follow politics. I know that politics affects me just look at what happened in 2007, there are still IDP’s, look at the state of the roads. But seriously politics isn’t interesting, politicians don’t always tell the truth, the promises they make are not binding, they don’t keep them. With the state of politics I just don’t think it would be worth me spending a large portion of my time immersed
in it.

I don’t vote, my relationship with the government starts and ends with me paying my taxes, and I feel like even that is daylight robbery. The government hasn’t helped me in anyway, I pay all my taxes on time, yet I can’t see where the tax money going – its
not going on roads, it does not seem to be going to the poor, by way of hospitals or better housing, so where is it going? If I vote I feel like I agreeing to being robbed after all I’ll have voted them into power. What would it take to get me to vote, I would vote
if there were true accountability, not this half baked fight against corruption – in th UK an MP had to resign because he used his allowance to buy personal furniture we should have something similar. I would also vote if I could see that my vote counted and I could find out exactly how my tax money is spent.

I find myself still scratching my head alleged disinterest in politics at the end of these interviews. The affluent youth are obviously up-to-date on the political and governance issues that the country faces. Their replies showed that they have diverse opinions and
are not completely apathetic, but rather, rather simply disillusioned to the point of not wanting to participate, the majority felt that, politicians didn’t have an automatic right
their attention – they have had to earn it.

Visiting Parliament without a pass

Posted by on 19th November 2010

Categories: Citizen Engagement News

By Mzalendo Contributor  – Moreen Majiwa (@mmajiwa)

I was apprehensive about the prospect of going to parliament without a pass signed by a MP – the pink pass is like a special key, it soothes attitudes and opens doors.   On my last visit I had taken out the pass way before I got to parliament  – salutes were given, card keys swiped, and a personal escort given all the way to the Speaker’s Gallery.   I anticipated that without the pass the experience would be vastly different. My friends, the same ones that had been less than encouraging the last visit, concurred with enthusiastic mockery ‘gate crashing sounds fun and if you get chucked out you’ll have something interesting to write about.’

Having made the decision to go parliament sans pass I decided to take it all the way – dress casual and see how easy it is for the regular ‘watus’ to get in.  I wore the uniform for people my age skinny jeans and a shirt-dress. I did carry a blazer in case there was dress code for parliament the blazer and dark coloured jeans could pass for a crude suit.  There isn’t a dress code I learned,  but formal is best.

Being more familiar with the protocol, and having checked the parliamentary timetable on the Bunge website, I got to the gate at 2 pm, 30 minutes before the start of session.  A carefully chosen time, if any hitch occurred I had adequate time to either charm and or argue my way into parliament, charm being the strategy of choice – but was ready to either or both.

It turned out that I didn’t need to do either!  I walked through the main gate, with no problems at all.  The second entrance is a smaller portal, the entry in to the parliament building is very funnel-like, a wide main entry point, a narrower second entry portal with a body scanner and a conveyor belt, and finally a revolving gate which needs you to swipe a your visitors card before you can access the parliamentary building inside the gated area.

The guard at the second entry point is a lot more intimidating than those at the main gate.  I introduced myself to the guard, used to the nonplussed silent stares of government officers I was surprised when he introduced himself back, his name was Charles…he was no-nonsense and very polite at the same time. I told him I wanted to sit in and listen to the parliamentary proceedings.  He asked for my ID and issued me with a visitors pass, checked my handbag and asked me to put it through the scanner and then to leave it at the baggage area.   If you don’t like leaving your bags in public places you’re advised not to carry one.

There is a slight difference between viewing sessions from the  Speaker’s gallery versus  the Public gallery. In the Speaker’s Gallery you face speaker and can see the whole house. The Public gallery is positioned above the Speaker so you can’t see him and your view of the front of the house is constrained. Though the Public Gallery is a lot less comfortable than that in the Speaker’s gallery the experience of being in parliament is no less exhilarating and I’d still recommend a visit. It is relatively easy to get in all you need is your ID and the interest.

On a (suprisingly) inspiring visit to Parliament…and why you should try it.

Posted by on 29th October 2010

Categories: Citizen Engagement MP Participation News Vox Pop

BY MZALENDO CONTRIBUTOR – Moreen Majiwa @moreenmaj

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of visiting our National Assembly. I am ashamed to admit that the last time I did this was as part of a mandatory primary school visit.  That was so long ago I can’t recall the details. Excited about my impending parliamentary visit I told a few of my friends about it.  My excitement was met with awkward silences followed by blank stares and the inevitable, “Why don’t you just watch the proceedings on KBC, besides how are you going to get in?”

Under this steady attack I found myself, an only one-time visitor to our National Assembly becoming its staunchest defender and activist-in-chief for citizen visits to parliament. It appears my peers are trapped in a cycle of political apathy and cynicism.  Some have given up the good fight as it were and are simply getting on with it.  Others complain about everything under the sun from traffic to
poor leadership, lament about the uselessness of making demands to our government and then get on with it.

As was pointed out severally KBC does stream parliamentary proceedings in real-time, which is a huge improvement over previous years where the Hansard and newspapers were pretty much the only way for members of the public to glean what was going on in Parliament.  In addition, thanks to technology, we can keep up with the latest news through online newspapers, blogs, facebook and twitter.   So the idea of visiting Parliament in person seems pretty redundant.

The problem with accessing the goings on in the Parliment through different forms of media is that you only see, read or hear what is presented to you. The content is shot, cut, packaged and presented to us.  A live in-person visit has a different quality there is an energy that is almost palpable.  You get to see the
whole show uncensored version of the good, the bad and the ugly.

So once I decided to visit Parliament, I realized that I had no idea whether I could show up or needed something special to get in.  After a few calls I found out that I would need a pass to get in, and this pass is usually organized by a sitting MP. Going to the gate and trying my luck with the security officers, had little
appeal, and since I didn’t know any MPs personally I sent out  e-mails to my contacts who I hoped would help me connect to someone who could assist with a pass.   I got lucky and got a pass organized, but couldn’t help wondering whether the process of attending a session couldn’t be a bit more straight forward (apparently you can just show up but your ability to get in depends on the security personnel you encounter that day).

I arrived at the gates of parliament precisely at 9:00 am only to find that the session did not start till 2.30 pm (note to self-check out to find out the parliamentary timetable next time).

I had low expectations mainly due to the poor portrayal of our leaders in the media.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter such lively debate (although the fact that it was the Wetangula report being discussed might have contributed to some of the energy). I got see that some  MPs
really did fight the corner of their constituents valiantly, and wondered whether the media couldn’t do a better job of not just focusing on the negative aspects of MPs but also showcasing those who do work and the fact that a lot of other business is dealt with in parliament.

For those whose expectations of our parliamentarians are at an all time low, it may be time to stop being so pessimistic, to take a visit to parliament; it may inspire you to increase your expectations and make a demand or two of our leaders while you’re at it.

Mzalendo Vox Pop: Voter apathy (but can we reach them online?)

Posted by on 29th September 2010

Categories: Citizen Engagement Vox Pop

Mzalendo in partnership with the Kuweni Serious team will be traveling around various constituencies to get a sense of how Kenyan voters feel about their MP, about issues facing their constituency, and about solutions they would like to see in place. We welcome your feedback.

We think it’s important to highlight both citizen engagement and apathy – the interviewee is not atypical in her lack of knowledge about her MP/Constituency…we find her description of how often she access the internet on her phone interesting though. Perhaps that’s one way to reach out to people like her.

Mzalendo Vox Pop: Boniface from Kathiani Constituency

Posted by on 28th September 2010

Categories: Citizen Engagement

Boniface is from Kathiani constituency, his MP is Wavinya Ndeti.

What are the main challenges facing the constituency? I want to know what the MP has been doing for the last four years. There is no development going and yet we hear of money being allocated to Kathiani Constituency. Roads are impassable, now water or electricity in some areas…so many unfulfilled promises.

If you had a chance to speak to your MP today, what would you ask her? I want to ask her what these projects they are saying are in Kinyau where are they? And she also promised to construct Kinyau dam, Kinyau borehole what happened?

I want to ask the MP what is her next step because I promise she will never be elected again. I also want to tell Kathiani residents that we try next time not be bought with Kshs 100 and know who we are electing, because in this case when the person elected gets in parliament he/she disappears. I am also appealing to the government to do the audit of the CDF funds because we don’t know what is happening. 2012 is just around the corner, you will come to us and will be accountable.

Mzalendo Video Vox Pop Series: Makadara Constituency

Posted by on 24th September 2010

Categories: Citizen Engagement Constituency News MP Participation Vox Pop

Mzalendo in partnership with the Kuweni Serious team will be traveling around various constituencies to get a sense of how Kenyan voters feel about their MP, about issues facing their constituency, and about solutions they would like to see in place. We welcome your feedback.

This video was filmed in Makadara  before the recent  by-election which Gideon Mbuvi won.

The immediate former MP is Dickson Wathika.  For more about Makadara constituency see their constituency website.

So what does an engaged citizen look like?

Posted by on 13th September 2010

Categories: Citizen Engagement Kenya Constitution


Change is first and foremost a matter of personal responsibility, someone must take the initiative for the change process to begin. – Framework for Change (2010)

“Used to be that a politician could promise you a chicken in every pot—now we want a Constitution in every home.” – Anonymous (2010)

I took a small step towards change yesterday when I attended the launch of the Citizens Framework For Change at the Louis Leakey Auditorium of the National Museums of Kenya. The framework was the product of collaboration between Fahamu Trust, the Society for International Development, the Swedish Embassy in Kenya (holding the European Union presidency), the Delegation of the European Union in Kenya, and a wide range of people interested in reform: activists, civil society, and concerned citizens.

The event, officiated by Sweden’s Ambassador to Kenya, launched a 20 page booklet on Frameworks for Change and Citizen Engagement, as well as a comprehensive report from the 2009 conference discussing ‘Reflections on Change For Kenya.’ The Booklet included excerpts from interviews with Kenyans who had changed the way things were in their jobs, towns, villages, and cities.

I have never attended such a meeting before, and felt a bit nervous walking in to the auditorium. Meetings are for activists. I am not an activist. I have always seen myself as a standard 9-to-5er, who reads about activism in the papers. Or doesn’t. Usually I prefer cartoons. I had never been to a meeting officiated by an Ambassador of anywhere. The closest I have gotten to Sweden is taking a ride in a Volvo. Yet here I was. Where to sit? What to wear? Did I look like I belonged? After an hour long video on “Making Change,” three panelists, all “change agents”, discussed what change meant as the country looks ahead to implementing the new Constitution. According to the Framework, citizens are the owners and drivers of change, and it is a continuous process, in which we must engage. The video had a similar message: looking at Kenya right after the 2007 post-election violence, and trying to reflect on what change meant, what had gone wrong, and what had gone right.

So what does an engaged citizen look like? After the referendum, news reports quoted politicians who described themselves as giants in the local press. Yesterday, though, I realized the giants in Kenya are the people who decide to do something about the things that make them weep. Ruth Mumbi, who is active in grassroots mobilization of women, spoke about setting up a Women’s Parliament because of her primary school classmate, whose husband was killed before his child’s eyes. “It made me weep, and I had to do something about it, even if nobody believed anything could be done.” Starting an organization was difficult. “Hatukujua vile kuandika ma-Requests for Proposals—but we had to stop agonizing and start organizing.” That, my friends, is a giant. The grass roots mobilization against apathy, against impunity, and against a political culture that makes promises without keeping them was amazing to hear. It was not about glowing statistics and lists of tremendous changes—it was about engaging people around issues that affect their lives, and seeking solutions in “pro-people politics.”

The momentum about change and devolution is not merely restricted to politicians fighting for county, governor, parliamentary, civic, and other seats. The momentum is in the wallets and the ambitions of Kenyans on the street. “When people were handing out the draft Constitution for free, nobody was out looking for copies. Now, people are lining up outside the Government Printer’s Office, putting down Kshs. 250 to get a copy of their own Constitution.” I heard those words from Najib Hafsin, a human rights activist from the Coast region, and felt moved by the pride in his voice, and the sense that change can start with a Kshs 250 investment in the document that sets out what it means to be a citizen and a participant in your country’s governance.  Change can start from dozens of young men and women who had left their KCSE certificates gathering dust who are now enrolling in colleges and institutions because they want to qualify for jobs as the local economies in their counties expand.

I left the auditorium feeling humbled and inspired. Frameworks for change are launched despite traffic, dust, detours and construction. They are launched in pocket-book size booklets, that you can carry around and read on the matatu on the way home, and think about. They are launched by looking at the faces of change, and realizing that it takes a person, any person—and it might as well be you. You are never ready to be a change agent though. So get used to feeling too small for the task. Then get up and do something about it. Next stop: Government Printing Office: I need my copy of the Constitution.