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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

Categories: Uncategorised

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

Categories: Uncategorised

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

Categories: Uncategorised

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

Categories: Uncategorised

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

Categories: Uncategorised

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.

Quick and Practical Interventions Needed to Protect the Future of Our Children

Posted by on 15th May 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

Coronavirus is slowly proving to be the factory reset button that systems have needed for a while. There are two sides of this crisis’ coin; the apparent bleak reality and the potential awakening of people who now know to demand better. It has taken only 7 months since the confirmation of the first Covid-19 case in China for nations to realize that the systems they have had in place are not fully efficient and undoubtedly not capable of adapting to change.

Two months into the pandemic, Kenya is already dealing with a crumbling economy, a hunger crisis, a health crisis and now an education crisis. The latter especially risks being overlooked as the government struggles to ensure that her people do not die of COVID and non-COVID related illness or starve to death as they’re confined in their homes.

The problem with not addressing the challenges ailing the education system with urgency is that we might be looking at long-lasting effects of COVID19 on the education of Kenyan students. Press briefings by the Ministry of Health continue to share rising numbers of infected cases in the country proving that this crisis will be here for a while longer than we anticipated.

This uncertainty, therefore, means that the reopening of schools still hangs in the balance and therefore e-learning is the route to go in order for students to stay on track with the syllabus. The problem with this, as is with almost every other public system currently, is that the country was ill-prepared and is now playing catch up. The Cabinet Secretary for Education, Prof. George Magoha admitted that not every student is able to access virtual learning when he appeared before the National Assembly Committee on Education and Research.

“When schools open, the syllabus will start from where it stopped, therefore those who did not have the benefit of e-learning will catch up. The process will be all-inclusive,” he said.

This approach will only widen the gap between economically advantaged and economically disadvantaged students. In addition to this, CS Magoha has stated severally that the Ministry would not cancel the national examinations scheduled to happen at the end of the year. As it were, the KCPE and KCSE exams have been critiqued as being an inaccurate assessment of students since the nature of the exams do not factor in the various socio-economic challenges that students from different social backgrounds face. Throwing in the inaccessibility to e-learning into that mix simply makes education a luxury.

The government is placing undue pressure on economically disadvantaged students and their parents. It, therefore, calls on the Ministry to adapt to change that would benefit many if not all as opposed to only those with the privilege to thrive under the current circumstances.

With this in mind it might then be necessary to amend the Basic Education Act, 2013 as it was proposed by the Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) when they made their submissions to the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on the COVID19 situation in the country.

Section 28 (1) of the Act states, “The Cabinet Secretary shall implement the right of every child to free and compulsory basic education.” The prevailing circumstances do not mean that this right is waived. The onus is on the government to develop inclusive and practical strategies to carry on with education even us the country fights coronavirus. It is high time to include virtual learning in the definition of schools under this law.

A quote by renowned Japanese Author, Kakuzo Okakaura reads, “the art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” Our surroundings are far from normal and being rigid to change will truly be an easy route to our downfall. The government should indeed put the best brains to good use to achieve a balance.

Kenyans on the other must now know the importance of holding leadership to account. It is remembered that one of the ambitious goals spelt out in the Jubilee manifesto when President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto ran for office the first time was the provision of laptops to all class one students in the country. This, of course, rubbed off the wrong way with a good section of Kenyans who termed it as misplaced priorities. In hindsight, this might have been a smart move that would protect the education system from any sudden changes like COVID19.

Had the government implemented this project we would have seen technological advancements across the nation. The ripple effect would have been the installation of masts for connectivity, private-public agreements and partnerships between the government and e-learning gadget manufacturers and internet service providers and ultimately the digitization of the syllabus for seamless remote-learning countrywide.

The problem with kicking the can down the road is that sometimes you do it so hard that it goes beyond your line of sight. This is the case for Kenya now as e-learning today remains a far-fetched dream. The government now must work to make true their promises to avoid compromising the futures of our children.

Create Room for Soundness in The Fight Against Covid-19 to Avoid Flip Side Effects

Posted by on 5th May 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

As the government seeks to mash up efforts to flatten the curve on the spread of the coronavirus, it is becoming unclear whether these efforts are working for or against this goal. The directives issued by the government to protect the health and lives of Kenyans appear to achieve less than intended in the grand spectrum of things. From the onset, the tone that the government has used while addressing and updating the country on the status of the virus in the country has birthed fear and fueled the stigma surrounding this virus.

In recent weeks, citizens have come to experience the flip side of the seemingly rash decisions made by the government. To this extent, the public has been reacting casually to the directives. Where an individual chooses to adhere to the directives issued by the Ministry of Health not to protect themselves but to avoid risking arrest and mandatory quarantine. Also witnessed is the reluctance by residents in hot spot areas to participate in the free testing of the virus. The poor coordination of efforts between the government and citizens given the unprecedented times the country is in are all a recipe for disaster. When we actualize the mass testing initiative, the reality of the figures might slap us in the face and the gravity of the situation might be too difficult to begin to process.

To successfully and efficiently walk the talk, the government needs to rethink their approach and start making sound directives that put the citizen’s interest at the core and regain public trust. Guidelines can’t yield much without a clear pipeline on how to implement them.

Meanwhile, as we race against the clock to contain the virus, positive cases are increasing significantly. The hope that we can flatten the curve is far from reality according to the health concerns highlighted in the third report of the Senate Ad-hoc committee on the Covid-19 situation in Kenya. The report paints a picture of a health system that was already overwhelmed even before the virus. Kenya currently has only 297 ventilators and only 90 of these are available at public health facilities. The report further notes that in addition to the lack of adequate ICU facilities and ventilators, a shortage of oxygen and basic oxygen equipment in the counties further threatens Kenya’s ability to care for and manage COVID-19 patients who may develop mild to moderate symptoms. Thus, from the report, our only way out is to intensify containment measures and at least delay the spread of the virus even before the curve is flattened.

The government, therefore, needs to swiftly seek alternative ways of responding to the pandemic in an effective manner, without costing lives and causing untold suffering in the process. An evaluation protocol would be essential in measuring the effectiveness of the directives issued so far before rolling out any new measures. That coupled with the government’s ability to be agile might, in fact, give the country a chance to combat this pandemic.

There has been a growing need for good governance and public accountability by the public. A lot of donations, in cash and kind, have been made to enrich the government’s effort in beating the pandemic. This, therefore, means that transparency needs to guide the distribution of these resources to ensure that they’re optimized to the benefit of the citizenry and economy. Indeed, it would be really unfortunate if a scandal was borne out of this crisis.

Beyond transparency and accountability, the government has to be very intentional in having open and two-way dialogue with citizens. The government having monopoly on information and the ability to communicate works to no one’s advantage. Citizen engagement is important to not only beat the virus but to avoid being blindsided by other emerging challenges such as flooding, drought, seasonal illnesses and crime. A top-down and bottom-up network of interactions between the government and citizens will reduce the instances of resistances because citizens like the government become more aware of the impacts of their decisions. Such communication will foster coordination and, in the end, reduce fear and stigma.

In addition to this, government directives need to be systematic and sound. Just like the reopening of restaurants at a time when mass testing has not been up to scale the government needs to take the lead in terms of responsibility and address the gaps in its directives to avoid any further resistance or flipside effects. Due to the complexity and dynamic nature of communities, there is no room for blanket decisions. Tailor-making directives make it easier to identify strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in the national government and the 47 county governments to ensure that all bases are covered. Failure to do this would then make universal health coverage, cushioning the vulnerable and targeted mass testing a farfetched dream that can only be theorized but not actualized.

At the end of the day, there are many obstacles to a coordinated approach that need to be addressed in order to plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to the effects of this invisible enemy.

Kenya’s Youth Most Vulnerable to Covid-19 Shocks

Posted by on 27th April 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

(Guest Blog)

By Benjamin Sulle – Programs Officer, KYPA

As the global shocks of Covid-19 become apparent for nations, the most vulnerable sections of populations are succumbing to the virus. The implications of the virus have seen the closure of non-essential businesses, lockdowns, curfews, declarations of a state of emergency, among other calls for behaviour change in order to curb the spread of the virus. In the global west, the aged populations have borne the brunt of the novel Corona Virus, with thousands dying weekly. In fact, as the virus spread throughout Europe, there was an initial belief that the youth were immune. When young people, including infants caught the virus, experts and non-experts alike thought that perhaps the virus was spreading only in the temperate climate of the global west and that Africans within the tropics would be spared. However, the lack of clear responses by Governments to the pandemic exposed the soft underbelly of public health systems in Africa and soon cases appeared throughout the continent with relative ubiquity. Governments called for the closure of their borders and cessation of movement amongst other measures to curb the spread. These measures, although meant to ensure public health and safety, have resulted in job closures, loss of income, and disruption of livelihoods for many, who were already struggling to make ends meet.

In Kenya, this disruption has mostly affected the youth, whose work in the informal sector runs the economy. The demographic that was already struggling with the lack of employment opportunities is now compelled to stay at home with no alternative for income-generation. The agriculture and the service industries in Kenya, which employ the greatest number of young people, either directly or indirectly through their supply chains, are the most affected by the pandemic. Although the youth may not be the farmers in the fields due to other factors, such as land tenure systems, climate change, and the perception that farming is for those who have not been successful elsewhere, they are still the biggest players within the supply chain. Whereas farming and supply of food continue, given that they are regarded as one of the essential services, the various sectors within the supply chain that the youth play a part in are affected by the pandemic.

According to research by the Africa Development Bank, the service sector is the second highest employer of youth. And it is perhaps the hardest hit. From transport, which has since been limited to cargo, food, cleaning, and solid waste management, which employs urban youth in the informal sector, the losses and livelihood disruptions have been massive. The closure of hotels and bars means that young people who worked in the sector have to find alternative sources of income. Many employers in this sector have had to send their employees on unpaid leave or altogether terminate their contracts until such a time that normalcy shall resume.

One sector that is thought to be the elixir of youth unemployment is ICT. The President even moved the youth from the Ministry of Public Service and Gender Affairs to the Ministry of ICT and Innovation. The specific sectors within ICT that employ youth are Business Process Outsourcing; development of mobile applications and related software; and blogging and internet design. However, under Covid-19, the ICT sector has gotten mixed fortunes. On the one hand, opportunities have been created since most services have now moved online to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus such as education, banking services, as well as trade. On the other hand, demand for digital content, software solutions, and freelancing has been on the decline. Consumers have shifted focus to more essential goods and services such as food and reliable news.  There have been calls by the government for diversification of skills as well as upskilling during this time for young people in the sector. The Cabinet Secretary for ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs has even appointed a COVID-19 ICT Advisory Committee whose terms of reference include developing and implementing a framework for identifying, supporting and scaling local ICT solutions that can support the country in its efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic effects to establishing an enabling environment that will stimulate economic development through ICTs. Curiously, only one person in the advisory committee is a youth, in a sector that undeniably has many young people with exemplary expertise and knowledge.

The President also set up a raft of tax measures to cushion the youth from the effects of the pandemic. Notably was the 100% pay-as-you-earn tax relief for employees earning less than Ksh. 28,000 per month. While this is welcome, questions have been raised over the 100% tax relief as it targets only those in formal employment, leaving out majority of the youth who work in the informal sector. The Central Bank of Kenya also ordered the delisting of Kenyans, who have defaulted their loans with less than Sh1,000 from Credit Reference Bureau (CRB). This might provide many previously listed young Kenyans with the opportunity to borrow from moneylenders during this time when sources of income are limited.

Young Parliamentarians may also introduce pandemic-specific legislation to help cushion young Kenyans from Covid-19. At the moment, there is only one Bill by the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Covid-19 which seeks to among other things, provide for the establishment of a Pandemic Fund whenever a declaration of a pandemic is made. The Fund would serve as a mechanism for ensuring that there are adequate resources geared towards containing the spread and mitigating against the impact of a pandemic. The Bill also introduces socio-economic protective measures such as tax incentives, revision of contractual obligations during a pandemic, as well as labour relations to ensure the protection of the employee. Although criticised as highly ambitious, this Bill, which seeks to respond to not only the Covid-19 pandemic but also other pandemics in the future, is a good start to the possible ways in which young parliamentarians may intervene so as to help young people.

Further, youth participation in the political and governance process has been consistently low, which increases feelings of disgruntlement. The youth should be given means to air their views on the Bill and provide real and meaningful solutions to the problems that they face. Exclusion of the youth voice in the creation of laws and policies to contain the spread and effects of the coronavirus will only lead to disproportionate measures that will ultimately disadvantage the youth.

Intolerance to Bad Governance: Our Only Way Out of this Pandemic

Posted by on 20th April 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

The Government of Kenya is gradually moving away from imposing new containment measures to implementing those already in place. These measures have been serving as circuit breakers to fight the virus spread among communities. The measures include quarantine, travel bans and restrictions, closure of schools, cancellation of public events, closure of public places and lastly the dusk to dawn curfew. Focus is shifting to offering support to citizens whose day to day lives have been interrupted by the impact of stay-at-home orders or social distancing measures, even as the government tries to contain the virus.

Exactly a month and a few days since the first case of Covid-19 was announced in the country the focus of the President has also begun to shift to stimulus policies to provide economic cushioning especially for the most vulnerable in the society. In his speech last week President Kenyatta stated plans by the national government to provide aid to needy Kenyans. This includes the identification of needy households in Nairobi that will be the first recipients of the weekly Covid-19 stipend. In addition, the government released Sh 8.5 billion to the elderly and vulnerable individuals under the Cash Transfer programme ran by the Ministry of Labour. The international community, on the other hand, has been generous in filling the financial gaps present by offering support to ensure that African countries like Kenya are able to respond effectively to the health crisis and address economic challenges.

Health, fiscal and monetary policies coupled with foreign donations have increasingly been seen as a key tool for combating the virus. As these policies expand and donations increase, a number of structural, implementation and oversight gaps have begun to dominate the policy debate, including the viability, measurability of the impact of the programs, the mechanism of delivering the cash transfers, accountability in foreign aid and expansion of the scope beyond Covid-19. These debates are fueled by the demand to ensure that affected citizens access the services offered and draw optimal benefits from the social protection programs.

Drawing from a history of mass looting of public resources Kenyans are displaying deep scepticism over the handling of this fund. Questions arising on the accountability of the fund and the fairness of the criteria to be used to distribute it among Kenyans need to be addressed quickly lest another scandal brews right under our nose.

Whereas when addressing emergencies post-haste, the need for ensuring compliance and oversight is often superseded, an important tool for accountability and transparency at this time is having a clear information management system or registry for aid flow from the government to the citizen. The data should also be available to the public for scrutiny, citizens can participate in governance and leaders become accountable for the resources at hand.

Equally important, is the coordination of resources and efforts. Collaboration with civil society groups, citizens, private/ international partners can consolidate efforts by the government when it comes to offering solutions and innovations to counter hurdles in implementation, delivery or supply chains during this pandemic. However, the willingness for private partners or corporates, individuals and CSO to work with the government is anchored on the government’s ability to demonstrate initiative for transparency and accountability.

There also exists a high demand for national and county coordination to enhance the capacity of both levels of government to deliver services. The local government can enhance the procurement and allocation of resources from the national government. Publication of calls for tenders and timely reports on spending through local media such as newspapers and radio will improve openness.

Opportunities for poor governance laid down by disasters and outbreaks such as these are founded on the exploitation of fear and a sense of urgency. But even in the wake of all these what should worry us is that our systems are really weak and any form of aid or support should not slip into individuals’ pockets but serve each one equally. Intolerance to such practices serves a vital role in initiating the fight for good governance especially with a lot of money and resources lying around for humanitarian purposes. It also determines the viability of programmes and policies initiated by the government, to face future pandemics.