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Dear Kenyans, Ignorance is No Defense

Posted by on 23rd March 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

In a span of nine days, the number of positive COVID-19 cases has from one risen to 15. This makes the rate of infection in Kenya stand at an average of 1.67 people per day. The mood and tone of the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe during the press address on Sunday evening read of disappointment. Mr Kagwe was disappointed in Kenyans’ open defiance to follow simple instructions even as the killer coronavirus threatens to spread out in Kenya like a wildfire.

The Ministry has constantly and consistently shared precautionary measures with the hope that Kenyans would adhere to them to avoid spreading the virus even further. The message has been echoed by several government institutions such as the National Police Service and even private corporates who through mainstream and digital media are urging Kenyans to maintain high levels of hygiene, exercise social distancing and be on the lookout for any symptoms.

However, it appears that these warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Kenyans continue to be obstinate and toy around with their health and lives all the while operating as if everything is still normal. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s business unusual, the global death toll continues to rise at a worrying rate. Leaders in different jurisdictions have confirmed that they have tested positive. Entertainment and sporting idols have also shared the dreaded news with their fans concerning their state. The virus has proven that it is a respecter of no one. It is no joke!

Kenyans, regardless of their social standing should be worried and take extreme caution. Perhaps the lack of seriousness that we are handling this news with is because it hasn’t arrived at our doorstep. Italy reported 793 deaths in 24 hours. We haven’t processed the gravity of this news since they’re just statistics to us. Personal accounts by Italians and many people from the west who have been affected by the virus bear a lot of regrets. Most of them ignored the calls to take social distancing seriously. The consequence has hundreds of deaths being recorded on a daily basis. The irony is, some Kenyans have been quick to tweet #StandWithItaly while they violate the same instructions that contributed to Italy’s current situation. If we’re not careful, Kenya might go down the same road if not worse considering that our healthcare system is wanting.

It was extremely disheartening to see Kenyans mill in entertainment spots and places of worship despite warnings against unnecessary gatherings. It is even more disheartening to learn that the Kilifi Deputy Governor defied the self-quarantine condition for someone who’d flown back to the country, and even worse mingled with so many people since his arrival. It is heartbreaking to see that Kenyans do not value life.

Dear Kenyans now is not the time to play blind to the realities on the ground. Don’t be blind to the fact that our hospitals and personnel are not ready for a full-blown crisis, in fact, no country is prepared for what this virus can do. Don’t be blind to the fact that the country is on the edge of running broke. Don’t be blind to the fact that we’re struggling with meeting basic needs, thus throwing in the virus into the mix of these struggles is not something that we should wish on ourselves. Don’t be blind to the fact that we have a future to look forward to after the dark cloud has lifted. We, however, cannot talk about the future if we’re not being intentional about securing it through staying alive.

The Ministry has been very clear, stay at home! Callousness during this period should be rebuked and possibly prosecuted. The importance of social distancing cannot be overemphasized. Lives depend on this. Don’t go looking for the virus in the name of entertainment. Don’t get carried away by your seemingly good health and think that you’re invincible. It would be extremely selfish if your actions put your life and those of your loved ones at risk simply because you could not follow instructions.

Tukuwe Wazalendo. The war against corona-virus cannot be won by the government in isolation, it takes a collective effort. This might be the ultimate test on humanity, let us not fail.

Our New Reality: Kenya in the Wake of Covid-19

Posted by on 18th March 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

It is official. Kenya has four confirmed cases of people infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the numbers should be expected to rise going by the latest communication from the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe.

Neighbours such as Tanzania, Rwanda, Somalia and Ethiopia have also shared in the dreaded news. It seems that the myth of our African immunity against the virus didn’t hold after all. The result of the news was a sudden sense of alertness and of course widespread panic. Kenyans, particularly the middle-class swarmed in supermarkets to stock up on house supplies in the wake of a possible nationwide lockdown.

Businesses have and will be forced to adapt to the current situation. Some have instructed their staff to work remotely to avoid subjecting them to physical contact with crowds as they make their way to the office while others have chosen to adjust the working hours. Most businesses whose offices are still in operation have scaled up their hygiene measures by providing sanitizers and constantly communicating with their staff on ways to prevent the spread of the virus.

Despite all these measures being put in place, businesses are about to go through a really trying moment for them. Most enterprises, both local and international are already experiencing a dip in their profits. The lockdown being enforced almost at a global scale is has greatly affected the aviation, tourism and exports industries.

The implications of this virus spread wide almost leaving nothing untouched.

An article on the World Health Organization (WHO) website titled ‘Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters’ notes that “People of all ages can be infected with the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.” Terminally ill people who require regular medical will surely experience more difficulty during this period. In the face of our new reality, the government should quickly find a solution for such patients lest they succumb first to these illnesses they suffer from.

For the rest of Kenyans, it should be remembered that Health CS Mutahi Kagwe advised on social distancing as one of the measures to prevent the spread of the virus. This will call on a deliberate effort by a society that is largely social to adapt and unlearn the norms in their various settings. Things as simple as handshakes are now being advised against.

Being a country that is deeply rooted in religion, the masses may be tempted to seek solace in their places of worship as they drive the fear of the virus away. Now is the time to rethink this. Religious leaders should now reassess their modes of delivering sermons otherwise this could be one sure way that the numbers can escalate from the current four cases to the hundreds. Beliefs should not precede logic if we want to fight this virus.

For those who love to indulge in some good music and booze, it may be time to put a pause on the ‘enjoyment call’. Do not risk your life and that of the next person. As witnessed in some of the most affected countries in Europe, it is because of disregarding calls for social distancing that the numbers of infected persons have shot up. Let us not stand in the way of our own safety.

All eyes are on the government right now. Citizens watching its preparedness, responsiveness and their speed of sharing information. The latter if not well executed creates loopholes that crooks can take advantage of. In the era of massive misinformation, Kenyans may likely buy any information (factual or not) just to be safe. The ministry should go out of their way to ensure a nationwide sensitization on the virus. Kenyans should also be on the lookout for suspicious people offering solutions, vaccines or testing kits. In addition to this, national and county governments coordination is crucial right now to figure out the next steps.

In the face of this pandemic, any government tactics can only be foolproof if we the citizens work hand in hand with them to fight this. Each of us has a responsibility to ensure their personal safety and that of their family, community, estate, office, town, city and country at large. It takes only one case to spread it all over the country. Let’s be vigilant and responsible during this crisis, it’s the least we can do.

Dear Women, Go Forth and Take Up Spaces

Posted by on 12th March 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

Equality for women. This was the resounding message that was sent out to the world as women celebrated yet another international women’s day.

The call for equality and inclusion has been made for decades but it is perhaps the slow pace its attainment has taken that has warranted these renewed efforts to see it come to fruition for the gender that accounts for more than half of the Kenyan population. These calls for equality have been echoed by actors in the political, social and corporate spaces.

So why have the scales on representation remained unbalanced even when women continue to make tremendous contributions in various sectors?

As pointed out in the three-day People Dialogue Festival, that preceded the International Women Day, the political goodwill to actualize equal representation of both genders has been lacking. Article 81 (b) of the Constitution provides, “Not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.” It is on this backdrop that Parliament has come under fire over its unconstitutionality.

In a study we conducted last year, the representation of women in the current Parliament stands at 22%. Despite being the highest representation the country has recorded; Kenya still falls behind on the average 24% women representation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Several attempts by members from both Houses of Parliament to amend the Constitution have been shot down. The Executive on the other hand still has a long way to go with its appointments that have largely favoured men and political cronies.

This being the case, one would wonder whether there is a shortage of qualified women who can head ministerial and ambassadorial jobs or those who can be fielded by political parties for elective positions? It certainly isn’t true. Kenyan women have come a long way in their education. They are at par with their male counterparts if not ahead of them and have proven to be just as good if their innovativeness is anything to go by.

Unfortunately, leadership in our country has less to do with merit and capabilities and focuses more on things that don’t matter. Women especially are subjected to higher and intrusive standards to be considered worthy of leadership. Upon expressing interest to run for an elective position, a woman is bound to have her life put under a microscope and picked apart like vultures would on prey. Women have to fight through financial barriers, electoral violence, gender biases, media stereotyping and what not to make it past the post. The bar for the men, however, is quite low making it easy for them to breeze through the process.

That being said, women leaders (seasoned and young) during the People Dialogue Festival had one message to other women, be not afraid to take up spaces.

“Let’s not soft-pedal here. Leadership is never given. Inanyakuliwa (it’s grabbed),” said Narc-Kenya’s Chair, Martha Karua while addressing the crowd during a panel discussion. Being ‘nice’ isn’t likely to solve the issue of lack of political goodwill and bad attitude towards women leadership. Women are now being encouraged to kick down doors, to be louder and to demand more. Women are being encouraged to be fearless when they make the bold move of stepping in the line of fire.

Inclusion under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) talks about leaving no one behind. Failure to attain equality and inclusion for Kenyan women would be a message to over 50% of the population that, women are less Kenyan. Let’s not allow that to be the case.

Citizens Duty-Bound to Safeguard Data Rights

Posted by on 24th February 2020

Categories: Uncategorised

The Government, respectively through the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government and Ministry of Information, Communication, Technology, Innovation and Youth Affairs, has placed a call to the public, inviting them to air their views on two critical regulations: Registration of Persons (National Integrated Identity Management Systems (NIIMS) Regulations, 2020 and Data Protection (Civil Registration) Regulations, 2020. The former seeks to operationalize Registration of Persons Act, and in particular section 9A of the Act, whereas the latter seeks to operationalize the Data Protection Act, 2019.

Partly emboldened by the recent High Court ruling, which paved way for the implementation of Huduma Namba, the Government appears keen to reciprocate the favourable ruling, by complying with the directed conditions which include, inter alia, establishing applicable regulations. The High Court ruling has since been appealed at the Court of Appeal, with the appellant, the Nubian Community, raising concerns of privacy violations. The concern of the Nubian Community is not isolated. It is, in fact, reflective of the rising concern among the public regarding the safety of their data and indeed the use to which it is put.

Granted that the Government may have an undeniable justification on the need to regulate informational transaction, especially in the era of data misuse for insidious ends, such as terrorism, care must be taken to ensure that the regulator itself does not betray the trust of the regulated. In the case of NIIMS, the first issued that would perhaps need proper redress and reconciliation would be whether or not it would be mandatory to be registered into the System.

In April 2019, a three-judge bench of the High Court ruled that the exercise not to be made mandatory. It needs to be clarified whether the recent ruling, giving the Government the green light to proceed with the project, effectively reverses the earlier ruling that allowed for registration to be on a voluntary basis. A look at the NIIMS Regulations, for instance, leaves one wondering whether failure to register would leave them vulnerable, especially in so far as access to public services is concerned.

Section 10 of the Regulation provides that ‘A Government agency requiring personal particulars of an individual shall, at the first instance, rely on the NIIMS database to authenticate the foundational data of an enrolled resident individual.’ Foundational data, according to the Regulations, is defined as ‘the basic personal data of an individual for attesting the individual’s identity and includes biometric data and biographical data’. If NIIMS database becomes the primary reference source for basic information for government agencies, would anyone who opted not to register be denied services dispensed by or assigned to that office or agency?

An even more concerning issue would be the willingness by the government to duly comply with existing information related laws. The Constitution, in Article 31, provides that ‘Every person has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have (c) information relating to their family or private affairs unnecessarily required or revealed; or (d) the privacy of the communication infringed. Article 35 guarantees access to information: ‘Every citizen has the right of access to (a) information held by the State. To pump life into various information related provisions of the Constitution, a number of legislations have since been passed, including Access to Information Act, 2016 and Data Protection Act, 2019. Compliance with the laws by government is a sustained challenge.

The question that begs is: What options remain to the public to enjoy their right to privacy and access information? Response lies in eternal vigilance. Vigilance during the preparation of the laws and also during their implementation and enforcement. Surrendering can never be an option. It is exactly for that reason that citizens of goodwill must go through the two legislations lined up for public participation on 26th and 27th February 2020 and turn out to share their views, including justified reservation they may have thereof. Citizens are duty-bound to shape the society in the manner they wish to have it serve them.

Blog by Alex Ogutu, Programme Officer at Mzalendo Trust.

What Moi’s Legacy Means to the Parliament

Posted by on 19th February 2020

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Kenya’s second and longest-serving President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi was laid to rest in his Kabarak home on Wednesday marking the end of an era for the country.

“When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground,” reads a popular African saying. One cannot think of truer words when they remember Moi. The life of the late president had a big impact, both positive and negative, in the direction this country took from independence. A fact that was echoed by MPs as they gave glowing tributes during the Parliament special sitting last week.

His demise has forced the country to reflect upon his contribution, his impact and the future of this country. While his 24-year reign elicits both feelings of admiration and bitterness, it also reminds Kenyans of heroes and heroines who shaped Kenyan politics within and outside his government. People who through their sacrifice and determination led the country to the democratization of the state that saw increased political space, freedom of speech and association and the clamour for a new constitutional dispensation.

This mourning period should then mark a defining moment for the future of Kenya. That in memory of Moi, Kenyans and their leaders should borrow lessons from his tenure and start drawing a blueprint to attain Kenya’s vision for the future.

Given the long journey, it took for the country to get to the 2010 Constitution, it should be a collective duty to uphold and promote the spirit of the Constitution. Leaders in all arms of government should stand guided by the principles and values of the Constitution that speak highly of integrity, accountability and patriotism. The law of the land remains the true north if ever we want to win the fight against the vices that ail our country.

Moi’s tenure also marks the reintroduction of multiparty democracy. This milestone was a great reminder that Kenyans regardless of the social or political class had a right of say in the political fate of the country. It set grounds to recognize that power emanates from the people and should therefore not be abused or used to the detriment of Wanjiku. If power belongs to Wanjiku, then it is upon the leaders to work every day to ensure that the law and government systems work to the benefit of the citizenry. It should never be lost on them that they work for the mwananchi.

It should also be remembered that during Moi’s era, the executive wielded more power. The current Constitution gives Parliament and the Judiciary the power to check the executive. This, therefore, means that the corruption that has thrived under the Executive for decades can be curbed with robust oversight. A strong, unbiased Parliament backed by a strong legal system equates a thriving government that works for the people.

Moi’s era was also tainted by gross violation of human rights. Even with the talks of correcting historical injustices through the BBI, the Parliament in its current form can do so through legislative processes. Parliament can prevent more violations of Wanjiku’s rights and freedoms and in turn grant her dignity through motions, statements, petitions and sponsoring bills that directly speak to the electorate’s needs.

It was during the post-Moi period that Kenya decentralized power from the national government to county governments. The transition from 8 provinces to 47 counties presented an opportune moment for services to be tailor-made to specialized needs covering all bases in the country. Parliament, particularly the Senate have a duty to protect and promote devolution. Ensuring that devolution works to the letter levels the playing for all Kenyans and makes inclusion and equality a not-so-far-fetched dream.

Moi’s life, leadership, lessons should not be in vain. Neither should the lives of those who sacrificed their lives and freedom under Moi. Beyond giving glowing tributes, leaders now have a duty to take leadership to a whole different level and leave a legacy of their own.

The Safety of Learners Shouldn’t be Taken Lightly

Posted by on 14th February 2020

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The cost of basic education in present-day Kenya seems to be life and is one that has left most parents wondering why they chose to take their children to school in the first place.

Schools that were formerly considered second homes and safe grounds for children have now become death traps. A series of tragedies emanates from our schools almost every 3 months. Each time an incident occurs, the pain incurred through loss of lives then wakes our consciousness to the monster that we have been feeding daily. What proceeds is a typical series of knee jerk reactions by the government through the Ministry of Education, which has now turned out to be that barking dog that never bites. Quickly after a tragedy we quickly return to the default mode where not much follow up is carried out and life continues as normal, but not for the immediate families.

Once more young and innocent lives in Kakamega Primary School are paying off, for what might also have been as in the past years, the mistake of a few adults. The incident adds to the pile of other ghastly incidents such as the Precious Top Talent school that cost 8 lives and other disasters in waiting such as St. Charles Mutego Educational Centre which seats just kilometres away from Precious Top Talent. These tragedies eventually lead to the disruption of training and learning in these institutions apart from exposing children to great hazards and trauma causing injustice to young children who entrust their security to adults.

The government of Kenya just like any other government globally invests a lot of resources in the attainment of basic education and promotion of education as a fundamental right. In its pursuit to improve the standards of education, it has appointed various committees, commissions and task forces to address major challenges faced by the sector. These bodies have come up with tons of reports and national standards where school safety is concerned, notably the Safety Standards Manual for Schools released in 2008 as a blueprint for enhancing school safety with a variety of safety measures to help schools improve the safety of learners. In addition, being a signatory to international conventions such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child alongside other protocols that dictate international standards and regulations for access, equity and quality of education.

The current state of school safety cites huge gaps in both the implementation of and adherence to these policy guidelines by relevant stakeholders. On top of that, the government is well aware that most if not all of the legal frameworks set out as guidelines for registering schools have not been fully implemented. Either way, there has not been much of an indicator that the Ministry recognizes the importance of school safety when it comes to attainment and provision of quality education contravening The Children’s Act (2001).

With schools still operating in dilapidated states and cases of overcrowding in classrooms, it is evident that even with the issuance and existence of safety manuals and measures very little seems to be happening to tackle these disasters.

The issue of safety and security is not one to be taken lightly as it is the case. For a while, the government has been pussyfooting around this issue at the expense of innocent lives. The most it has offered is threats and promises all year round with no action.

The Kakamega Primary School stampede once again turns the spotlight on how unsuccessful the ministry has been in achieving schools’ safety precaution. In a quick response to the matter, the Ministry of Education directed that the school be closed for further investigation. This comes months after the unfortunate tragedy at the Precious Top Talent School, where a similar directive was given at a nationwide scale to ensure no future casualties. It is on the same backdrop that concerns were raised in both houses of Parliament on how well the ministry is addressing school safety and security. However, not a single report has been tabled by the respective committees since the September 2019 incident.

It is also on record that CS Magoha, speaking at the scene of the collapsed classrooms in Dagoretti, Nairobi, assured Kenyans that their children are safe stating that, “The children of Kenya are safe in schools. This single tragic incident must not be used by anyone to instil fear in our children in both public and private schools.” Further promising that the national government through the ministry of education was going to monitor all schools to ensure the safety of the students.

The presence of inappropriate school facilities and infrastructure countrywide that is; poorly constructed classrooms and playing grounds, insufficient and broken-down toilet facilities, and inadequate and inappropriate furniture is not only a clear indication of lack of value for our children’s welfare but also a great sense of lack of citizenship and deep-rooted corruption within the Ministry and respective local government offices. Which has led to a general disregard of professional practice, inadequate proper and frequent supervision and open defiance by school owners and managers that our own Ministry of Education is so fearful to face head-on.

While the ministry needs to pull up its socks on this matter, the Parliament on its resumption of sittings should fast track the committee reports and compel the government to implement the recommendations that emerge from them.

 

~ Guest blog by Victor Werimo