Sunday, June 30, 2013



Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times
Supporters of President Mohamed Morsi demonstrated in Nasr City, a neighborhood of Cairo, on Sunday.

CAIRO — Faced with a wave of increasingly violent protests demanding his ouster, President Mohamed Morsi declared this weekend that he was still very confident he would serve out his term as Egypt’s first democratically elected head of state.
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“It has been a difficult, very difficult year, and I think the coming years will also be difficult,” Mr. Morsi said in an interview with The Guardian, a British newspaper, that was released Sunday a year after his inauguration — a day his opponents are marking with massive street protests that they vow will drive him from office.
During the remaining three years of his first term, Mr. Morsi said, “I hope that I will all the time be doing my best to fulfill the needs of the Egyptian people.”
Thousands of Mr. Morsi’s opponents and supporters began massing in the streets on Sunday, hours before planned marches to Tahrir Square and the presidential palace. The military sent helicopters flying low over the square on Sunday — a demonstration of power that it has been used on other occasions, including before its removal of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Gathering near the presidential palace, thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group backing Mr. Morsi, had armed themselves with billy clubs and long lengths of tubing as well as protective vests, shields and helmets.
Many said they fear the police — left largely intact since the overthrow of Mr. Mubarak — would fail to defend the palace or might join an assault. “If there is treason, we are here,” said Ahmed Abdel Azeez, 38, a Brotherhood member who began camping outside a mosque near the palace on Friday.
The normally clogged streets of Cairo were all but deserted Sunday, the beginning of the workweek, as businesses closed and residents took refuge. The airports were packed with people attempting to get out of the city and worried about a potential shut down.
Outside of Cairo, protesters had blockaded or chained shut government offices in the capitals of several provinces across the Nile Delta, state media reported. Protesters also blocked several transit ways, including the major highways and railways connecting Cairo and Alexandria.
Officials of the Muslim Brotherhood said several offices had been set fire or ransacked overnight, adding to a series of such attacks in recent days. More than a half dozen people have died and several hundred have been injured in recent days during skirmishes leading up to Sunday’s protests.
Much of the focus on Sunday will be on the government’s own security forces. The police are in more or less open revolt against President Morsi. The interior ministry has already said its officers will not protect the offices of the Brotherhood or any other political party, citing a lack of manpower, and in recent days, Egyptian news organizations have posted video footage of armed and uniformed police joining street fights, seemingly against members of the Brotherhood defending an Alexandria office.
When protesters closed the highway connecting the Delta towns of Monsoura and Damietta on Sunday, state media reported that a group of police officers joined the blockade chanting, “Revolution until victory!” and “The People and the Police are one Hand!”
The military, which seized power for more than a year after Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, has tried to strike a tone of neutrality, urging reconciliation of the feuding political factions, but at the same time declaring itself ready to intervene to protect the national security.
In the interview with The Guardian, Mr. Morsi acknowledged for the first time that he was not told ahead of time about a statement issued last week by the defense minister, General Abdul-Fattah el Sisi, in which he urged the president and his opponents to come together before Sunday’s protests and said the military would “intervene to keep Egypt from sliding into a dark tunnel of conflict, internal fighting, criminality, accusations of treason, sectarian discord and the collapse of state institutions.”

Many in the opposition saw the statement as a sign of distance between the generals and the president, or as an indication that if Sunday’s protests were large enough — or perhaps violent enough — the military would take over once again. Cheers rose from the crowd when the military helicopters circled Tahrir Square on Sunday.
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Still, although Mr. Morsi acknowledged that the defense minister had spoken without coordinating his statement with the president, he said he retained full confidence in General Sisi. “We constantly talk together over time,” Mr. Morsi said in the Guardian interview, but “we can’t restrict every single word announced by officials in this country.”
Mr. Morsi said the military had suffered during its time of the country after Mr. Mubarak and had no desire to return. “They’re busy now with the affairs of the army itself,” Mr. Morsi said.
As protests began Sunday, however, the military continued to give out ambiguous signals. “All units” were at “high alert,” ready “to move ‘on the moment’ when something urgent or a threat to national security occurs,” Egyptian state media reported, citing an unidentified military source.
“The official military source clarified that the most recent instructions given to soldiers and officers is to protect the will of the people without bias to any side at the expense of the other, especially as the political forces have not reached any formula of consensus,” the Web site of the flagship state newspaper, Al Ahram, reported.
In recent weeks, Mr. Morsi’s government has extended and refortified the walls of the presidential palace that serves as his office in anticipation of an attack during Sunday’s protests. During the interview with The Guardian, Mr. Morsi was working out of to another alternate facility, Quba Palace, the birthplace of the former King Farouk. State media reported that the prime minister, Hisham Qandil, was also working out of an alternate office for security reasons.
In the same interview, Mr. Morsi acknowledged more explicitly than before that he had erred in his “constitutional declaration” last fall putting his own power above the authority of the courts until passage of a charter. Although he said he meant to block the courts from dissolving the constitutional assembly, the move struck many as authoritarian, and it set off the waves of protests have built up to Sunday demonstrations.
“It contributed to some kind of misconception in society,” Morsi said in the interview. His advisers have privately acknowledged deep regrets over the declaration, although they argue that subsequent rulings have confirmed that the high court — full of justices appointed from Mr. Mubarak — was indeed poised to dissolve the assembly.
But Mr. Morsi repeatedly blamed the old Mubarak bureaucracy and elites — “the deep state and the remnants of the old regime” — for the protests. He insisted that those who profited under Mr. Mubarak had paid hired thugs to attack his supporters and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“They have money, and they got this money from corruption,” he said. “They used this corrupt money to pull back the regime, and pull back the old regime into power. They pay this corrupt money to thugs, and then violence takes place.”
And he argued that if he gave in to the demands for his exit, it would only prolong the chaos of Egypt’s transition. If an elected president resigned under pressure from the street, “there will be people or opponents opposing the new president too, and a week or a month later, they will ask him to step down,” Mr. Morsi said.



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THE former C.I.A. analyst Paul R. Pillar asked this question in a recent essay in The National Interest: Why are we seeing so many popular street revolts in democracies? Speaking specifically of Turkey and Brazil, but posing a question that could be applied to Egypt, Israel, Russia, Chile and the United States, Pillar asks: “The governments being protested against were freely and democratically elected. With the ballot box available, why should there be recourse to the street?”
Josh Haner/The New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
It is an important question, and the answer, I believe, is the convergence of three phenomena. The first is the rise and proliferation of illiberal “majoritarian” democracies. In Russia, Turkey and today’s Egypt, we have seen mass demonstrations to protest “majoritarianism” — ruling parties that were democratically elected (or “sort of” in Russia’s case) but interpret their elections as a writ to do whatever they want once in office, including ignoring the opposition, choking the news media and otherwise behaving in imperious or corrupt ways, as if democracy is only about the right to vote, not rights in general and especially minority rights.
What the protesters in Turkey, Russia and Egypt all have in common is a powerful sense of “theft,” a sense that the people who got elected are stealing something more than money: the people’s voice and right to participate in governance. Nothing can make a new democrat, someone who just earned the right to vote, angrier.
Here is what the satirist Bassem Youssef, the Jon Stewart of Egypt, wrote in the Egyptian daily Al Shorouk last week, on the first anniversary of the election of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party: “We have a president who promised that a balanced constituent assembly would work on a constitution that everyone agrees on. We have a president who promised to be representative, but placed members of his Muslim Brotherhood in every position of power. We have a president and a party that broke all their promises, so the people have no choice but to take to the streets.”
A second factor is the way middle-class workers are being squeezed between a shrinking welfare state and a much more demanding job market. For so many years, workers were told that if you just work hard and play by the rules you’ll be in the middle class. That is just not true anymore. In this age of rapid globalization and automation, you have to work harder, work smarter, bring more innovation to whatever job you do, retool yourself more often — and then you can be in the middle class. There is just so much more stress on people in, or aspiring to be in, the middle class, and many more young people wondering how they’ll ever do better than their parents.
Too few leaders are leveling with their people about this shift, let alone helping them navigate it. And too many big political parties today are just vehicles for different coalitions to defend themselves against change rather than to lead their societies in adapting to it. Normally, this would create opportunities for the opposition parties, but in places like Turkey, Brazil, Russia and Egypt the formal opposition is feckless. So people take to the streets, forming their own opposition.
In America, the Tea Party began as a protest against Republicans for being soft on deficits, and Occupy Wall Street as a protest against Democrats for being soft on bankers. In Brazil, a 9 cent increase in bus fares set off mass protests, in part because it seemed so out of balance when the government was spending some $30 billion on stadiums for the Olympics and the World Cup. Writing in The American Interest, William Waack, an anchorman on Brazil’s Globo, probably spoke for many when he observed: “Brazilians don’t feel like their elected representatives at any level actually represent them, especially at a time when most leaders fear the stigma of making actual decisions (otherwise known as leading). ... It’s not about the 9 cents.”
China is not a democracy, but this story is a sign of the times: In a factory outside Beijing, an American businessman, Chip Starnes, president of the Florida-based Specialty Medical Supplies, was held captive for nearly a week by about 100 workers “who were demanding severance packages identical to those offered to 30 recently laid-off employees,” according to Reuters. The workers feared they would be next as the company moved some production from China to India to reduce costs. (He was released in a deal on Thursday.)
Finally, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, Twitter, Facebook and blogging, aggrieved individuals now have much more power to engage in, and require their leaders to engage in, two-way conversations — and they have much greater ability to link up with others who share their views to hold flash protests. As Leon Aron, the Russian historian at the American Enterprise Institute, put it, “the turnaround time” between sense of grievance and action in today’s world is lightning fast and getting faster.
The net result is this: Autocracy is less sustainable than ever. Democracies are more prevalent than ever — but they will also be more volatile than ever. Look for more people in the streets more often over more issues with more independent means to tell their stories at ever-louder decibels.



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
June 23, 2013

Nobody expected that in three short months following the March elections, Kenyans would embark on the road to 2017 election mode. Yet this is what has happened. A spat between the Senate and the National Assembly, fuelled by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s action on the controversial law on Revenue Division did it all.

Soon after it became known that the Jubilee had caved in to MPs over the law makers’ salaries and lucrative allowances, teachers did not waste time. The KUPPET and KNUT officials rallied their members to demand their 1997 collective agreement which successive governments have been ignoring.

What the striking teachers are saying is simple: if this government can afford better pay for MPs and expensive laptops for children still struggling to learn their ABC and basic numbers under a tree at a cost of Ksh 60 billion, why not pay teachers well, construct classrooms and equip schools properly. More importantly, why not build computer labs for each school to be shared by all children in lower primary institutions at a much lower cost and use the rest of the billions to pay teachers well?

As if not to be left behind, the Kenyatta National Hospital also downed their tools almost simultaneously with Nairobi county workers. While KNH staff was demanding their Ksh 4 billion salary arrears and allowances, Nairobi county workers were crying foul over their three weeks delayed end of May salaries.

The decision by the Senate to lodge a complaint at the Supreme Court while at the same time embarking on the popular campaign to amend the constitution points to one thing: the Supreme Court may not rule in their favor no matter how logical and factual their case may be. They have the Supreme Court’s decision on the Raila Uhuru case to go by.

This move to rope in governors in the dispute between the Senate, National Assembly and the President could be the reason the Executive hurriedly arranged a meeting with all governors in Nairobi to reward them with special number plates for their officials and diplomatic passports. Whether the 47 number plates and 47 diplomatic passports will compensate them enough to make them abandon pursuit of their Ksh 48 billion deducted from their Senate allocations remains to be seen.

The kind of re-alignment is very much in conformity with Kenyan politics. It is a different kettle of fish. Alignments and realignments are the order of things in Kenya.

Right now, there is an interesting coming together of MPs from the ruling coalition and minority coalition. They are all united in clamoring for more cash from the Treasury come rain or shine. Even the clamor is led by Jubilee MPs who are the majority in the National Assembly; three of the most vocal MPs in support of higher salaries are Luo MPs from ODM strong holds that should not be supporting the ruling coalition to fleece the people of Kenya.

In fact if anything, the 11th parliament is beginning to look like parliament under Daniel arap Moi. The circus that is called the vetting of presidential appointments seemed to be well planned and choreographed with some CORD MPs behaving like the outsiders who choose to grieve more than the bereaved family. In almost all vetted officers, some CORD MPs seem just too eager to cut short the debate by asking the Speaker to go straight to the question to the floor. And they are always the same MPs. And to tell you the truth, the august house is beginning to look like a conveyor belt that allows both the chuff and grain to pass through.

In the senate, the situation is a little different. It would appear like all senators have forged some unity of purpose especially after some thoughtless MPs intimated prematurely that the National Assembly should disband the Senate. Here senators have seen the need to hang together or else they be hanged separately.

The fear of derailing the devolution and subsequently disbanding the senate, county assemblies and special seats is the reason the political temperatures will heat up earlier than we thought.

Disenchantment with the Uhuru government has not come too soon for the National Government alone. Governors in different parts of the country are equally feeling the heat. Take the case of the Governor of Nakuru County. Here the governor has chosen to defy his vetting board and appointed to his cabinet characters that had been rejected by the board. In this impunity department, Kisumu has chosen to lead the park. The new governor not only sleeps in a hotels just five minutes drive from his home but has chosen to spend Ksh 70 million on four wheel drive cars for his cabinet at a time when harvesting hyacinth is going to cost the tax payer Ksh 50 million!

All these actions put together can only point to one thing; we are soon going to find ourselves on the road to the 2017 elections an angry electorate.

Friday, June 14, 2013



By P. Anyang' Nyong'o

Although the issue is now before the Supreme Court for constitutional interpretation and determination, a few general questions by the layman can still be asked without intruding into the province of the court. And from the answers given some general remarks will definitely follow to amplify why counties need sufficient resources if they have to change the livelihood of the people at the grassroots for the better.
Obviously any reasonable person will realize that when the National Assembly sent the Division of Revenue Bill to the Senate the expectation was that the Senate would discuss it and provide some input. Which is exactly what happened. After providing the input, which proved to be substantial, the Senate sent back to the Assembly what it had done. The Assembly, in its wisdom or lack of it, now decided it was the rightful authority anyway, and the Senate's input was not worth the paper it was written on. Hence, in its original form, the Bill was sent to the President for assent. The President duly complied.

From a purely layman's point of view, something is wrong somewhere. First, was the act of referring the Bill from the National Assembly to the Senate a mere ritual or was it a simple mistake that the Speaker of the Assembly only realized when the results of the deliberations in the Senate came back to him?
It is difficult to believe that it was a mistake since the Speaker of the Assembly is a seasoned lawyer who, in that chair, must have known what he was doing. He actually composed a letter to his colleague in the Senate telling him simply that he was forwarding the Bill for discussion in the Senate as required by some well known procedure or law.

It is equally difficult to believe that the Bill was forwarded to the Senate as a mere ritual since no law has so far been cited saying such a ritual was necessary and the Senate made the mistake of wasting several days discussing a mere ritual.

What is obvious is that once the Bill arrived on the President's table for assent His Excellency was aware that there was already a controversy between the two houses of Parliament over it. The President proceeded to sign it into law notwithstanding the controversy. The question that laymen and laywomen are currently asking is whether there was wisdom in what the President did. I happen to be on the side of those who think that there was hurry in what he did while wisdom was given a wide berth. Why do I say so?

First, there must be somewhere in the constitution which provides direction as to what needs to be done when there is a conflict between the two houses of Parliament on an issue like the Division of Revenue Bill. Were I the President I would have asked for this guidance from the Constitution.

Second, notwithstanding what the constitution may or may not say, the art of conflict resolution says that it is helpful to listen to all parties in any conflict in order to arrive at a balanced decision. In this case the two speakers, the whips and the leaders from both houses could have been brought together by the President to consult on the issue. Along with this team would have been Mr. Nyachae and Mr. Cheserem: the former to help interpret the law and the latter to help on money matters. I am sure that some sober discussion would have ensued and provided some much more informed decision by the President than the crisis he now finds himself in.

Third, the 48 billion shillings that the Senate recommended to go to the counties were not to be spent in the North Pole. The money was going to help improve the livelihood of ordinary Kenyans. Every Kenyan comes from one county or the other, so the money was indeed for all of us. The constitution actually gives the counties some enormous responsibilities so as to release the national government from micromanaging development at the grassroots. The discussion that needed to have been held by the National Assembly is not whether this money should go to counties or not, but whether counties would use it for the purposes for which it was intended.

In the final analysis what we are fighting over comes as a result of scarcity. We all need to create more wealth at the county level so that we can begin to bake our own cake. The counties of Machakos and Homa Bay have both hit the road running in a positive direction. That is as it should be. We in the Senate are concerned about giving the counties sufficient resources to begin creating wealth from below.

The old model was for the national government to create state owned corporations for purposes of wealth creation. Such corporations have had problems of too much bureaucracy and very little innovation; too much expenses and rather meager results. Since it is people working who create wealth, the money put at the disposal of counties must go towards encouraging people to work in order to create wealth. Improving infrastructure, for example, will lead to more economic activities at the local level.

The money given to the counties must be enough to do the job and not mere tokens. It is not good, as the English saying goes, to be penny wise and pounds foolish. In turn county governments need to have effective structures and plans for productively using all the resources at their disposal. There has been a flurry of activities to build capacity for county governments. The outcome of such capacity building exercises must now be seen in the output of these governments.

Results or outputs are always measured in terms of short, medium and long term. The short term ones are the so called low lying fruits. These can be harvested with very little effort and very little expenses. They can have tremendous impact and create a momentum of their own in terms of positive change. But even low lying fruits cannot be harvested haphazardly; they require some method, procedure and organization. We may be taking too long to harvest low lying fruits in our counties. Work needs to begin and begin earnestly.

Unlike their predecessors that existed in terms of local authorities, county governments no longer have Nairobi to look up to for guidance. They must originate the innovations that will make some difference in resource use. Some synergy between the Senate and the County Assemblies will be necessary to cultivate this innovation.



By P.Anyang' Nyong'o

June 9, 2013

When I was Minister for Planning and National Development in 2003 I proposed that the Numerical Machines Complex be revived and used as the foundation for developing a state-driven capital goods industry. I further proposed that the railway workshops in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa not be left to atrophy but be incorporated into the NMC as a way of bringing back life to our railway system.

 I did not see why Kenya should import the post banamex cranes from abroad lock, stock and barrel for use at the Kilindini Harbour in Mombasa; with a working NMC we needed only to import the gears, the rest of the metal work and pulley systems could be fabricated locally. In this regard we could revive our industries in the private sector which had gone down during the crazy Nyayo years when interest rates went through the roof, banks foreclosed loans to several businesses and a good number of such enterprises closed down.

I was vilified for preaching outlandish ideas by the bureaucratic bourgeoisie in government who thrive on the import- export business. Interestingly enough they accused me of corruption. I was seen as collaborating with "Indians" whose businesses had been hurt by the previous regime. Apparently there was no concern that these were Kenyan enterprises whose revival would help create jobs and revive the economy.

Be all that as it may, let us go back to our subject of today, that of railways. The British were not foolish to have initiated railways construction as the first item on the agenda in their colonies. Whether in Pakistan, India or Kenya railroad construction was given prime attention. Today India is the only former colony in the Third World that prides itself of a national railway system that still works, complete with a University to its name. The Pakistan railway system is currently a pale shadow of its former self. The Kenyan one lies in ruins except for the feeble attempt to revamp the commuter system in the eastern part of Nairobi.

Again as Planning Minister I strongly cautioned against the concessioning of the Kenya Railways and the RVR project. In our Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation (ERS) we had envisaged a standard gauge railway from Mombasa to Busia and Malaba to be electrically powered with a branch from Rongai to Juba. If we had done that, we would have been ahead of the oil discovery in Turkana. But the bureaucratic bourgeoisie knew better; the RVR and the concessioning project went ahead and has now handed us a failure nobody can be proud of.

It is not, however, too late. Being a tropical country where sun and rain hit the earth with tremendous fury every so often, we obviously find building roads with bitumen a daily headache. The roads are bound to crack more often than they do in much more temperate climates. To add insult to injury our road builders, mired in the web of corruption that is to be found in the procurement processes, have in the past cut down badly on the materials used in construction. Those who are responsible for certifying their work have done no better: they have simply colluded to accept mediocre work after being handsomely rewarded by the contractors they supervise. Road maintenance is a money guzzler for our weak economy; we have to cut down on it.

The only way we can go is to rely on railways and railroads for our major transport systems. All cross county transport should, as much as possible, be done by railways and railroads, especially when this involves transporting heavy goods. With the discovery of oil, coal and the exploitation of geothermal energy, we have a great potential for investing in electricity powered engines for railway transport. It would not be too wild to propose that sooner rather than later solar power will be used in train engines in the tropics where there is sunshine daily throughout the year.

In this regard one can see the importance of the NMC and the railway workshops. The production spare parts, the fabrication of machine tools,  and the repair of engines and wagons will no doubt be done at the NMC and the workshops. More jobs will be created and existing skills improved. We have, as it were, a giant waiting to be awoken in our quest for further economic growth but we continue to sleep and be preoccupied by our petty politics of fighting over economic crumbs.

Cameroon, a country that has discovered it has tremendous mineral and oil wealth in the recent past, has embarked on a major project of building railways. Cameroon should be a good example to the rest of Africa. But the success of the railways project in Cameroon will depend on who is contracted to build the railways and under what terms. This is the same problem that the LAPSET project also faces.

Both India and China are lucky in the sense that they have the domestic capacity to build their own railways. This is a capacity they have built over a long period of time. As African countries embark on major projects of building railways, we need to develop our domestic capacities to build our own railways in the very near future. The NMC needs to provide the nucleus or seed for travelling in that direction.



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
June 12, 2013

This is the bitter truth. Kenya’s dream of a better country is headed for the rocks. The devolution that we thought was a cure for all our governance problems is under siege. It is being assaulted from all angles. If the National Assembly is not strangling it financially, inept governors are getting their priorities upside down.

As I wrote this article, President Uhuru Kenyatta had thrown the first salvo. He sided with the National Assembly to deny County governments an extra Ksh 48 billion allocated by the Senate. In effect, he explicitly told the Senators that in the scheme of things, their deliberations and decisions were of no consequence. This was the case of a father coming home to find his two sons fighting over a loaf of bread and instead of listening to both and giving a Solomonic judgement, he chooses to take the whole bread and give it to his favorite son.

The dilemma in which Kenya’s devolution finds itself is not necessarily the creation of the President’s perceived lack of support. The origin of the problem is rooted in the two chambers of Parliament. The National Assembly is apprehensive that if the Senate grows in stature and truly safeguards the interests of county governments as stipulated in the constitution, then MPs will lose their clout and power bases. It is this fear of competition for power that drives MPs to do anything in their powers to derail the devolution even if it means disbanding the Senate.

If indeed the Senate goes as dreamt by the current MPs, it is most likely that the next target of assault would be the County Assemblies where the Governors are in charge. MPs will most likely be tempted to supervise them from Nairobi in the knowledge that the Senate that used to protect their interests is no more. And if this supervision is resisted by County Assemblies, some MP will be detailed to table a bill in the National Assembly that will seek to abolish County Assemblies as an unnecessary waste of public funds.

If this comes to pass, it would be an irony of history that the first Senate that was established under the Lancaster Constitution  with  Jomo Kenyatta as the first President was disbanded a year later under his watch. Would Uhuru Kenyatta allow the second devolution under the second constitution to die under his watch? What would President Uhuru Kenyatta gain by allowing Parliament to kill devolution?

In retrospect, it may not be in Uhuru’s interest to do away with devolution, however, there are individuals in the National Assembly that may do all they can to mislead him into thinking that the Senate and County Assemblies are an unnecessary public cost centers that Kenya can do without. It is these individuals that Kenyans and County governors must be vigilant about. They are few but very dangerous for the stability of the nation.

Much as we may want to blame dark forces out to derail our young devolution, the bigger danger lies in a myriad myopic and visionless governors of some of our counties. A look at counties such as Kisumu, Siaya, Kajiado, Busia, Kakamega, Kilifi and Garissa among others, one gets the feeling that governors are still behaving like the former mayors of those cities. They have become governors of their CBDs.

The manifestos that governors bombarded us with are no more. We no longer hear of their grandiose plans and how they would transform the lives of their county residents. If anything, all we can hear these days are reports of governors lodging in hotels even though their palatial homes are hardly ten minutes drive from the city center. How can we have a governor who chooses to lodge in a hotel in his county for 90 days under the pretext that the former mayor still occupies the official residence? Who doesn’t know that mayors ceased to be employees of the Kenya government six months ago? And even if that were the case, why not rent a house that gives the office its dignity?

Most governors promised us what they would do in the first 100 days in office. Those hundred days are now over yet we still have traffic madness in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa. Garbage collection has been forgotten. Water supply is still as scarce as ever. Hyacinth is still tormenting fishermen in Kisumu. Infrastructure seems to be resting in the back banners yet governors still find time to waste resources in retreats in far away luxury beach resorts a thousand kilometers from their countries.

This lackluster performance of most governors has its roots in the way they were vetted before being nominated by their parties. In fact proper vetting was absent at every stage of the process. Political parties failed to apply integrity and performance yardsticks. The Anti-corruption Commission went to sleep during the vetting process while the IEBC chose to ignore the most glaring integrity failures presented to it. In the end, we elected the usual suspects, some of who were jobless hustlers on our streets. To expect this lot to perform will be a miracle.

Under the circumstances, governors must change tact and begin to be serious with their work rather moaning day and night for more cash from the National Government. If they don’t, they will soon be soft target for dissolution by the National Assembly that has already tasted blood.

Saturday, June 8, 2013



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
June 5, 2013

Some three members of the National Assembly were breathing fire and brimstone in Kenya’s parliament last week. They wanted their slashed salaries reinstated back. For this reason, they went berserk and raged at everybody they could lay their eyes on.

At first they vented their wrath on Sarah Serem the chairlady of the Salaries Remuneration Commission. They called her names and even intimated that she was not qualified for the job. Never mind that the same MPs were the same people who interviewed and gave her the job.

When that line of protest was not working, they enjoined the entire SRC Commission and threatened to sack the whole lot if their salaries were not reinstated to pre 2013 levels. It was a week of madness and loss of mind on the part of the MPs.

When chairman of the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution Simon Nyachae waded into the saga by threatening to sue any staff of the Parliamentary Service Commission should they dare pay the MPs their old salaries, the whole house ran amok. They bayed for Nyachae’s blood questioning his duties at the CIC. Some of them even called him a busy body.

The spat with Nyachae and Serem finally spread to all the `11 constitutional commissions. MPs felt slighted and now wanted to vet all commissions a fresh and reduce their numbers from 9 to 3 and even the three would be put on part time job! They claimed that there were too many commissioners earning too much money and wasting public funds.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta waded into the salaries dispute with MPs and seemed to support Sarah Serem, the angry MPs turned their guns on the Head of State.
They threatened to paralyze the National Budget process, reduce the President’s salary by 57% , abolish VAT  and exempt any Kenyan earning Ksh 50,000 and below from paying any taxes.

However, even after throwing all these tantrums for a good two weeks, it would seem like the honorable MPs were merely blowing hot air. Sarah Serem and her commissioners are still office. All other commissioners are still sitting pretty. The President’s salary has not been slashed. What remains is that the Ksh 532,000 that Sarah’s commission gave them is still standing.

As the wrangles in the National Assembly reached its crescendo, the belligerent MPs chose to open another battle front. This time they were spoiling for a fight with their counterparts in the Senate. The origin of the fiat seemed to have emanated from the Finance Bill that had been debated and passed by the Lower House and passed on to the Senate. However, on second thoughts, some MPs felt that the Finance Bill should not have gone to the Senate.

As the two houses argued back and forth, some hot headed MPs started insulting and calling Senators names. Others called them retirees while others called them wazees. Then came a clincher. Some MPs dared to bring a bill in the Lower House to disband the three month old Senate claiming that it has no meaningful role in Kenya.

As all this drama was unfolding, the civil society had their own idea. They needed to confront this tyranny of numbers in the National Assembly. They had fleeced Kenyans throughout Kibaki’s reign and were bent on continuing that legacy under Uhuru Kenyatta. For that reason, the Civil Society  organized a rare demo in which  several pigs were delivered at the gates of the august house with plenty of blood for pigs to feed on the whole of that morning. Some pigs were even branded with names of the most vocal MPs that were baying for Sarah Serem’s blood. Yes Kenyans wanted to tell MPs that they were as greedy as pigs if not worse!

With all this drama around us, the public got busy debating the merits and demerits of the two august houses.

Right now we have 67 members of the Senate and over 300 members of the National Assembly. They are all on the same salary scale even though senators represent  larger constituencies seven times larger than MPs.
In fact the current parliament looks like a school  hall where the Speaker finds it difficult to know the names of his MPs. One wonders what meaningful debate goes on in there considering the numbers to deal with let alone their diversity.

If indeed Kenyans choose to disband one house, recent events have shown that there is more sense and maturity residing in the Senate. Removing over 300 MPs from the payroll and sending them home would save this country billions of shillings not to mention wrangles and cheap debates now preoccupying the National Assembly.

The size of our country, our economy and population does not need  310 MPs to squander our meager resources. If America’s 50 states can only elect 400  Reps to Congress to serve its 300 million people with a land mass of a half a continent, we have no business trying to outdo them in parliamentary representation.

Kenya can best be served by the Senate comprising of 67 members.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
May 21, 2013

Having been born and raised in the USA, there is something that Barack Obama doesn’t get. He is missing the point of being a blood relation of a larger and even extended family in the true African sense of the word.

However, despite an early troubled family life soon after he was born and hardly knowing his father in the true sense of the word, Barack had the courage and presence of mind to come to Kenya, on his own at the age of 19 to look for his roots and reestablish that family relationship that he badly needed to give him strength to embark on the journey to greatness.

When Barack first came to Kenya, he was neither a Senator nor the President of the United States. He was not yet a world class celebrity. In fact he was carefree single young man of 19.

However, coming to Kenya then inspired him to write his first book, “Dreams of My Father” that did not sell well initially. Indeed books by great men sell faster than those penned by ordinary mortals. The sales of his books only shot up after he became president.

His second visit to Kenya was soon after getting married to Michelle. He brought his wife to be introduced to Jo'Kogello.

His third and last visit to Kenya was in 2006 when he was already a Senator of Illinois and alumni of the Harvard Law School. This visit had all the trappings of American power. He was heavily guarded by Marines wherever he went including Kogelo.

However, unlike the previous visits, protocol and security considerations did not allow him to sleep in his grandmother’s hut like he had done in the past. This time, he didn’t have the luxury of carrying millet and maize corn to a nearby posho mill for grinding. If anything, despite the ecstasy with which the entire Kenyan society received him, more so the euphoria that greeted him in Alego Kogelo, he only spent a few minutes in his father’s compound and returned to Nairobi to round up his trip in Kenya.

At this point, he had not even declared his interest in the American presidential race which was just two years away.  And when he chose to announce that he was in the race for the White House, Kenya, like the rest of the world was stunned!  Questions on everyone’s lips were: Did he have what it takes to run for the White House? Did he have a critical mass of voters? Did he have vast resources to make it to the finishing line? More critically, how would he handle his worthy opponent, Hilary Clinton who was white, had the cash and name recognition far greater than this son of a Kenyan? Could he beat Hilary Clinton at the Democratic Primaries then face John McCain of the Republican Party?

Despite these daunting handicaps, Kenyans who had seen him perform at the University of Nairobi’s Great Court during his public lecture somehow believed in him. Yes, he was following in the footsteps of Jesse Jackson another African American who had also run for that office way back in 1984. Somehow most people believed that this lanky son of a Kenyan had the power of persuasion.

In the entire period of primaries, most Americans had written him off. They knew he would be trounced by Hilary Clinton. The only people who believed in him were young Americans and Kenyans at home and Diaspora. In fact it reached a point when every African country including Nigeria was claiming Obama’s heritage.

The frenzy about Barack Obama knew no bounds in Kenya. He was the talk of the town in every social place and village.

I remember visiting the United States in December 2008 soon after he had won the presidency. Any taxi driver I used marvelled at the rate at which Kenya was colonizing the United States. His inauguration became a must attend event even for top government officials that were not invited.

However, when this Kenyan American entered the White House, something happened between him and his fatherland. Most Kenyans expected a triumphant return of their son after winning the American presidency. It never happened. Instead he visited Egypt and Ghana in a fleeting trip that took just hours. He gave Kenya a wide berth.

At that time, Kenyans were not amused but somehow were content with the theory that Kenya’s disputed elections that had turned violent could have been the reason Obama avoided Kenya. However, despite calm returning to the country following the signing of the Grand Coalition between Kibaki and Raila, still Obama avoided Kenya. He completed his first term without setting foot on Kenya.

Because of this lukewarm approach to Kenya in his first presidency, there was significant reduction of enthusiasm in Obama’s presidency when he embarked on his second campaign in 2012. The euphoria of his first term had dissipated. Kenyans had learnt the hard way that Obama was not a Kenyan but an American President. So, when he won elections and despite sending a message of congratulations to Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, Kenyans saw for what it really was, a PR exercise.

It was therefore no surprise among Kenyans when they woke up early this week to learn from the American State Department that Obama’s second trip to Africa had again deleted Kenya. Instead, he would travel to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.
Those who know are explaining that he cannot visit Kenya as long as the current President Kenyatta and William Ruto still face charges at the ICC.

While this may be true, it cannot be the main reason to stop him from visiting his fatherland. It has to do with lack of attachment to the country he has really never called home.

On the flip side; maybe it is a good thing that he is not coming here. More often than not the harassment and humiliation the State Department subjects the host country to on such occasions is not worth it.