RIGHT OF REPLY: KIKUYUS’ ‘LAZY’ FOODS

mmThe last one week has been marred by inflated level of intolerance from one Nyanchwani, a blogger who castigated foods closer to the hearts of Agikuyu people, to Gor Mahia hooliganisms after they descended Machakos town, hammer and tongs. We also witnessed the resurface of infamous ‘Men in Black’ this time round featuring rogue ODM MCAs mishandling and humiliating poor ODM Executive Director Hon. Magerer Langat yesterday for allegedly being a ‘Jubilee mole’. At the global scale Burkina Faso was battling unprecedented unrest as demonstrations engulfed the capital, torching down the country’s Parliament buildings, ruling party headquarters, national radio station and many other strategic buildings, all in a day’s work.

Delving on matters food and the slanderous remarks from  blogger Nyanchwani, legions of us, Kikuyu speaking or not were flabbergasted by the sheer recklessness of this blogger who am made to understand works in one of the highly respected media houses after penning down a condescending article making fun of foods associated with Kikuyus . My only question after reading this cheap article was, did someone force food down his throat?  As a matter of fact, I have tremendous respect for all tribes in Kenya, stereotypes notwithstanding, including Kisiis.

They say a lie will have travelled half around the world by the time the truth puts on its shoes. That can be affirmed by the worrying trend that has emerged since the inception of social media, negative publicity means more traffic. It’s sad when professional journalists act in a similar way to quarks, disregarding all ethics, trashing decorum as far as journalism is concerned and acting with outright impunity. These are the same culprits giving blogging such a bad name by concocting half-truths, shallow research not to mention the advancement of primitive negative ethnicity through blogging. It’s uncivil and the highest level of mediocrity, for lack of better words, it’s a mark of a lazy writer; quite unfortunate indeed.

That Kikuyus are tired of being discriminated and lampooned upon is an understatement. After Somalis, the other tribe that is highly profiled is arguably the Kikuyus. This notion of people dragging some communities to one basket, subsequently profiling and ridiculing their over a century old culture, is the lowest level of ignorance. My rights as a Kenyan have being grossly violated and secondly as a person who learnt Kikuyu as the first language. How are Kikuyus to blame for ‘githeri’, a hodgepodge of maize and beans being, the most common food offered in secondary schools in Kenya?

Actually the essence of my response as a Kikuyu bred through mukimo and other Kikuyu foods since childhood is not about justifying how Kikuyus have tasty foods. Am here to draw attention to a carefully choreographed trajectory by a section of Kenyans who in their wisdom get fulfillment when they throw scurrilous remarks to the Agikuyu people verbally or otherwise. Remember when Hon.Kalonzo Mosyoka asked a journalist what his name was and continued to say, “That says it all!” Nyachwani in his own words says; “it does not matter if they have the presidency, hold key positions in government, military…..” This parochial ideology of equating Kikuyus to presidency and government is despicable especially coming from a professional journalist. Apart from the elitist in Kenya who savour the trappings of power, the typical Kikuyu ’endures hard economic times like any other ‘Wanjiku.’

Nyachwani has no kind words for Kikuyu relatively ‘early – civilisation’ compared to other tribes. He interestingly calls it ‘geographical accident’ for their proximity to the capital. Again am worried by the mere harbor of this level of primitive mentality. Why should someone question Kikuyus being closer to Nairobi while historically they’ve always lived around the Central highlands of Kenya? In any case we have thousands of families from other tribes living in the formerly known as Central Province. Today if you have a million plus shilling in your bank account, what will stop you from  buying a plot somewhere in Gachie or Ruiru, regardless of your tribe? I feel sad when learned Kenyans tread this narrow line of argument, of open ended stereotyping our beautiful country and its people. Is it also by accident that Kisiis were also plucked somewhere in Congo and dropped along the richly endowed highlands of formerly known as Nyanza province?

It’s offending for anybody to abuse freedom of speech as enshrined in our constitution to advance hatred and defamatory remarks against any tribe in Kenya in the name of “saying it like it is”. It’s unwarranted especially when we have a very sensitive citizenry that can easily disintegrate on each other. Rwanda has a bad history which they’ve endeavored to bury deep in their emotional ocean, so has Kenya after the 2007-08 skirmishes. I rest my case.

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MCAs, BIGOTRY AND BODYGUARDS

mmaOn the chilly day of 27th August 2010, Kenya promulgated one of the most progressive constitutions in the recent past. Amongst the great benefits of this new constitution was devolution. Speaking of devolution, the constitution gave immense powers to Members of County Assembly. Previously, councillors were controlling meager municipal council collections which were not near sh.100 million averagely. Fast forward now, MCAs are dancing with tremendous figures of not less than sh. 3 billion. During the last elections, it didn’t hit the electorate that much of the progress of counties solely depended with the quality of men and women they voted in to sit at the county assemblies. Forget the noise on referendum, where in the world do people demand more money without accounting for what they have beforehand.

MCAs work is now akin to what the National Assembly does in Nairobi; legislate, oversight and represent. period. Unlike the past when the country depended on the mercy of government of the day for development to see light of the day, with devolution, power is squarely placed on the hands of county governments. It is up to the leaders you voted to enact progressive laws, ensure prudency and accountability of tax payers’ money and more importantly uphold the highest level of integrity.

We are all cognizant of the fact, that is easier said than done. In fact integrity or lack of it, is what will draw the line between successful counties and failed ones. The cliche of blaming the national government every now and then will fade with time. We must realize the rain will start beating us if we do not hold our MCAs accountable. It can no longer be business as usual if we let bureaucracy, mediocrity, and unprofessionalism to be the new norm of county governments. How we start the trajectory will go a long way in influencing how we finish. It’s just like the constructor of house gambling with a weak foundation; it will end up affecting the whole building.

We must subject MCAs to the highest level of accountability. My heart bleeds with pain when we hear of MCAs holding governors at ransom across the country. If it is not demand for unavailing trips abroad, its advocacy for hefty allowance, bribes and bodyguards to guard them round the clock. No one cares about ‘Wanjiku’s’ security. The highest spending practices are on salaries, travel and conferences. For a long time we blamed Moi for bringing down the economy in the 90s. What we do not know, is how many thousands of ‘Mois’ we have sired since he relinquished power. It’s sad that we that we have devolved corruption and domesticated it.

The Office of Controller of Budget has put Members of the County Assemblies on notice over spending billions of shillings on foreign trips at the expense of developing legislation and facilitating county activities. The County Budget Implementation Review report, which covers the first quarter of the 2013-2014 fiscal year, raised some eyebrows when it was released to the public January 8th. The report revealed that county governments spent 13.33 billion shillings ($155.2 million) from July to September 2013. These expenditures were classified into four categories: personnel emoluments, operations and maintenance, development, and servicing of debts and pending bills. Of the total spending, 55% went towards personal emoluments, 38% for operations and maintenance, and only 7% towards development programmes. Out of Kenya’s 47 counties, 27 spent no money on development projects. The other 20 counties spent 872.9 million shillings ($10.2 million) on development activities, with the highest ratio of development expenditure to total expenditure in Nyeri (30.3%), Tana River (26.0%) and Tharaka Nithi (25.5%). The report also found that the counties spent 1.1 billion shillings ($12.4 million) on domestic and foreign travel, 241.9 million shillings ($2.8 million) on conferences, and 161 million shillings ($1.9 million) on training.

Narrowing down on Makueni County, a typical county that has been marred by infighting, high voltage politics, never ending ultimatums and blackmail, it has been a sad story to even write about.  There were reports running around that MCAs were paid sh. 100,000 to impeach Governor Kivutha only to realize the latter was spearheading dissolution of the county government through collection of signatures to bring up a petition. He termed the differences as’ irreconcilable.’ For Makueni County and the rest of Africa, that was unheard of, our leaders never quit, they die in office; ask President Mugambe. Am told Kivutha Kibwana is by far popular than a cross section of the MCAs, who by the way know too well once bitten, twice shy. This has caused many of them to wag tails between their legs ‘praying’ status quo will prevail.

Bottom line: we have much ground to cover. Devolution will make or break our very sensitive economy. If MCAs will be led by bigotry and continue enacting unattainable and irrational taxes hence scaring and chasing away investors, we will ‘cry in the toilet.’ The buck stops with the electorate; our future depends on whether we can discern leaders who bend rules from those who embrace integrity to longevity.

BEGGARS, SALVATION & THE STRANGLED EMPATHY

kkkIt’s on a Friday, 6:30 in the evening and I have just walked out of a barbershop heading home. I meet a woman on a wheelchair being aided by a man and they look shabbily dressed. The woman is holding a small tin with dozens of coins, actually it’s almost full. They wave at me to catch my attention. I ignore them initially but think twice almost immediately, only to make a retreat, get a few coins from my pocket and drop them at the tin with a fake smile.

This would later be the action that haunted me for the rest of the night. Sometimes back, I had made a quiet resolution that thou shall never give money to a typical beggar. My bothered mind was wondering what happened? How did I give in? How did they manage to arm-twist and disarm me so effortlessly? I have watched numerous news items on how beggars in Kenya operate cartels big time, how they make tens of thousands in a day; how they brood and sprout to overnight millionaires at the very glare of our face. What magic do they use to defile our intelligence? For the better part of the night, I was stuck in that thought and shuttered. I shudder to imagine how every night some people laugh their way to the back, reminiscing how the day was money-wise; how they abuse our gullibility day in day out.

It’s an open secret that thousands of disabled men, women and kids are smuggled into the country from Tanzania and other neighbouring countries. Why Kenya is a destination of choice for human traffickers is due to the ‘generosity and general gullibility’ of Kenyans. Thanks to our porous borders, and money craving border officials, it becomes easy for these villains to go about their businesses unperturbed, compromising security personnel almost at will. In Nanyuki , a relatively small town where I work, there is an influx of street beggars, inventing new tricks and swapping streets every day. They are so organized that at designated hours, for instance, lunch time, a random guy will appear and drop them some packed meals. Whenever it rains, an accomplice will sneak in an umbrella and disappear in the thin air.

Awhile back, a guy walking ahead of me happened to drop some coins to a beggar and went ahead to give me a suggestive look meaning I should have taken cue too. I got into loggerheads with him after he barked at me for not being philanthropic enough like him. He went ahead to give me free advice, about how noble it is to give something small to maskini wa mungu. My instincts told me this was just but an accomplice doing PR to a fellow partner in crime. This week, I met an elderly man with a tattered old booklet, with quite a number of names and signatures penned on it.  Just because he was limping, made him imagine he was qualified to be beggar and that he had unanimous permission to connive and swindle hardworking Kenyans to donate some few cash. He in fact tried to compel me, to part with something small, not to mention his never ending tales and ultimatums. What followed was distraught on my face, wondering how daring these day light swindlers can be.

Three months ago, an erstwhile good friend of mine whom I had not met for several years, called me. After the usual preambles prodding on life and pummeling me with questions on relationships and job matters, the conversation was interrupted by an awkward silence. She needed money to support her in a church mission that would take her one year away from home, family and friends. In fact she wasn’t in a position to work for the entire period, meaning her life would automatically depend on the generosity of others. She was supposed to raise at least sh.20,000 every month and forward it to the church leaders just like her church colleagues and leave it to their discretion, to manage it. The said lady whose name I have withheld for prudence purpose is a beautiful, young graduate, full of life. For a moment, I was sad for her, for no apparent reason.

I didn’t know how to react or what to say. At the end of the conversation I was naturally left with so many questions. How do some churches expect one to survive for an entire year without working, in the name of advocating the gospel?  I’m not opposed to church programs whose goal is to convert non-believers out there to believers, in any case I’m an active supporter of church projects. But more fundamentally, I’m a shrewd realist.

We must, as a society draw the line between extreme -solicit and generosity. It’s wrong for a section of the society, church included, to push the envelope too far and to ride on our kindness. I hate the mere thought of laziness and its advocators. These are my thoughts, no offence intended.

THE NOSTALGIC WEEK

uMy waking up on Thursday morning coincided with the President’s plane taxing along the runaway of JKIA. He was finally back or so were the screaming headlines from most TV screens. Given that we are a reactionary country, somehow traffic along the busy highways of Nairobi was affected in the very peculiar way, a whole two hours before President Uhuru traversed through Mombasa Road, Outer ring Road, Jogoo Road and Harambee Avenue. UhuRuto government has successfully manipulated the ICC fever to their advantage, creating a sympathetic narrative, legions relate to. If the masses that braved the scorching sun are anything to go by, then the summons by ICC judges was indeed a blessing in disguise for the current government. Somehow the CORD brigade and governors push for a referendum has been squashed to obscurity at least for the meantime. The government saw this as a springboard to rally confidence and popularity amongst Kenyans.

We all can reckon from the hindsight, that it was a tough but worthy decision of the President attending the status conference. Of course the ugly irony is that of the hype, one year ago by Kenyan government, mobilizing the whole continent to have a common stand against the ICC. The extra ordinary summit through majority voting, declared no sitting President from Africa would ever attend any hearing at the ICC. This brings me to one thing I have noted about President Uhuru. He is never afraid of going against the grain. It was no surprise to me that despite a lot of quiet pressure from his counterparts, notably President Museveni, he still defied that force for the obvious reasons of putting Kenya first and more importantly, not putting the sovereignty of this country on trial. Politically, him standing out as a law abiding President and also humble enough to honour the summons at the Hague, will change so many peoples’ perceptions, especially those that had a negative opinion of him from way before.

The President in a very elaborate way, bequeathing the instruments of power to his deputy, Hon William Ruto was unprecedented.  The last time we had an Acting President, was during the sudden death of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta when the then Vice President Moi took the whims of power. In his capacity for the two days, Acting President Ruto had an enviable experience at the hot seat; he was phenomenal chairing meeting after meeting even without the symbolic aide de camp. To that extent, it is good news for Africa at a time when many African countries are marred by infighting and political intolerance. As a country, it was even bigger news bearing in mind less than three years ago we were visibly tired of the constant wrangles of the coalition government. UhuRuto duo has struck a chemistry that they have jealously guided since they were included in the infamous Ocampo list. It is this seamless friendship, which later evolved to a high voltage brand, that helped Jubilee team to have a head start in the campaigns and in winning the March 2013 elections.

Insofar, it was a good week, until Mike Sonko appeared in his typical uncivil style, clad in an insulting T-shirt. It was not only unnecessary but simply sad.  Anybody outside of this country is an ambassador of this great nation, automatically. Sonko portrayed the shallowness in our political circles which we have naively tolerated and give in to, because he somehow appears to be ‘philanthropic’. Philanthropic my foot! We’d rather vote in a broke chap who is visionary and upholds good values of the society than have somebody in the same position, money loaded with no clear sources, trashing decorum boldly in the 21st century.

The jury is out, history and political pundits for a long time to come will have a field day delving and analyzing this very nostalgic week, which not many saw it coming.  Is it a sign of a maturing democracy and trust within the corridors of power? How will this very different style of leadership of UhuRuto government result to? Is it what Kenya has been missing for it to take off to the next level of an economic powerhouse? Time will tell.

On the flip side, there is so much to learn from the President invoking Article 147 of the Constitution, am not sure how many of your immediate bosses would leave you totally in charge of their positions. Insecurity is such a big thing in office setups. Let’s drift it even further, how many husbands by their status of being head of the family would trust their wives with all the ‘trappings of power’. How many In-laws would even tolerate a scenario where the wife or window to have the final say in family businesses? The President is clearly demonstrating that we cannot be prisoners of status quo. They say insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results. In fact while addressing Kenyans who shoved to catch a glimpse of him, the President emphasized on trust in leadership for this country to propel. This will go down as one nostalgic week which made some of us more prayerful and patriotic! Ultimately, we can only hope justice will prevail to the victims and the accused; and that whatever the verdict, this country will be a stronger state.

DO WE NEED SONKO-PHILANTHROPY?

rev.During his lecture in memory of the late Wangari Maathai at the Storymoja Festival recently, the celebrated playwright and poet Wole Soyinka called on all of us to be fundamentalists of liberty.  The same way terrorists are devoted in their doctrine, we should precisely in return give them a dose of their own medicine. It is this context that I feel cheated by one Mike Mbuvi  Sonko.  Whatever he is doing has nothing to do with philanthropy but what I would compare to pulling stunts. Now, before you throw shoes at me the Migori way, let’s indulge; when he pays air tickets for middle class Kenyans flying  to coast for serious businesses or holiday, how is that transformative leadership? What of dishing out money to youths or paying for shoppers’ wares? No pun intended to his overzealousness in kindness, in fact the good books talks of blessings to the hand that gives than which that receives. My only problem is when a politician insults or rather compromises our conscience through hiding under financial generosity. How sustainable is it to dish out money? He is only worsening a culture of citizens soliciting for money from their leaders. Assuming Sonko was rich enough to give all Kenyans a million shilling each, the question is, would he have solved all our problems? No, because our fundamental problems do not require money to solve them. Ignorance cannot be won through money; it’s a change of mindset that is needed. Wole Soyinka warned of acceptance of general status quo, it’s through its results that the likes of Al shabaab ideologies are borne, a catalyst of bad leadership.

This country needs systems that are working not politicians practicing populist politics. We need the leaders we voted for, to influence policies that can bring sustainable solutions to our afflictions. If we are talking about the senator initiating programs to assist vulnerable girls from the slums, through technical skills that can discourage them from being lured in ‘selling their bodies’; then we will be transforming the society. If he is compelling the county government to pay doctors and nurses on time as well have transparency and fairness in promotion, we will be moving in the right direction. If Mike Sonko would be putting pressure on national government to employ more teachers to reduce the ratio of teacher – pupil in the slums, I would be the happiest person. If he has so much money to give out, let him advice youths, women and men to form chamas that can sustain them through revolving funds. With that he will instill financial discipline in the society. Next time they will have no reason to queue for handouts. Money will never be adequate for any single person; we can only do so much with what we have.

Philanthropy has a connotation of sustainability and transformation, it brings long term solutions. Whatever Mike Sonko is doing is in fact, creating new problems. In any case it will be extremely catastrophic if we‘ll judge our leaders through their financial prowess. Americans were brave enough to vote overwhelmingly in 2008 for a black president Barrack Obama, yet he didn’t have any financial muscle at the expense of John McCain, in fact they mobilise funds to support a candidate of their choice.   In Africa we do not question the source of the money; we’re only interested in what it does. That’s the major underbelly, perhaps a reason why we’ll remain developing countries. If for instance the source is drug trafficking, meaning 60% of the population which makes up the youth is vulnerable, if the money is from illegal charcoal business, meaning weather patterns will change drastically, so will be the environment, and our very existence jeopardized, then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.  My point is, whether that money is channeled to build roads, or bring piped water closer home, it’s all in vain. It’s beyond being myopic.

For me, philanthropy is what Wings to Fly Initiative under the brain child of Dr.James Mwangi is impacting on our society.  Bright kids from humble backgrounds have doors of opportunities equally open as those of their counterparts from more privileged families. Philanthropy is what the celebrated icon Oprah Winfrey is doing through Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, training girls to be the best decision makers and leaders. Boniface Mwangi through his savings founded PAWA254, Nairobi’s unique social enterprise through which innovative professionals from diverse artistic fields exploit their creative genius to foster social change. A platform where photography, music, graffiti, poetry and journalism meet with one resolve, to promote positivism and offer inspiration.  That alone is by far more productive than giving random youths handouts.

With all the cash flowing freely from Senator Sonko, Nairobi is still on the list of shame with the largest urban slum in Africa and more continue to sprout in every corner you dart your eyes. As they say an apple does not fall far away from the tree. Her daughter went all loose in the press, attacking socialites claiming the ‘real socialites’ are from influential families who have ‘real money’ to afford the limelight. It’s one thing to be wealthy but it’s a totally different thing to be successful. It goes without saying, true success changes generations positively and it embraces wisdom.