UHURU’S ELOQUENCE ADMIRABLE

Six months after taking over the presidency, Uhuru Kenyatta has established himself as one of the greatest speakers of our time. This is a hidden talent Kenyans did not notice during his years in KANU and even during his term as a Minister in Mwai Kibaki’s government. His flair was not picked at public political rallies either. It is therefore possible the talent would have remained hidden had Kenyans not elect him President of our great country. 

The first time the country heard Uhuru speak as a national leader – on the day of his inauguration – Kenyan’s were awed by his eloquence, his smooth delivery of lines, his poise and his confidence. That speech was in complete contrast to the boring, repetitive, poorly written and badly delivered speeches by Presidents Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki. For comparison purposes, Uhuru’s aptitude comes very close to the vibracy exhibited by his father, founder President Jomo Kenyatta, whose booming voice and strong delivery at the height of his career were legendary.

It is not only that Uhuru has employed more youthful, more educated and more qualified speech writers. It is that he is more concerned with what gets in his speeches. The information available is that Uhuru works closely with his speech writers. It is a collaborative effort. He injects ideas, improves on ideas already made and makes changes over and over until the final product is ready for delivery. The cardinal rule about speeches is that the writer and the deliverer must be in sync. The writer must understand the mind and the reading ability of the deliverer. It makes no sense for a writer to use difficult, bombastic words the deliverer is not able to pronounce.

Uhuru’s inaugural speech was a masterpiece. “We will leave no community behind…Let us remember that although we may not be bound together by ethnicity, or cultural practices or religious convictions, our kinship rests solidly upon the fact that we have all been adopted by Kenya’s borders. We are children of this nation. We are all bound to one constitution which calls to us to rise above our individual ideologies and march to our national anthem.”

Compare that to the highly-praised speech by Senator Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

“Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation, not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise summed up in a declaration made over 200 years ago: We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.”

A great speech must convey one idea even though it may have many points. In both cases, the theme of both Uhuru’s and Obama’s speeches was: reconcilliation, one idea. By quoting the National Athem in Kenya and the Constitution in the United States, Uhuru and Obama, wanted to affirm their commitment to the rule of the law and to galvanise all citizens regardless of their race, tribe, gender or religion. Both speeches – though delivered in two completely different scenarios, before two different audiences – were delivered in a clear, bold voice using simple delivery technics such as shifts in tone, adherence to comas and full stops, and a show of emotion or firmness whenever necessary.

Another similarity between Obama and Uhuru is in their speech writing staff. Both their main writers are young. The person who is credited for crafting Uhuru’s inaugural speech is a 22-year old Julie Wang’ombe, still a student in the United States. John Favreau who left White House in March to pursue other careers was only 23 years old when he was spotted by Obama’s people in 2004. He spent seven years turning overpowering speeches for the US leader. That does not mean that presidents rely on only one speech writer. Usually there are several, of different backgrounds and training. I am sure that is what is happening at State House.

After that speech in Chicago, Obama’s profile rose to amazing levels paving the way for his election as the 44th President of the United States. In Kenya, people have begun to pay attention to Uhuru a man who was rejected as a Moi project in the 2002 elections. Moi must be a proud and a happy man today.

Uhuru hit the mark again when he stood to address Kenyans at the conclusion of the counter-terrorism operations at the Westgate. He was firm, unthreatened and clear on the path Kenya wants to take in the fight against terrorism. The delivery was statesmanlike and authoritative.  “Our attackers wished to destroy the essential character of our society. They failed. Kenya endured. Kenya endures.” Classic.

The advise to speech writers from Forbes is basic: Keep your speech simple with a clear beginning, middle and end. Focus on the theme and eliminate everything else.

As a former speech writer myself, I agree.

And that is my say.

 

 

KENYA CHIEF JUSTICE SWIMMING IN HOT SOUP

I don’t think Willy Mutunga knew what he was getting into when he packed his personal belongings and left his cushy offices at the Ford Foundation in Nairobi early in 2011 to join the Judiciary as Chief Justice and President of the Kenya Supreme Court. If he thought by leaving a relatively safe job at an international Non-Governmental Organisation for the coveted position he would get an easy ride, he must now be having different thoughts. 

Dr. Mutunga joined the Government at a time when the dignity, the reputation and the respect for the third Branch of Government were at their lowest ebb. Kenyans had lost confidence in the Judiciary. The morale of judges and magistrates was   zero. Corruption and nepotism were rampant. Hundreds of cases were pending, and prisoners were languishing in remand prisons because there were no judges to conclude their cases.  Bottom line: the Judiciary was no longer a place where citizens could go to find justice.  

Enter Dr. Willy Mutunga, a political activist, human rights lawyer, pro-democracy crusader and an intellectual per  excellence. Conformists took one glimpse at him and saw a stud on his left ear and they went beserk. But Mutunga’s academic and social credentials carried the day. He impressed the majority of Kenyans and received thumbs-up from the international community. Finally, and for the first time, the country had a real reformer at the helm of the Judiciary. That was then.

Today, the Chief Justice is so mired in controversies that Kenyans may want to take another look at the man who was detained for almost a year by President Daniel Arap Moi for agitating for political reforms. Soon after taking over, Dr. Mutunga issued a well-documented road map that was to yank the department from years of inertia, ignominy and compunction. But two years down the line, his comprehensive reforms and anti-corruption agenda appear bogged down in mud.

From the controversial vetting of judges, to the dispute over the presidential petition ruling, to the Gladys Shollei affair, to claims of death threats made by the Chief Justice himself, things have, as someone once said, become elephant for the soft-spoken former law professor. What all these events prove is that the office of the Chief Justice is hot, and requires a dose of tact, a bucket of diplomacy and a tonne of guts for its occupier to stay sane. At one time when Mutunga was under siege, he took to the social media to make his views known, but he was quickly reminded that his position called for a better method of communication. Considering his age, at 67, Mutunga has a few more years before he retires at 70 years old. That means three more years of hard knocks, controversies, abuses and humiliation. 

Mutunga’s latest battle with the judges over office space is likely to lead to a showdown that could disrupt the activities of the Judiciary. Appelant judges have refused to move to their new offices at Upper Hill claiming they would be in danger of radiation from nearby communication masts. Although the Commnication Commission of Kenya has said the premises are safe, some judges have reportedly threatened to resign if Mutunga insisted on their relocation. He will need Solomonic wisdom to deal with this one. The Chief Justice is currently on a tour abroad. When he returns another fight will be waiting for him, this time from the floor of the National Assembly.

A Member of Parliament has asked the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee to summon the Judicial Service Commission to question its members about Mutunga’s current overseas trip. The MP is questioning not only the rationale of Mutunga and two of his top officials being away at the same time, but he wants Parliament to get answers about his alleged frequent visits overseas. Ndung’u Gethenji, the MP for Tetu cites the present office space stalemate and the issues surrounding the Chief Registrar who was briefly suspended and then recalled to duty by the JSC over matters of precurement, as some of the reasons that should have kept the Chief Justice at home. The Shollei issue is not over 

A lot more is on the way. Constitutionally, it would be difficult for a committee of the House to summon the JSC to explain anything. The Judiciary and Parliament are parallel bodies with independent powers. The JSC has refused to appear once before, and I see no indication that it will offer itself this time around.

And that is my say.

Let’s wipe out inefficiency and cut wastage

Government agencies have over the years returned trillions of shillings to the Treasury as a result of fiscal ineptness. We saw it all in the three previous administrations of Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki. The cavalier attitude on the part of our civil servants underscores the level of inertia and impunity in government. I was therefore not surprised this past week when the Controller of Budget issued yet another red card to ministries and departments that failed to utilise billions of shillings meant for recurrent and development purposes.

During the fourth quarter of this financial year ending June 30, four hundred billion shillings from the revised budget of 1.15 trillion shillings was not spent. More than 240 billion meant for development purposes was unutilised even as our hospitals remain under-staffed and under-equipped; our roads pot-holed; most of our schools in decrepit condition; and our people go thirsty for lack of water

The Budget Implementation Review Report comes soon after another report revealed that six out of the 47 counties had failed to spend half of the money allocated to them during the first four months of this year. Among those cited for fiscal inefficiency were Kilifi, Makueni and Lamu counties, areas known for high illiteracy rates, poverty and infrastructural under-development. Lamu, for example, spent only 27 million of the 157 million received from the Treasury.
This is despicable. The whole idea of introducing the devolved system of government was to trickle down resources to the grass-roots. Among those resources are finances to enable counties undertake development projects according to their own needs. This is certainly not happening in some counties. But even in those counties where money has been spent, questions have been raised about good fiscal practices. County officers have been accused of everything from fraud to corruption. It appears now that the disease of poor money management that is afflicting central government departments has now been devolved to the counties.
The bottom line is that a whole lot of streamlining, coordination and monitoring are required if this country is to meet its long-term development goals. We have to dismantle the laissez-faire attitude that has come to characterise our public service; tighten human resources nuts and bolts; and make civil servants accountable for their actions, individually and collectively.
But there is something else we must do: cut down on wastage. Statistics show the government spends 124 billion shillings every year in purchasing goods and services. Out of that amount 30 billion shillings is lost through corrupt and fraudulent schemes. Once we complete the implementation of the devolved government, that loss will undoubtedly go up.
When President Uhuru Kenyatta was the finance minister in 2009, the government bought dozens of low-capacity vehicles to replace high-capacity fuel guzzlers used by senior government officials. The argument was that the state was spending two billion shillings a year more to fuel and service the large collection of Mercedes Benz, Toyota Land Cruisers and Volvos, when the government could use the money for other purposes. The vehicles were stored in government warehouses and a shodddy auction was conducted that didn’t yield much. Many of those vehicles are still rotting in warehouses with no clear indication as to what the government plans to do with them. If more transparent methods of disposal were to be put in place, the government could make a few millions from sales with money going towards reducing our three-trillion shilling budget deficit.
The same can be said of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of government vehicles gathering dust and providing shelter to chickens in all counties. The fact that they were left in a state of disrepair to the extent that they are now only useful to scrap dealers, says a lot about the conduct of the provincial and district officials in the previous governments.
And talking about scrap, how come we allow our roads and bridges to be so vandalised as to render them an eyesore? When the section between Miritini and Mazeras at the Coast was completed, it was a jewel to motorists using it. Within a few months, the metal and steel barriers that marked the boundary on the two-way highway were sawed off and carted away, making maneuvering around bends in that section a safety hazard.
We may want to blame the Chinese for shoddy work, but the Thika highway is no longer the joy of commuters after everything including road signs, barriers and even sewer caps were stolen. Who are these scrap barons that the government cannot shame and prosecute? These shadowy characters do not care about our safety, our environment or our pride. They only care about money. But since the government is the one that licences and regulates them, why hasn’t it taken any action to deregister the companies and prosecute the owners?
We know the government has a full plate, but we must wipe out inefficiency in our civil service and curb wastage of resources as matter of urgency.
And that is my say.

THE VAT CRISIS: UHURU’S ACHILLES’ HEEL?

the joe khamisi report

If Uhuru Kenyatta had listened to the views of 86 percent of the people polled by Ipsos Synovate way back in June, Kenyans would not be grappling with high consumer prices and the government would not have been rattled by a visceral wave of discontent in the country today.

Through the research company, Kenyans expressed apprehension over the VAT Bil 2013, a piece of legislation intended to impose higher taxation on goods, mostly those consumed by ordinary people. No one listened to them. And by passing the Bill at night, our legislators – in a hurry to clear their desks and head home to enjoy perks extorted from Kenyans – demonstrated a level of recklessness and a faux pas likely to damage them in 2017.

Listening to Kenyans complain about higher prices for items such as milk, cooking fat, electricity supply, books and mobile phones, I get the impression that the…

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THE VAT CRISIS: UHURU’S ACHILLES’ HEEL?

If Uhuru Kenyatta had listened to the views of 86 percent of the people polled by Ipsos Synovate way back in June, Kenyans would not be grappling with high consumer prices and the government would not have been rattled by a visceral wave of discontent in the country today.

Through the research company, Kenyans expressed apprehension over the VAT Bil 2013, a piece of legislation intended to impose higher taxation on goods, mostly those consumed by ordinary people. No one listened to them. And by passing the Bill at night, our legislators – in a hurry to clear their desks and head home to enjoy perks extorted from Kenyans – demonstrated a level of recklessness and a faux pas likely to damage them in 2017.

Listening to Kenyans complain about higher prices for items such as milk, cooking fat, electricity supply, books and mobile phones, I get the impression that the Uhuru government – either by omission or commission – has plunged head-on into its first  mass crisis. Food – like sports – is one commodity that galvanises Kenyans irrespective of party or political affiliations. I am not surprised therefore that for the first time since the government took office, Kenyans are solidly united that life has become unbearable.

Experience in other countries that have had similar situations makes it imperative for the Uhuru administration to tread very, very carefully in dealing with this matter of survival. The government is sitting on a powder keg which, if not diffused in good time, could lead to mass mobilisation that could then yield an upheaval. If our leaders do not believe me, let them go to the archives and read what happened in Egypt, Tunisia, Bolivia and Mozambique. It is only those governments that successfully managed to deal with food-related crises that survived, The rest perished.

Originally, Kenyans were told the Bill would “simplify, modernise and reduce cost of compliance” – whatever that means. What we are seeing since Uhuru signed the Bill into law is an entirely different scenario. Prices have gone up and people are disappointed by their government. On top of that, traders are exploiting consumers by hoarding goods and haphazardly raising prices for products outside the tax bracket.

All processed foodstuffs including dairy products are now taxable at 16 percent VAT, in some cases raising retail prices by up to 14 percent. From now on, Kenyans will find it more difficult to buy computers, mobile phones and even condoms, because of the tax changes.

The government’s claim that the pain to consumers will be short-term is not only insolent and fatuous but also extremely insensitive to the suffering wananchi.

I know the government is money-strapped. From the tax changes it expects to raise 10 billion shillings to help meet its budget commitments. We have a huge budget deficit, thanks to the increase wage bill brought about by the creation of the devolved government. It is true also that the external debt is weighting heavily on the new administration because of excessive borrowing, but charging more taxes on bread-and-butter items is not the way to go.

This situation is already giving the opposition ammunition to bash the government. Raila Odinga, knowing this could be Uhuru’s Achilles heels, has already warned of a looming disaster. And the fact that the crisis is hitting at a time when our leaders are fighting off serious charges against humanity before the ICC in the Hague, makes Kenya’s immediate future worrisome.

And talking about ICC, I see no reason for Kenyan legislators to dramatise the issue by trooping to the Netherlands to show support for the deputy president. William Ruto is quite capable of handling the knocks with the help of his lawyers. He does not need politicians to give him moral support at the Hague. If they want to offer support, they should remain at home and pray.

The only advice I can give in this: Instead of Parliament convening to talk about pulling out of the Rome Statutes, it should move a motion of adjournment to repeal the offending sections in the VAT Act.

And that is my say.