Anyone who watched The Trend on NTV featuring Denis Itumbi, the State House digital guru recently, must have been left with a paroxysm of unanswered questions about the real role of the office of Digital, News Media and Diaspora Affairs at Uhuru Kenyatta’s State House.

The fast talking former blogger and trouble-shooter was facing a barrage of questions from the host, Larry Madowo and four Diaspora Kenyans, connected to the studios via video links.

I was unsatisfied with the answers and disappointed by the short time allocated to the interesting discussion. It was obvious too that the interviewers were left with more questions than answers. By the time the programme ended, one could see they were still hungry and thirsty for answers to their burning questions.

The youthful Itumbi mumbled and fumbled, gave half-answers or no answers at all, ignored some questions, confused Virginia with Washington DC, couldn’t articulate his job description, couldn’t tell whether he was a “personal assistant” appointed by the President or a civil servant hired by the Public Service Commission and periodically when caught off guard, dived under the cover of “digitalese’. At one point he promised to answer some of the questions in future interviews, a complete no no!

Itumbi talked of a modern data centre but could not be drawn into committing himself to what he promised the Diaspora in August: that “within two months” the government would launch a website to enable Kenyans abroad apply and receive an array of government services online. Through the system, they would be able to apply for passports, register companies, apply for land registration and make contributions to the NHIF without leaving their stations abroad. Everything was to be done with a click of a mouse. The so-called revolutionary “interactive web portal” was to have been launched by the end of October. We have seen nothing so far.

When the Directorate of Communication, of which Itumbi is a senior official, was established at State House, I was among the first to congratulate the division. I was happy that we were moving from an old order to a new era of information dissemination characterised by openness and truthfulness.

So far its chief, Manoah Isipisu, has done a great job as a Spokesman of the State. We have seen changes in the way official State House information is conveyed to the public. Positive changes have also been made in the  conduct of State functions.

I am also thrilled by Itumbi’s tweeting enthusiasm. Through his tweets we are now able to follow presidential events as they occur. But there is still a lot waiting to be done under the Diaspora docket.

When Itumbi was appointed, Kenyans living abroad complained that he lacked the right credentials and was unsuitable for the job. They argued he had never been a Diasporan and did not understand their challenges.

A few months ago, he went on the US-based, Kenyan-owned JamboBoston internet radio station to explain himself, but even after that, the Diasporans have remained unconvinced. When The Trend put him face to face with some of them, I expected him to rise to the occasion and dispel any perception out there that he was not up to kilter, but he blew up the opportunity.

The Diaspora is a very important constituency. An estimated two and half million Kenyans live abroad, bringing home about 100 billion shillings annually. They use their savings to invest in a variety of undertakings. Those who decide to return home for good bring with them crucial skills and expertise we need for development.

Next month, as a show of their solidarity with the country of their birth, hundreds of them will meet in Nairobi for their second Diaspora Homecoming Conference. The aim of the conference – which will also include returnees already settled in the country – is to “promote, nurture and sustain a mutually beneficial relationship…for national growth and development…”

A week before that there will be the Kenya Diaspora Conference in Arlington, Virginia, which will be graced by the Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Amina Mohamed, to discuss everything business.

Apart from those issues, I think the Diaspora should also bring to the table for discussion with government officials the pending matter of representation. With the kind of contribution they are making to our economy, it is only fair that everything must be done to allow them to vote and to be involved in the affairs of their mother country in a more direct, pragmatic way. This should include having a dedicated representative in the legislature to articulate their issues.

Before the elections last year, politicians and officials of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) made several trips abroad and promised Diasporans that they would vote. But later, excuses were given and they were shut out of the polls. That was a blatant injustice. That is why I feel representation must occupy a top place in the agenda of the forthcoming meetings.

In the meantime, Diasporans want to see more activity coming out of Itumbi’s office. As the interviewers put it, they want frequent “updates” and more aggressive engagements with officials in Nairobi on what concerns them. They also want clarification on the roles of Itumbi’s office vis a vis the Diaspora Desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Finally, Kenya may wish to emulate the way the Philippines treats its workers in foreign lands. Philippines has one of the highest numbers of workers abroad. In recognition of their role in the economy,  Filippino workers abroad are feted as heroes at home and every year the Manila government gives out special awards to honour its most distinguished workers.

Kenya could do the same.

And that is my say.

Never before in its 50-year old history has Kenya been entangled in a foreign relations mess as now.

If it was a boxing match, bill-boards would shout out: Kenya vs the World, or, the Underdog Against The Top Dog. It is a saga that resembles the Biblical tale of David vs Goliath. Unlike the story in the Good Book of Samuel, however, chances of the former winning over the latter are one to a zillion.

This high-profile diplomatic brawl, featuring an African country of 40 million people with an annual Gross Domestic Product of 37 billion US dollars against the industrialised West, with the United States and Britain alone reaching almost 20 trillion USD in GDP, is the biggest African story this year.

And it’s all about the International Criminal Court and the serious crimes preferred against President Uhuru Kenyatta, his Deputy William Ruto, and a former radio journalist Joshua Sang.

When the indictments were filed in 2011, both Uhuru and Ruto were ordinary citizens belonging to rival political parties in the disputed and violence-prone 2007 elections. Five years later, the two joined hands and won the presidency under the Jubilee flag. Since then it’s been drama all the way.

I am sure if Uhuru and Ruto had lost, we would not be seeing the threats, defiance and political posturing now dominating our lives. The AU would not have been involved. The UN would not have been bothered, and Kenyans would be concentrating on matters of bread and butter, not expending their energy on the Hague. But that is neither here nor there.

At independence Kenya had a well-defined foreign policy dictated by the manifesto of the ruling Kenya African National Union, Kanu, and based on the pillars of non-alignment, non-interference in internal affairs of other nations, peaceful existence, preservation of national security and adherence to the UN and OAU Charters.

The policy served us well throughout President Jomo Kenyatta’s rule and the first part of President Moi’s government. We earned respect for our neutrality particularly when we brought together opposing forces in Mozambique, the Congo, Angola and the Sudan, for peace negotiations.

As a result of our active engagement at the United Nations, we managed to attract the UN Environment Programme to Nairobi in 1972; and hosted 126 countries to the Annual Meetings of the Board of Governors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in 1973 – quite major achievements. Foreign aid and grants were flowing in and our economic indicators were good.

Things only changed after President Daniel Arap Moi came to power and instituted draconian laws aimed at suppressing his opponents. Kenya came under international criticisms over issues of governance and human rights, and for almost a decade our relations with the West suffered. President Moi kept the West at an arm’s length and declined to accept foreign assistance.

Under President Mwai Kibaki, our ties with the industrialised West normalised for a while, but things somersaulted during Kibaki’s second term when he shut off foreign envoys. He was angered by their refusal to recognise the 2007 poll results claiming they were rigged.

By the time Uhuru and Ruto took over the government in March, our ties with Britain, the US and most of Europe were in shambles. The West had made it clear they would not work with the Jubilee duo due to the pending ICC trials. Uhuru reacted by holding back on credentials from envoys of  countries such as Italy, France, Germany and Austria, making it almost impossible for their embassies to effectively conduct business.

With the ICC at the centre stage, Kenya canvassed the rest of Africa to push for a withdrawal from the Rome Statute. When that failed, it asked the UN Security Council, with the help of the AU, to defer the case for 12 months. Three permanent members of the Council, Britain, the US and France, abstained and the resolution collapsed.

And in a last desperate attempt, Kenya tried to push for an amendment to the Rome Statutes to bar the prosecution of sitting Heads of State, their Deputies, Prime Ministers and their deputies. Like all the other efforts directed at the ICC and the UN, that initiative also failed.

This puts Kenya in a very awkward place now: it can continue with its hostility towards the West and risk the consequences; agree to the British proposal for a video link trial; or go ahead with the Hague cases as if nothing had happened.

Tantrums or incidents such as the one we saw this past week in which British diplomats were harassed, or threats to close down British military camps in Kenya, will not make the ICC trials go away. Instead, such grandstanding will drive this country deeper into unnecessary diplomatic confrontations with the rest of the world.

My conclusion is that Kenya’s foreign policy is wobbling and appears to be moving away from the core goals envisioned by our founders. And although diplomacy is dynamic and changes with times, our jerk to the left of centre is unlikely to make us a happier nation.

And that is my say.

WHO FIXED WHO ON THE ICC CASES NO LONGER MATTERS

The matter of who fixed who and who “coached” witnesses in relation to the ongoing Kenyan cases at the Hague remains shrouded in mystery. So far, we only know definitively of freelance journalist Walter Barasa who is fighting extradition to the International Criminal Court on allegations he interfered with witnesses.

Now, we are being told there may be others. What  Senator Charles Keter said last week shocked Kenyans. He came out with “smoking-gun” claims that some senior officials in the Jubilee government were “Judas Iscariot” who led William Ruto to the “gallows” to face a variety of charges against humanity allegedly committed after the 2007 disputed elections.

In his allegations at a church function, Keter did not name names, but he left no doubt that those he had in mind – ten of them according to him – are big players in Uhuru Kenyatta’s government. “It is a shame,” he said, “that the same people who wanted to fix Ruto are still comfortably in government.”

The implication of Keter’s assertion was immediate. It sent shivers through the coalition and appeared to inject an element of distrust between Uhuru’s men and women on one side, and Ruto’s people on the other. The fact that a senior official in Uhuru’s government wrote an angry letter to Ruto’s lawyers demanding an apology showed how sensitive the matter was. Many also feared the matter could create a rift in the government, a frightening scenario at this early stage of the Jubilee government.

Keter’s allegations were intriguing because soon after he made them, the Majority Leader in Parliament, the influential Aden Duale who should have supported Keter, quickly dismissed them, categorically saying no one in the government “fixed’ the Deputy President.

All this tells us that the ghosts of pre and post-2007 elections will take time to rest. The ethnic tensions, the widespread violence and the obstinateness of leaders almost drove the country into a full-scale civil war.

By the time the Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate the circumstances that led to the violence, top politicians from the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities were on a warpath. And when the Commission Chairman, Justice Philip Waki, released his report and handed over the names of the alleged perpetrators to mediator Kofi Annan for onward transmission to the International Criminal Court, people were pointing  fingers at their opponents.

As in any political contest, bad blood flowed, and each side worked to undermine the other. That is why I am not surprised to hear Uhuru’s men and women tried to “fix” Ruto. Likewise, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ruto’s people had done the same to Uhuru. Such intrigues are common in politics.

In 2008, no one thought it would be possible for Uhuru and Ruto to come together, cobble a coalition, win an election and jointly form the government.

However, in the interests of their people, the two had to bury the bad blood and seek unity of purpose. The good news is that since taking over earlier this year, Uhuru and Ruto have shown a propensity for collectivity.

That is why I commend the Deputy President for coming out, as quickly as he did, to declare that his relationship with the President was intact, and that the entire Jubilee fraternity “will stand behind” their leader. That helped tremendously to cool boiling tempers.

This is not to say Keter’s views have been rendered redundant. Every political enthusiast in the country knows that Keter’s views were not issued in a vacuum. Ruto and Keter have a special relationship that is personal and  intense, politically. It is widely believed that it was Ruto who recommended Keter to be appointed Energy Assistant Minister in the Grand Coalition Government in 2008.

Later, when they persisted on amending the draft constitution, the two  were punished together: Ruto was moved from the powerful Agriculture docket to the less glamorous Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, and Keter was sacked.

Again, it was the two together who fueled dissent in ODM and pushed their supporters out of the party. At the right time they decamped and formed the URP.

Political watchers have also not failed to notice that Keter is the only MP who consistently kept the Deputy President company during the first phase of his trial at the Hague.

Therefore if you think Keter was talking from the pedestal of vacuity then – as he said himself – you need psychiatric help.

It is public knowledge that there are people out there who would want to see a political fall-out between Uhuru  and Ruto. That is why some oppositionists thought Keter’s statement offered them just the right dossier for such a devious scheme, and went on an offensive both inside and outside Parliament. Some still think an opportunity exists to fuel discontent in government by threatening to name the “fixers”. But Ruto has already deflated their bad intentions, saying he cares less about who fixed who.

Now that the matter has been watered down, there is no need for anyone to insist on an apology from Ruto’s side. Nor is there need for Keter to belabour the matter. He has made his point and Kenyans have heard him.

Now, let the issue be handled internally through mutual discussions.

And that is my say.

RAILA AND KALONZO SHOULD NOT BE BEGGING FOR JOBS

It is not unusual for presidents to appoint opponents to positions in government. This is a common practice all over the world, done to foster reconciliation and stability especially after difficult, controversial polls.

US President Barack Obama did it in 2008 when he appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. The two had battled it out for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in a divisive and bitter campaign that had left their party polarised.

In 2012, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia chose her fierce competitor, football legend George Weah, as the country’s peace Ambassador and gave him the responsibility of healing the nation after a disputed election. Weah, leader of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), was Sirleaf’s main opponent in that year’s violence-prone polls.

Way back in 1997 during a bloody face-off between the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party, President Nelson Mandela singled out his arch-rival, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, to act as President while he travelled abroad for a short period. Mandela did so because, he said, Buthelezi was a “highly competent and experienced leader.” It was a token gesture but one that helped ease tension between supporters of the two parties.

Even President Mwai Kibaki appointed his predecessor, Daniel Arap Moi, as his special peace envoy to the Sudan citing his “vast experience and knowledge of African affairs.” Moi was an expert in the Sudan and spearheaded the 2005 peace agreement between the government in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Juba.

Such examples of political magnanimity are many.

Prior to the elections of 2012 that brought Uhuru Kenyatta to the presidency, Raila Odinga often said facetiously that he would be ready to “sell maandazi at Kibera” – in his constituency – if he failed to win the presidency. Kalonzo Musyoka, then vice president, also talked of returning to his Tseikuru village to “herd goats” if he missed out on the top job. That was then.

Neither Raila nor Kalonzo has gone anywhere.

Instead, they are still around, hoping to secure an opportunity to serve. So far, the Jubilee government has shown no indication it plans to appoint Raila or Kalonzo to any position despite reported behind-the-scenes canvassing. Earlier this year, media reports had hinted that Uhuru planned to nominate Raila as a special adviser of some sort. That did not happen. Insiders said Raila was not interested when he learnt the job was to be tied to a condition that he quit politics altogether. For a man who has spent all his adult life in politics that was a very tough condition to meet.

Now, six months down the line and seeing that Uhuru is not making a move, Raila and Kalonzo have resorted to begging for government jobs at public forums. Listening to Raila and Kalonzo pitching their CVs at two different events was a scene in humility. As a matter of fact, when Kalonzo spoke at Machakos last week and publicly listed his qualifications in diplomacy, the President appeared visibly embarrassed.

My view is that the two should not have gone that far.

Appointments to high positions in government is the prerogative of the President. Uhuru knows the two well. He knows their capabilities and their weaknesses. If he truly wanted them to serve he would have recruited them without any prodding.

In many countries, experience in public life is considered a big national asset. Former political leaders are often recruited into areas where their skills and qualifications can best be utilised.

In 2010, for example, President Obama asked his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to lead humanitarian efforts in Haiti where a major earthquake had left thousands of people in distress. Known for their fund-raising skills, the two managed to mobilise millions of dollars for relief aid to that country.

In his quest to tap all the available talents, President Obama has even crossed the floor to appoint Republicans in key positions in his administration.

Even at the United Nations, brains are not left to waste. Kofi Annan is a good example. Near home, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and Joachim Chissano of Mozambique have become roving ambassadors, playing the role of peace makers in troubled nations even though  they may not be direct appointees of their governments.  John Kufuor and Jerry Rawlings of Ghana are often used by their country for special assignments, so is Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria.

Apart from Raila and Kalonzo, we have half a dozen other presidential contestants who inspired Kenyans with their ideas and convictions during the last elections. We can use those ideas to move this country forward. I see no reason, for example, why we cannot call on Martha Karua to serve, or Peter Kenneth, or Musalia Mudavadi, or Muhamud Dida, or Professor James Ole Kaiyapi. The last time I heard from Mudavadi and the good Professor was that they too were asking for an opportunity to serve. Let us open our doors to these people and others.

A few years ago, I remember, our distinguished former Ambassadors and High Commissioners pleaded to be given a role in the ever shifting field of international relations. No one heard them.

With regional issues continuing to pose major challenges in Eastern Africa; with Kenya’s international reputation in tatters as a result of the ICC trials; with recent terrorist activities; and with ethnic and political divisions threatening our unity and stability, some or all these people could be put to good use.

And that is my say.

COUNTY LEADERS ARE HOLDING KENYANS HOSTAGE

When Civil Servants in Kenya go on strike, the Government often takes some form of disciplinary action against them. We saw it happening to striking teachers, university lecturers and even doctors. But when County Representatives abandon office to protest refusal by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) to increase their perks, the Government can’t do anything about it.

This is because, though County Representatives are public officers like civil servants, their status as elected officers shields them from punitive action. In any case, elected officers are not supposed to down tools. People elected them because they found them to be the most suitable to represent their interests. From them, people expected a high degree of committment and personal sacrifice not insolence or a display of pique.

Our County Representatives are demanding a monthly salary of 300,000/- per month, up from their current 79,000/- shillings which they say is “peanuts.” They argue they  are to the Counties what Members of Parliament are to the Central Government and must be rewarded more handsomely. They took the cue from the MPs who resorted to threats, coercion, and tantrums to push their demands for a salary increase.

The Salary and Remuneration Commission SRC), which is mandated by the constitution to set all salaries, had settled on 532,500/- per month as the basic income for MPs in the current Parliament. The legislators protested and demanded 851,000 shillings which was what was paid to MPs in the last Parliament. For a while, the dispute derailed parliamentary business and put the jobs of the SR commissioners in jeopardy. It was then than a compromise was reached and the MPs got what they wanted and a little more.

Kenya’s wage bill has reached 458 billion shilling or about 12.2 percent of the Gross Domestic Product – one of the highest in the world. At the moment, 74 percent of allocated government revenue goes to recurrent expenditure with public salaries gobbling twice the amount that was spent during the 2008/9 financial year.

That is why the SRC says it cannot increase the Country Representatives’s salaries until after a job assessment, which will come up with a “remuneration structure that will be balanced, defensible, fair and sustainable.”  But the County Representatives are not buying that explanation, and continue to skip work – or are on a go-slow – only showing up at the end of the month to collect salaries.

This is short-changing the nation. Former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere once said that anyone who earns public money without working is a thief. County Representatives who were elected to serve and fail to do so are stealing from the public. We should not tolerate this kind of truancy by our representatives. The common  motto is simple: no work no pay. But here we are paying for services we don’t receive, and there is nothing we can do about it.

If I knew on the eve of the constitutional referendum in 2010 that this was the way our elected leaders would behave, I would not have voted yes in the plebiscite. I would not have agreed because fattening our leaders was not part of the reasons we wanted a new constitution.

Kenyans accepted the new dispensation because they were convinced a devolved system of government would bring services closer to wananchi. They were sure the new constitution had enough oversight provisions to protect their well-being. But the majority of people in the 47 counties are yet to see the fruits of the new system of government, more than six months down the line.

What they are seeing are Governors – not all of them, I must say – and County Representatives who are spending colossal amounts of money on world junkets, on useless conferences in the guise of attracting investments, on unnecessary bodyguards, on expensive cars, and even on hotel expenses – since some of them are said to have moved from their own homes into five-star hotels.

All this is taking place when mounds of garbage are growing taller everyday, hospitals and dispensaries are lacking facilities, children are studying under trees and rocks, crime is escalating, corruption is growing and poverty is reining. It’s a sickening, pathetic situation.

No investor will put money in a place that stinks; where water and electricity services are erratic; and where crime is rampant.

Now, we have warnings from the Transition Authority – the body that oversees the implementation of devolution – that the whole devolution process could collapse because most counties have not yet finalised their integrated development plans. Without the plans, financial laws cannot be passed, budgets cannot be approved, revenues cannot be collected and senior positions cannot be filled. Any county which is carrying out such activities in the absence of the relevant laws is committing an illegality.

The bottom line is that Kenya has been taken hostage by the junior-most elected officials in the name of County Representatives.  So far, all efforts to drill some common sense into the minds of these leaders have failed. They are not interested in common sense, nor in serving the people. They are only interested in ballooning their stomachs. They are insensitive, unreasonable and inexorable.

Perhaps, rather than threatening to amend the constitution to cap the age of presidential candidates at 70 years, our MPs should change the constitution to provide for fresh elections in moments when elected officials cross the line and go around the bend.

And that is my say.