SEASONS GREETINGS

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR

TO ALL MY FRIENDS AND

CONNECTIONS

BE SAFE WHENEVER YOU ARE

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IS THE JUBILEE COALITION ON FIRE?

There is a popular saying: where there is smoke, there is fire.

Currently, a lot of smoke is bellowing out of the belly of the United Republican Party (URP), one of the two main partners in the Jubilee Coalition led by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta. Under the smoke is a smoldering fire that has the potential of getting out of control; and as everyone knows, when a fire spreads a lot of destruction follows.

In the knowledge of Kenyans, the Jubilee Coalition was crafted by the URP and the TNA,  The National Alliance, on the basis of a 50-50 distribution arrangement. That means the two partners were to share equally all government positions – from the Cabinet Secretaries to Ambassadors to Parastatal Chiefs. It was on that understanding that William Ruto of URP agreed to cede his ambitions for the presidency in favour of Uhuru of TNA and accept to serve as Deputy President.

However, during the past six months or so there have been murmurs from sections of the URP over the appointments of Cabinet Secretaries and other senior public officials; complaints that positions were going to one region dominated by TNA.

The accusations accompanied claims that some senior people in Uhuru’s Administration – who also served in Mwai Kibaki’s regime – had conspired to fix Ruto by coaching witnesses and getting the ICC to indict him on international criminal charges. Ruto’s close ally, Senator Charles Keter who first made the allegations has since gone quiet after Ruto denied publicly there was “fixing.”

But weeks later, Charles’s namesake, Alfred Keter, the MP for Nandi Hills, emerged with similar accusations and has since refused to bow out, further rocking the core of the Jubilee Coalition.

It is now becoming clear that the current divisions within URP over government appointments and other disputes are factors that may decide whether or not the Jubilee Coalition stays intact until the next elections.

But going by past records, such cracks are not unique in our country. A similar fire engulfed NARC – once a powerful opposition coalition – in 2004. After winning power, the ruling party imploded due to power wrangles and disagreements over the constitutional referendum. By the time the next elections came in 2007, the coalition had disintegrated.

I would not want to see Jubilee – my Coalition of choice – heading in that direction.

If Uhuru and Ruto want to meet their goal of ruling for the next 20 years, they have no option but to sustain the Coalition in its present form while working towards expanding its country-wide support. This means the Kalenjin and Kikuyu – two of its biggest voting blocks – must stay together came rain or shine. After all, this is a marriage born out of necessity.

At the same time, the Coalition must win other areas such as the Coast – which until now has been a stronghold of Raila Odinga’s Cord Coalition; mop up the last vestiges of the former ruling party Kanu in the northern regions; capture Western by bringing in Musalia Mudavadi; snatch Kalonzo Musyoka in Ukambani and continue to hobnob with Nairobi Governor, Evans Kidero.

At the moment given the internal dissent, the so-called Kalenjin nation does not appear to be as excited about Uhuru Kenyatta as it was at the beginning of the alliance last year. His visits to the Rift Valley including the most recent one lack the kind of buzz present during the presidential campaign.

One notable observation is that the Kalenjins have been shifting alliances every five years since they came out of Moi’s grip in 2002. In 2007, they voted for Raila against Kibaki, and last year they abandoned Raila and voted for Uhuru. In both cases they stood with the winner. No one can predict what will happen between now and 2017.

That is why it is important that Uhuru should not antagonise the Kalenjins – not this early – if he wants to win a second term in 2017. Promising Ruto the presidency in 2023 is not enough to ensure support of the Rift Valley voters.

What Uhuru said in the Kalenjin country last week may in fact have helped to fuel further discontent than quell the simmering divisions in the Coalition. In response to his critics, he said he would not be dictated to on who he hires or fires, and told first time legislators (read Keter and company) not to be used by opposition forces to derail the country’s development agenda.

Those remarks seem to have left an angry Kalenjin leadership spoiling for a fight.  Already, the so-called rebels have indicated they would torpedo plans to retrench thousands of civil servants as part of the government’s wage bill reduction initiative.  If all the 50-plus Kalenjin MPs lend their support to the opposition, government programmes could suffer irreparably in Parliament.

So what next? Since the rebels in URP may wish to punish Uhuru without hurting Ruto, we are likely to see a heightened underground campaign in the Rift Valley in the coming months and years against the President. The Kalenjins will be advised to take a fresh look at the person they voted almost to a man in the last elections. All this will be part of a strategy to prepare the Kalenjin people for a possible shift of positions before 2017.

In the meantime, Ruto must use the interim period to push Uhuru to meet some of the URP demands. That will not be easy but he must be seen to be trying.

And that is my say.

Kenya is not a failed State like Somalia, Southern Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo, but it occupies the 17th place on the list of 178 countries in the 2013 index of the Washington-based Fund for Peace.

The country may have made a lot of progress in the last half a century, but it remains one of the poorest countries in the world with an estimated 40 percent of its people still living below the poverty line.

As we celebrate 50 years of Independence, Kenyans are still waiting for the day when they will be free of poverty, illiteracy and disease; when every Kenyan will have access to clean water and electricity; when security will no longer be a major worry; when our environment will be clean; when the country will be free of corruption, nepotism and tribalism; and when we will have a political system that works for everyone regardless of religion, gender and class considerations.

The Jubilee celebration is usually a landmark event – whether it is for a nation; a couple enjoying years of marriage; or, an institution marking its most memorable achievements. That is why our 50th anniversary event is a big deal. We are recognising the successes and failures of the past and preparing to face the challenges of the future.

Kenyans are big dreamers and there is nothing wrong with dreaming. But dreamers  expect results at some point. Even at out comparatively young age, we must be able to look at our check-list and be able to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. However, many items still remain unchecked.

America, the most advanced nation in the world, has been independent for 237 years, yet Kenyans expect their economy, their democracy, and their infrastructure, to be as developed as America’s. We want to go for nuclear energy instead of solar power. We want to emulate its democracy by having a layer of Legislative Houses even when we have a huge budget deficit and a fat public debt. We want our own Air Force One to ferry the President everywhere when our wage bill is 74 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Our wants are many yet we don’t have adequate resources to meet them.

When America was 50 – and that was in 1836 – the country faced a few of the problems we are facing in Kenya today, including a huge national debt, favouritism in employment and instability in the financial sector.

President Andrew Johnson responded by paying off the entire national debt, dismissing  20 percent of Federal employees and clamping down on a wayward banking sector. Aren’t those some of the same things the Jubilee government is trying to do now: cutting down the wage bill by sacking civil servants and streamlining the money sector?

Another country we tend to compare ourselves with is South Korea. Fifty years ago Seoul and Nairobi were level in economic development. At independence, Kenya’s economy was still strong; the population was low; and the infrastructure was relatively good by the standards of those days. The gap between the rich and the poor was narrow.

At the same time, South Korea was going through a severe financial crisis and had to seek intervention from the International Monetary Fund. Gladly, the Asian country used the IMF relief funds wisely, pursued foreign investments, undertook major industrialisation projects, embarked on education reforms and invested heavily on IT. Today, South Korea has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Unfortunately, despite millions in foreign aid, Kenya has not been able to capitalise on the many development opportunities it has had over the years.

However, I believe we too can follow the US and the South Korean paths. We can graduate to the level of developed nations without trying to compete too hard with already advanced States. The only thing we need to do is to avoid the pitfalls that tend to pull us down.

Runaway corruption, nepotism, misuse of public resources, poor overall infrastructure, social injustices, political and judiciary reforms and lack of security are some of the issues we must handle with haste to move the country forward.

Happy Anniversary fellow Kenyans.

There is an old African adage that suggests that if you want to slaughter an animal for food you must first fatten it.

This is the scenario playing out now in the love-hate relationship between the Jubilee government and the media in Kenya, a scenario that has metamorphosed into a swirl of controversy threatening to derail press freedom.

I am sure you remember the press conference at State House in April when, after naming his cabinet secretaries, the President surprised the journalists present with an impromptu invitation for tea. The scribes hesitated but then hurriedly dismantled their cameras and filed into the Big House for hot beverages and biscuits.

If you don’t remember that one, you must recall the highly publicised breakfast meeting at the same venue in July when the President treated top editors to a rare feast. At that pleasant occasion, members of the Editors’ Guild were seen to be in a very jovial mood, enchanted at the flow of sumptuous foods. They laughed, joked and were totally flattered by their temporary celebrity status. As they ate, they had no idea they were being fattened for slaughter.

On returning to their desks, they wrote florid commentaries about their brief high-profile experience. Some went to the social media and posted one notice after another boasting about the emerging new chapter in the State-media relations. What they didn’t know was that in Parliament MPs were sharpening their knives.

Thoroughly fattened and ready for slaughter, the media were led to the abattoir in the form of the Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Bill 2013.

The MPs did not hesitate to pass the Bill. They adopted it and dispatched it to the President for assent. It was at that point that the spirits of the media woke up to discover they had been made sacrificial lambs in a grand plan aimed at derailing the freedom of expression.

The question people are asking now, in the midst of street protests and harsh editorials is: What happened to the seemingly cosy fellowship between the Executive and the Media? Why the whirlwind turn of events?

I should mention that the current imbroglio did not begin with the eggs and bacon and mahamris and cupfuls of tea at State House. The signs had been there for months. The ambivalence of the political class over the issue of free expression was clear as far back as 2011 – a year before the elections – when politicians often took jabs at the Fourth Estate.

Then in June, the media were dramatically shut out of the press centre at Parliament Buildings ostensibly to give room to House Committees. They were told parliamentary coverage would be by “invitation only” – not a very good sign indeed. For months, the media protested but nothing was done and parliamentary reporters were forced to work from open spaces at Parliament Buildings.

All these events suggest to me that the government is back-tracking from assurances it made earlier guaranteeing openness, transparency and accountability. In fact at the breakfast meeting, it was the President himself who said a free media was “the heart of true democracy.” What we are seeing now is different.

Recently, Uhuru and Ruto, made remarks that were seen to be unfriendly to the media. The President said he did not even read newspapers, and repeated what his Deputy had said earlier that newspapers were only good for “funga nyama” and nothing else. As for the heavy fines contained in the new law, Uhuru flatly told journalists and media houses to tolerate them instead of complaining.

If the scribes can’t get the message loud and clear from all these utterances and actions, then something is seriously wrong with people in the active media.

One can understand why the media is so upset about the so-called “draconian” law. They still remember the dark days when press freedoms were curtailed by Presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi. They also remember when the First Lady stormed the Nation House to complain about this and that; and when goons invaded the Standard Newspaper plant and trashed it.

Those are not good memories at all especially at this time when the country is celebrating 50 years of independence, and when everyone expects the media to be free of State interference.

Now that the law is in place, the Fourth Estate must be extra vigilant and refuse to be compromised through freebies. In many developed countries, journalists are barred from receiving gifts or complimentary goodies from newsmakers. The Code of Conduct of the US Society of Professional Journalists, for example, implores journalists to “refuse gifts, favours, fees, free travel and special treatment” to avoid being compromised.

By accepting the invitation from State House, the Kenya media crossed the integrity boundary.

And that is my say.

Recently I read an article in the New York Times magazine in which the writer, talking about Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, said building a legacy was more complicated than it seems.

Every leader – whether in politics, religion or business – dreams of leaving behind a good legacy. There are leaders who deliberately work towards bequeathing the world with worthy memories; and then, there are those – like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa – who voluntarily strive for the common good, unconscious of the enduring gifts they are leaving behind for future generations. Then there is the third group: those – like Adolf Hitler and Idi Amin – who because of their infamy, are to be remembered for the “baddest” and the ugliest.

As we prepare to celebrate the 50th year of our independence, it is fitting to look back at the legacies deeded to Kenyans by our leaders, and to see how President Uhuru Kenyatta is fairing in these hectic political and economic times.

The founding father Jomo Kenyatta will be remembered for his role and sacrifices in the fight for Kenya’s independence. Like Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Kenyatta was a lofty person with magnetic political characteristics.  But he will be remembered for institutionalising corruption, promoting nepotism and encouraging land grabbing. He failed to seize the independence spirit to build a homogeneous nation and allowed tribalism to grow and become one of the biggest enemies of our nationhood. Because of his advanced age, an entity commonly known as the Kiambu mafia took over day-to-day running of the country caring less about Kenyatta’s legacy. By the time he died in 1978, the gap between the rich and the poor had expanded greatly.

President Daniel Arap Moi, on the other hand, left a legacy of a peaceful country in the midst of turmoil in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Kenyans will not forget how he drove the country deep into authoritarianism. He abused the principles of democracy and trampled on human rights. He presided over a regime that massaged patronage, glorified ethnicity and nurtured one of the biggest financial scandals ever – Anglo Leasing – that ruined the economy and dented the country’s image. However, he will also be remembered as a philanthropist who helped many, and built innumerable schools and institutions one of them being the Kabarak University.

The free education he introduced early in his administration and the infrastructural development he undertook during his second term gave President Mwai Kibaki things future generations will cherish. He revived Kenya’s economy devastated by 24 years of misrule, lifting it from below zero to seven percent growth.

During his administration, electricity connections shot up from 680,000 to more than two million and mobile phone users went up from a quarter a million to thirty million people. Future generations will forever be tickled by his spontaneous sense of humour captured in tapes and videos. However, he exited leaving behind a legacy of being the most lethargic of the Kenyan leaders. Because of his hands-off approach to everything, he opened gates for corruption to thrive and for impunity to flourish.

Recent events in Kenya suggest President Uhuru Kenyatta has already begun the journey towards building his legacy less than a year after taking over the reigns of government. This is seen by the way he works and the speed in which he is implementing key sector projects. Only a few months after returning from a State visit to China, Uhuru has launched what is Kenya’s largest and most expensive infrastructural project, surpassing many times the much-heralded 50-kilometre-long Thika super-highway in terms of cost and magnitude.

The Mombasa to Malaba standard-gauge railway line – due for commissioning in 2018 – will cover a distance of 790 kilometres and will be able to convey passengers and goods at half the time used by the present wide gauge line built by colonialists. Travelling at 180 kms per hour, the Mombasa-Nairobi sector will take only a few hours, giving locals and tourists a more convenient, more reliable and much faster mode of transportation between the two important cities.

Uhuru has said he would be around to launch the project, whose date of completion is a year after the 2017 elections. This is a macho way of telling his opponents they should forget about power any time soon.

Already, Uhuru has launched the Uwezo Fund, an ambitious plan to empower the long-suffering youth and women segments of our society. He has abolished maternity fees and is on his way to introduce laptops for all standard one pupils. With the vast mineral discoveries, it will be seen how he will manage the oil revenues for the benefit of the entire country; maintain a healthy economy; unify the country; end ethnic clashes and deal with the growing threats of terrorism.

So far so good. But Uhuru has to work a little harder if he wants to guarantee himself a  life long legacy that will make Kenya a better place for future generations. One, he must avoid the temptation of making skewed appointments favouring his community. Kenyans are not convinced he has done enough to include all communities in senior selections. Complaints are already out that a clique in the inner circle have given themselves too much power and are frustrating the smooth operations of government.

Two, he must see how to quell the many fires sweeping through the judiciary that seem to be eroding the reputation of the third branch of government. Three, he must tame those in the Jubilee coalition who seek pleasure in confrotational politics. Four, he must sort out the security situation in the country. And finally, he must make sure that all the major promises in the coalition manifesto are fulfilled before the next polls.

If he does all these things and avoid the pitfalls of his predecessors, Uhuru’s legacy will surpass that of past leaders by far.

And that is my say.