The other day I watched as the sacked Nigerian Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sasuni, tried to explain, on a television interview, how up to 50 billion US dollars from the country’s oil revenues had vanished from the Exchequer.

President Goodluck Jonathan had singled him out as a suspect in the money scam, but Sasuni pointed a finger directly at the élite in a country where a measly one percent of the population enjoys nine-tenth of all the total oil export earnings of 50 billion US dollars.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer – 2.2 million barrels a day – yet abject poverty weighs down on a huge population of its people including those living in and around the oil wells of the Niger Delta region.

The content of the Sasuni interview on Al Jazeera got me thinking about our own situation in Kenya where millions of shillings seems to be disappearing from public coffers at every blink of an eye.

When I hear the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya claim that 480 billion shillings or 30 percent of the 2013/2014 budget would not be accounted for at the year-end; when I hear Raila Odinga ask the government to account for 6 billion shillings meant for youth and women, hinting it had possibly vanished into thin air; when I read about the millions that are disappearing into briefcases of our County Governors; when I listen to John Mututho lament that 400 million shillings collected by the anti-drug organization NACADA in the month of December 2013 alone were stolen by some officials, I get very concerned about the future of my beloved country.

In Kenya, like in Nigeria, and in many other African countries, the élite are at the forefront of gobbling everything that belongs to the people. Elite cartels destroy our natural resources through illegal logging and destructive explorations. They poison our youth by importing illegal drugs; they engage in money laundering and human trafficking; and they grab every tender that comes out of the government.

They shamelessly steal money meant for the disabled and the elderly, and spare not donor funds meant for our health and education sectors. This is not to mention the billions lost in past mega scandals and the 1.6 billion shillings that we are now required to pay as penalties and awards resulting from Anglo Leasing law suits.

Recently, our media were awash with reports of the so-called super-rich – 26 of the richest Kenyans who control half of the country’s wealth. I don’t know if I should be proud that my country has a conducive atmosphere for people to make money, or disgusted that a small minority is living in such opulence while millions of Kenyans are struggling to survive.

Almost all those mentioned in the survey by a London-based New World Wealth Group are well-known citizens who have distinguished themselves in business and attained monumental successes over the years. I have no evidence to suspect they acquired their riches dubiously.

However, there is a growing number of upper middle-class Kenyans whose fortunes may not be so easy to verify – people who pay cash for prestigious real estate acquisitions and people who flaunt their wealth in public places. I shudder when I see politicians holding bundles of cash and casually dishing it out to street people. I worry when I see all those choppers flying about like kites hired at great cost by the political élite. Not even the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission or the Kenya Revenue Authority bother to find out where such inordinate amounts of money come from.

Is this part of the so-called underground economy? If it is, then it must be running into billions of shillings.

I am worried these underground cartels may undermine our nation’s stability if not immediately and firmly checked.

Some of these cartels are operating in plain sight right under the noses of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. Both leaders have warned that corrupt elements exist even within the Office of the President.

We hear cartel members are powerful people who also served in past regimes. They know how to manipulate the system and intimidate potential whistle-blowers.

The question is: if these cartels are as powerful and influential as we believe they are, how are the authorities going to root them out without destabilising the country?

This is a question only the security and intelligence agencies can answer.

And that is my say.

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RAILA MUST WIN OVER ABABU NAMWAMBA TO AVOID PARTY SPLIT

If you spent just a little more time watching television news shows in Kenya this week, you must have come up with the same conclusion as I did: that Kenya is on fire politically. 

From Citizen TV’s Cheche in which two contestants for the ODM Secretary General’s position in the coming polls tried to outdo each other in a contest of wits and garb, to Jeff Koinange’s usually rambunctious Jeff Koinange Live, to Bonny Khalwale’s bombastic, sometimes sarcastic, performance on a morning show, to the Majority Leader Adan Duale’s stunning admonishment of the Judiciary in Parliament, these past few days were undoubtedly the best television days of the year.

Anyone who claims Kenya lacks media freedom must be economical with the truth.

It was obvious from watching these programmes that the biggest news items of the week continued to be the divisions in the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) over the conduct of next week’s party polls; the lavish spending habits of County Governors and their defiance to submit to House probe committees; and the frustrations of both Houses of Parliament on the way the Judiciary was handling cases bearing on the National Assembly.

Despite Party Leader Raila Odinga’s attempted intervention to stop the fall-out in ODM ranks, it is obvious the scramble for positions and the kind of acrimony that scramble has generated in the largest opposition party in Kenya are unlikely to go away before the February 28 polls. The self-inflicted damage is so deep and so polarising to save the party from disintegrating. This ominous situation is not helped by Raila’s uncompromising stance in pushing for selected candidates to take up party executive positions against the wisdom of keeping off the polls and letting members make their own choices.

What is happening then is that two major contesting groups will approach the elections at Kasarani Stadium in an atmosphere of heightened emotions and blatant resolve, They will either endorse Raila’s group and therefore his undisputed leadership, or cut him down to size and end his decades’ long political career as a democrat, reformer and presidential candidate.

The man Raila must win over to prevent further damage to the party is Ababu Namwamba, the fiery youthful Budalangi Member of Parliament who, while professing undying love for Raila, has come out strongly against the party leader’s chosen candidate, political newcomer Agnes Zani for the position of Secretary General. He is in a fighting mood and determined to prove Raila wrong.

The onslaught on County Governors, on the other hand, has been fueled by a seemingly bitter struggle between Members of Parliament and Senators on one side and the County Executives on the other, with the former believing that the latter have gone overboard in terms of hubris, obstinacy and fiscal indiscipline. Already, the legislators are readying a Bill intended to bring the Governors back to earth from their lofty perches by barring them from flying the national flag on their car bonnets and stopping them from using the title of “Excellency” among other measures.

This is in addition to instituting probes on financial impropriety that Khalwale hinted could lead to criminal charges being preferred against some of the Governors. Listening to Khalwale, I got the impression that the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee will not be satisfied with mere impeachments. He wants culprits surcharged and jailed.

But the most captivating news came to our homes via a live parliamentary broadcast in which Duale and MPs used the word “anarchy” dozens of times to describe what would happen if the Judiciary continued to “sabotage” the legislature by making rulings that interfered with the jurisdiction of Parliament. In recent weeks, the Judiciary has differed with Parliament on a number of times over the interpretation of the constitution which is what led to the high-voltage condemnation of the justice institution by MPs on Wednesday.

Will the Chief Justice respond to the myriad accusations against his branch of government or will he ignore them and let the two institutions engage in boardroom discussions to try to resolve the matter?. Being independent bodies of the State, any such discussions could be ground breaking, unprecedented. That is why I see nothing of the sort happening.

However, knowing politicians as I do, I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole tiff between Parliament and the Judiciary is dragged into funerals and public meeting grounds for sympathy effect beginning this weekend.

And that is my say.

 

Since John Le Carre popularised it in his novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, in 1974, the word “mole” has featured prominently in espionage discourse the world over. Moles have brought down governments and ruined economies. In communist and socialist nations of Russia and China, moles are treated as traitors and are executed without much ado for betraying their countries. In the West, those caught spying for the enemy are tried and sentenced to long prison terms.

No one knows the real origin of the word, but in the espionage lingo, moles are usually senior intelligence or government officials who feed restricted information to an enemy.

In Kenya, the word has come to mean anyone who (a) goes against the status quo and (b) defies a political party leader. In recent years in this country, the word has been bandied around in political circles like dices on a gambling table.

Lawmaker and ODM trouble-shooter Ababu Namwamba, for example, is dubbed a Jubilee coalition mole – not because he steals and passes sensitive information to President Uhuru and Deputy President Ruto – but because he disagrees with his party leader in the Orange Democratic Party (ODM), Raila Odinga, over the conduct of the forthcoming party polls.

The Budalangi Member of Parliament, who has offered to contest the position of Secretary General against Raila’s preferred candidate, Senator Agnes Zani, is accused of working with the government to wreck the opposition; that he is “flip-flopping” between ODM and Ruto’s United Republican Party where he has allegedly been promised a top party post. No evidence has been adduced to support the “mole” charge  against him, however.

Homa Bay Senator Otieno Kajwang, the Mapambano choir leader, however, insists the youthful and outspoken Namwamba is a Jubilee mole and recommends that only those “most loyal” (read sycophantic) to ODM and the Raila should be allowed to fill party positions.

Way back in  2001 when Raila disbanded his National Democratic Party to join KANU, some allies of the then President Daniel Arap Moi warned that Raila was a “mole” planted in the ruling party to destroy it from within. He didn’t last long.

Then there are the six “moles” from the civil society organisations who are accused of implicating Uhuru and Ruto in the 2007/2008 post-election violence. The six, prominent in the human rights and democracy movement, are blamed for “crucifying” the two and influencing their indictment at the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

The six are not the only ones. A section of the social media often describes the distinguished Kenyan-American Professor, Makau Mutua, as “an ICC mole” on account of allegations that he too contributed to the ICC indictments. Again, no one has offered evidence to prove the allegations of connivance.

Not too long ago, a Nairobi woman legislator in the Jubilee coalition was labelled a “mole” when a bugging device picked up a conversation between her and an opposition politician over matters involving the President and his Deputy. There were even reports of audio recordings catching the “mole” in the act.

We have also heard of Kanu moles in ODM, ODM moles in Jubilee, Jubilee moles in Wiper Democratic Party, ODM moles in TNA, TNA moles in ODM, moles in civil society organisations, in women and in youth groups, and even moles in newsrooms planted there by the intelligence community to spy on colleagues.

It is possible that some of these may just be “agents provocateurs” who mean well for their organisations but who want to force change from within by stirring up discontent among colleagues. This appears to be the case with ODM. Namwamba has made it clear he is loyal to ODM but wants party delegates to be free to choose leaders without interference from Raila. He has marshalled support and cobbled his own lineup for a fight with Raila’s group at the national party polls later this month.

Thus, I don’t think Namwamba is a mole. On Wednesday, in a desperate move to quell internal rifts in his ODM, Raila denied there were moles in ODM. “There are no moles. That is the imagination of the media.” He said.

There are many loyal elements in ODM who would want to see the back of Raila on account of his age and dictatorial tendencies. They believe Raila’s exit would pave way for a revitalisation of the seven-year old movement which has suffered two presidential defeats. These elements want fresh blood with new ideas suited to today’s political dispensation, not the past revolutionary thinking of the old guard. The polls will decide whether the Raila group will survive the onslaught or be swept aside by the rebels.

What we saw during the ODM Naivasha caucus a few days ago proves that difficult days are ahead for the opposition. The mass non-participation in the polls of key ODM functionaries is proof that a defining moment has arrived for both the party leader and his preferred allies. And when the time comes for Raila to go, he wouldn’t be alone.

For some in ODM to call others “moles” is self-defeatist. The important thing is whether or not the new sycophants in ODM are capable of weaving a strong team to win the 2017 elections.

And that is my say.

Is poison the new bullet? In other words: are murderers, especially of high-profile personalities, replacing bullets with poisons?

I am asking this question because of fast increasing poison killings in Kenya especially involving high-profile personalities. Poison is noiseless, surreptitious and quick. Few victims of poisoning live to tell tales. Those who escape death from poisoning, like former Kenya Vice President George Saitoti, often experience life-long trauma.

In 1989, Saitoti went into a restaurant in downtown Nairobi, ordered a soda, took a sip, and collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital, and luckily, he survived. However, it took him a year before he could master the courage to tell a shocked nation that he had been a victim of an assassination attempt. Reports identified cyanide as the substance used to try finish Saitoti. Twenty five years later no one has been arrested.

In July 1997, Philip Kilonzo, a retired Police Commissioner, whose name was  mentioned in relation to the mysterious and yet unresolved murder of Foreign Minister Robert Ouko stopped at a bar in Matuu in Ukambani, ordered his favourite White Cap beer, took a few sips and remarked it tasted “different.”  A short while later he was being rushed to hospital writhing in pain. His death came quick.

There are still people today who believe Mutula Kilonzo, (no relation to Philip) a former Justice Minister, was a victim of poisoning. Although some medical examiners ruled out poisoning, others felt the gallant former secretary-general of Wiper Democratic Party was killed with polonium 210, a deadly radiation poison, the same type that killed Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat in 2004. Kilonzo was found dead in his country resort outside Nairobi on April 27, 2013

Last November, a relatively healthy former MP, George Thuo, collapsed in a night club in Thika after taking a drink soon after complaining of being “extremely hot.” He was watching Formula One motor racing with friends when death beckoned. He slumped on a table and died as he was being taken to hospital. After a post-mortem, pathologists reportedly discovered traces of pesticide poison in his liver and heart. Six people are in court over his death.

More recently, a well placed architect was found dead with foam oozing out of his mouth hours after recording a statement with the anti-corruption commission. News reports described the victim as a whistleblower who had gone to authorities to report a corrupt deal involving a public agency. Initial observation was that the man was poisoned but investigations are still going on to find the real cause of death.

These are certainly not all the cases of poison murders in Kenya.

What is emerging is that evil doers are choosing a less mucky method of elimination. The old ways of killing by shooting such as what befell politicians Tom Mboya, J. M. Kariuki, Pio Gama Pinto and Robert Ouko, among others; and through mysterious car accidents such as the ones that sent politician Ronald Ngala and Bishop Alexander Muge six feet under seem to be going out of fashion.

Killings by shooting are loud, leave a bloody mess and scatter evidentiary shells at the crime scene. Poison killings are much easier to carry out and witnesses are more difficult to find. Poison is also cheap and readily available in shops everywhere in the country.

No wonder suicides are on the increase even among students who fail examinations; among jilted men and women; and even among football fans whose teams lose out in games, the substance most popular being rat poison. During the post-election violence in 2007/2008, some communities laced their arrows with frog or snake poison and used them against opponents.

Time has come for our legislators to review the Pharmacy and Poison Act so as to make it much more difficult for people to get access to the many different types of killer substances in the country. There is also a need to tighten existing regulations to ensure safety of Kenyans.

In the meantime, patrons in public drinking and eating establishments must exercise caution. This may not be easy to do in nyama choma joints, but certainly, one can make sure his or her drink is safe by insisting on opening own bottle and keeping an eye on one’s drink .

And that is my say.