Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why We Should Give Kimaiyo The Benefit Of Law

“The easiest way to gain control of a population is to carry out acts of terror. The public will clamour for such laws if their personal security is threatened.” This quote, regularly attributed to the Russian tyrant and mass murderer, Josef Stalin, should give Kenyans pause as we demand that the government take action to address the massive failure in security that the country is experiencing.

That there has been a near complete breakdown in the security system is beyond doubt. Citizens are being murdered with relative impunity along our borders and at the coast, and the resource-related ethnic violence raging unabated across the north has not spared even security officers. In the capital, women are afraid to walk the streets or take public transport for fear of assault by mobs of men and in Baringo, girls are openly subjected to illegal Female Genital Mutilation. Our wildlife sanctuaries have been turned into killing fields and despite the government knowing the people responsible for poaching, it continues unabated. In fact, according to one investigative report aired on KTN earlier this year, the poaching kingpins are being actively protected by the state.

Our security system is failing, and it is failing comprehensively. But in government circles, there seems to be a real reluctance to admit this. The standard response has been to claim that the security forces are actually doing a great job, that they have prevented numerous attacks (no details provided, of course), that the terrorists have been defeated (whatever that means) and clich├ęd promises of “beefing up security.”

It is clear that these excuses are wearing thin and the public can now see through them. The transparent attempts to pass off public relations spiel as serious security policy no longer works. Across the country, citizens are scared and are demanding that the government get its act together and protect them as it is sworn to do. However, recognising there is a problem is the easy part. Diagnosing what is causing that problem and coming up with a remedy that will not turn out to be worse than the disease is more difficult. The hardest part of all will be getting the patient to actually take the medicine.

Let’s take an example from our past. In the years and decades following the initial euphoria of independence, many Kenyans came to the realization that the state had turned rogue. It had not changed the colonial ethos and remained a parasitic entity, benefitting a few at the expense of the many. Its security forces, while nominally meant to protect the citizenry, in reality continued their colonial function of policing them. The security agencies were implicated in many abuses, including extra-judicial killings and assassinations, torture and disappearances.

As a result, when, following decades of agitation and resistance, the opportunity to negotiate a new social contract was achieved, one of the paramount objectives was to create a system that would make the security organs serve the interests of the people rather than those of the people in power. Thus the new constitution required that the National Police service be independent and gave its head, the Inspector General of Police, security of tenure. The President cannot fire him on a whim. Neither can he direct the IGP in how to enforce the law or tell him whom to arrest and whom not to.

In return, it was hoped the police service would exercise its mandate without fear or favour. In practice this has not turned out to be the case. The patient has refused to take the medicine. Police reforms have stalled and where we have laws, such as the National Police Service Act, they have failed to be properly and fully implemented. Similarly, laws requiring that Parliament authorize any deployment of the Kenya Defense Sources within the nation’s borders, which were designed to avoid the sorts of abuses recorded in the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, have been regularly circumvented.

Thus, it is clear that we have a security crisis and that part of the problem stems from the unwillingness to implement the laws that sit in the books. However, we will need to do some more digging and thinking if we are to understand the scale of the problem we face and to come up with workable solutions. This is why it is imperative that we support the demand made the Occupy Harambee Avenue protesters on Tuesday, that the President fulfil his promise to institute a public commission of inquiry into the security failures. Such an inquiry should take a holistic look at the entire security architecture in the light of the threats and challenges that confront us and make recommendations.

In the desire for results, we must avoid being stampeded back into the era of dictatorship. Some have suggested changing the law to make it easier to fire the IGP, David Kimaiyo. Such a proposal has been made in the National Assembly by the Jubilee Chief Whip, Katoo ole Metito and by the Chair of the Departmental Committee on Administration and National Security Committee, Asman Kamama.

Whatever one may think of Mr Kimaiyo’s performance, we must guard against attempts to reintroduce the imperial presidency. It is better that we insist of the procedure to remove him, which involves petitioning Parliament and the formation of a tribunal, and more important to figure out why the IGP has not taken advantage of the independence afforded to his office to streamline the force and make it more responsive to citizen concerns.

I will end with an excerpt of a dialogue between Sir Thomas More and his daughter's suitor, William Roper, as set forth in Robert Bolt's two-act play, A Man For All Seasons, which I think illustrates the folly of chopping down the laws that protect us in an attempt to get at both the terrorists and the incompetent and negligent officials who enable them.

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Press Release: KGWA Protests Gov't Harassment of Ghost Workers

Nairobi 20th November, 2014. The Secretary General of the Kenya Ghost Worker Alliance, Mr Casper Mwakazi, has protested the continuing harassment of its members and called on the Government of Kenya to engage in dialogue to resolve any issues relating to employment.

Mr Mwakazi condemned the announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning, Ms Anne Waiguru, that the government would fire over 12,000 ghost workers, terming the move “unilateral and illegal”.

“We urge the government to rescind this illegal directive which will have an adverse impact, not only on our members and their families, but also on other state employees,” he said. “The demonizing of ghost workers must cease and we must exorcise the contempt that the government has shown towards these hard-working and transparent civil servants,” said he added.

Earlier this year, the Alliance released a statement objecting to the victimisation of its members during the debate on the country’swage bill.

Mr Mwakazi said he was haunted by the tales of the suffering that the government announcement had caused in the wider community, noting that most KGWA members used their meagre salaries to augment the pay of other government employees, including senior officials.

“We are ready to join our brothers in the Kenya County Government Workers Union in undertaking legal action to prevent this injustice,” he said, claiming that although the Alliance had reached out to the government, promised consultations had failed to materialize. The KCGWU has threatened to go to court over the registration of workers, which led to the dismissals.

He said the ghost workers would also be seeking spiritual assistance and support from the rest of Kenyan society and especially the religious fraternity whose activities have been similarly threatened by the authorities.

“As a society, we must not lose faith in our workers even when we do not see them,” said Mr Mwakazi. 

“Like we do at the KGWA, the government should work by faith, not by sight,” he concluded.

Monday, November 17, 2014

No. Nudity Is Not Your Choice. And Here’s Why It Shouldn't Be

Why are gangs of men allowed to roam our city streets, attacking women with impunity and stripping them of their clothes and dignity? Why is another gang of men roaming the internet and seeking to put women I their place? Why do any of them feel they can arrogate to themselves the authority to dictate to our women how they should dress?

I find it hard to believe that the #NudityIsNotMyChoice crowd are too dim to see the link between the idea that they should have a choice over what women wear and actually doing something to enforce that. They are thus being disingenuous when the claim that they are against the assaults on women. In fact, their leader and spokesman, Robert Alai, has flip-flopped on the issue, first advocating for the stripping of supposedly indecently dressed women and later suggesting that those who do so should be jailed.

His moral acrobatics are illustrative of the intellectual confusion of those who on the one hand protest their belief that women should not be subjected to such indignities while on the other hand insisting that women conform to their ideas of propriety. It is inconceivable that they do not realize that these are two sides of the same coin. That it is the threat of violence that is used to keep women in line, to control them and keep them subservient to the desires and wishes of men.

It is obvious that dress is only the tip of the iceberg. It is also not just about control of women’s sexuality (though that is, a big part of it - more on this below). In the end the furore over hemlines is really about the power of one group of Kenyans to exercise power over another. It is about the power of one group to impose its preferences on another, to value its comfort over the rights of the other.

Viewed in the context of other retrogressive measures introduced in the recent past, such as the attack on civil society and the collective punishment of communities, it is hard not to recognize a wider pattern of rolling back the rights and freedoms articulated in the constitution by groups that perceive themselves as having lost out: the men who feel that their position of power vis a vis women is threatened, the political elite who fear the emancipation of Kenyans will deprive them of opportunities for extracting rents. As I argue here, the violence we see is part of a backlash against the rights of individuals to determine for themselves how they should lead their lives.

Indeed, it is instructive that while those supporting women’s rights ground their arguments in the freedoms espoused in the constitution and on the laws we have in our books, their opponents are at pains to not just qualify these rights, but to demonize their exercise as a harbinger of chaos. One blogger suggests that the debate “is about everything we are willing to give latitude to as a society. The next thing we will be seeing are prostitutes asking for their trade to be legalized and with the latitude we are extending they will get that, then we will stop asking questions when we see underage girls in night clubs and before we know it corruption will so much be within our rights.”

Another appears to argue that even though assault is a crime, that the victims must somehow be responsible for provoking the attack. “Blaming the touts solely for their ‘misconduct’ is, not only subjective, but also outright biased. Before any reaction, then there must be an action. The Embassava touts did not just decide to strip the woman like mad dogs. The woman might have done something to trigger such a reaction,” he declares, suggesting that habitually exercising the right to dress as she wishes makes her blameworthy.

The fact is the online chauvinists share much the same worldview as the Embassava thugs. They see the attempt to hold the latter to account as a collective condemnation of, as one puts it, “(all) men as sexual perverts, sex pests, sexually starved, naughty minds, rapists, misogynists, etc.” They are unwilling to countenance any challenge to the system that privileges their “choice” over the rights of women.

So whether they realize it or not, those demanding a say in how women dress are the online enablers of offline violence against women. Their open contempt for women’s rights offers succor and dubious intellectual cover to those who go even further. So just as we insist that the perpetrators of violence against women are swiftly brought to book, we must not ignore the pernicious ideology of entitlement to women’s bodies that feeds it.

While respecting –and even defending- the right of people to express their views, as abhorrent and stupid as those views may be, we must not cede online spaces to the chauvinists. Those who truly believe that women are human beings, that they should be able to dress in any way they please and walk down our streets unmolested, that no Kenyan should have the right to tell another how they should live their lives, must speak up. We must not accept to be silenced by the demagogues.