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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.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Is Kenya Becoming A Nation Of 50 Intellectuals And 50M Illiterates?

In September, 1972, the late JM Kariuki gave a startling speech at Kamusinga, in what is now Bungoma County. In it he called for a re-evaluation of the direction the country was headed in a mere decade after independence. “A small but powerful group of greedy, self-seeking elite in the form of politicians, civil servants and businessmen has steadily but very surely monopolized the fruits of independence to the exclusion of the majority of our people,” he noted before uttering the refrain that he is today most remembered by: “We do not want a Kenya of ten millionaires and ten million beggars.”
Within three years, he would be brutally murdered by agents of that elite but today, it is clear that his words have proven prophetic. We have become one of the most unequal societies on earth, with resources and opportunities percolating to a very few at the very top while a decent standard of living is denied to the vast multitude at the bottom. Despite all the excitement about becoming a middle-income country, a report released earlier this year showed that Kenya today has 31 centa-millionaires, that is individuals with a net worth of more than $100 million, while nearly half the population lives on less than $2 per day. However, nothing illustrates this better than the approach consecutive governments have taken towards education policy.
Undoubtedly, the greatest investment a country can make is in the education of its people. It is the most effective way to create opportunity and move people out of poverty. An educated populace makes healthier and more profitable choices. Educated citizens are better able to hold governments to account, to participate effectively in decision making and to create more equitable societies.
In Kenya, while we spend just under a fifth of the national budget on education and have managed to expand access to all levels of education, the fact is, with quality standards nose-diving, the KANU, NARC and Jubilee governments have all preferred to view the sector primarily as a political and economic cash cow.
From the introduction of the 8-4-4 system to free primary education, the fact is that past government interventions have been motivated less by the long-term needs of students and more by the short-term interests of politicians and corrupt businessmen. This cavalier approach has destroyed our schools, demotivated our teachers and killed any hope of learning. Needless to say, none of the elite making these decisions educate their own children in public schools. In fact, it bespeaks the quality of instruction offered in our schools that up to half of teachers do not bother to turn up for class and that even when public education is nominally free, parents who can afford to have chosen to take their kids to private schools. This has had the effect of driving up the cost of private schooling, and locking the poor majority into the failing public system.
There is an urgent need to begin to undo the damage that politicizing education has wrought but the Jubilee government has singularly proven itself unable to resist the twin temptations of politically-inspired gimmickry and grand corruption.
The ill-thought out proposal floated earlier in the year to have pupils in primary school taught in local languages demonstrated the superficial approach the government continues to take towards education. It is unclear how, if at all, such a policy could be implemented in Kenya’s ethnically diverse counties without entrenching tribal chauvinism and discriminating against minorities. It is the very antithesis of a policy that would build national cohesion and heal ethnic rifts and is reflective of the thinking of an administration that feels it can only perpetuate itself through creating a “tyranny of numbers”.
The other flagship education policy of the Jubilee government has been shown to be at best little more than a PR gimmick, or worse, a scheme to corruptly enrich a few individuals under the guise of improving education. Ignoring the fact that many schools lack even the most basic of amenities including desks, books and even classrooms, the one-laptop-per-child initiative, in common with other proposed mega-projects, is a simplistic concept whose tendering process has been fraught with irregularity, if not outright illegality.
And it is not just Jubilee that lacks seriousness when it comes to education. Their opponents in the CORD coalition have also demonstrated an appetite for short-term opportunistic points-scoring as an alternative to long term solutions.
Take for example, the fate of the 1999 report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Education System of Kenya. The Commission, which was chaired by Dr Davy Koech, was mandated to enquire into the education system and recommend changes and approaches that would help prepare Kenyan society to face the challenges of the 21st century.
Its report, which remains relevant 15 years later, recommended a “goal- and a process-oriented education and training system” as an alternative to the present exam-driven system. Under the rubric of TIQET (Totally Integrated Quality Education and Training), it emphasized lifelong learning and constant improvement not just in learners but of the education system itself, as well an emphasis on quality.
It eschews piecemeal and politically driven approaches, such as the obsession with abolishing of school fees, in favour of a holistic and comprehensive approach to education. Needless to say, the report was never implemented. The then Minister for Education, Kalonzo Musyoka – now a principal in the CORD coalition- declared that it was too expensive. However, he was not above supporting the even more expensive and failing Free Primary Education less than four years later or proposing Free Secondary Education as part of his platform for the 2007 elections.
The truth is, across the political divide, education has been treated as a forum for political grandstanding. However, we as citizens must get serious about fixing the system. We must not reduce or equate education reform to simply providing free schooling.  Otherwise , given the experience of FPE and to paraphrase JM Kariuki, we risk creating a nation of 50 intellectuals and 50 million functional illiterates.
As he advocated, there must be a change, not just in policy, but in the policy-making process as well, so that the interests of all are taken into account. We must come together to demand accountability from the government and to generate serious and comprehensive proposals for reform.
This will require a commitment to squarely facing up to the crisis in our schools and resisting the distractions and gimmicks offered up by our politicians. A good place to start would be would be by insisting on the review and implementation of the recommendations of the Koech report. For, as Derek Curtis Bok, the American lawyer, educator and the former president of Harvard University said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”