By John Githongo
(This article is an extended version of opening remarks delivered as chief guest at the start of the Human Rights Watch annual film festival at the French Cultural Centre in Nairobi on 10-11-14)
Except for speculators, dealmakers and die-hards whose support is predicating on a number of other facts other than logic, smiles have wiped off the faces of Kenyans ruminating on the performance of the Jubilee regime thus far. The reasons for this are largely of Jubileeâ€™s own making, but to be fair, some severe external â€˜threatsâ€™ â€“ like the ICC and al Shabaab â€“ have also been hugely distracting. The most urgent are in four buckets: security, rights, the economy and corruption.
The security meltdownÂ
Nationally, crimes against persons and property generally are reported to have more than doubled since Jubilee came to power. In an arc of Counties, from Kwale in the south-east all the way across to Turkana in the north-west, and down into the middle of what used to be the Rift Valley and parts of the Western part of Kenya, a security meltdown has been in progress. In scale it is unprecedented in Kenyaâ€™s independent history.
Hundreds of citizens and security officers have been killed and maimed, thousands displaced. Kenya is a profoundly resilient country but the current security meltdown has led to existential angst for three reasons.
First, the regimeâ€™s reaction to the unfolding situation has served to undermine public confidence in the very idea that the State knows what it is doing. Cynics are even willing to find comfort in the argument that much of the violence may be driven by elements within the State itself and who are therefore capable of turning off the key at will. They cite the fact that the spate of grenade chuckers whoâ€™d terrorized the capital for months mysteriously stopped immediately after the al Shabaab-linked massacres at Mpeketoni last June. I donâ€™t buy it.
Second, as security has collapsed over the past couple of years, hundreds of policemen have sadly been killed in the line of duty. Of all the reforms articulated in the National Accord that followed the near civil war after the 2007 election, those in the security sector have been slowest to lift off.
The critical National Security Council envisioned by the Constitution hasn’t moved for example. It needs to, urgently. Instead, the top political leadership has demonstrated an attitude bordering on contempt for the police as the army has been called out of the barracks to deal with the multiple flash points around the country.
This militarization of internal security generally does not work in African countries that are not emerging from a revolutionary or prolonged civil strife situation. The abandonment of our cops will come at a high price â€“ and not just for them. This militarization of internal security will also damage the army, which has hitherto been one of our most respected national institutions in Kenya.
Third, in al Shabaab, with their links to al Qaeda, Kenya is confronted with a world-class external threat. The Americans wrestled with it for 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, essentially declared victory and tried to leave, their foe fazed but unbroken.
Dangerous reversals on the rights frontÂ
Unfortunately over the last two years, in some areas we have endured dramatic reversals in human rights. The current regime has often made it clear that many of the rights Kenyans have come to take for granted are at best an inconvenience, and at worst a risk to national security. While the messages are often mixed and confusing, it would seem that there are those within the regime â€“ an apparent minority â€“ determined to craft Kenya into a militarized authoritarian state, wrapped in the national flag with all the rituals and narratives of an almost quasi-fascist state, complete with presidential personality cult.
This effort has seen the heaviest use of propaganda by this regime than any other in our history. No government prior to Jubilee has bought up more space in the press, on billboards and expended energy on messaging on social media. This has led to a series of blunders that have been humiliating to the regimeâ€™s officials â€“ turning some key ones into objects of widespread derision.
Militarisation of internal security,Â politicisation of the military?Â
At the same time the narrative has cultivated that insecurity justifies increased spending on security no matter how opaque. So we have seen Â initiatives likeÂ Nyumba Kumi, the militarization of the National Youth Service (NYS) â€“ at least going by the heavy advertising about our new improved NYS; and, the hard-selling of the head of state â€“ not as president, but as Commander-in-Chief, complete with combat fatigues. Gently, almost invisibly, the lines between one small groupâ€™s version of authoritarian nationalism and patriotism are being blurred. At the same timeÂ the appearanceÂ of the politicization of the military has been sold to Kenyans.
This is in part by having the Chief of General Staff (CSG) photographed with the president as often, and in as many contexts, as possible. Again there is no precedent for this when one looks at the tenures of previous heads of the armed forces. Indeed, previous CGS limited their public interaction with politicians largely to national events. Even at those, their comportment was measured, aloof and calculated to communicate the message: â€˜we are not the same thing with the political classâ€™.
Blundering into the clash ofÂ civilisationsÂ
Despite deployment of the military, it would not be an exaggeration that even a Cabinet Secretary cannot simply climb into a car and drive to approximately half the country without special and elaborate security arrangements being made in advance. In some of these security zones, ordinary citizens are being subjected to colonial-type counter-insurgency operations.
In Lamu for example, it is as if a decision has been taken to punish an entire community causing further alienation and resentment in an already marginalized part of the country. Additionally, what started as a soft insurgency in large parts of the country after Jubilee took power has hardened in those parts of Kenya and among those communities that have borne the brunt of the governmentâ€™s war against terror.
The chasm between Somalis specifically, and Muslims generally on one hand, and the State on the other has never been wider. This has served to deepen the Muslim-Christian divide as well. Even in mature democracies, the war against terror feeds on the basic rights of citizens in a manner more widespread and to a depth unprecedented since the Second World War.
In Kenya, this deepening division could emerge as one of the most toxic legacies of Jubilee if it continues to play out following the current logic. Kenyaâ€™s military misadventure in Somalia has only served to further entrap us in the â€˜Clash of Civilisationsâ€™ narrative, in a part of the world where relations between Muslims and Christians had organically developed to create for a far more tolerant reality than in many others.
Both media and civil society have seen their democratic space shrink. Disassembling of the media has been subtler with commercial and political interests sometimes coinciding to create for a situation where Twitter is considered the more reliable purveyor of truth than some traditional news outlets.
The attack against civil society has been full frontal and unrelenting. That said, the leadership of Jubilee â€“ with its roots in the KANU tradition â€“ has no history of productive interaction with civil society. Sadly, the religious sector is unable to step into the gap; the mainstream churches, their credibility damaged by taking political sides in the 2007 and 2013 elections, have caught a flu that has caused them to lose their voices for the marginalized.
Meanwhile, the life expectancy of outspoken Muslim preachers and Imams has declined, making a decision to intervene in these issues literally a matter of life and death. And this is happening in the context â€“ some would argue as a result â€“ of extrajudicial killings have has now become so commonplace they have been normalized.
The capacity to normalize the absurd is a very Kenyan thing. Indeed, â€˜disappearancesâ€™ no longer cause an outcry. Almost a year ago a State House official, Albert Muriuki, disappeared into thin air.Â This was discussed for some time, then forgotten. To this day his mother, Dr Naomi Kathure Mutea, continues the desperate search for her son. The troubling choice for citizens to make is between seeing the state as compromised in these disappearances and killings, or completely incapable of doing anything about them.
Jubileeâ€™s economy: The mwananchi can go hand!Â
The real challenge facing Kenya is employing the one million youth who enter the job market every year. This month, the first batch of the Free Primary Education students (half a million of them) did their form four exams. Another 800,000 sat their standard eight exams. The individuals who comprise the national youth bulge find themselves in an economy based on a dichotomy. Economic guru, Dr. David Ndii, estimates that the entire corporate manufacturing sector in Kenya makes up for 300,000 jobs at most.
Given the choice of orienting our economy towards labour or capital, the Jubilee regime, led and supported as it is by owners of capital, has chosen to manipulate policy to improve profitability (capital-intensive) over overall competitiveness of the economy (labour-intensive in our case). This fundamental conflict of interest means Jubilee, as currently aligned, is incapable of creating even a fraction of the number of jobs promised.
It is thus that despite successfully floating a US$2 billion Eurobond earlier this year, the Shilling continues to wobble. An irresponsible import policy, combined with opacity with regard to what the government has spent (comparatively, Jubilee has spent KSh.400 billion in the last 12 months over what the coalition government spent in its last 12 months) hasnâ€™t helped. Unless we find the courage to completely re-orient our economy, we can expect unpleasant surprises on that front. Job creation will not be one of them.
Corruption: All for one and one for allÂ
On the corruption front, the Jubilee regime has blown hot and cold. This is partly born out of some of the contradictions I have just described above. On the one hand the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) has, over the last 12 months, been sincerely busy. Reports are that EACC are sending to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions the most rigorously investigated files in its history. The President has expressed sincere frustration with powerful corruption networks, including those within his own Office. But this has to translate into tangible results Kenyans can see.
What is visible for now is that the kickbacks and creaming off of public procurement contracts has reached unprecedented levels. Consequently, the rot has spread down the tree and devolution has spread it across the country. The unit cost of bureaucratic corruption has risen exponentially.
Anecdotally, matatu operators complain that where a bribe of Sh50 sufficed in the past now the figure is up to Sh200. Middle class drivers who used to pay Sh500 to get off being charged for driving while using the phone complain that theyâ€™re being hit up for a minimum of KSh.1,000. If itâ€™s at night and youâ€™ve had â€˜one for the roadâ€™ you can part with Sh5,000. Members of the Asian community â€“ especially if they are young â€“ can cough up as much as Sh30,000 on the spot.
Unless the state leads the way in unequivocally demonstrating results by uprooting the entrenched corruption networks from the top, it will continue to lose this battle.
Kenya is â€˜Nigerianizingâ€™ and we haven’t yet even hit first oil.