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No worthy gubernatorial option for rational Nairobi voter

Posted CHARLES OMONDI

on  Thursday, April 20   2017 at  13:47

It is that time in our political cycle yet again, when hordes of Kenyans who believe they have what it takes offer themselves for various elective positions.

So many are they and their claimed credentials that were corruption and tribalism not the principle determinants of electoral decisions, many Kenyan voters would be literally lost, not knowing which way to cast their ballot.

Nowhere is this challenge more daunting for an average rational voter (sadly, the minority) than in the race for Nairobi gubernatorial seat.

So far, all indications point at a three-horse race pitting the incumbent Evans Kidero against Nairobi Senator Gidion Kioko Mbuvi, aka Mike Sonko and failed 2013 presidential candidate Peter Kenneth, or PK to his adoring supporters.

Swing a surprise

Perhaps, voluble and cantankerous Miguna Miguna could swing a surprise. But that is a story for another day.

For the majority of Nairobians, whose voting is determined by tribe and/or who bribes the most, the choice could not have been any easier.

A peep at the leading contenders:

Every alley

First, Evans Kidero. In him, Nairobians have a candidate whose reign could as well be a lesson on how not to run a city in the 21st century.

From the time he took office, Kidero has spectacularly failed to make a statement that there was a new sheriff in town. He has had no impact whatsoever in restoring order in the once green city in the sun.

From mounds of garbage at every street corner, a medley of hawkers at every alley and in front of every shop, and unplanned development sprouting up everywhere, total disregard of the traffic code on the roads, to city residents behaving like they were in a race for the most Neanderthal conduct crown and much, Kidero has left Nairobi worse than he found it.

Then comes Peter Kenneth. Here, Nairobians have a candidate fronted by what would pass for a cabal of ethnic supremacists and conspirators to whom Kenya’s capital is too important to be left in the hands of the “wrong” tribe.

Of course, PK tries to market himself  - unconvincingly so - as the suave urbane technocrat with the manual for fixing Nairobi’s myriad problems.

Many believe his bid is a mere stop gap measure in a wider scheme to perpetuate an ethnic hegemony, not only at the county, but also national level.

The perception

PK supporters harp on his purported exemplary performance as the MP for his native Gatanga, which only reinforces the perception that he believes in the tribe more than the nation.

His voting trends on critical matters before the House left no doubt about where he stands when confronted with the choice between the nation and the tribe.

There is also the small matter of how he secured himself the choicest government jobs without the requisite academic qualifications, though today he is a proud holder of two university degrees.

Readily available

To Mike Sonko. Sonko distinguishes himself by his reckless and uncultured demeanour. His academic credentials have been the subject of much debate as has been his record before the law.

Sonko does not seem to believe in a permanent solution to problem, but will always be readily available to firefight anywhere and everywhere.

He is fabulously rich, but the source of his wealth remains a matter of conjecture.

If you are a rational voter in Nairobi, my friend, I am sorry: You do not have a worthy candidate among the leading three!

 

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Academic freedom matters now more than ever

Posted GODWIN MURUNGA

on  Monday, April 17   2017 at  16:03

Ugandan Police arrested Dr Stella Nyanzi and arraigned her in court on two counts of ‘cyber harassment’ and ‘offensive communication’ under the Computer Misuse Act 2011.

Notably, this happened after she had a public spat with the First Lady and Education minister, Mrs Janet Museveni, because the ministry’s budget did not include resources to provide sanitary pads for school girls, a promise President Yoweri Museveni expressly made during the campaigns.

The Inspector-General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, ordered Dr Nyanzi’s arrest.

The police seem particularly irked that Dr Nyanzi described President Museveni as a ‘pair of buttocks’, language they found obscene and indecent.

Doctoral research

In Uganda, public debate has focused on vulgarity, something Dr Nyanzi has become the poster-child of, for which she is often condemned or dismissed.

Dr Nyanzi is an avid social media commentator; her contributions assuming an admirable ethnographic form.

She avidly records her observations, engagements and convictions.

She has done this for a long time, perhaps since her doctoral research in the Gambia.

Sexual metaphors

I have observed her take copious notes and use herself as a departure point to serious reflections on societal dynamics defined around sexuality.

Feminist thought is the critical pillar of Dr Nyanzi’s research focus on sexuality.

She has deployed ‘vulgarity’ and mobilised sexual metaphors to make social commentary.

The ‘vulgarity’ is discomforting to many; but that it is designed to shock is part of her method, and therefore perfectly in keeping with her academic vocation.

What is valuable is that she is able to easily and brazenly turn her intellectual focus into discomforting social commentary.

Prof Sylvia Tamale, herself a world renowned feminist researcher and editor of the path-breaking volume, African Sexualities, admitted to being “shocked and horrified, embarrassed and ashamed” by Dr Nyanzi’s nudity stunt, only to realise later “that (her) emotive response to Nyanzi’s protest was in keeping with societal attitudes that associate nakedness — especially the nakedness of a grown woman — with shame, perversity and taboo”.

You might disagree with Dr Nyanzi’s choice of words and modes of expression, but this choice can be defended intellectually.

There is no basis for restricting her rights to express them. She is an academic, above everything else.

Complete travesty

Her right to think and share her thoughts are inalienable. This is why it is a complete travesty to arrest her.

It is indeed tragic that as I wrote this, Dr Nyanzi was still held awaiting the hearing of her case on April 25.

Worse, the police think that she needs mental examination because she deploys vulgar vocabulary to protest a repressive government.

This, coming from our society where private lascivious conversations would make Donald Trump’s “locker-room talk” feel holy, reveals our hypocrisy.

Only last year, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria) celebrated 25 years since its adoption of the Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility.

Is explicit

This declaration is explicit on the academic rights to be enjoyed and the responsibility that go with those rights.

In either case, and also with respect to Ugandan law, there is nothing that indicts Dr Nyanzi.

Her arrest is an unacceptable travesty against academic freedom in particular.

Surprisingly, the response from institutions protecting academic freedoms is inaudible.

Be enormous

Instead of defending her, Makerere University compounded this repugnant abuse of state power by suspending Dr Nyanzi.

This, coming weeks after the Ugandan state detained at the port of entry the book, Controlling Dissent: Uganda’s 2016 Election, edited by Joe Oloka-Onyango and Josephine Ahikire, shows clearly that the era of needing to defend intellectual freedom is still here, and intellectuals cannot afford to sit back and watch these rights rolled back.

The cost of silence will ultimately be enormous.

As an academic, if for no other reason, I must register my utter disgust at the way Dr Nyanzi has been treated for courageously speaking truth to power.

Godwin R. Murunga teaches Development Studies at the University of Nairobi.

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Fighting over politicians can only destroy Kenya

Posted JANET OTIENO-PROSPER

on  Saturday, April 15   2017 at  17:55

Kenyans will, in August, vote for new leaders. Just a few months to the elections, people are seemingly charged, if social media posts are anything to go by.

People are saying who they will vote for and are spewing hatred at those with divergent opinions.

Some of the posts are so unsettling. We should thank God for enabling us to live in a beautiful country with so much diversity, thus the numerous opinions.

Though I know we are all subjects of biases, it is practically becoming difficult to have an educated conversation with someone from another political divide. We forget about issues that we need tackled and start dragging personalities in the mud. It is more about settling tribal scores; issues come last in their agenda.

Well educated

With the increasing political assaults on social media coming from people who are well educated and exposed, we need to be very afraid.

Michael Huemer, in his study; Why People are irrational about Politics, explains that there are several theories leading people to make different conclusions. One of them being miscalculation. Politics is a difficult subject to comprehend, thus many people unknowingly make mistakes, forcing them to disagree with others of different viewpoint.

Another one is ignorance, where people rush to certain conclusions because they lack sufficient information on political subject. This is why many political disputes are about the subjects rather than issues. Now you know where our personality-based politics originates from.

Fundamental values

Another one is divergent theory because people judge based on moral and evaluative issues, making them have fundamental values. Then we have irrational theory where people just refuse to reason.

So, we all fall in some category and that explains why some people get angry just by the mere presence of person with different political view. I know some of our political differences are quite puzzling, but we need to put our differences aside since we have goals as a nation.

These goals cannot be achieved since the verbal tirades make me believe that it will be impossible to find a common ground if leaders don't reign in their online armies.

Kill each other

We need to end these long-winded arguments on social media platforms because shameless fights won't take us anywhere.

Let's just battle it out at the ballot. You know I have wondered why human beings abuse and even kill each other for politics and ethnicity instead of viewing others as diverse opportunities to make our nation a better place.

Politicians know how to fuel hatred, but we also allow them to do so.

Equality and liberty

They take advantage of our jobless youth to cause violence under an already divisive and polarised political climate.

It is time voters forgot about their ethnicity and backed leaders truly committed to justice, equality and liberty.

Fighting over politicians will get us nowhere brethren.


Twitter: @JanetOtieno

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Why fighting over politicians will get you nowhere

Posted JANET OTIENO-PROSPER

on  Tuesday, April 11   2017 at  10:50

In August, Kenyans are going to vote for new leaders.

It is a few months to the elections, but people are seemingly charged if social media posts are anything to go by. Voters are declaring their preferred candidates and spewing hatred towards those with divergent opinions.

Some of the posts are so unsettling. We should thank God for enabling us to live in a beautiful country with so much diversity where people hold different opinions.

Though we are all open to biases, it is practically becoming difficult to have educated conversations with people from a different political divide. We forget about issues that we need tackled and start dragging personalities under the bus.

It is more about settling tribal scores; issues come last on the agenda.

With the increasing political assaults on social media coming from people who are well educated and exposed, we need to be very afraid. 

THEORIES

Michael Huemer in his study, Why People are irrational about Politics explains that there are several theories that lead people to making different conclusions.

One of them is the miscalculation theory; because politics is a difficult subject to comprehend, many people unknowingly make mistakes forcing them to disagree with others of a different viewpoint.

Another theory is ignorance where people rush to certain conclusions because they lack sufficient information on a political subject. This is why many political disputes are about the subjects other than issues.

Now you know where our personality-based politics originate from.

Another one is the divergent theory because people judge based on moral and evaluative issues thereby developing fundamental values.

Then we have the irrational theory where people just refuse to reason.

VERBAL TIRADES

So we all fall in some category and that explains why some people get angry just by the mere presence of person with a different political view.

I know some of our political differences are quite puzzling but we need to put our differences aside since we have goals as a nation. These goals cannot be achieved since the verbal tirades make me believe that it will be impossible to find a common ground if leaders don't reign their online armies.  

We need to end these long-winded arguments on social media platforms because shameless fights won't take us anywhere.

Let's just battle it out on the ballot. You know I have wondered why we as human beings abuse and even kill each other for politics and ethnicity instead of viewing others as diverse opportunities to make our nation a better place.

Politicians know how to fuel hatred but we also allow them to do so. They take advantage of our jobless youth to cause violence under an already divisive and polarised political climate. 

It is time for the voters to forget about our ethnicity and back leaders who are truly committed to justice, equality and liberty. Fighting over politicians will get us nowhere brethren.

Twitter: @JanetOtieno

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Racist attacks belie presence of Africans in India for centuries

Posted RASNA WARAH

on  Monday, April 3   2017 at  19:25

The brutal mob attack on a group of Nigerian students in a shopping mall in the city of Greater Noida has generated a lot of discussion about how Africans in India are treated.

Although the government has condemned the attack, the incident has once again raised the issue of racism in India.

Africans studying in India report being routinely discriminated against by shopkeepers and landlords.

Residents complain that African students fail to assimilate into Indian culture and are responsible for introducing bad habits, such as alcohol and drug abuse, into their society.

Media reports indicate that the Nigerians were attacked because it was believed that they supplied drugs to an Indian man who died of an overdose.

However, past incidents indicate that often Africans are blamed for crimes they have not committed.

Was harassed

Last year, a Tanzanian woman in Bangalore was harassed and nearly stripped naked by a mob after a Sudanese man allegedly ran his car over a woman.

Ironically, the latest incident occurred not long after an Indian engineer was shot dead by a white racist in a bar in Kansas, United States.

That murder generated a lot of furore among Indians in India and America, many of whom favoured Donald Trump’s presidency, but who are now having second thoughts about his paranoia-fuelled racist policies that threaten to keep the majority of the world’s people, including Indians, from entering the US.

The attacks in Greater Noida and Kansas may have been racially motivated, but they are occurring at a time when ultranationalism and hatred of “the other” are being associated with patriotism in both India and the US.

As one Indian commentator noted, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s hypernationalistic “Hindutva” ideology has found common cause with Trumpism.

Fuelled by ignorance

This ideology is fuelled by ignorance. Last week, at a seminar titled, “Connectivity Revisited: India, Kenya and the Indian Ocean”, hosted by the Indian High Commission in Kenya, many participants lamented that both Indians and Kenyans have little knowledge of each other’s cultures and history.

Yet, India and the East African coast have had trade links for centuries.

When Vasco da Gama arrived in Mombasa in the 15th century, Indians had already established trading positions there.

In the 19th century, most of the commerce in Zanzibar was controlled by Indians.

With the building of the Uganda Railway at the beginning of the 20th century, the East African interior opened up to Indian trade.

These pioneer

Indians also took up clerical and other posts in the British colonial administration. Later, some participated in the struggle for independence.

The descendants of these pioneer Indians are found today across all East Africa.

However, while the history of East African Indians has been widely documented, little is known about the many Africans who went to India and settled there.

People of African descent known as the Sidis have been living in the Indian state of Gujarat for centuries.

Also known as the “African Sufis of Gujarat”, the Sidis are known for their Africa-inspired music and dance called Sidi Goma, which they have performed in various parts of the world, including Zanzibar and Kenya.

Their songs

It is believed that the Sidis’ origins lie in East Africa; many of their songs are peppered with Kiswahili words.

Even less known is the fact that many Africans were coopted into India’s aristocracy since the 14th century.

These former slaves came mainly from Ethiopia and Sudan and were taken to India by Arab slave traders who sold them to kings, rich merchants and aristocrats.

However, not all of them remained slaves. Some rose through the ranks to become nobles and generals.

Still classified

One of them, Malik Ambar, a slave-turned-general, held a prominent position in the Ahmadnagar Sultanate in western India in the 17th century.

Evidence of Africans playing a role in India’s history can be found in an exhibition of paintings that depict Africans participating in various events, not as slaves but as important members of royal Mughal courts.

The exhibition titled “Africans in India: A Rediscovery”, which was recently held in New Delhi and New York, shows that unlike African slaves in the Americas, many African slaves in India rose to hold military and other positions.

For their descendants, however, social mobility has not been easy; they are still classified as among one of India’s marginalised “scheduled tribes”.

rasna.warah@gmail.com

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We’ve not seen this type of African Big Man rule yet

Posted CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

on  Sunday, April 2   2017 at  17:51

After Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli was sworn in about 15 months, he gave Africa, and the rest of the world, goosebumps.

He was doing four things that usually don’t go together in African politics. He was cracking down big time on government waste. He was chasing Tanzania’s corrupt around with a big stick. He was shunning ostentation. He was getting his hands dirty literally, cleaning dirt off the streets. And he was getting results.

Social media exploded, and the hashtag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo became one of the biggest ever on African Twitter.

Social media

At that point, many criticised Magufuli as a lone ranger who would soon tire and settle back to the old ways. He hasn’t tired. Like the Energizer battery bunny, he has kept going.

The problem is that he is swinging his hammer at the heads of journalists, bloggers, and social media citizens. It seems there is even no mildly critical one among them whom Magufuli won’t jail.

He has sent his troops out to battle lawyers; brought his foot down on civil society; and has warned his own ruling CCM parliamentarians that if they try to impeach Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, he will dissolve the House and send them home to grow yams.

A year ago when you went to a cocktail or a coffee with buddies in this our neck of the woods, the first question you would be asked after the greetings would probably be: “Have you heard what our man Magufuli has been up to?”

Today it’s more likely to be: “What’s going on in TZ, bwana?”

Because I don’t live under Magufuli’s rule, I have the luxury to take a detached position on it. I am fascinated because we have rarely seen it.

Usually the drift towards illiberal and authoritarian politics in Africa happens in three contexts.

A country goes through an armed struggle, the repressive order is overthrown, the liberators introduce freedoms in the honeymoon period, then after some years they slide back into the bad ways of old. We have seen this in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Yoweri Museveni’s Uganda, and the ANC’s South Africa.

Benign dictatorship

Or you can have a threat — a terrorist attack, military coup —against a half-democratic regime or benign dictatorship, and in its pushback it goes native and bananas.

The classic example in East Africa is Salva Kiir in South Sudan.

It’s extremely rare for a country with a long history of civilian government, a modicum of multiparty politics, stability, economic growth, and friendly neighbours to sharply swing toward 20th century-style African Big Man rule.

That it is happening in Tanzania perhaps tell us less about Dr Pombe, than it does about how big the seduction of the authoritarian bargain has become in our politics.

Winning margin

It’s this idea that you can’t build bridges and dams and finish them on time and on budget, you can’t stop the theft of taxpayer’s money, you can’t have a gleaming clean city, if you allow the noise of democracy and criticism too.

If Magufuli succeeds, two things that are hard to swallow could happen. He could sharply increase his winning margin at the next elections. And it’s not the CCM MPs, but folks like my good friend columnist Jenerali Ulimwengu who will be out of business raising goats in the countryside.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. Twitter@cobbo3

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Our African bonds defy the borders

Posted JANET OTIENO-PROSPER

on  Thursday, March 30   2017 at  18:41

I recall the xenophobia attacks in South Africa. They were really shameful if what was reported by a cross section of the media was anything to go by.

The perpetrators were arguing that foreigners take up their jobs, thus subjecting them to further poverty and inequality.

There were cases of carpenters descending on either teachers or doctors, for taking 'their jobs' and other irrational arguments.

Were now stateless

And just early this week, Kenyans living at Namanga, bordering Tanzania, were up in arms decrying mistreatment by the Dar es Salaam authorities.

Some of the expelled Kenyans were reportedly born on the Tanzanian side, so the latter was all they called home. With the expulsion, they were now stateless.

One woman claimed that she had been married to a Tanzanian for the past 30 years and they had several children together, but was not spared either.

She was now camping at the Kenyan side of the border wondering about her next step, since the only family that she has raised and known were Tanzanians.

Beautiful continent

I am not going to support people who want to walk freely into neighbouring countries without the right documents.

All we need to do is follow the rules of each country to encourage greater cohesion and unity as Africans.
I am writing to promote African liberation and freedom and calling on all Africans on this beautiful continent to let the colonial outpost completely fall.

I am married to a Tanzanian and my child is also Tanzanian, though to some people, I am simply ‘that foreigner’, no matter how much I try to fit in.

I have made sure I abide by the laws by ensuring that I have all the necessary permits to enable me stay close to my family.

There are people these sides who have embraced me and loved me as a human being.
I know for some reasons, people may want to move to some countries, which they see as a beacon of hope for a better Africa, or in search of a better life.

All we need is peaceful coexistence guided by gratitude when relating with one another, because you never know when you will encounter similar situation.

Human rights

We need to stand together for a better Africa that values diversity, human rights and humanity.

We should not rejoice when fellow human beings are suffering indignity across the continent, just because they belong to a neighbouring nation.

Our identity is African and that is what we should be proud of. Our bonds as Africans are stronger than those colonial borders that we let define us and make us attack one another.

We can build a united, democratic and prosperous Africa that is borderless because no country is an island.

Attract investment

We work together to do business and attract investment, among many more.

At times, we either exchange or borrow skilled manpower across board. And we must never allow negative perceptions cloud our African spirit.

Who said Kenyans are rude? They are only aggressive for opportunities and work hard. Who said Tanzanians are lazy?

Our borders

For your information, there are so many Tanzanians out there who work round the clock.

So drop those stereotypes and embrace one another.

We can live in harmony as Africans who value humanity without letting our borders define us.

I know 1.26 billion people on this continent share a dream to move freely.


Twitter: @JanetOtieno

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Citizens should demand the type of leader they want

Posted GODWIN MURUNGA

on  Saturday, March 25   2017 at  16:42

Many times in the past, we have heard aspirants claim they are running for office in response to popular grass-roots demands. Often, it is difficult, even impossible, to verify these claims.

In many more instances, those who make the claims end up losing spectacularly in the elections while others do not even make it to the final ballot.

In most cases, therefore, leaders simply manufacture self-serving claims about popular demand for them to run for office. Often, these claims have no basis in the communities at issue.

Yet, this should not dissuade ordinary citizens from independently mobilising to demand the type of leadership in their wards, constituencies or counties.

Popular demand for specific leaders to run for elective office opens the space to progressive opportunities. It is a sure way towards emancipatory politics.

This is a politics in which citizens assume overall control of their leadership and structure a set of expectations and vision for what that leadership ought to accomplish during their tenure.

The expectations in turn become the basis around which the leadership will be assessed at the expiry of their term.

In other words, emancipatory politics lifts the agenda around which campaigns are organised from an individual leader’s imposition into a collective promise. It makes electoral promises collective in which the process towards attaining specific targets is participatory rather than simply top-down.

This contrasts with the traditional conduct of politics where leaders decide what they want to offer, whip ordinary people into supporting their top-down priorities and essentially control the narrative around outcome and achievement. It is this approach that has stalked our politics for decades, making sure that politicians ravage the nation because they hoodwinked voters, bought votes and controlled the narrative on the scorecard.

So far, I have come across a few such popular initiatives demanding that specific individuals run for office. I recently stumbled on a Facebook post mobilising support for Mr Okiya Omtatah Okoiti to run for the senatorial position for Busia.

Started by someone who confirms he had not discussed it with Mr Omtatah, the initiate drew inspiration from the selfless acts of activism that Omtatah has mounted since the current Constitution was promulgated.

His strategy has been impressive to many since he turned courts into his base of activism and almost single-handedly fought battles against abuse of office and the law. He has achieved several spectacular successes.

The other candidate enjoying similar popular demand has been Dr Wilbur K. Ottichilo. Dr Ottichilo is the current MP for Emuhaya, where his performance has earned him accolades from many ordinary people.

His engagement with his constituency is not only well planned and executed but it is also defined by a rare ability to listen to everyone and seek to achieve what he promised his constituents. This is the reason he was ranked with the highest approval rating by his constituents among serving MPs in 2015.

Dr Ottichilo wants to scale this performance to Vihiga, where he is running to be governor. What is surprising is that the demand by ordinary people in Vihiga for such a performing leadership isn’t louder. One would imagine that the opportunity of such a person running to be governor would spark independent groups to colonise his campaign and steer it in a direction that serves their priorities so that such leaders become servants of the electorate.

I am sure that there are many other good leaders deserving of such popular demand to run. I am also sure we have movements in the country that could use the current pre-election context to identify priorities that force aspirants align with popular agenda.

Many such proactive initiatives would serve the purpose of constructing or shaping the calibre of leadership going into this year's General Election. But this will not happen if grass-roots movements don’t spring up to independently vouch for the leadership we deserve.

Godwin R. Murunga teaches development studies at the University of Nairobi. (This article was first published in the Saturday Nation where Dr Murungu runs a weekly column)