Friday, September 13, 2013

Putin rubbishes 'American exceptionalism' and throttles Obama's war-cry

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, in an op-ed in the New York Times, has chided the United States of America's proclivity to deploy "brute force" for accomplishing simple geo-strategic aims. President Putin was especially visceral when disagreeing with the numbing mantra beloved of all US politicians of "American exceptionalism', terming it as dangerous and vain.

Mr Putin was reacting to a speech to the nation by President Barrack Obama that sought to explain the need for a befitting response, following the gassing to death of over a thousand people in the suburbs of Damascus, on August 21, 2013. While both leaders agree that chemical weapons were deployed in nine neighbourhoods of the Syrian capital, they diametrically disagree on the culprits. While President Obama has accused the Syrian Government of President Bashar Hafez al-Assad for the atrocity, President Putin lays the blame at the door of Syrian rebels and regional war-mongers who want Assad's military capabilities eroded, in order to swing the two year long civil war in their favour.

Both leaders have good points. But as things stand, Putin has lifted the moral standard, and Obama must defer and re-strategize, especially after the hectoring and belligerence expressed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry in voluble orations in the last fortnight.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Affirmative Action: Let Kenyans Elect Women Running-mates in Marginal Areas

Fellow Kenyans, it is time to amend our Constitution. It is time for our own First Amendment: the Affirmative Action Amendment. Urgently required of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 is an amendment that will make its affirmative action agenda to be realized fast, less fractiously and more reasonably. Our people’s sovereign aim of increasing the participation of women in politics, and of diminishing the patriarchal skew of our national conversation has been steeped in endless incompetence and inconsistency.

Whereas our people have the free will to participate in politics and elect whomever they prefer in regular elections free from undue influence and discrimination, the Constitution still demands of them to ensure that “no more than two thirds of all people elected into office are of the same gender.” That creates a real conundrum. Free choice does not sit very well with strictures and limitations.

The Constitution offers the first way out, though an inadequate one: by creating the positions of 47 Woman Member of the National Assembly, one for each of the Counties of Kenya. Yet, and consequent to this overt effort, the People have responded by directly voting in only 19 women – none of whom is a Senator or Governor - among the 337 parliamentary seats available at the ballot. The feeling in the wind is that “women have their own preferential seats.”  Communities thus responded by casting their lot with the men folk.

As a result, Parliament - as elected - has not met the one-third principle of the Constitution, and might necessitate the nomination of some 140 more women, to balance the stakes. This trial and error process of aggregation and “guesstimation” is too tawdry and untenable in the long term. In the choice between whom the people want and have rightly elected, and whom has to be included in order to balance the numbers, democracy suffers, and cronyism is bound to blossom.

Our political system has a pungent history of poor nominations; of people who simply pick the parliamentary nomination, enjoy the monthly cheque for their term, and yet represent nobody in particular. Aside from a few truly exceptional servants like the current Supreme Court Justice Susan Njoki Ndung’u, who indefatigably legislated for Women and Children, the majority of nominees have performed dismally. It would be disastrous and a pugnacious twisting of wisdom to reward a system that has so brazenly misused twelve slots, with one hundred and forty more.

It is, therefore, time to amend our Constitution to settle this matter. The main premises for arguments on representation of the people centre on population size and land area. Regions with huge populations feel under-represented and marginalized, as no single constituent has adequate access to their representatives. Also, very large area constituencies are difficult to mainstream, as any infrastructure project serves only a few people in a small place, marginalizing the rest of the sparsely-spread residents.

It follows, then, that marginalization exists both in small areas with high-density populations and much larger areas with low-density habitation. Both extremes deserve increased representation and developmental funding. Generally, it happens that women are the more marginalized gender both in high-density and low-density habitats.

I suggest a formula that elects alternate representatives; adjutant or lieutenant members of the national assembly for both sets of areas – call them running-mates.

We should have a senate of seventy: forty seven elected from each county, a woman running-mate senator from each of the eleven most populous counties, a woman running-mate senator from each of the eleven largest area counties, and the speaker. Neat number: 47 and 11 and 11, then 1; to give us 70. Right away, the Senate has 22 women representatives - who have real people relying on them for service and representation.

Also, we should have a parliament of three hundred and sixty-one – two hundred and forty main candidates elected in each constituency; and, one hundred twenty alternative women members, sixty elected as party running-mates from each of the top 60 largest area constituencies, and a further sixty women as party running-mates from the 60 most densely-populated constituencies; and the speaker. Here, we will have 361 as 240 and 60 and 60 then 1.

A similar formula can be used for nominations to the county assemblies, to limit the sizes of their memberships.

The immediate benefit of this is certainty in the size of the national assembly. Kenyans will go to the polls knowing which places will get a second representative, or not. Further, the actual choice of a running-mate in a county or constituency necessitates regional balancing: that east-west and north-south inclusivity that causes regional harmony. Those who nominate their sisters, cousins or kinsfolk as lieutenants will be felled at the ballot by voters who prefer more diverse tickets of the opposing parties.

Also, places like Tana River County, larger than Western Province combined with Nyanza, but with only one senator and three members of parliament will now have two senators and six other members in the national assembly. And we expect the same fate for Turkana, Garissa, Kajiado and other larger than average counties.

Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kiambu, Kakamega and Bungoma, the most populous counties of Kenya will have two senators each; one representing the urban marginalized and women in the senate. The constituencies within them, with hundred-thousands of residents will each get two members, serving their diverse interests in Parliament. As a consequence, Nairobi’s four million residents will have 34 MPs from its seventeen sub-counties, much more congruent to its political and economic importance.

More significantly, we start the election assured of 142 women members of the national assembly, some of who will be youth, disabled, technocrats, activists and experts in various fields. We, by that stroke, eliminate the unwieldy nonsense of electing County Woman Members of the National Assembly. Shall we save ourselves the comedy of results like Rachel Shebesh’s, who was elected with 650,000 votes in Nairobi, only for her to share a platform with members who got only 9000 votes, to win their constituency election?

By any positive count, 142 is better than 47. In effect, we will never have to nominate anyone, because, as it stands, 19 women were elected directly, which outcome, though measly, would have pushed our starting numbers to 161, well over the one-third legal thresh-hold in an assembly of 431 people.

Patriots, it is time to amend our Constitution to achieve common sense, accelerate inclusion and secure our common interest.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Gkalelu-yia! Tribal Batching is the New Science

Political Scientist Mutahi Ngunyi has broken new frontiers. He has made blocking Kenyans into tribal bundles fashionable. And he has a brutish name for it – the tyranny of numbers.
So now we have a new science, we just need some disciples to establish and spread it. I proffer that Kenya has two main population nexi (plural for nexus?). We have the well established GEMA of the aGikuyu, aEmbu, and the aMeru. Former President Moi, the late former vice-president George Saitoti and former power-man Nicholas Biwott made a push to create a union of the Kalenjin, Maasai, Turkana and Samburu, called the Kamatusa, but failed at it.
But Mutahi just had to revisit the forsaken caves and reawaken their resident demons. Now I am also thinking aloud. And I am wondering – between the two main population clusters of western and central Kenya, which is more populated? GEMA rises with 7 million Kikuyus, and just over 3 million of the others. If we add the Akamba of the south-east, we have 3 million more people, giving a total metropolitan population of just about fifteen million.
In the western pentagon, we have the Maasai of TransMara, numbering over half a million; the Abagusii and Abakuria, at just over one and a half million; the Luo and Suba, at four and a half million, the Kalenjin of Bomet, Kericho, Nandi, Elgeyo Marakwet and Uasin Gishu, exceeding four and a half million in number; the Luhya nation at five and a half million; the Sabaot and the Turkana, nearing a million together. This communion, in an area equal to the Central Kenya hinterland, we have a total of nearly twenty million affiliated people.

The Gusii, Kalenjin, Luo and Luhya politicians can start shouting Hallelujah! Or, GkaleLuyia! for that matter.  Note the (G-Kale-Lu-yia, in place for each of these mega nations).
On this basis, Western Kenya has a comparative gross population advantage of five million Kenyans. And it has five important cities – Kisii, Kisumu, Kericho, Eldoret, Kitale, Kakamega, and Bungoma. The western region is Kenya’s bread-basket, has extensive network value for the East African region, and with adequate infrastructural investments, has the highest potential for economic return. Add to this the freshwater, hydrocarbons and wind-power potential of Turkana area, and we immediately notice whose numbers are tyrannical.
I am sure the ‘scientist’ in Mutahi Ngunyi is not advising the GEMA nation to insist on an attritional numbers game, because they would lose irredeemably. If the people of Western Kenya acted as unconcernedly about the rest of Kenya as the GEMA leadership always has, and united in self-interest against the rest of the nation, the greatest losses would happen among the wealthier GEMAns.
Poorer people in the west have less to lose, and paradoxically, their suffering would actually yield increases in population. Conversely, in Central, the birth-rates are declining, and their homelands are agriculturally unviable, strangely xenophobic even to their own kinsfolk, uninhabitable and insecure. In a vicious numbers game, GEMA would never see the presidency again. If the country votes for GEMA leaders, it is because the Western half works for national unity.

The GEMA pole has never been interested in national inclusion, but the bitter truth is, a pure zero-sum game would hurt Central Kenya more than everywhere else.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Price: Our Peace is False.

I love peaceniks - the promoters, purveyors and winners of peace. I celebrate the Nobel Peace Prize with each annual laureate. Yet, deep down, I know peace to be a philosophical fraud. As an ideal, it is invaluable for the individual and the world. That, however, does not in any way mean it is worth half the effort we expend on it as societies.

To my mind, peace is a lull, a period of stagnation, like upon the surface of a pond. A river, though, is not a peaceful thing, because it is always hurrying downstream over rocks, rapids and falls. Ocean shores, on the other hand, are presumed to be places of repose and peace, because their constant ebbs and flows express certainty, repetition and predictability. Such is a facade that fools the feeble-minded. In their hurry to appear sophisticated, they flock to beaches to seek for peace, in total disregard of the truism that wherever you go, there you are. What peace, I say!

In kind, peace is absence of conflict, strife or disconcerting endeavour. It is acceptance of one's situation, of one's weaknesses and subjugation, or the attainment of a mental ideal. Normally, it is never the weak man that seeks peace. It usually is the strong that promote peace. Because, when peace reigns, the strong rein, and the weak suffer.

But you cannot claim peace if and when that peace is won for you by default - by the stronger ignoring the weaker. Those in ascendancy and in power will sing the praises of peace, until the weak ones take it for a good thing. They praise peace because it promotes their purposes, and as such, is in their own interest. The peace I can invest in is the peace of the weak man; the peace of the downtrodden, which can only be credentialed by the ending of weakness, and the absolute rise of equality.

Surprisingly, the strong man, the endowed man, the rich and powerful man, society or nation will never rest in peace until his or its needs are met. Not until their ambitions are fulfilled. No; not until they get what they must. And the permutations of effort, trial, pacification, treaty, trade, war, annihilation or subterfuge they apply to attain their aims are always such as that disturb the highly vaunted peace.

Credit the resilience of the enduring human spirit for the glory of its hope and the vitality of its dreams, because the wake of the strong is a rancid paean to devastation and desolation. The strong man wreaks harm and horror in the pursuit of his victory. The strong man wins peace at the expense of the weak.

Let me think of it as this: If somebody sought air in the African Savannah, would that be a real pursuit? If you can have peace by doing nothing, and allowing everyone else to do as they deem pleasant, is that really a fair exchange? No.

Societies have peace that are constantly in flux, in self doubt, in an unremitting pursuit of purpose, and in the constant search for meaning. Societies have peace that promise it to all and grant it to all, fairly equally. Societies win peace by overcoming their challenges and obstacles, by winning their freedoms and exercising them - not by decrees, defeat or silence.

The man is not sincere who advises a poor, hungry and denied compatriot to observe peace. Such advice is fraudulent, because the poor, hungry, and dispossessed man has no peace - he has serious and powerful needs stacked against him. Indeed, why should such a person be peaceful at all? Who has peace of mind in the presence of hunger, disease, ignorance and poverty? What is peace without opportunity?

Therefore, it is a waste of time pursuing peace, without providing tangible opportunities for each man, according to their desires and hopes. Ultimately, the opportunities available to each man are what will assure societal peace; the chance to live a life after one's own heart; the freedom to live life to the fullness of one's hungers for expression, is the only bulwark of human peace.

Doubtlessly, such free choice will result in some man here or somewhere else oversimplifying their perceptions of freedom, and infringing on the sensibilities and preferences of others. Such fluky exceptions being always in the minority, affirm the conclusion that this pursuit of talents, this uninhibited granting of choices, is the right path ahead.

There really cannot be peace without every person claiming the capacity to win and keep it. Humanity would demand that we address all our personal and communal needs fervently, and afford for all of us the promises of peace, but not necessarily ask men and women to uphold a peace that is absent and unreachable to them.

Whenever citizens are weak and dispossessed, poor and uncatered for, their peace is false. Theirs is no peace at all.

'My Price' is a series of articles about my values as a man, and my views about some of humanity's most important ideas. The articles are not arranged in any order, and address issues as they will occur to me on my journey of life. While I may quote other people or rely on their advice, what I write here is my commission. I hope my price will be a price worth paying.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Here's how to create 3 million jobs and grow at 20%.

I share these ideas in the hope that they will change the fortunes of my nation. I share these thoughts, as a moral obligation to my generation and our common offspring, as a patriot's remit. Partly to offer leadership out of our economic and political morass, and as a repayment for the opportunities that Kenya has offered me. And to spell out my vision for an Africa that has come of age, and steadied itself for the long leap that sustained, common prosperity demands. I hope to inspire actions that will push and finally lift Kenya over the high horizon of hopelessness that has prevented us from reaching the promised land; from attaining our heritage of splendour.

Our zero-sum politics, xenophobic, tribalist society, burgeoning hordes of disillusioned youth and a leadership that leaks courage and lacks conviction have been our fate for too long. Yet, that is not as it should be at all. Indeed, as any sensible person knows, much gathers more and loss leads to greater loss. Our challenges are bound to grow, and our few opportunities will only lessen, if we fail to stand up for good, to reject the worse and choose the better way out.

All of our good people will be safer in the long run, if they offer and effect positive solutions. And again, their little good efforts will gather more, and cause ever larger gains. Convinced thus, here is my way out; my considered view of an immediate solution: a solid path out of the palpable despondency and obvious distress in whose vicious swirl millions of Africans find themselves inundated.

How To Create Three Million Jobs Immediately.
It might appear simpler than you credit - too simple, in fact.

The government should offer minimum interest long-tenure mortgages to qualifying citizens. Let us  give Kes. 2.5 million at 4 per cent interest rate, to build decent homes, to every person who earns Kes 40,000 or more a month, payable over a term of 25 years. Let us give this to our policemen, teachers and soldiers every year, for the next two decades to create 10 million homes for every person.

Why this is important:
First, decent housing is a core promise of our Constitution. It is a progressively attainable right under our Bill of Rights. Secondly, the real estate sector, as presently structured, is privately driven in the free market, which profits from shortages, and caters only to the already rich. And private sector real estate growth is predominantly urban orientated. It is controlled by fewer than 100 companies which are limited by financing and administrative bottlenecks. Thirdly, and most critically, this idea will create three million jobs each year.

From a psychological stand-point, a decent home is a spur to social decency and increased economic aspiration. Consider a child raised in the opulent greenery of Runda and Kitisuru, and another in the filthy trenches of Mukuru and Mathare. Their outlook on life is to a larger than acceptable extent, determined by the sanitation of their environments. I am persuaded to think that housing impacts self-esteem and an estimation of social worth. And that is a possibility I would want to sponsor. If children will want more than their parents had, I would rather we prop up present age parents, so as to raise motivated future parents whose worldviews will be unlimited and very vibrant.

On the jobs score: let's start with lending out Kes. 2.5 million to 50.000 Kenyans to build 50,000 new homes all across the countryside per year. Assume, for a second - no, truly think long and hard about it - that, this will create direct employment to 3 million workers:-

  • Three sand harvesters per lorry of sand, 10 lorries per home: 30 on 50,000 = 1.5 million;
  • Two workers on each lorry ferrying sand = 100,000 lorry transport jobs, assured.
  • Three workers producing each concrete building block, 3000 blocks per home = 9,000 by 50,000.
  • Market and jobs in the cement production and stone-masonry and hardware businesses.
  • A construction tradesman and four assistants working on each home = 200,000 jobs
  • a) Wood workers making windows and doors, three per new home, 20,000 homes: 60,000 jobs supporting the carpentry and timber sector, creating market for wood products, and improving furniture standards around the country.
  • b) Metal workers forging steel doors and windows on 30,000 homes: 90,000 jobs to support the steel market, and improve skills in the housing supplies sector.
  • Three workers on each roof: 150,000 jobs. A huge market for roofing materials - wood, tiles, iron-sheets, ceiling materials, chimneys, - support for 450,000 sector jobs;
  • 10,000 electricians and power installation jobs; 10,000 power inspectors, and 50,000 new customers for the electricity market, creating more background jobs: an assured market for manufacturing of housing supplies, increased demand, production efficiencies, supply chain efficiences, profitability.
  • 10,000 plumbers, and increasing demand for water and sewerage services, perhaps 20,000 new jobs created in expanding that sector.
  • Overall increase in transportation of supplies will provide a market for transport business owners, increase road fuel purchases, earning revenues for government and sustaining jobs.
  • Home equipping after construction: painting, fencing, garbage collection, upholstery and furnishing, household energy - better homes will encourage uptake of better energy sources - i.e. less firewood, more biogas, liquefied petroleum gas, solar power and mains electricity, about 200,000 related jobs.
And the total annual cost is almost minimal: Kes. 2.5 million on 50,000 homes is Kes. 125 billion only, all invested in Kenya, with the related stimulus impact you can imagine. And it will be productive, not consumptive capital expenditure, to boot. 

Housing Influences People
Housing changes tastes and preferences, and substantially redirects economic choices. It is the perfect starting point to a growing and working nation, since people will generally protect and promote their own personal wealth and private interest. The people will be more tolerant of their neighbours and will defend peace in their neighbourhoods, as they have interest in national peace, to preserve what they will have worked hard to own. Homeless people are more easily agitated against home owners or their more prosperous communicants.

Improving housing will increase demand for government accountability and action, as people will demand services like wastes treatment, improvements in transport infrastructure and spread of opportunities for skills training, employment and local investments. It will lead to technical training of youth in construction skills, and create opportunities for employment across the country, and people from good homes are more likely to seek self improvement and better opportunities, both within and outside their communities..

Women and mothers will demand better nutritional and health choices, improving our nation's overall state of national health. Better housing will spread access to durable, higher quality home appliances, higher access to information and literacy through television, digital radio and the internet, and better choices in leadership. Better standards of life will improve attention to matters of national importance, and increase interest in government policy, with the expected improvements in demand for more  focused leadership.

Women's & Youth Economic Empowerment
When our women and youth are assured of good homes, they will invest emotionally and economically in their societies, seeking value in themselves and lower social tensions. It is the shield and cross-spears of our national coat-of-arms that will defend our peace and deliver the promise of a proud and rich homeland of Kenya, a new home for people with vast opportunities for progressive action.

But most importantly, increasing the gross national housing capital will reduce the housing inflation - artificially exploited by the private sector to make prices of homes unaffordable and prohibitive. It will keep our youth busy, and reduce the despondency and economic exclusion that keeps them bitter and easily prone to political exploitation and irresponsibility.

Hope and Progress
It will engender hope in the idea of Kenya, promote academic and economic effort to earn higher incomes that will qualify individuals into the promise of this programme, and higher incomes will improve family nutritional and health prospects, stabilizing birth rates. Great housing will be its own collateral, its own security and our nation's path towards faster devolution of government and social equality. It will be the first step to national transformation, and a guarantee of our cultural progress.

Again, mortgages will afford everyone the owner-occupier housing tax-breaks for families, reducing their tax burdens and increasing their purchasing power, hence lowering poverty. It will save women from total dependence on men for shelter, and improve their socio-economic independence.

For these and all the other reasons and ideas you will associate with this call, and which my thought has engendered in your mind, this is Kenya's most urgent agenda, and I enthusiastically promise to pursue it with all people of goodwill and similar opinion.