Thursday, February 5, 2015

On Elections Held in December

It takes a newly-elected government at least four months to install itself comfortably into the nooks and crannies that characterize the corridors of power. Selecting nominees for the many offices and committees that usually need reconstituting - due to executive privilege, or resignations of holders with viewpoints opposed to the incoming administration. Vetting procedings, as well as general familiarity with new official environments, rearrangements and general euphoria that characterize accession to power, take time to settle.

In my opinion, the last four months of the year are just the right time for such elementary proceedings. Which is why elections should be held earlier; in August preferrably, so that by January of the following year, everything is set for a neat take-off. Voters allow themselves the chance to bond over the festive season, and easily overcome the tensions of a charged elections season. Schools and businesses can look forward to a complete new year devoid of distractions, when the festive season ends; and the new year has a psychological starting point from which to evaluate its progress.

When the country votes in December, just the opposite happens. Nobody really has a festive season, as the days are consumed by political tension and noise. These spill over into the new year, and literally waste away the first few months, as a new government strives to install itself, while meeting the challenges of a demanding public. In temporal terms, two calendar years are lost to politics. Should schools be opening, or should we await the Supreme Court's ruling on the presidential election? Should you, instead, be flying away to the holiday you could not award yourself due to your civic commitments over December? It is unnecessary messiness. And it wastes the natural tendency of people to work harder towards the end of the year.

Every time you mix two high-tempo seasons, someone is bound to come out a loser - either emotionally or even economically. That hurts the nation, deeply.

Seeking Rationality, I Must Shift From DStv to GOtv.

In Kenya, the digital migration wars are roiling. As the ITU mandated deadline for migration from analogue television broadcasting technologies to the more efficient digital systems elapses, a momentous court battle is raging between the industry regulator, the Communications Authority of Kenya, CA, and the three largest terrestrial broadcast networks in Kenya. Senior Counsel Paul Muite and a battery of awe-inspiring laywers are pitted against the regulaor in various courtrooms, from the High Court all the way to the Supreme Court.

Whereas I feel for the broadcasters in their battle against a hard-tackling regulator, I am not particularly perturbed by the possible outcomes. You see, I migrated from analogue to digital, at a household level, in May 2009. Five and a half years ago, as I write this. For those years, I have paid subscriptions to MultiChoice Kenya, for their lowest-priced satellite bouquet. That serves my need for news briefs, a bit of live sport and quite an array of dated culture shows - not being a real television buff.

However, with the recent transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting technology, their offerings on GOtv have shifted my allegiances. For a slightly lower fee, I have access to seven or more channels that were previously unavailable to me. CNN, MTV Base, Sony Entertainment, Sony Max, one or other of those Nigerian movie channels and an Events Channel that has recently been broadcasting the African Cup of Nations extravaganza in Equatorial Guinea. I might not receive the RAI channel, Bloomberg, NDTV or the debased CNBC Africa, but I am fine, thank you.

The decorder allows me to view quite a number of local free to air channels that are not available on the satellite platform. That is a huge value proposition for me. As a message to MultiChoice? Don't miss me too much on satellite, because I am fully grounded at home on DTB.

Now for an appeal: satellite broadcasting required a smartcard in the decorders as a buffer to signal misappropriation by clients. The new terrestrial technology, without smartcards, should be cheaper for all of us. Why, wouldn't MultiChoice consider winning the decorder wars in Kenya, by placing all the premium content channels on GOtv, so as to reach a bigger market, with lower costs both for themselves and the clients?

I would not mind a super dose of live sport and headline cinema, at a lower cost. After all, Kenyans are known to love buying things in small quantities, only more often. As a rational consumer of television, I hedge my bets with GOtv, and have given up on exclusive satellite feeds.

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.