To my unborn son…

My dear boy, before you hit the roof take heed of the following.

This world owes you nothing. Your mother and I have done all that we could to teach you what you need to know in order to make your way in the world. We’ve done our best to teach you to read and to write, to reason and to think, to handle success and failure, to be gracious as well as to fight back. We have given you the tools you need to protect yourself from being taken advantage of and we have taught you that only the lowest of the low take advantage of people.

I hope we have shown you love and that you will, in turn, show love to the one you fall for, the children you will have, the strangers you will meet, and the family you will always have. If you ever get the instinct to be selfish, let your selfishness be about feeling good and not having stuff. Protect your heart, nourish it with love, share it with those who deserve it.

I won’t tell you whom to marry; your grandfather wisely knew that no man will ever listen to that kind of advise. Instead, my son, choose wisely. Stay away from the ones who live lives of wastrels. Avoid the ones who believe the world owes them. Flee when the materialistic darken the doors of your heart. Instead find ones with whom you share the values I hope we have taught you: patience, courage, ambition, generosity, kindness, curiosity. Find someone or let someone find you with whom each day contains the promise of greatness simply because your lives are intertwined.

Finally, it is your life to live. Make it a good one. Make it yours.

Play, my darling child

My darling child,

If I have a lesson to teach you it is that no matter how hard you think high school is, never, ever miss a chance to learn a sport and to play it well. Except boxing. I don’t care what they say on TV, boxing is out. You brain is far too valuable to place it at the heightened risk boxing will place it in.

Play a sport, play it well. Now, you know that your mother knows everything and I know absolutely nothing, but I know this: sport will liberate your body and with it, your mind. Don’t play because you want to lead a far healthier life than mine (though you will) but play because it is the least expensive, least dangerous way to bring you sheer, unadulterated joy.

You will lean to win and lose in a controlled situation and it is a lesson that will stand you in good stead all your life. Your mother and I have taught you many lessons, but the lessons you learn from team sports are lessons we cannot teach you properly. It is time that you found out just how good you are and not just because you mum and I think you are the greatest athlete since Athena of Greek mythology.

Don’t be ashamed to fall down. Don’t be ashamed to come last. Don’t be ashamed to miss a shot. Get back up, train harder, aim surer. We used to call it perseverance. You mother and I know it as focus. When you put your mind to it, my child, there isn’t anything in the world that can hold you back. So play. Learn the proper lessons of play. And conquer the world.

As the Nike slogan has it, Just Do It!

Big Cats

Big cats make me happy. I know they could rip out my throat but I don’t care. Big cats are absolutely the best thing about nature. They are not meant to be kept in cages and if you’re the dumbass that has invaded their ecosystem (where there are predators and prey and they are the predators and you are the prey), I don’t think I’ll feel that bad if they rip out your throat.

leopard

I like big cats, especially the tiger, because they are graceful and malevolent at the same time. You can see (if you have access to National Geographic) it in their eyes: they will hunt you down and eat you. Even the crafty leopard which stalks its prey is utterly beautiful.

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They are nothing like domestic cats who look down their noses at us even as they stare at us with their sometimes big mournful eyes. They don’t laze around the house, sometimes going after mall rodents. Big cats are outside animals with outside voices.

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Of course we are utter idiots for destroying their habitats. They now claim that there are less than 8,000 African cheetahs in the wild. All because motherfuckers want a fancy Chinese railway or a fancy German autobahn or some bit of concrete -and-steel that adds nothing to our lives but takes away the only good thing about nature: Big Effing Cats!

My dear daughter…

Child,

You must wonder why there are few pictures of you online, mustn’t you? All those clicks over the years that your mother and I have subjected you to must be somewhere, right? Right!

We know that your generation knows little about privacy; after all, ever since we made the fateful decision to buy you your own phone, tablet and laptop, you’ve used dozens of sites to chronicle your life with only one rule: no online photos. We didn’t do this lightly; we did it to protect you.

You are more than the sum of pictures you’ve amassed since we brought you home from the hospital. You are smart – smarter than your mother and I combined. All we want is for your online community to discover you through your thoughts, the one thing we know is absolutely real and honest about you. They will know your kindness through the words you post, your humility for the praise you eschew, your beauty from the evident kindness of your heart. Your image is immaterial in these matters.

Your mother and I have learnt, over a lifetime of lessons, that those who would judge you for how you look are not your friends. They only wish to use you to their ends. Your true friends value your friendship, not your beauty. They appreciate your words and your spirit. Finding this out is part of what growing up entails.

You are a young woman, now, and you chafe at our restrictions. We trust that we have raised you to be strong and intelligent. You are capable of making your decisions. As we release you from our constraints we do so trusting that you will keep yourself safe, protect your name, make the right choices, prosper and, most important, be happy.

Good luck, my child.

Is it worth the money?

Of what use is the Administration Police? Why do we still have a paramilitary police force when it is no longer under the command of chiefs, sub-chiefs, DCs or DOs?

Clause 17 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution reads thus,

Within five years after the effective date, the national government shall restructure the system of administration commonly known as the provincial administration to accord with and respect the system of devolved government established under the Constitution.

The provincial administration was not established by law; it simply came into being during the colonial era as the colonial government set out to administer the territory it formally proclaimed as Kenya when it became a colony. Among the offices the colonial government established were the District Commissioner and the District Officer which almost exclusively occupied by Caucasian British settlers or representatives of the colonial government seconded from London.

DCs and DOs were assisted by chiefs, assistant chiefs and village headmen to administer the territories under their jurisdiction. This administrative system made it easier to collect revenue (which was their principal job) and adjudicate disputes (which is how so many chiefs came to be unofficial magistrates after Independence). To enforce the colonial government’s law, these administrators were backed up by the Home Guard and, especially after 1963, the Administration Police Force which had formally came into being through the Administration Police Act, enacted in 1958 in the dying months of the Mau Mau rebellion.

Kenya had, therefore, two police forces: the Kenya Police Force, also known as the “regular” police and the Administration Police. (Within the Kenya Police were to be found Special Branch, which gathered “political” intelligence; the General Service Unit, a highly trained paramilitary force that acted as the President’s bodyguard among other sensitive assignments, the Anti-Stock Theft Unit, another paramilitary force tasked with policing cattle rustling among Kenya’s nomadic communities, and the Kenya Police Reserves, armed civilians who enforced the law in areas where it was uneconomical to deploy the regular police or, as in the case of Patrick Shaw, who acted as laws-unto-themselves in keeping the stayed-behind British settlers safe against Black violent robbers.)

The provincial administration, and the Administration Police, together with the Special Branch became the principal tools in the suppression of anti-party activities, especially after 1969. During President Moi’s reign, the provincial administration was a key provider of anti-party and anti-government intelligence while it was the Special Branch that was used to suppress sedition and punish pro-democracy zealots such as the so-called Seven Bearded Sisters (Abuya Abuya, James Orengo, Chelagat Mutai, Chebule wa Tsuma, Mwashengu wa Mwachofu, Lawrence Sifuna and Koigi Wamwere), many of whom were harassed, tortured, detained without trial and exiled from Kenya.

In the ratification of the Harmonised Draft Constitution in 2010, Kenyans had evinced a strong desire to strike at the heart of the provincial administration by cutting the Administration Police down to size. In the period between Mwai Kibaki’s 2002 presidential election victory and the 2007/2008 political crisis, the Administration Police thrived. It rivalled the regular police in equipment and funding, and in certain respects, it matched the power of the regular police. Its essential nature had not changed; it remained the President’s principal tool to suppress all political opposition. Indeed it had had become so powerful that during the deliberations of the Committee of Experts, it made it known that it would continue to exist as part of the national security apparatus. The CoE was inclined to fight it tooth and nail; the political classes were not, hence the anodyne and wishy-washy clause 17 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution. Kenyans, as always, got the short end of the stick.

The provincial administration and the Administration Police are some of the longest surviving relics of the colonial era. Even the manner of the recruitment of the Administration Police officers is redolent with the detritus of a colonist’s mindset that emphasised blind loyalty and obedience regardless of the cost. APs remain a key tool in the terrorisation of Kenyans in non-urban areas though, with the placing of the APs under the same command as the regular police, their malign presence is now to be felt in urban centres too. The ill-judged and ill-timed police reforms task force headed did not do much to shake the APs loose from their pre-Independence malevolent nature.

In recent years it has become apparent that letting loose the dogs of war wasn’t such a smart idea. There was a wave between 2005 and 2007 when APs, charged with escorting cash consignments from and between banks, colluded with robbers to rob the Cash-in-Transit vans of their loot. It was also the same period in which many AP officers were implicated in some of the most gruesome acts of extra-judicial killings by the police highlighted by a UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston. (The position of UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings, ironically, was formerly held by Kenya’s Attorney-General at the time, Amos Wako, who had proven difficult to work with during the investigation by Mr Alston.)

Today, the APs face an increasing number of cases in which AP officers turn their weapons on their superiors or commit suicide or both. Especially after 2002, the APs would always be an anachronism but because Kenya’s presidents have traditionally been extremely paranoid, they have always gone along with the idea that APs should never ever be abandoned. In an increasingly complex world in which trade defines many relationships, the continued existence of the APs as other than a border security force defies logic. It is time Kenyans asked whether it is worth the money to keep an armed, forty-thousand-man-strong paramilitary force with a record of murder.

234 days of paranoia

mis·in·for·ma·tionfalse or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.
Is it a crime to lie in public? Is it a crime to “misinform the nation” or “mislead the people” about your political opponent’s achievements, undertakings or intentions? This is the question that has agitated the ruling alliance over the past three months. No matter how many times the ruling alliance has attempted to set the record straight on its achievements since Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as Kenya’s fourth president, the public commons has been awash with what the ruling alliance’s leading lights, such as the Leader of the Majority Party in Parliament and the Deputy President, have characterised as “lies”. There is now a Jubilee Parliamentary Party legislative proposal to criminalise “lying to the public” or, as one aspiring political candidate has termed it, “spreading misinformation harmful to the nation”.
Article 33(2) and Article 24 of the Constitution prescribe the constitutional limits of free speech. While Article 24 prescribes in general terms under what circumstances a right or fundamental freedom could be limited (by the State), Article 33(2) prescribes what free speech is not: propaganda for war, incitement to violence, hate speech, advocacy of hatred that constitutes ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm or advocacy of hatred that is based on any ground of discrimination specified or contemplated in Article 27(4). Article 33(3), meanwhile, isn’t so much a restriction on the freedom of speech as an obligation that in speaking freely, one must not disrespect the rights or reputations of others.
Two things are readily apparent. First, “misinformation” or “lies”, in and of themselves, are not reasonable grounds for placing any limitations on Kenyans’ freedom of speech in accordance with Article 24. Second, the intention of the Bill of Rights in Chapter Four of the Constitution wasn’t intended to create new offences for which citizens could be prosecuted for by the State; it was intended to restrict the State when it sought (or seeks) to restrict Kenyan’s rights and fundamental freedoms.
One thing seems to characterise the ruling alliance: acute political paranoia. Despite a fairly broad political mandate as evinced by its numbers in both the National Assembly and the Senate, its control of almost half the county governments in Kenya, its implementation of flagship projects (including the much-derided laptops-for-children) and justified successes in diplomacy and foreign relations, the ruling alliance has continued to operate like a minority opposition party, unsure of its parliamentary strength, hobbled by infighting and beset by enervating setbacks related to backhanders, kickbacks and tender-price-inflating nitwits. Despite its command and control of the national airwaves through its administrative and political oversight of the Communications Authority, the ruling alliance has been incapable of a coherent propaganda strategy to counter the Jubilee-is-the-most-corrupt-regime-ever narrative persuasively advanced by a member of the Minority Party, Raila Odinga.
The ruling alliance has had many successes but all have been overshadowed by revelations of what David Ndii, one of Kenya’s best thought-leaders, and John Githongo, Mwai Kibaki’s teller of uncomfortable truths, have called looting. “Looting”, they explain, goes beyond petty or grand corruption;corruption is simply the venal act of a few people who are in the right place with the opportunity to rip off the taxpayer. Looting, on the other hand, is the systemic and parasitic programme, sanctioned at the highest levels of the Government, to rob the taxpayer blind. Mr Odinga might not have the glib tongue that many in the ruling alliance seem to possess (the Deputy President and the Majority Leader in the National Assembly come readily to mind), but he has an uncomfortable knack of making them look daft every time they try to hide proof of perfidy in high places. For that reason, if for no other, more and more members of the ruling alliance consider Mr Odinga the most dangerous man in Kenya and the stratagem they are trying out for size is to classify his actions in the florid language of the “crime of misinformation”.
No one now doubts that the political campaigning for the 2017 general election is well underway and that a few members of the ruling alliance are not confident about the chances of their flag-bearer, President Uhuru Kenyatta. That he, too, entertains the suggestion that political speech should be restricted to protect Kenya and its citizens from Mr Odinga’s misinformation and lies lends credence to the notion that the ruling alliance is no longer confident of its chances at the hustings in August 2017. In a continent whose politics is rapidly changing, perhaps the members of the ruling alliance fear that despite Mr Odinga’s frequent malapropisms, his accusations may yet find purchase among the political hoi polloi, put paid to a repeat command performance by the ruling alliance at the next general elections, embolden constitutional commissions and independent offices to go fishing with dynamite, and motivate the minority party, civil society windbags and foreign powers to challenge the ruling alliance’s political hegemony.
The tool that the intellectual dwarfs of the ruling alliance have chosen for this particular task will not work. It is likely to be welcomed with open arms by the securocracy whose existence is almost entirely predicated on keeping the Commander-in-Chief in power, through thick and thin, good times and bad, as opposed to protecting the citizens’ rights or fundamental freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights. They quickly forget that what was wielded against their political opponents in the past will be wielded against them in the future. After all, the past is prologue. Should they manage to imprison Mr Odinga (or fatally end his political career), they should be prepared to hold onto the levers of political and governmental power by force if necessary because, as Baba Moi came to discover, even twenty-four years is not forever. Sooner or later the music will stop and it is they who will be without seats.
In Ghana, John Dramani Mahama turned out to be a one-term president as did Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria. In the Gambia, strongman Yahyah Jammeh lost to Adama Barrow (though he seems hellbent on staying put despite having initially conceded defeat) while in Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos has promised to step down before the next general elections in 2017, the same year Kenya will be going to the polls. In the United States, Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in what many called a “shock” defeat (though I don’t know what’s so shocking for a war-mongering wife of a serial philanderer and liar to lose an election to an electoral neophyte) while in the United Kingdom and Italy, prime ministers resigned their offices after losing referenda, the UK on the European Union and Italy on constitutional reforms. Both Africa and the rest of the world have recently demonstrated that incumbency is no guarantee of political longevity or victory any more.
Perhaps members of the ruling alliance have finally discovered that a partnership that is consecrated with looting is not the winning recipe they need for the 2017 general election and, in their panic, rather than right their ship, have decided to charge the doyen of the opposition with charges akin to treason. If it is a strategy to curry sympathy for the 2017 elections, I cannot see it. What is readily apparent is that Jubilee Party apparatchiks have panicked and in their panic are acting recklessly. It is their recklessness, not their looting inclinations, that is likely to be their undoing but only time will tell and it will be a long two hundred and thirty four days.

Endings

I fear the end. I fear it for its uncertainty. I fear it for its finality. I fear it for its destructive power. I can no more prevent it than shape it and that terrifies the living shit out of me.

Be cool.

Remember that scene in that movie when Sin La Salle goes, “Be cool?…I AM COOL!” and blows a gangster to kingdom come? It was quite something. And it got me thinking.

Every now and then, I get to experience a moment of clarity. This morning, having cut my right eyelid in the morning because Kenya Bus buses are shit, I was forced to be cool, against my better instincts.

I didn’t know that a paper I was writing was needed at 8am sharp. Make that 7:30am, but, apples and oranges. Anyway, it was needed by 7:30am, but I didn’t know. The instructions came down at 5:30pm, yesterday, long after I had slunk out of the office for the solace of my pokey crib and a glass of ice-cold Coca-cola.

I roused at my usual ungodly hour—4:30am—and did the things that a man alone at the arse-end of the witching hour does. Then, as soon as I heard the first rumble of the Double Ms, I was out my door at 6:15am. It had rained the night before so obviously the arse-hole in the just-arrived Belta thought it would be fun to douse me in Buru Buru’s finest matope. Which he did with avid enjoyment. That meant that my 7am office arrival went right out the window because I had to walk back to my pokey crib and change.

So I make it to the office at 7:45—already late—and try and find Fred with a draft of the paper I’m supposed to make. He comes through, kama kawaida. But his system can’t print, so I have to spend another ten minutes rushing back to my office so that I can print out the paper. It’s already 8:05 when I finally get to her office and hand her the file with the paper.

She is not amused.

When I get there, she’s on the phone to someone, giggling and essentially ignoring my presence. She stretches her hand, the way a dismissive boss does when she wants to Put You In Your Place. I hand over the file and stand there before her, feeling foolish as she finishes her phone call.

She adopts that accusatory tone they adopt when You Have Screwed Up: “You were supposed to bring this at 7:30!” she says, without looking up, voice dripping with faux anger. I keep my mouth shut; I know her blood is up and she needs me to say something stupid. I’ve dealt with her before; she never comes at you direct. She always wants you to say something stupid, put your foot in it, have a reason to start a memo to your boss or some such shit.

Clear as a bell I hear Sin La Salle’s voice: Be Cool. I hold my tongue. She does her thing while I stand there thinking of tea and scones and a Dunhill Red. The other shoe is about to drop. She’s talking but I don’t need to hear her voice, I know what she wants. I’m not buying today. I have a sore eye and a desk full of papers that need attention.

She pulls rank. She will make me stand and wait. And wait. And wait. Because I made her wait, even though I didn’t know that she needed that piece of paper at 7:30. Why didn’t she say so yesterday? If she had, this day would have turned out mighty different.

I pity her. Really. It’s not a good life to be scowling and growling at 8 o’clock in the morning. It’s no life when your colleagues cut a wide berth when they see you. It’s no life to be your master’s voice, even when he is mute.

Being cool is about knowing what is and isn’t possible. Being cool is about not showing weakness even when you have no power. Being cool is about finding that sliver of silver lining when the storm clouds gather and threaten to overwhelm. Being cool is knowing that someone can be rattled.

Never show weakness. Never bow. Never scrape. Be you. Do your thing. Play it cool. Don’t smile, though. That tends to bring out the vindictive nature of your nemesis. Instead, walk away. If she wants to throw her weight around, let her. If she wants to vent, let her vent to her minions. Give her a wide berth. Her day is already fucked. No need to get sucked into her already sucky day.

In other words, BE COOL.

I never said, Thank you

I don’t know if you’ve ever met Liz, Jennifer, Marion, Josephine, Lilian, Dima or Tom. I hope you have. I first met them in 2011 and they were wonderful.

They didn’t have to be, but they were. Dima, Tom and I have India in common. We all have the intricate minutia of the Law in common. We write it. We interpret it. We make it make sense.

They took me in as one of their own, and under the tutelage of Nzioka and Fred, they made me the Parliamentary Counsel I am today. Without their help or counsel, I would be floundering. I can’t thank them enough.

I miss Jen, Liz and Dima; greener pastures called to them and they answered the call. But wherever they have gone, I can imagine that other drafters get the same frisson of excitement at working with them.

If you do get to meet them, tell them, please, Thank you.