Would Hate Conquer Kenya?

Gatundu is a small town in Kiambu County, Kenya. Gatundu’s history is anything but small due to its most illustrious residents, the Kenyatta family. Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, represented Gatundu Constituency in parliament from 1964 until he died in 1978. Jomo’s nephew, Ngengi Muigai, took over the seat sitting in parliament for one decade until 1988. In 2002 Jomo’s son Uhuru Kenyatta was elected Member of Parliament for Gatundu South Constituency a seat he held until he was elected President in 2013. (The larger Gatundu constituency was split into Gatundu North and Gatundu South in 1997.) In the 51 years since Kenya got independence Gatundu has had a member of the Kenyatta family as MP for 35 years. It would be fair to conclude that the Kenyatta’s hold considerable weight in Gatundu. Especially when they also occupy State House.

This influence was seen during the by-election for Gatundu South Constituency in August 2014, which was occasioned by the death of Member of Parliament Joseph Ngugi Nyumu. The Contest to replace Nyumu boiled down to two candidates, Kiarie Kamere of the New Democrats Party and Moses Kuria of The National Alliance (TNA) the party of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Most analysts predicted Kamere would trounce Kuria, especially as Kamere had controversially lost the TNA primaries to Kuria. Ballot day would separate the pretenders from the contenders. But ballot day never came.

A week before the by election, after a private meeting with Uhuru Kenyatta, Kamere announced he was withdrawing from the race “for the sake of unity of Gatundu South people“. Kamere declared, “Gatundu South Constituency is the home of our beloved President Uhuru Kenyatta. I don’t wish to be the cause, or be associated with political divisions and unnecessary tensions in the President’s backyard … It is with this in mind and out of the deep respect for our President, Uhuru Kenyatta, that I this morning announce my decision to withdraw my candidature from the race for the Gatundu South Parliamentary seat.” Moses Kuria, Uhuru Kenyatta’s handpicked candidate, sailed into parliament unopposed.

On the surface this would just be yet another story of the power of political dynasties in Kenya. But the elevation of Kuria to parliament is much more sinister, especially considering he was hand picked by Kenyatta for the role he is playing. Kuria’s conduct has been anything but honourable constantly crossing the line between commentary and incitement. Kuria abuses the freedoms granted to him in our constitutional Bill of Rights to call for the destruction of other Kenyans, unaware that they too are entitled to freedoms he enjoys.

Take these examples all since October when Kuria gave his maiden speech in parliament.

Kuria hates the opposition and accuses them of being members of Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda

source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/542823320664961026

source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/542823320664961026

Kuria hates Muslims and Kenyans of Somali ethnicity and advocates for Al Shabaab to kill them using the hashtag #KillYourOwn. Kuria’s boss in parliament, the Majority Leader of the National Assembly of Kenya, Aden Duale, is ethnic Somali. I wonder if Kuria wants Duale killed too?

Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/536654339998482432

Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/536654339998482432

Kuria hates Luos considers them a “threat to East Africa”

Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/506947653771730944

Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/506947653771730944

and is obsessed with Luo penises

Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/506954651192004608

Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/506954651192004608

Kuria reserves most of his insults for the former Prime Minister of Kenya and current opposition leader Raila Odinga whom he really hates. Kuria’s obsession with Odinga’s penis is disturbing. He regularly takes pleasure in Odinga’s torture by the Moi dictatorship

Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/528338872833679361

Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/528338872833679361

Source: https://www.facebook.com/HonMosesKuriaActivist/posts/544201425681982

Source: https://www.facebook.com/HonMosesKuriaActivist/posts/544201425681982

He accuses Raila of organising terror attacks on Kenya

Source: Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/478276880307867648

Source: Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/478276880307867648

Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/478279381258080256

Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/status/478279381258080256

These examples are just a drop of the stream of vitriol that Kuria shares through his social media accounts and sadly, are not unexpected when you take into account Kuria’s brushes with the law. In June 2014 (just before he took over as Member of Parliament) the Director of Public Prosecutions ordered for the prosecution of Kuria for Hate Speech following recommendations by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and the Law Society of Kenya. This process led to Facebook shutting down Kuria’s Facebook page in May 2014.

As part of the process of settling the court case Kuria on 12 January 2015, in a press conference overseen by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and the Law society of Kenya apologised for linking certain communities to terrorism and violence. True to form just one day after that “apology” Kuria was up to his usual mischief and again feeding his obsession to penises by referring on his Twitter account to Genesis 17:14 which talks about uncircumcised men.

Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/

Source: https://twitter.com/HonMosesKuria/

Tired of having its processes mocked the National Cohesion and Integration Commission withdrew a conciliation agreement it made with Kuria over hate speech, citing continued posting of offensive messages.

Kuria is not the first Kenyan politician unable to keep a sense of ethics or even decorum. As a junior Member of Parliament his dishonourable behaviour should be nothing but a footnote in the history of Kenya. But Kuria is not just another Kenyan politician. He was hand picked by the President for parliament. Before going to parliament Kuria was a political strategist for the Uhuru Kenyatta’s party, The National Alliance (TNA). Incidently TNA’s chairman, Johnson Sakaja, one of the most reasonable Members of the current Kenyan parliament, has to his credit publicly called out Kuria when he comes across his incitement.

Screenshot 2015-01-07 14.43.31-KuriavSakaja

Kuria is many things but he is not naïve. He is a very stragic political player who played a significant enough role in getting Uhuru Kenyatta elected that he was rewarded with the Gatundu seat. Significantly throughout Kuria’s troubles with the law, State House has been silent, not once denouncing his statements.

As the President’s personal pick for the Gatundu seat and as a political strategist to TNA everything Kuria does is designed to ensure Uhuru Kenyatta is re-elected President. Therefore, Kuria’s actions give us insight into how the next Kenyan General Election campaign will be played. If he is to play a significant role in the election, everything Kuria does in the political arena must have one of two effects. His political actions must either

  1. Win over new supporters for Uhuru Kenyatta or
  2. Energise Uhuru Kenyatta’s current supporters

Kuria actions such as publicly insulting various ethnic communities, linking political opponents with terrorists, insulting the former Prime Minister, gloating over the plight of political detainees and his obsession with foreskins will definitely not win Uhuru Kenyatta any new votes. If anything it will drive voters who did not vote for Kenyatta in 2013 even further away.

That leaves us with only one option. Kuria believes his hate speech will energise Uhuru Kenyatta’s base. Kuria believes the best way to get Uhuru Kenyatta’s supporters excited about the next general election is to drag the whole political process into the gutter. Kuria believes incitement, the same kind of incitement that pushed Kenya into violence in 2007/2008, is a voter winner. And he is willing to take the risk and play dice with the future of Kenya.

This is especially dangerous because the perception is that Kuria’s actions not only represent his position but they also represent the strategy of Kenyatta. Kenyatta should move quickly to dispel that perception and distance himself from Kuria firmly and publicly. Not for the sake of his supporters, not for the sake of his opponents, not even for the sake of his presidency, although all three would benefit. Kenyatta should do it for Kenya, Kenyatta should do it to demonstrate that he is confident that his record as President and Commander in Chief will win him more votes than the hate speech of a delusional simpleton.

Our Culture Is Not Ridiculous

Fresh cow dung assists coagulation, the process by which the blood clots to form solid masses, or clots. In communities across Africa it was custom for cow dung to be applied to newly born babies to stop bleeding where the umbilical cord was severed. Unfortunately cow dung also spreads tetanus. Health officials launched extensive campaigns to inform pregnant women about the dangers of cow dung to babies. As a result of this campaign the custom has gone out of practice.

In all African cultures greetings are very important. In many communities you shake hands firmly and enthusiastically with everyone each time you meet them. It is not uncommon at large family gatherings to see a new arrival spend the first 10-20 minutes going round greeting everyone individually before sitting and joining in conversation. To do otherwise would be rude. However, in West Africa, in 2014, the necessity to prevent the spread of Ebola by not touching others has given rise to a new vogue – the Ebola greeting.

West Africans have invented gestures that, while they do not involve contact, are just as warm and friendly. From Monrovia to Dakar, from Freetown to Conakry, inventive West Africans are coming up with their own ‘hands-free’ ways to greet each other. They range from a subtle bow or rub of the palms to the more flamboyant gestures of bumping bottoms or throwing your hands in the air in a star shape, or the gentle foot-pat – half-greeting, half-dance – rubbing your left foot to your counterpart’s right. Perhaps the sweetest greeting is the hand across heart gesture.

Take any African custom or culture, no matter how “backward” it may seem, for example rubbing cow dung on newly born babies, and you can trace its origin back to a logical and practical reason, such as the need to prevent blood loss in newly born babies.

However, take any African custom or culture and you will find that it is not sacred. If it stops making sense, it will be changed. For example when you learn cow dung spreads tetanus you stop rubbing cow dung on newly born babies.

This is how we know that using “it is our culture” to justify the unjustifiable is ridiculous. Our culture cannot be ridiculous; it refuses to be ludicrous. For example, our culture will not force you shake hands when there is Ebola in your community. Those who try to make our culture justify the unjustifiable are hijacking our culture and mutilating it, not protecting it. Either the action was never part of our culture, in which case you can not use our culture to defend it. If the unjustifiable action was part of our culture then we need to accept that our culture is not static. It never has been. It never will be. When we need it to change it must change, and change quickly, even over night, as happened with greetings in West Africa.

One of the clear examples of this mutilation of culture is by the Kenyan Member of Parliament for Kitui Central, Benson Makali Mulu, when he advanced the following ridiculous argument while speaking in parliament during the debate on the The Protection Against Domestic Violence Bill, 2013

… in Kamba culture, there is nothing like sexual harassment when you are dealing with a wife or husband. When you pay the three goats, you are given 100 per cent authority to engage in that act without any question … in some cultures, it is a demonstration of love when you do a bit of beating to your wife … if you do not do it, you are seen not to love your wife.

Let us not beat around the bush. What Mulu is stating here is that in Kamba culture domestic abuse is

  1. the foundation upon which family is built
  2. a physical demonstration of love
  3. encouraged on the payment of 3 goats

You will be very hard pressed to find a more complete bunch of nonsense. This violence against women, which Mulu advocates, is a blatant distortion of one of the clear pillars of African, and indeed Kamba culture, the important role of women in society. For example, in the nineteenth century both men and women sat on Kamba decision making councils, Nzama. Colonial changes replaced the Nzama with “native tribunals” run by headmen (all male). Disrespecting women doesn’t just mutilate our culture it also perpetrates some of the most dangerous legacies of the colonial system, the removal of women from respected position of leadership in African culture. The Victorian concept of the woman as the creature of the domestic domain is one which was largerly alien to Africa and was introduced by British colonialists. Even without a seat at the Nzama amongst the Kamba a woman could divorce her husband on grounds of cruelty. Mulu is not defending our culture, he is trying to use our culture to purify a system of violence and oppression.

In an excellent blog post Wambui Mwangi writes powerfully about how dangerous, systematic and entrenched violence against women in Kenya is:

Oppressing and dominating other people is hard work. For their long-term viability, systems and structures of violence and subjugation need a staff, personnel, willing bodies to do the actual labour of violence and violation, of injuring and killing, and loud voices for speaking the mockery and the humiliation. All these are necessary for a prolonged project of physical and mental domination.

I urge you strongly to read Wambui’s entire blog post and understand the depths of the crisis which we are in. Women and girls even babies in Kenya continue to be harassed, publicly stripped, molested, raped and killed nearly every day.

We all have a role to play in dismantling the systems and structures through which this violence is perpetrated. Here are four suggestions.

  1. Recognise and stand up to any hijacking of our culture as this often provides the justification and encouragement for constant violence against our mothers, sisters, daughters.
  2. Support (with your money, time and skills) organisations that continue to take legal action against perpetrators of violence and support victims of violence. I am proud to have worked with FIDA Kenya, COVAW, UZIMA Foundation, GEM, UN Women, KNCHR, KELIN Kenya, KEHPCA, ALP and urge you to support them or similar organisations.
  3. Understand what the triggers and drivers of this violence are. Anzetse Were has written a powerful book, Drivers of Violence: Male Disempowerment in the African Context, in which she make the argument that male disempowerment manifests itself through violence. Look out for it at a book store near you.
  4. Support organisations that work with men and boys to understand what real manhood is about. I recommend the Man Enough programme by Transform Nations which is exactly that kind of provoking, challenging and real experience that works well to get men engaged.

Activity Is Not Security

Drive up to the guards, open your car boot, guards look at your spare wheel (or if they are especially dedicated they may give it a quick prod), guards close your boot, you proceed to the parking lot. Rinse and repeat.

Every day thousands of motorists in Nairobi go through these “security checks” at shopping malls, at office blocks, at places of worship, at hotels, at government buildings etc.

These security checks seem to serve no real purpose. The message seems to be if you want to carry a car bomb do not put in the boot. Or if you are going to put it in a boot at least put it in a suitcase first.

Security experts advise that by the time a bomb is at the gate of a shopping mall then the nation’s security systems have failed. As was seen during the Westgate terrorist attacks guards with metal detectors are not a deterrent to terrorists with machine guns.

So if the checks at the gates of parking lots are not about security why then are we subjected to them numerous times every day? What purpose do they serve?

These checks are not about security, they are about activity. Endless opening of boots of cars and staring at the spare wheel serve at least two key purposes.

  1. Firstly, the activity makes many people feel safe. People are apparently reassured when they witness this exercise in keeping up appearances. It is comforting that someone is doing something!
  2. Secondly this endless activity stops the guards from getting bored and dozing off; it keeps them alert throughout their shift. Security companies lose their contracts if guards are caught sleeping so they have to find ways to keep them awake and what better way than giving them something constant and routine to do?

The problem with this approach is that activity is not security. You may get away with this at the shopping mall, office complex level, after all private security companies are not intelligence gathering outfits. You can not get away with substituting activity for security on a national level. Especially if you are waging a self proclaimed “ war against terror”.

Why then are Kenyan law enforcement agencies engaging in activity at the expense of security in the recently launched Operation Usalama Watch? Following a cowardly attack on a church in Mombasa (the latest in a series of increasingly regular attacks in Kenya) Kenya’s law enforcement agencies launched Operation Usalama Watch which we are told is designed to flush out terrorists.

After watching the operation for the last week we have seen it involves

The crackdown targets the Somali ethnic group many of whom are Kenyan citizens. The warped logic behind this goes like this: since Al Shabaab has a large Somali membership, all Somalis should be treated as Al-Shabaab sympathisers until they can prove their “loyalty” to Kenya. The police operation has been conducted largely in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi, which has a large Somali population. In the last few days the operation has moved into Nairobi’s suburb of South C. In case we forget, ethnic profiling goes against Article 27 of the Kenya Constitution which is against discrimination.

What has been interesting is the near universal praise this police action has attracted from across the political, national and cultural spectrum. Traditional supporters of the police see the massive police operation as more evidence that the police are doing what they are paid to do and we should get out of their way and let them do it even if it means a temporary violation of the rights of Kenyans. Activity.

Traditional critics of the police are happy that finally the police are doing something about the constant attacks that have been killing innocent Kenyans. Finally something is being done. Activity.

The problem with both these opinions is that activity is not security. Supporting the current police action makes no sense, even from a strictly law enforcement perspective in which it is ok for the rights of Kenyans to be violated by the very body responsible for maintaining the law.

To support the current crack down you have to believe the myth that the Kenya’s law enforcement agencies are not very good at gathering intelligence about security threats within Kenya. Supporters of the current crack down argue that it is a necessary step (evil?) as it is a temporary substitute to intelligence gathering. If Kenya’s law enforcement agencies were good at gathering intelligence they would not have to go door to door asking people to produce their identification documents. They would already know where the high-risk threats are located. The police going to door to door is the least they can do, supporters argue. Finally there is some activity.

Except activity is not security.

The reality is Kenya’s law enforcement agencies are designed primarily for gathering information about Kenyans in Kenya and they have become very proficient at it over the last 50 years. To our political leaders the threat within is always more dangerous to their power than the threat without. It sometimes seems that our law enforcement agencies are more concerned about knowing exactly what everyone is doing all the time and with whom than they are about maintaining law and order. The problem with Kenya’s law enforcement agencies is not that they do not have information. The problem is that information is for sale. The problem with our law enforcement is corruption.

Corruption means for the right price you can buy all the confidential intelligence you want. Corruption means that any “terror lord” or “drug lord” would have paid to be informed about Operation Usalama Watch long before the door-to-door police action started. Corruption means they will not be caught in this dragnet. You can see this in the actions of police officers on the ground in Eastleigh and South C who are collecting significant sums of money to leave people alone. Clearly even they do not believe that any significant criminals will be caught in their net and instead are out to make a shilling.

So what then is the purpose of this police action?

When something so high profile does not make sense one strategy is to watch closely for any major policy announcements that accompany that action. Which fire are our collective geese being marinated for? The major announcement this time was that plans are underway to make Kenyans apply for new digital identity cards. This new “super ID card” will contain biometric information — each person’s unique biological markers — as well as social security and national insurance details. This plan is dubious for various reasons, one of the main ones is that it will not make Kenyans any safer. To introduce a policy so controversial as a fait accompli requires a huge distraction.

Another reason for this police action is perhaps much simpler. As people seem reassured by the activity of shopping mall guards opening and closing car boots, they are also reassured by knowing their law enforcement officers are doing something. So long as that activity is happening on the other side of town far away and so long as that activity targets “them” and not “us”.

Respect Our Flag

David Lekuta Rudisha, captain of Kenya's London 2012 Olympic Games team, celebrates with the Kenyan flag after winning gold and setting a new world record of 1.40.91 in the Men's 800m Final - photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

David Lekuta Rudisha, captain of Kenya’s London 2012 Olympic Games team, celebrates with the Kenyan flag after winning gold and setting a new world record of 1.40.91 in the Men’s 800m Final – photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Years ago I led a vocal delegation (consisting of my sister and myself) to the reception of Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa to log a protest in the strongest terms possible. The hotel’s crime was to fly the Kenyan flag upside down. We refused to leave until they sent someone to sort it out. I was 10, my sister 8.

A horizontal tricolour with three major strips of equal width coloured from top to bottom black, red and green and separated by narrow white strips, with a symmetrical shield and white spears superimposed centrally.
Description of the National Flag of Kenya

A few years later, in 1997, for the 2nd edition of the Safari Sevens, my brother Bantu and I walked the streets of Nairobi trying to buy a Kenyan flag which we intended to wave while cheering our national rugby 7s team. At every shop we inquired we were met with cold stares and sometimes fearful eyes. After a while it was whispered to us that ordinary Kenyans were not allowed to own a Kenyan flag. You couldn’t just buy one. You needed special permission. Permission from whom? Nobody knew, or they weren’t telling us. The only flags openly on display and on sale (usually by the metre) were unofficial flags, without the shield and spears that make the Kenyan flag so unique, or even worse with the spear and the shield replaced with a cockerel, the symbol of the then ruling party KANU.

We learnt that only source for official national flags was THE government. Remembering we had relatives working in the Ministry of Education we made our way there to ask if we could borrow a flag for the weekend. Unfortunately for us, all the flags were “upcountry”. Probably an inexactitude designed by our relative to protect us from our mad quest to own a flag of our country.

The day after drawing a blank at the Ministry we decided to walk down the legendary Biashara Street in Nairobi again in one last attempt to secure a flag. A shop owner (who probably couldn’t believe these two young men were still wandering the streets of Nairobi trying to buy a national flag for a rugby match in the middle of a General Election year) took us to the back of his shop and sold us a flag with a stern warning not to reveal to anyone where we had gotten it. Mission accomplished.

I am not very sure where my passion for our national flag and national anthem came from, throughout school I had the flag and anthem on the wall in the dorm room (leading to some unusual nicknames) and I am lucky enough to have a very progressive and accommodating wife who allows me to have a flag in our living room.

In the run up to the Kenya General Election of 2002 something magical happened. Kenyans liberated their flag. Suddenly Kenyan flags were everywhere. On t-shirts, on hats, on stickers, on bandanas, on bicycles, on matatus. It was beautiful to watch Kenyan citizens reclaim their flag from their government. The last frontier in this fight to liberate our flag is the question of who is “allowed” to fly the flag from their cars and at their homes (in my opinion, everyone).

This hijacking of national symbols by the government is a phenomenon that needs to be explored in depth.

What I find inexcusable and extremely irritating is not only the hijacking of the flag but the disrespectful way our national institutions deal with our national flag.

Let’s start at the top. The Presidency. Everybody at Statehouse, everybody who is involved with organising national events seem indoctrinated or perhaps just intoxicated with flag worship. They love the flag. The problem is they love the wrong flag. The flag they love is the Presidential Standard. Each Kenyan president is entitled to design and fly his or her own Presidential Standard. I see nothing wrong with that and indeed it can grow into a rich part of our country’s history. What is wrong is that the Presidential Standard is treated as more important than the national flag.

In this picture released by the Kenya presidential service shows Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta speaking you can clearly see the Presidential Standard (in the middle) is larger and given more prominence than the Kenya National Flag on the left. Correct flag protocol is that when the national flag is displayed with non-national flags the national flag should be at the centre and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags are grouped and displayed from staffs.

The picture above, released by the Kenya Presidential Strategic Communications Unit, shows President Uhuru Kenyatta speaking. You can clearly see the Presidential Standard (in the middle) is larger and given more prominence than the Kenya National Flag on the left. Correct flag protocol is that when the national flag is displayed with non-national flags the national flag should be at the centre and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags are grouped and displayed from staffs.

Sadly, some of the perpetrators of this downgrading of the national flag are the Kenya Defence Forces. The one body that you would expect would ensure the national flag is always treated with maximum respect as it is the flag they fight under. For example, during the Presidential Inauguration of 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta’s Presidential Standard was raised by KDF while the national anthem was playing. I was shocked to see that happen. Even as 12 year old scouts (8th Nakuru Scout Troop, Buffalo Patrol if you’re interested) it was drummed into us (as it was for many other primary school students across the country) that only the national flag is raised while the national anthem was played. That song is reserved for That flag. We learnt that the national flag should never touch the ground and we learnt the correct way to fold the flag. We learnt that you should always stop and stand at attention whenever the national anthem in being played.

At some presidential events the highest flagpole is reserved for the Presidential Standard not for the national flag. At some venues they will not allow you to fly the national flag from the highest flagpole even if the president is not expected! That flagpole remains empty if he does not attend. You can fly the national flag from any other flagpole, but not the “presidential” one.

This elevation of the Head of State above the country is probably inherited from the British where their monarchy is the ultimate reference point. This needs to change.

The most obvious example of the causal way in which the Kenya Defence Forces and indeed the Kenya Police treat our flag is seen in how they fly our flag on a daily basis. For most of January 2014 at Headquarters of the Kenya’s Department of Defence (DoD) in Hurlingham, Nairobi the national flag flying next to the main gate was dirty, tattered and torn almost in half.

Think about that. At the Headquarters of our military they see no problem in flying a dirty, tattered and torn national flag. The sad thing is all the other flags flying at DoD were in perfect condition. (It is illegal to take photos of the DoD headquarters otherwise I’d have documented that travesty). In Police Stations across the country this is also the case, dirty, tattered and torn national flags flying.

What is the problem? Is it a lack of procurement? Problems in the supply chain? Or is it not seen as a priority or even important?

Please note, this is not an attack on our current president. He inherited this lack of protocol/wrong protocol which places the president above the country. I hope that as Commander in Chief he fixes this. In no way would returning the national flag to its central place diminish his prestige, it would in fact elevate his position in office.

Symbols are important. National symbols, extremely important. Our National Flag is the most visible symbol of our country and it must be treated with respect. Kenya needs to revisit, perhaps rewrite and properly enforce flag protocol and flag etiquette.

How Africans citizens nearly funded the African Union

In 2011 I was invited by the African Union (AU) to speak on a panel at their annual High Level Retreat. The theme of the retreat was, “Making Peace Happen: Strengthening Political Governance For Peace, Security And Stability In Africa”.

Held in Cairo in the middle of the Arab Spring the conversations at the retreat were fascinating as leaders (political, diplomatic, military, etc) tried to understand and get to grips with the rapidly changing political landscape in North Africa. The retreat was held under the Chatham House Rule which allowed normally reserved and cautious diplomats to speak very candidly and passionately. The Chatham House Rule restrict me from sharing in detail the discussions that took place. I can say what diplomats say in public is sometimes very different from the actual position their country is taking. A lesson that current Kenyan government is coming to terms with pretty quickly. Read the Cairo Declaration issued at the end of the retreat. [Read more…]

Tyranny of Twitter Handles

The Middle Ages gave the English language a wonderful range of collective nouns. We talk about a flock of birds, a swarm of bees, a colony of ants, a herd of antelopes. My top two are a congregation of alligators which comes second only to the grand winner, a parliament of owls.

I suggest an addition to these collective nouns to describe the Government of Kenya’s (GoK) activities on social media. A Tyranny of Twitter Handles. [Read more…]

Nyerere on the Role of Universities

What we expect from our university is both a complete objectivity in the search for truth, and also commitment to our society – a desire to serve it. We expect the two things equally. And I do not believe this dual responsibility – to objectivity and to service – is impossible for fulfilment.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere speaking at the graduation of the first class and the opening of the campus of the University College of Dar es Salaam (now the University of Dar es Salaam)

Designing Kenya’s Anti Corruption Platform

One of Uhuru Kenyatta’s most effective campaign slogans was “The Digital Team”. Since taking office President Kenyatta’s team has been upgraded (in true tech fashion) to “The Digital Government”. Enthusiasm in deploying technology is a key characteristic of the first year of Kenyatta’s administration. An example of this is growing number of official Government of Kenya Twitter accounts.

On the 16th of October 2013 at the Women, Youth and Persons with Disability Expo on access to Government Procurement Opportunities, Kenyatta announced that his administration will set up a corruption reporting website where ordinary citizens can report any government official who asks for a bribe.

I will open a website where when you go to look for help in government offices and you are asked to give a bribe you can immediately report the person. All one will be required to do is log in, and there will be a place to record the name, ministry, department and position of the culprit to get them arrested.

Corruption in Kenya is a big problem, that is well documented. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013, the biggest ever survey tracking world-wide public opinion on corruption, tell us that 95% of respondents in Kenya felt that police were corrupt/extremely corrupt. The same survey tells us 59% of respondents in Kenya felt that public officials and civil servants were corrupt/extremely corrupt; 58% of respondents in Kenya felt the judiciary was corrupt/extremely corrupt; 68% of respondents in Kenya felt parliament / legislature was corrupt/extremely corrupt.

As we have seen over and over again this level of corruption does not only steal public resources, it also costs lives. With statistics such as these it is clear why tackling corruption should be a priority for Kenyatta’s administration.

Something needs to be done.
Something radical needs to be done.
Is a corruption reporting website that thing?
Perhaps, if deployed correctly.

Technology is only 10% of a successful deployment

A common mistake when turning an idea like a corruption reporting website into a solution is to spend most of your planning time focusing on the technology. Which platform should be used? What graphics should we have on the front page? What number should we use for the shortcode? what colour should the logo be? etc. At Ushahidi we say technology is only 10% of a successful deployment. If the President wants his portal to be effective here are four other things he should be thinking about.

  1. The Strategy Is Not Ambitious Enough

    The President’s plan is noble but I feel not ambitious enough. For this new platform to be really useful to citizens, for this new platform to really bring about the change we need in Kenya it needs to map service delivery as well as corruption. Or more directly, the deficiencies in service delivery by the government. For example, a government pharmacy may regularly experience stock-outs, the lack of essential medicines. This could be due to corruption such as officials diverting drugs to their own private pharmacies. However, it could also be due to inefficiencies in budgeting, procurement, delivery or reporting. For a platform to be truly useful to citizens, policy makers, service providers and indeed the President it needs to capture all this data not just the corruption data.

    Kenya already has a service delivery framework in the performance contracts signed publicly in front of the nation by all Cabinet Secretaries on behalf of their ministries. These contracts should form a key part of this deployment as they inform citizens on what they should expect in terms of service delivery from the government. Getting these contracts online and accessible should be one of the first steps in this anti corruption drive.

  2. A Platform Is Only As Strong As Its Partnerships

    For the anti corruption platform to work the right partnerships need to be in place. I would recommend that this corruption reporting platform is not hosted by government but is instead hosted by an independent civil society organisation. Why? Look at those figures from the Global Corruption Barometer again. Why would we expect members of the public to report corruption to a system they perceive as corrupt? (To be fair 19% of respondents in the survey felt Kenyan NGOs were corrupt/extremely corrupt.) Another solution would be for the platform to be jointly hosted by the civil society organisations and government.

    An important role partners could play is in educating citizens on what they are entitled to. This must be a key part of any strategy to tackle corruption and improve service delivery. An assumption regularly made is that citizens always know what to report to the authorities. This is not the case. A bribe is relatively easy to spot and report. The same may not be true of inadequate service delivery. For example, if one school has 8 desks for every 10 students they may feel they have less room to complain than a school that has 4 desks for every 10 students. Some parents may even feel that they are lucky to have 4 desk per classroom. That each student is entitled to a desk and that the lack of a desk per student should be reported requires an awareness campaign run by credible partners.

    Partnerships are also important when it comes to outreach campaigns. Simply plastering information about the corruption reporting platform on billboards and radio adverts across the country will not automatically lead to uptake by the public.
    Even if the technology works perfectly.
    even if the institution receiving the complaints deals with them diligently.
    Consider this lesson in a blogpost by Varja Lipovsek and Rakesh Rajani called, Your Phone Won’t Ring Just Because You Gave Out Your Number:

    Here’s our bet: people don’t respond because they just don’t believe their voices will count. In East Africa where Twaweza works, years of unresponsive and predatory systems have cared little about citizen voice, so much so that even when there is a “real” opportunity for feedback, people simply do not believe it’s worth their while. When for 10, 15, 20 years one’s core experience of public service delivery has been one of disinterest or even fear, simply setting up attractive new mechanisms, however well-intentioned and sophisticated, won’t cut it.

    Sometimes, many times, the messenger is as important as the message. This means that the President will need to find different partners for each part of the country as it is unlikely that a single organisation or institution has the type of credibility nationwide to make this initiative work.

  3. What Is Your Duty of Care

    From the President’s statement reports of corruption are being collected in order to get corrupt officials arrested. This means that the person sending in the original report of corruption may be required to attend court proceedings or a formal disciplinary hearing. How will this process be handled? Will people be comfortable reporting corruption by individuals who have power in their local communities if they have to accuse them publicly?
    Connect to this, a more basic duty of care needs to be in place to protect all citizens who speak out. Measures must be in place to enable the administrators of the website to identify personal information (name, telephone numbers, email address) and to provide those administrators with an opportunity to remove/hide that information from the public. The nature of the complaint should be public. The personal information of the person making the complaint should not.

  4. Verify and Analyse Your Data

    Collecting information is the easy part! It is crucial that all reports of corruption are taken through a process to establish how credible they are. There are various methods that can be used for this. For Uchaguzi, our citizen centred election platform, we had partners on the ground, trained and led by the Constitution & Reform Education Consortium, who we could call to check up on reports for us. The President has similar options available to him, officers of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission for example. Another option is working with the Data Lab at iHub Research that has developed a variety of data mining and machine-learning techniques for verifying crowd-sourced information.

The Technology

Technology is only 10% of a successfully deployment but it is a crucial 10%. It is very important that the President gets the technology right. Here are some things he should consider.

The best technology solutions meet people where they are
Ideally citizens should not have to purchase any new technology or learn any new skills to interact with this corruption reporting deployment. This means the platform cannot be exclusively web based. In the Kenyan context citizens must be able to send and receive information to and from the platform by SMS. The President may consider using SMS Sync or Frontline SMS both developed and maintained by teams in Nairobi to manage the SMS portion of the platform.

This does NOT mean that President should ask his team to ignore the web platform and mobile applications for smart phones such as Android and iOS. The best strategy in this scenario is to cover all bases. Data received from mobile applications can include photos, video, exact GPS locations which SMS cannot do. Smart phones providing rich data are powerful corruption reporting tools. Tools like the BRCK provide an easy and reliable way to connect to the internet, anywhere in the Kenya, even when you don’t have electricity.

Technology needs to tested

Whatever platform and applications are chosen it is important that extensive design testing, user interface testing and user experience testing is done to make sure the platform works for the potential users. The team at the iHub UX Lab believe that smart, user centric design has the power to change Kenya, both economically and socially. The President would be wise to harness this power.

The Ecosystem Exists

The President and his team may be aware that some of the best crowdsourcing tools available to him and his team are developed by Ushahidi, founded and headquartered right here in Nairobi. Ushahidi has been used 40,000+ times in 156 countries around the world and has been translated into 35 different languages. Global reach, made in Africa. Ushahidi has been used around the world extensively for human rights, corruption and accountability mapping. On our website you will find a section dedicated to making anti corruption and transparency mapping successful. It includes examples of anti corruption and transparency mapping as well as examples of human rights mapping.

Ushahidi is one part of a larger technology ecosystem and the one big advantage President Kenyatta has is the ecosystem to make his anti corruption platform successful is already in place and less than a 15 drive from Statehouse (just 2 min with his motorcade). At the Bishop Magua Centre, he would find Ushahidi, BRCK, FrontlineSMS, the iHub and several other companies, projects, techies, project managers ready to work with him to deploy an anti-corruption platform that would transform Kenya.