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Saturday, February 3rd, 2018


Uhuru needs to separate politics from business in Raila oath rage

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It has been tough being associated with the National Resistance Movement (NRM) the past few days.

Two days after Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i proscribed the movement that advocates civil disobedience and economic boycott in its push for electoral justice, a heavily armed police squad on Friday broke into the Nairobi house of Miguna Miguna, one of NRM’s more vociferous leaders, grabbed him and drove him to a police station in the neighbouring Kiambu County.

Mr Miguna remained in custody on Friday despite his lawyers having managed to obtain a High Court order for his release on bond. Pictures published in the newspapers and social media showed a local mob massing around Githunguri Police Station and demanding they be let in to lynch him for disrespecting President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The majority of people living in this area are die-hard supporters of Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, of course. Media reports suggest that heightened activity at the police station had aroused curiosity in the neighbourhood, explaining the mob’s presence. Mr Miguna’s comrades insist it was a mobilised crowd.


Whatever the case, the Githunguri crowd’s sentiment highlights a dangerous personalisation of issues that has clouded the opposition’s agitation for electoral justice.

Just as the ordinary Jubilee supporter sees the clamour for reforms as a personal insult to Mr Kenyatta, his opposite number in the National Super Alliance (Nasa) believes it will sweep his leader Raila Odinga into power.

Perhaps the two protagonists should be honest with their followers and tell them what this is really all about. The two sets of supporters need to come to terms with the fact that sooner or later the political elite will agree on some kind of electoral reforms before 2022 anyway.

Mr Kenyatta should be particularly concerned about perceptions that he is personally benefiting from the State crackdown on the opposition and independent TV stations following the mock swearing-in of Mr Odinga as the people’s president on January 30.


The shutting down of the three top independent TV stations – Citizen, KTN and NTV – over live coverage of the Nasa ceremony at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park has left K24, which is part of the Kenyattas’ media empire, as a major beneficiary.

As in the Miguna case, the three TV stations remained off-air despite a Thursday High Court order suspending the decision by the Communications Authority of Kenya to switch them off. The heavy-handedness with which security agents have been seen to move against NRM and its leaders raises eyebrows as well.

Among the products and services that the movement has in the past asked its members to boycott are those of Brookside Dairies, another firm in which the Kenyattas have interests.

The local milk giant has in the past five years registered huge growth and consolidated its position as market leader. NRM will most likely see its current travails as the empire fighting back.

‘People’s President’ heralds arrival in Canaan; which begs question what next?

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The authorities did a very smart thing by calling back the police riot squads from Uhuru Park early on Tuesday morning. This had the effect of completely scuttling Nasa’s game plan.

The outfit’s principals had not expected this. They had expected a day of tear gas, bullets, violence and running battles all over Nairobi between police and Nasa supporters angry at being denied entry into the park. This mayhem would have been relayed to the world by every international TV station and newspaper, thus piling pressure on Jubilee to open talks with the Opposition. Frustrated, the world media could only sniff at what they called a “mock inauguration”.

No “swearing-in” could have been planned by the principals amidst the anticipated havoc. That is why Uhuru Park showed no preparations for an event that morning: no chairs or party decorations at the dais, not even a public address system. Things changed when Nasa supporters learned they were free to enter the park, which they did in their thousands.

This left the Nasa principals, especially Raila Odinga, in a huge dilemma. A crowd lover, he felt he must show up, otherwise he would lose the multitude, which was overwhelmingly ODM. Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula, who had all long questioned the wisdom of the “swearing-in”, felt the pressure, too, but developed cold feet.


I have acquired a sneaking respect for Raila for doing what no one has ever done in this country, however comical it was. I felt a touch of pity watching the man hurriedly taking the “oath”, even as his allies deserted him. That is the curse Raila must live with. For all the reasons that drove him to take the “oath’’ and more, he will forever remain radioactive to political would-be suitors who prefer more conventional ways to power. Worse, Raila’s international reputation, which he is so mindful of, took a very bad beating.

Even so, it was the no-show Kalonzo who was the day’s biggest loser. I fear his career as a serious national political player may effectively be over. Mudavadi has, likewise, become damaged goods. Whilst Raila’s Nyanza powerbase will never desert him, Kalonzo’s Ukambani constituency and Mudavadi’s Luhya base are unsteady and were deeply shaken by their leaders’ absenteeism.

This was not out of love for Raila per se. They know that without the benefit of his voting bloc, making it to State House in 2022 is a pipe dream.

Kalonzo’s reasons for missing the “swearing-in” cut little ice with detractors. He first complained that his security detail had abruptly been withdrawn.

Then he improvised with a tale about a grenade and gun attack at his Nairobi residence. Police investigators concluded the whole thing was fabricated.

Raila’s obsession with crowning himself “People’s President” beats me. He was doing quite well standing up to Uhuru Kenyatta’s government without the meaningless title.

By trampling on constitutional rules without paying the price, he has shown he is untouchable and left the government looking wishy-washy. His followers will take the “oathing” symbolism literally as he orchestrates other stunts to undermine the government in power.

There will be an unrelenting menu of boycotts, court cases and street protests. His overriding aim will be to set up Kenyatta’s regime to fail.

The ODM leader has many strengths, but humility is not one of them. He rated the significance of his “swearing-in” on par with Independence Day in 1963.

Still, he may hesitate to endorse the ultimate step of provocation which hotheads in his party have been advocating: Secession. That is not to say he will actively discourage them.

What may bring a real crisis is if these hotheads jump the gun as they did with the “swearing-in” affair. CS Fred Matiang’i’s vocal banning of the National Resistance Movement thing could, just conceivably, give them ideas.

This NRM is in reality an amorphous creature which Raila dreamed up when he promised a “big” announcement around Christmas time. Yet you never know; it could actually grow legs.

Brace for imminent split in Nasa, Jubilee

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Many of the headlines in Kenya over the last couple of days have focussed on the fall out from the swearing-in of Raila Odinga as the “People’s President” on January 30; the detention of Ruaraka Member of Parliament Tom Joseph Kajwang for administering the oath; the unnecessary and unacceptable shutdown of three TV stations; and the alleged grenade attack on the home of Kalonzo Musyoka.

In this column I want to go behind the headlines to think about what recent developments on both sides of the political spectrum have to tell us about the country’s future. A key point that it is easy to lose sight of amidst the noise and controversy of the last few days is that both the ruling and opposition alliances are starting to fragment.

The fact that these processes are happening at the same time is important because one thing we know about Kenyan politics is that the fragmentation of one party or coalition tends to encourage the fragmentation of the other.

In other words, the more fractious the ruling party becomes, the harder Nasa will find it to stay together.

It is hard to know whether Raila Odinga’s swearing in was a great propaganda success or a political setback — in reality it was probably both.


The sight of Baba defying the government to present himself to thousands of adoring supporters in Uhuru Park generated great excitement in his strongholds. It is moments like this that underpin his status as the defining opposition leader of his generation.

However, the failure of other Nasa principals to turn up for the swearing in ceremony has led to widespread speculation about what motivated their absence. Did Kalonzo Musyoka, Moses Wetang’ula and Musalia Mudavadi really stay away simply because they were worried about the lack of security protection and the threat of being arrested?

There is certainly some evidence for this interpretation. As the Nation reported on January 31, in an audio recording widely circulated on WhatsApp, Musyoka explains that: “I was left alone. I stayed (at home) until about 11 am., and that is the time journalists came to my home. I left. We had spoken on phone with Hon Raila, Wetang’ula and Mudavadi to plan our journey to Uhuru Park. We did not get there. We found ourselves, Wetang’ula, Mudavadi and I, because we did not have bodyguards, unable to leave the room. That is what happened.” 

A joint statement that was subsequently released by the three leaders repeated this mantra, insisting they remained committed to Nasa, and that the opposition was united. And as pressure on Musyoka and Mudavadi to prove their loyalty increased, their statements of faithfulness to the opposition cause have become stronger.

However, it seems unlikely this was the only factor behind their absence. There have been strong rumours for months that Musyoka and Mudavadi are uncomfortable with the more hardline approach being pushed by some of Odinga’s closest advisors. This is not only because they fear being arrested — it is also because they are thinking ahead to the next election.

Most obviously, swearing-in Odinga as the people’s president was not in the interests of Mudavadi and Musyoka because it reinforced the notion that he is the driving force behind Nasa, relegating them to the back seat. The proceedings at Uhuru Park may not have put Odinga in State House, but they were hugely symbolic nonetheless. And the symbolism of Odinga as an incumbent political authority is problematic for those who hope to succeed him, because it implies that he remains in prime position to be the candidate of the opposition next time around.


Quite how much this thinking influenced the decisions made by the absent Nasa principals is hard to judge, but we know the issue of leadership and succession has been a major bone of contention for some time. Having been promised that he would be the candidate in 2017 in return for his support for Odinga in 2013, Musyoka already feels he has been taken advantage of. Mudavadi is equally keen to step out of the shadows and rekindle his own presidential ambitions. Given that neither leader wishes to line up behind another candidate again in 2022, it would only be natural if they had mixed feelings about investing in further strengthening Odinga’s position.

Attending the swearing-in ceremony was also problematic for Musyoka and Mudavadi because it would have tied them to a potentially adversarial political episode — which many believed had the potential to trigger widespread clashes with the security forces — hardening the criticism of them among leaders and communities that back the government. In turn, that would have made it more difficult to form fresh alliances with factions of the ruling party in the run-up to the next set of polls.

This is something that Musyoka and Mudavadi are determined to avoid, because they both know that their best chance of winning the presidency is to present themselves as compromise candidates acceptable to leaders and communities across the ethnic divide.


As we saw in the last election, the way that successive governments have demonised Odinga as a force for division and instability has frequently been unfair, but it has also been politically effective. Having observed how the negative campaigns against Raila have hurt his prospects of winning power, Musyoka and Mudavadi are understandably worried about suffering the same fate.

By staying away, they have disappointed many Nasa voters, and allowed their critics to call into question their credibility and courage. But they have also kept alive a broader range of alliances, and hence their ability to occupy the political centre-ground come 2022.

Of course, the ruling party will face just as many if not more challenges over the next few years. The potential storms to come were clear during the 2017 election campaign, when Deputy President William Ruto ruffled feathers by seeking to get more of his allies selected as candidates under the Jubilee Party banner, only to see a rival – Gideon Moi – parachuted into President Kenyatta’s campaign team.

It was only to be expected that the same tensions would resurface over the question of Cabinet appointments. On the one hand, Ruto knows his chances of succeeding President Kenyatta as the Jubilee candidate — and hence of winning the presidency — depend on establishing greater control over the ruling party by pushing his allies into key posts. On the other hand, President Kenyatta faces considerable pressure to use his final term in office to reward his own supporters and allies.

In the end, neither faction secured a decisive victory. Ruto was ultimately able to veto a number of the proposals he did not like, including some allied to Moi, but unable to force all of his own nominations through. However, in a sense what was more significant than the final distribution of cabinet portfolios was the fact that the episode clearly revealed the challenges that Ruto will face in exerting his authority over Jubilee in the coming years.

The Deputy President is not naïve enough to have imagined he would receive universal support from within the party for his ambitions, but he still seemed disappointed and frustrated not to get it.

Indeed, it is now clear — if it was not already — that it is not a question of if the government will fragment but when and to what degree. Even if Ruto succeeds in using his patronage networks to retain control over the bulk of the party, there will be a number of leaders and factions that will break away, triggering a fresh round of political realignment.

As I have argued before in these pages, the degree of unity in a party or coalition is shaped by what happens to its rivals within the political system. This is particularly true when there are two main political blocks, because the opportunities to form successful new alliances depend on being able to instigate a fresh coalition with leaders from the other side.

Fragmentation encourages change, while unity facilitates stability.

Consider, for example, the difference between the elections of 2013 and 2017. In 2013, the new alliance between Kenyatta and Ruto left Musyoka surplus to requirements and led to a political merry-go-round. Once the then Vice President had formed a new coalition with Odinga, there was still time for Uhuruto to briefly consider bringing Mudavadi on board to boost their campaign, before ultimately discarding him.

By contrast, in 2017 the unity of the ruling party meant that opposition leaders had nowhere to go. As a result, they focussed on establishing a more united front, with Mudavadi coming back into the opposition fold, standing alongside Musyoka and Odinga.

The early signs are that 2022 is going to look a lot more like 2013 than 2017. As the evidence grows of divisions on both sides of the political spectrum, former rivals will start to make contact, anticipating the coming realignment.

And as they try and manoeuvre to keep their options open, leaders with presidential ambitions will increasingly disappoint their current allies, making it even harder to sustain existing coalitions.

Given this, the next election is unlikely to look too much like the last one.

 Nic Cheeseman (@fromagehomme) is Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham

Egypt and Sierra Leone prepare for polls as pressure builds on Zuma to leave

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With next month’s elections in Sierra Leone and Egypt approaching, there has been a surge in activities in the two countries in the past few weeks.

While the former will hold general elections on March 7, Egypt will have a presidential poll between March 26 and 28.

However, the centre of interest is South Africa, which is set for the annual state of the nation address in Parliament. The Thursday event is one of the most important in the country’s political calendar.

This time, the occasion may well be President Jacob Zuma’s Waterloo. Among those the beleaguered president is pitted against are leaders of opposition parties, the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance.

Respectively led by the fiery Julius Malema and Mmusi Maimane, the parties have vowed to see to Zuma’s ouster before the state of the nation address.

Others involved in ensuring that Zuma exits the political scene long before the expiry of his final term next year are top executives in the recently reconstituted ruling African National Congress.

The party leaders were elected in the December convention that saw Zuma replaced as ANC president by his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.

These forces appear to be hell-bent on showing their clout by pulling the rug from under Zuma’s feet.

It does not help Zuma’s cause that he has over the years faced a plethora of corruption and other charges, including abetting state capture.

The accusations have piled up in recent times and have sullied his reputation. Next month’s elections, which are the first on the continent’s poll calendar, have already set the countries astir.

After long-drawn reluctance to pave way for new leaders, Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma finally threw in the towel.


He has tried all sorts of manoeuvres — including reshuffling his cabinet and detaining rivals — to defer his own exit or to anoint a preferred successor.

To his credit, though, Koroma has finally accepted that the polls have to be held as planned.

The ruling All People’s Congress has appointed foreign affairs minister Samura Kamara as his successor. Among his rivals will be Julius Maada Bio who challenged Koroma for in the 2012 poll on a Sierra Leone People’s Party ticket.

Unlike Sierra Leone, where the incumbent is already packing his bags, Egypt strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, 63, is determined to get re-elected. He has vowed to relinquish power after serving his two constitutional terms.

The opposition, however, says the poll will be a charade and has called on Egyptians to boycott it

That aside, should the bid to oust President Zuma succeed, he will be the second veteran leader to leave the stage this year after Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She will be followed by Koroma.

Botswana’s Ian Khama, 64, will be next on March 31 when he hands over to his deputy Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Africa’s political landscape is evolving despite challenges.

Education reforms: Kenya is at a crossroads and we must get it right now or forever keep our peace

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The education sector has been in a fire fighting mode for some time now. The helter-skelter and cankerous voices have perfected the Kenyan way of resolving problems – finger pointing.

The matter has not been helped by the bullish activities of two Cabinet secretaries who issue edicts, one after the other, in quick succession.

The pure lack of a stakeholder engagement strategy in both curriculum reform and other reform practices being rolled out means the sector now relies on the individual compasses of the multiple players.

Young people in Kenya need to hold the government of the day to account, not because they have an option, but because their future depends on it even if they do not support it.

Education is a catalyst for both social and economic transformation. Kenya is at a crossroads and we have to get it right now or we forever keep or hold our peace.


The current administration requires more scrutiny since it has introduced the greatest per capita reform agenda since independence.

The engagement of stakeholders and players is not a negotiable arrangement as stipulated in CoK 2010. It is a right, and it is the duty bearers’ burden to respect that.

Education does not only liberate you to make choices in life; it gives you the versatility to enjoy the depth of the choices you make. By not participating in the ongoing education reform discourse, young people are actively consigning themselves and their children to captivity.


The government needs to be held to account on the standards it decides on by way of political processes and international charters and treaties.

For accountability in the education sector to work; it has to work upwards and downwards. Finger pointing at this time in the sector is not helpful to the nation and young people need to stand up or they will be judged harshly by history and many generations to come for their inaction.

Accountability means we stop the blame game and deliver the right to quality education and the promise of lifelong learning for our children.

It is responsibility that defines accountability. The Education CS is by law responsible for the promise of quality education and should thus anchor all edicts and prouncements in law and policy papers for the country to hold her to account now and in future.

We lack a stakeholder engagement framework in the sector hence the gaps that exist. We are holding people to account on issues that are foreign and new to them.

As matters stand, we have desperate voices calling on teachers to account for outcomes test … and beyond their control. It is not right to sacrifice teachers and education managers on outcomes that also depend on the actions of others.


Availability of information is the fulcrum upon which accountability rotates.

The failure to have a functionally useful NEMIS is the biggest failure of the sector; we are not able to trace investments made, calculate returns on investment and no research data to make policy and practice decisive … This is a dark cloud hanging on the sector and the envisaged reform shall not succeed if we do not have this fixed.

In education sector, we have been pre-occupied with performance based accountability with frameworks developed in the ivory towers.

These frameworks do not work since they form … and utilise narrow incentives hence the failure to improve systems.

The narrowness of these elements has led us to the emphasis on teaching to the test.

Let us come to the table to engage with clean hearts and the interest of the children who badly need this education to transform their lives. The time to turn the tide is now.

  The writer is the Country Director Discovery Learning Alliance-Kenya [email protected]

Kenya should prioritise the financing of climate change adaptation, mitigation


Kenya faces significant challenges from the negative impacts of climate change which pose a risk to its people’s livelihoods and economy. Already observed impacts include: reduced agricultural production hence food insecurity due to changing rainfall patterns or failure of some rainfall seasons; reduced energy production levels especially the hydropower sector that supplies the country with 70 pc of its electricity due to decreasing water levels, among others.

Financing climate change adaptation and mitigation response measures should, therefore, be prioritised in ensuring that the observed devastating food insecurity concerns, environmental degradation and decline in economic prospects directly or indirectly affected by climate change does not escalate.

The country’s goals to tackle climate change will only be realised if substantial financial allocations are done both at the national and county levels. Kenya has committed to a 30 per cent reduction of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

To realise its NDC commitment, Kenya cannot do it alone, international support remains essential. This support will be needed in the form of finance, investment, technology development and transfer, and capacity building. The Kenyan NDC estimates that over USD 40 billion will be required for mitigation and adaptation actions across sectors up to 2030.

Taking note of the Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities under the UNFCCC Convention and realising the ambition under the Paris Agreement to keep the increase in global average temperature to “well below” two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the necessary financial resources, capacity as well as technology required by developing countries should be provided through the financing mechanisms established under the UNFCCC like the Green Climate Fund(GCF), Adaptation Fund (AF) and other bilateral and multilateral funding sources.

This is key as most of the developing countries’ NDCs, like Kenya’s, have a conditional component, that is, commitments that are dependent on international support for their implementation.

This, therefore, means that if countries are serious about addressing climate change, development of the Paris Rule Book should affirm the provision of the required support for developing countries in order to facilitate the implementation of climate change actions.


In addition to the international support, Kenya needs to increase budget allocations for climate change adaptation and mitigation response actions at national and county levels. In this case, the counties are expected to prioritise climate change interventions in their County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs), design climate change programmes that respond to the needs of the vulnerable communities at the local level and make financial allocations for the same.

On a positive note, Kenya has already established a National Climate Change Fund under the Climate Change Act. It will be key to realise the operationalisation of the fund in availing the resources required to fund climate change action at the national and local levels.

The Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund established under the UNFCCC are key international climate financial mechanisms among other bilateral and multilateral climate financing streams that Kenya should tap into.

Although Kenya has made efforts in tapping into the Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund, there is a need to enhance the capacity of local organisations to access and utilise these funds.


This requires rigorous procedures and processes, hence the need for cooperation between the government and non-governmental organisations in leveraging on the necessary capacity.

During the Bonn negotiations on climate change, parties agreed that the Adaptation Fund shall serve the Paris Agreement. Industrialised countries have committed to make funds available for the Adaption Fund.

In relation, Kenya should strengthen the capacity of the relevant institutions as well the stakeholders involved to develop bankable projects with respect to the country’s climate needs in order to access more cash from the Adaptation Fund. Kenya has so far had access to one billion Kenya shillings for an “Integrated programme to build resilience to climate change and adaptive capacity of vulnerable communities” by the Adaptation Fund.

As parties under the UNFCCC embark on the modalities of the operationalisation of the Adaptation Fund under the Paris Agreement, Kenya should share its experience in shaping the fund to align with the priorities of vulnerable communities

The National Climate Change Action Plan indicates that to support sustainable development, Kenya must focus on the attainment of low carbon, climate resilient development.

 Writer is Programme Coordinator at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Kenya Office

With a begging bowl in hand, African leaders converged in Davos

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At least two global events with significance for Africa occur early every year. The first is the World Economic Forum (WEF) which sees world leaders of all shades and hues trooping to the Swiss resort of Davos, mid-to-late-January. This is followed by the African Union heads of state and government gathering in Addis Ababa at the end of January.

2018 has maintained this ritual, with the two events convened back-to-back. The summitry or conference diplomacy vested in the two events is a study in contrast. 

This year, African leaders including Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn, Angola’s Joao Lourenco and Guinea’s Apha Conde attended the 48th edition of the WEF before moving on to Addis Ababa for the 30th session of the African union event.

It is fair to conclude that African leaders annually head to Davos with the objective of cultivating good relations with the leaders of powerful countries, international agencies and global corporates. On the other hand, leaders from Western countries use Davos as the stomping ground for their often ideology-laden policies.  


This year, Mnangagwa and Lourenco made history as the first leaders of Zimbabwe and Angola to attend the event. For both, the message was that they were sweeping the cobwebs of mismanagement that afflicted their countries and they are moving towards the path of good governance. Would the world community (euphemism for Western governments, UN agencies and global businesses) hear them out and open the taps of investment?

When African leaders arrive in Addis, they wont to take critical stances – overtly and covertly – against the international community for all manner of ills towards Africa.

Consider, for instance, the African Union reform agenda being championed by new AU rotational chairman, Paul Kagame. This was very much one of the major issues for discussion at this year’s leaders’ sessions. One of the rubrics of the reform proposition is that the AU, and by extension African countries, should be self-financing and independent. In other words, African nations look to wean themselves off funding and freebies from the global powers that set the pace at Davos and elsewhere.  


The contradiction is palpable. Within the short duration, African leaders would be at Davos pleading for assistance, begging bowl in hand. In short order they travel to the continental headquarters to assert independence while railing against their would-be benefactors.

In a more principled approach, the African leaders would sustain their “independence in funding” mantra and only insist on a fairer international regime – at Davos and elsewhere – in matters economics and politics.

The contradiction in the January events does not merely stop at matters finance. A comparison of the issues at the heart of the two events tells a tale on not just the state of Africa vis-à-vis the world, but also on matters of priority.

While there is a connecting thread between Davos and Addis in problem areas such as peace and security, the former event takes on a more futuristic agenda.


In Davos, you are likely to hear about artificial intelligence and robotics, big data and space exploration. By contrast, the issues primed at the recently concluded AU summit were, inter alia; tackling corruption, the establishment of a single African air transport market and free movement of people across borders. Other issues related to peace and security in places such as Libya and South Sudan as well as hunger and malnutrition in large swathes of the continent. From a global prism, these issues have long been dealt with.

If Africa is to leapfrog into the so-called fourth industrial revolution marked by machine intelligence and the farming out of outer space, it has to urgently dispense with fundamental and structural challenges. As the latest AU summit demonstrates, Africa is stuck with basic organisational imbroglios. It would help if African leaders arrived in Davos on January 2019 with futuristic “asks” rather than begging bowls.

Thousands of homeless sleep on winter streets, and sometimes one or two die

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Anthony Barnard was declared bankrupt in 2016 and evicted from his home in September 2017. Three months later, last December 28, he was found frozen to death in the garden of his old house.

Barnard, 57, was one of many thousands who now sleep on the streets of our cities, mostly as a result of cuts in welfare benefits and the lack of affordable housing.

A national survey counted 4,751 rough sleepers on any given night last year, twice as many as in 2010, a situation campaigners categorised as “catastrophic.”

Certainly as a child, I never remember seeing anyone sleeping on the streets. Now they are unavoidable, many of them non-British nationals, women and young people, wrapped in dirty duvets in shop doorways, sometimes hugging pet dogs to keep them warm in the winter weather.

Poverty apart, campaigners say other causes for the rise in rough sleeping include the stress of modern life, including family break-ups, job losses and ex-military men failing to adjust to civilian life.


It is not often that rough sleepers die, however, and Barnard’s case was exceptional. Police in Lowestoft, Suffolk raised concerns about him with the ambulance service on the afternoon of December 27, but the call was listed as a non-emergency case not requiring a response. He was found dead the next morning.

The ambulance service and the police both announced that the incident was being formally investigated.

Minister David Liddington defended the government against charges that it neglected the homeless. “We have pledged to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it by 2027,” he said. “We have set aside a very large sum of money towards that.”

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn promised that the Labour party would buy 8,000 homes for rough sleepers if elected. He said it would also give local authorities power to seize homes which the owners kept empty in anticipation of house price increases.

Ella Johannessen, 23, was on a train from Peterborough to Leeds talking on her cell phone to her mother, saying how stressed and upset she was about her finances.

She had got into debt during her final year at Beckett University in Leeds when she gave up a part-time job to concentrate on her studies. She said later that during the conversation, “I spoke about how little money I had and I got upset.” She then put her phone down and went to sleep.


When she woke shortly after, she discovered £100 under a napkin on her lap. Apparently a sympathetic eavesdropper had heard her story and left a gift.

“I would like to tell that person that they are a fantastic human being,” she said.

Being one of those dumb, elderly thickos who don’t just distrust modern technology but hate and fear it, I wait with delighted anticipation for the failure of a shopping experiment – a revolution, they say – in Seattle, USA.

The supergiant Amazon opened a grocery store there which has no checkouts, neither human assistants nor self-service.

It uses an array of ceiling-mounted cameras to identify each customer, who scans the Amazon Go smartphone app as he enters. Sensors on the shelves add items to the bill as customers pick them up (and deletes any they put back), thus eliminating queuing and billing. Purchases are billed to customers’ credit cards when they leave the store.


The store first opened to employees only and trials revealed some teething problems, such as children moving items to the wrong places on the shelves.

Time will tell if it works. Retailers say that the faster customers can make their purchases, the more likely they are to return.

However, sceptics point out that there is more to shopping than buying goods and then going home, that many older people value the interaction with the checkout ladies and fellow customers and that the new impersonal style of shopping will just add to their isolation.

Three engineers and three lawyers are travelling to a conference. The engineers buy only one ticket for the three of them and after the train departs, all three cram into a single toilet. When the ticket inspector passes down the carriage, he knocks on the toilet door and calls, “Tickets, please.” A single arm appears and the inspector clips the ticket and goes on his way. The lawyers are impressed by this trick and decide they will do the same on the way back from the conference. This time, however, the engineers don’t buy any tickets at all, much to the lawyers’ puzzlement.

As the train leaves, the lawyers all cram into a toilet and the engineers cram into a toilet. Soon afterwards, one of the engineers emerges, knocks on the door of the lawyers’ toilet and says, “Tickets, please.” He collects the proffered ticket and rejoins his mates, leaving the lawyers with a lot of explaining to do when the inspector comes by.

Our politics is not good for development

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One would have thought the season of hard politics ended with the “double” elections last year. Obviously, we Kenyans have a totally different style. We are still at it with the elected lot trying to settle down to work and another group — whose candidate refused to participate in the repeat bout — actually going on to “swear him in”.

Out of that scenario, key media houses have been switched off by the State, the lawyer who was at the centre of the “swearing-in” event has been arrested and the unity of the political leaders of that political side is now in question. All Kenyans are saying all manner of things depending on which side of the political divide — or shall we say tribe — one is.

In my honest view, this pandemonium of political bravado that includes ignoring the government established by law on the part of the presumed “aggrieved” party on one hand and the strong arm strategy of the legally established government of the day of switching off media channels thus disempowering citizens is not good for this country.


Our political culture has to be re-examined honestly and reviewed or else this country will not get to where our founding fathers thought we would get: A nation that is free of ignorance and poverty with the ability to efficiently manage the health issues of its people.

My biggest worry is that in the middle of all this confusion about politics, which is largely selfish anyway, we may forget significant matters which, if ordinary Kenyans gave attention to, politicians can go on about their business — confused or not — and the rest of the country can move on.

I saw something in the media that attracted my attention the other day. When I was growing up in the 60s there was a football icon by the name Joe Kandenge.


Whenever there was a major match at the city stadium and Leonard Mambo Mbotela or Mohamed Juma Njuguna were announcing the match it was all “Kadenge na mpira…” and so on.

Joe Kadenge is now in his 80s. Somebody I understand is doing a documentary on him and part of it is to take the good old man to watch a match between Manchester United and some other team in the UK. The good man is obviously excited about the prospect. Could it not have been us doing that documentary? When we do too much unnecessary politics we fail to focus on critical matters that are about our people. 

Rising wave of tech-fueled fake news

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With the steep rise of WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook as a huge force for connecting billions of people, misinformation, hoaxes and lies have found a fertile ground on which to thrive. Kenyans, like the rest of the world, are often lost in the fog of fake news. 

It is sometimes nearly impossible to tell fact from forgery. This causes mistrust information until credible sources carry it. For example, when it first occurred that Mr Kalonzo Musyoka had bolted out of the much publicised “swearing in” event, my immediate instinct was that this was another dose of fake news, until the mainstream media reported it.

Why was I skeptical? Because in a span of 48 hours , I had seen a memo on social media purported to be from Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i claiming the government had issued a curfew in Nairobi.

That memo came barely hours after another one alleged to have come from Chief Justice David Maraga warning judges against swearing in Raila, or they could face unspecified punishment. It turned out that these two memos, like many others doing the rounds, were fake.

Sometimes misinformation like these spread out of panic, sometimes out of malice, and sometimes deliberate manipulation, in which an individual, group or government pays people to convey their message. Whatever the motive, falsehoods and facts spread the same way, through the social media conveyer belt.

This trend is concerning because it splits the world into two. We are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the off-line.

Worse, modern technology gives fraudsters the fuel and platforms to instantly access millions of people.

These kinds of digital, ethical problems represent a defining challenge of the 21st century. They include breaches of privacy, of security and safety, of trust, of fundamental human rights, as well as the possibility of exploitation, discrimination, manipulation, propaganda, populism, tribalism, violence and hate speech.


The near instantaneous spread of digital information means that some of the costs of misinformation may be hard to reverse, especially when confidence and trust are undermined.

The sad news is that real news is not coming back in any tangible way soon, or retaining its position as a driver of opinion in a world where there is a growing population that does not solely rely on professionally reported news sources. So much news is filtered via social media.

And as real news recedes, fake news will continue to thrive and our biggest challenge will be to find a new way to tame the rising tide.

So, what is the solution? The government should create an open and independent advisory forum to bring all stakeholders together to participate in a dialogue, decision-making and implementation of solutions to common ethical problems brought about by the information revolution.


It should constantly review the laws to protect people from spreaders of falsehoods. Importantly, it should enforce those laws to retain trust on technology and nurture credible news sources.

The tech industry can and must do better to ensure the internet meets its potential to support individuals’ wellbeing and social good. It should use its intelligent algorithms and human expertise to glean and clean out such information as it is uploaded.

As hard as it is to separate the wheat from the chaff, the rule of thumb is; if it is too good to be true, it probably is false. If the mainstream media is not reporting it, it is most likely junk. If it’s garbage, don’t partake in spreading it.