Tuesday, 21 April 2020

A HERETIC’S VIEW OF KENYA’S ECONOMY POST-COVID-19

By Oduor Ong'wen

It is now five weeks since the announcement of the first positive case of a COVID-19 test. It was always a matter of “when” not “if” we were going to join the growing list of countries with cases of the vicious virus. In a rapid-fire manner, the cases began to rise. Some Kenyans were alarmed. Others adopted a cavalier attitude. The government, earlier condemned for the inept or indifferent pose exhibited as the disease wrecked havoc in lands it considered far away – even passenger arrivals from epicentres like China and Italy – swung into action with a series of protocols and directives. As the Englishmen say, the jury is still out. 

The low numbers so far posted give us some level of comfort and boost our confidence. But the COVID crisis has exposed the vulnerability of our health system.  When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, our country was totally unprepared for it. There were severe shortages of testing kits and healthcare facilities. The first cases had to be tested in South Africa, taking almost a week to post results. Many Kenyans also lack universal entitlement to healthcare. We don’t have a robust social protection system despite that a policy was adopted ten years ago. Social safety nets including basic employment rights and unemployment insurance that could mitigate some of the worst effects of the pandemic’s economic impact have been considered anti-business and as such condemned. All this points to the disarming reality that the pandemic would unleash mutually reinforcing health and economic crises.

COVID-19 pandemic is wracking and humbling every country, economy, society, and social class. In its socioeconomic and political impact alone, COVID-19 has already made history. While I am not deriving any gratification from the fact that the invincible United States of America and mighty Europe are ravaged by the pandemic, COVID-19 has disabused the big powers of the oft peddled notion that Africa is a continent of poverty and disease. The novel coronavirus has shown that pestilence is no respecter of riches and military might. Whether we already recognise or not, the pandemic has reorganised our society socially, culturally and economically. It has the potential for political reorganisation too. As Paul Tiyambe Zeleza observes, “the neo-liberal crusade against 'big government' that had triumphed since the turn of the 1980s, suddenly looked threadbare. And so did the populist zealotry against experts and expertise. The valorisation of the politics of gut feelings masquerading as gifted insight and knowledge, suddenly vanished into puffs of ignoble ignorance that endangered the lives of millions of people.”

Never before in our lifetime has the human race been so vulnerable. We only read in History books that one of the world’s deadliest pandemics was the Great Plague of 1346-1351, which ravaged larges parts of Eurasia and Africa and killed between75 to 200 million people, and wiped out 30 to 60 per cent of the European population. The plague was caused by fleas carried by rats, underscoring humanity’s vulnerability to the lethal power of small and microorganisms, notwithstanding the conceit of its mastery over nature. The current pandemic shows that this remains true despite all the technological advances humanity has made since then. Over a century ago, as World War I came to an end, an influenza epidemic, triggered by a virus transmitted from animals to humans, ravaged the globe. One-third of the world’s population was infected, and it left 50 million people dead. It was the worst pandemic of the 20th century. Now COVID fatalities are more than 2 million and we are still counting.

The public health-induced mitigation measures imposed by the government, the responses of individuals (particularly, in terms of hygiene and self- isolation), downturn in economic activity from Kenya’s major trading and investment partners and the dislocation of global capital markets are some of the immediate economic impacts of coronavirus captured by the health shock. 
But it’s not all gloom. It is from crises of this nature and great wars that countries discover and unleash their latent potential and change the course of history permanently. We can come out of this crisis with a better-organized healthcare and social security system. We can re-engineer our economy in a manner that it better responds to the needs of the Kenyan people – and consequently that will redo the political architecture of our nation. We cannot afford to let this crisis go to waste.

What I propose hereunder as a way of dealing with the post-COVID economy is considered a heresy in neo-liberal economics. Against the coronavirus pandemic, we are at war – nationally and globally. And coming out of a war situation, we have to act in “strange ways” and dare to be us. The rulebook has to be suspended, if not revised altogether. We as a country need to have five interventions in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.

First, we must address our public healthcare system holistically. Let every county be given a ring-fenced grant of Sh. 2 billion to upgrade the healthcare system including, but not limited to, building or physically upgrading hospitals, health centres and clinics, buying and repairing equipment, stocking the health facilities (some hospitals and dispensaries don’t have even bandages or paracetamol tablets), addressing health workers’ human resource issues (from salaries, work environment to health professional:patient ratio). The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of countries that had subordinated public healthcare to profit interests like our country and the United States, among others. Let’s learn from the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) if the Cuban system can infect us with communism.  Sh. 100 billion (Sh. 94 billion to counties and Sh. 6 billion to the national referral facilities) would revolutionise our healthcare system. This must be in addition to – not in place of – the current budgetary allocations. The money to the counties should not be used for any other programmes unrelated to upgrading the healthcare system.

Second, we need to support domestic production. Not less than Sh. 80 billion should be infused in the food production systems. Direct support to producers of staples like maize, wheat, rice, beans, milk etc. would ensure not only that these commodities are readily available but also the producers are backstopped. Sugar production should be included here. The support should include subsidized inputs, extension services, production and marketing infrastructure and provision of the necessary storage and warehousing facilities, among other things. Another Sh. 70 billion should be made available to those in the export crop production that includes, among others, tea, coffee, horticulture and floriculture and pyrethrum

The withdrawal of public services has not led to a florescence of the private sector in rural areas – but a yawning void. Market liberalisation cannot contribute to poverty reduction unless better market linkages have been forged, linkages that not only bring smallholders to the market (and the private sector to smallholders), but that also embody enhanced market power among the poor. The public sector has a critical role to play in this.  Accelerating the process of rural reconstruction (including development of market access), expanding choices, improving access to information, creating conditions for equitable market relations for the poor – all these must be at the very apex of our development and poverty reduction agenda. But the issue is not just markets; it is also assets – and the challenge of securing the rights of the poor to land and water that are at the hearts of their livelihoods.

Third, the State should ensure that the manufacturing sector is producing the goods we consume as a country. In the last thirty years, Kenya has been transformed from a regional industrial hub into a huge supermarket for imported stuff – largely of questionable quality. From paper to furniture, we have turned to importing some products that can be produced here cheaper and in superior quality. The country has the capacity to produce most of what it needs in clothing and apparel, pharmaceutical products, industrial and auto spare parts. Sh. 100 billion stimulus package in the post-corona recovery plan should be able to spur optimal industrial production. The construction sector should also be supported through this window. It is the support for the agricultural, manufacturing and construction sectors that will put most of our people to work. The response to the pandemic – almost instant production of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, face masks, personal protective gear (PPE) and even a prototype of cheap ventilators – have shown that given a conducive environment, Kenyans can produce quality manufactures for both local and regional markets.

In the short to medium-term, the agricultural products aimed at ensuring our food security and manufactured products would need to be cushioned against import surges of similar products. Over the last three decades, protectionism has become a dirty word. Trade liberalisation under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has elimination of protectionism as its main aim. But contrary to the widely held belief that WTO prohibits protecting vulnerable industries and sectors, it allows restrictive measures in response to well-defined situations like addressing a balance of payment (BOP) challenge or what is known as Safeguard. Countries facing BOP problems, i.e. problems regarding net inflow of foreign exchange or foreign cash reserves are permitted under Article XII of GATT 1994 (for both developed and developing countries) and Article XVIIIB of GATT 1994 (for developing countries only) to take measures such as tariffs beyond bound levels or quantitative restrictions. Another situation that can provoke cushioning a range of products or sectors is called Safeguard. Safeguard measures are resorted to when a product sector of a domestic industry suffers injury or is at a threat of suffering injury from imports. To induce value-addition, the State should impose export duties on primary products – unless it’s in our national interest not to do so.

Fourth, the State should make a total cash grant of Sh 40 billion grant as social assistance package to every vulnerable Kenyan. This amount is less than what the country lost in Arror and Kamwerer dam projects where Sh. 21 billion was gifted to a bankrupt Italian firm and a few dealers masquerading as leaders locally and the money the State lost to the Chinese firm CATIC when the JKIA Greenfield Airport Terminal project was cancelled, amounting to Sh. 20 billion. CATIC has used that money to construct the Global Trade Centre (GTC) along Chiromo Road, Nairobi. This proposal might appear populist. But that’s not the intent, even though it will be popular. COVID-19 is a supply shock and a demand shock. With this money in the pockets needy Kenyans, the products and produce will get ready local market. They will buy food, construct houses, buy clothing, booze and marry many women, thus ensuring that the supply side (production) is sustained in the market. This is pretty good for an economy emerging from war.

Unlike buying of emergency provisions for the poor, corrupt State officials can’t steal this money, if profiling is transparent. It will also accord the low-income people the opportunity and dignity of having a choice as opposed to relief food that is bought remotely and presented to them in a “take-it-or-leave-it” situation. Many Kenyans using this grant as a start-up capital will also start some micro and small enterprises and create employment.

There are sectors like tourism and hospitality as well as air transport that will take a long time to recover. The State should assist them to recalibrate. For example, Kenya Airways shifting focus to cargo transportation while not losing the passenger routes it has secured in Europe, US and Asia; massive promotion of domestic tourism to return hotels and lodges to normalcy etc. 

The foregoing interventions will require the injection of between Sh. 350 billion and Sh. 500 billion. Where do we source this money? Hold your breath! The Central Bank has to release new notes worth this amount. Yes, print the money. Of course, this is heresy to neo-classical economists directing our fiscal and monetary policies. The IMF advisors that control our Treasury and State Department of Finance will vehemently oppose this. Yet, they don’t object – indeed tacitly approve – when industrialised countries engage in the same. There are already strong indications that both the US Federal Reserve and European Central Bank are going to print money to enable them respond to the COVID challenge, if they haven’t done so already. The IFIs discourage our countries from resorting to the same measures so that our economies absorb their excess liquidity through debt. Two authoritative European publications – the Financial Times and The Economist – let the cat out of the bag almost at the same time a fortnight ago.

On April 6, 2020, the Financial Times opined as follows: In times of emergency, particularly war, central banks have often handed freshly printed banknotes to governments. The fight against resultant inflation was postponed until after any crisis … without limits, allowing a government to finance itself by creating money can lead to hyperinflation. But these risks can be manageable: the quantitative easing of the past decade, despite predictions, has not lifted inflation above the main central banks’ 2 per cent targets. The money pumped into the rich-world economies has been met by increased demand, perhaps permanently.

The same week, The Economist had this to say: this is no time to fret about government debt. While cases of COVID-19 soar and economic activity grinds to a halt, governments are right to throw all resources they can at efforts to limit the pandemic’s human and economic costs … Central banks, in an effort to provide relief to troubled economies, are already buying large quantities of government debt. The Fed is purchasing unlimited amounts of Treasuries; the European Central Bank recently announced a € 750bn ($809bn) bond-buying schemeA weak recovery could push central banks to finance large fiscal deficits with freshly printed cash on an ongoing basis.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, central banks led by the Federal Reserve created trillions of dollars of new money, and poured it into financial markets. The QE was supposed to prevent deflation and restore economic growth. But the money didn’t go to ordinary people: it went to the rich, who didn’t need it. It went to big corporations and banks – the same banks whose reckless lending had caused the crisis. This led to a decade of stagnation, not recovery. QE failed. QE can only succeed if the money goes directly to ordinary people and small businesses.

Instead of going for either external or domestic borrowing – both of which are expensive and punitive to the taxpayer, QE is a borrowing by the government from itself and in its own currency. If the Central Bank (CBK) issues new Sh. 500 billion worth of new cash, the money supply (M1) would grow from the current Sh. 1.5 Trillion to Sh. 2 Trillion. The money supply (M2) in this case would rise to about Sh. 2.4 Trillion. At a withdrawal rate of 2.5 per cent of M1 per month, CBK can mop out this excess liquidity in 12 months and return to the pre-COVID status. This is enough timeframe for the economy to find its own feet to stand on if the foregoing is implemented as a single package. In its report, Africa’s Pulse,released last week on April 13, 2020, the World Bank acknowledges that many African countries still have room for countercyclical monetary policies but avers that space for fiscal policies is quite constricted.If we don't borrow from ourselves in increased money supply, the excess dollars and euros are sure coming our way through credit from industrialised countries and IMF's Standby facility. This will be very expensive and enslaving.

Fifth, we have to address our taxation system in the medium to long term. In Kenya, like in virtually every capitalist country, the burden of taxes falls inordinately on lower and middle-income families. Income taxes, in absolute terms favour high earners at the expense of those on low pay. Most consumer taxes – like the Value-Added Tax (VAT)  - are also regressive, causing the poor and middle classes to pay much higher percentage of their income than a rich person who buys the same items.

A new progressive tax system should be introduced on production. In other words, taxes on goods should be levied at the point of production rather than at the point of purchase by the consumer, and taxes on service should be levied on the service provider for the services they provide. A tax system based on production tax would provide the broadest possible tax base. All goods produced in the country would be taxed at the point at which they enter the economy, and the producer should pay the tax. All imported goods should be taxed at the point of importation with the importer paying the tax. Similarly, taxes on services should be levied at the point at which the service is provided to the consumer and the tax paid by the service provider. Thus, in such a system, the government would have the opportunity to collect the greatest amount of revenue.

A tax system based on a production tax would be the fairest possible tax system for both the consumer and the producer. Under this tax regime, producers of essential, semi-essential and non essential commodities would be taxed at varying rates as would providers of essential, semi-essential and non-essential services. Essential goods and services should be taxed at the lowest rate, semi-essential goods and services to be charged at a higher rate, and non-essential goods and services should attract the highest tax rate. Each consumer would have the opportunity to choose which product or service they preferred, knowing that they would be paying more for luxury items. Switching over to this tax system would, in very conservative estimates, move our tax to GDP ratio from the current 19 per cent to between 35 and 40 per cent. This is another heresy to neoliberal economists.

Like all heretics, I am ready to be stoned to death or burned alive at a public ceremony at Uhuru Park. My only request is: remember to keep social distancing during the ceremony.

Nairobi, April 21, 2020

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

WHY BBI MUST ADDRESS DISPARITIES IN KENYA

By Oduor Ong'wen

The Building Bridges Initiative, Kenya’s latest attempt at nationmaking is in the final stretch. While many Kenyans have welcomed it, a number of them led, by the Deputy President William Ruto, have dismissed it with contempt. The refrain for those contemptuous of the initiative is that it is about creating political positions for bigwigs on the backs of Mama Mboga. It could as well turn out to be if we just focus on political settlement but ignore three of the most important issues in the nine-issue initiative. The three are Shared Prosperity, Ethnic Competition; and Inclusivity. The remaining six issues including the lack of national ethos, runaway corruption, divisive elections, safety and security as well as responsibilities and rights depend on how we tackle these three.

Extreme inequality and skewed access to opportunities in both public and private sectors is out of control in Kenya. Despite impressive economic growth numbers we have been fed with annually since 2005, poverty still affects millions of people’s lives. It appears that a minority of wealthy individuals and investors are creaming off the yields of the country’s economic performance. While this minority of super-rich Kenyans is accumulating wealth and income, the fruits of economic growth are failing to trickle down to the poorest. The rich are capturing the lion’s share of the benefits, while millions of people at the bottom are being left behind. 

The gap between the richest and poorest has reached extreme levels in Kenya. Less than 0.1per cent of the population (8,300 people) own more wealth than the bottom 99.9 per cent (more than 46 million people). The richest 10 per cent of people in Kenya earned on average 23 times more than the poorest 10 per cent.
The poverty in Kenya has a face, gender and address.  The top 10 per cent richest households in Kenya control more than 40 per cent of the country's income. The poorest 10 per cent control less than one per cent. Currently, less than 10,000 people control 6 per cent of the Kenya’s national wealth. Poverty has the face of a young female Kenyan. For instance, in the 20-24 years age group, there are 274,000 unemployed women compared to 73,000 unemployed men. Nearly every child in the former Central province is enrolled in primary school. One out of three children in the North Eastern region go to school.
According to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the northern part of the country has lowest income inequality. For instance, Turkana has 0.28 per cent, Wajir 0.321 per cent and Mandera 0.332 per cent. The coastal regions especially Tana River, Kilifi and Kwale have the highest income inequality in the country at 0.617 per cent, 0.597 per cent and 0.565 per cent respectively using the Gini coefficient. Income inequality in the coastal region is linked to historical injustices where large tracts of land were allocated to nonresidents, leaving the locals as squatters. This inequality has led to severe poverty in the region leading the squatters to live impoverished lifestyles with minimal access to basic amenities such as schools and healthcare facilities.  This has also led to increased levels of insecurity in those areas due to high unemployment rates especially in urban areas. In the former Nyanza province, twice as many children die before their first birthday than children living in the Rift Valley – that's 133 to 61 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively.
Poverty levels in different regions vary greatly. The percentage of people living below the poverty line in Nairobi is 44 per cent. However, only eight per cent of the population living in Woodley, Kibera Subcounty, live under the poverty line while 87 per cent of the population in Laini Saba in the same sub-county live under the line.
In a country where employment in the public sector is key, the bias in hiring of those who work in the civil service and other state agencies is mirrored in poverty profiles. In its report published in 2012, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, brought out the glaring disparities in access to government employment opportunities. More than half of Kenya’s ethnic groups are only marginally represented in the Civil Service – the country’s largest employer, where only 20 out of over 43 listed Kenyan communities are statistically visible. Some 23 communities have less than 1 per cent presence in the Civil Service 

The report shows that only seven communities – the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luhya, Kamba, Luo, Kisii and Meru – have a representation above 5 per cent in the Civil Service. All the other communities’ representation is below 5 per cent. Five of these communities – the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luhya, Kamba and Luo – occupy nearly 70 per cent of Civil Service employment. Although they are the most populous, their numbers in the Civil Service are at variance with their population size. 
But the above global figures still hide the disparities. A keener look reveals that there is a variance between a community’s share of population and share of civil service posts. Where some communities have a greater share of civil service jobs than their population, others have a lesser one. The Kikuyu and the Kalenjin have a disproportionate share of civil service posts compared to their population. Their proportion in the Civil Service exceeds the size of their share in the national population. The Kikuyu, who account for 17 per cent of Kenya’s population holds 22.3 per cent of civil service jobs – giving a variance +5 per cent. They are followed by the Kalenjin at 13 per cent but comprising 17 per cent of civil service (+4 per cent variance); the Meru at 4.4 per cent constituting 5.9 per cent of the civil service (+1.5 per cent); and the Embu, who are 0.9 per cent of the national population but hog 2 per cent of civil service jobs, giving a variance of +1.1 per cent. 
This contrasts with communities whose presence in the civil service is lower than their share of the population. These are the Luhyia, comprising 14.2 per cent but holding 11.3 per cent of civil service jobs, giving a variance of – 2.9 per cent; Luo, at 11 per cent but constituting 9 per cent of the government workforce (-2 per cent);  Somali, Kamba, Turkana and Maasai. 
There are many explanations for these variances, including disparities in access to education, proximity to the location of Government offices as well as willingness to seek employment in the public service. Be that as it may, it is remarkable that a service once dominated by Europeans and Asians has so dramatically changed in its composition over 40 years. The emerging patterns of staffing suggest that power and leadership influenced the ethnic composition of the public service. 
The Kikuyu constitute the largest single dominant ethnic group in all ministries and departments, except in the Prisons Department and the Kenya Police. The Kalenjin are the second largest group in the Civil Service. They are also the most dominant group in the Prisons Department, and the Police Force. These two groups alone make up close to 40 per cent of the entire Civil Service. Their numbers in the Civil Service suggest a direct relationship with the tenure of the presidency, in that they have both had a member as President for over 20 years. 
Lack of access to education has been cited as undermining equitable hiring for the Civil Service across communities. Yet, the skewed recruitment into the Civil Service cuts across all job groups, including those that do not require high educational qualifications. In the lowest job groups – ABCD – the same seven major communities account for over 80 per cent of Civil Service jobs. Again, the number of those hired from each community is at variance with their population size. The communities that statistically insignificant remain outside this civil service group. 
The Constitution calls for ethnic diversity in the Civil Service. Article 232 (1) (h) requires ‘representation of Kenya’s diverse communities’ as one of the values and principles of the public service. 
Article 232 (1) (i)(ii) requires “affording adequate and equal opportunities for appointment, training, advancement, at all levels of the public service of the members of all ethnic groups.” 
A recruitment policy based purely on merit or competition may not give Kenyans a public service that represents the face of the country. Disparities in education infrastructure and imbalances in development generally mean that some communities are more likely to produce highly skilled people than others. It is these disparities in regional development and basic services that the country should have addressed in the past 50 years of independence. 
The disparities noted point to the country’s failure to identify ethnic inequalities as a challenge to national cohesion. There is a need to develop and implement policies that can reduce these inequalities. 
At the core of the BBI recommendations to enhance inclusivity are proposals that recognize that different regions of the country present different economic and cultural opportunities. It further proposes gender-sensitive budgeting as an essential component in eliminating obstacles that marginalise women in key spheres of development. While this is welcome, it merely scratches the surface of the problem, especially as far as skewed ethnic employment in the civil service is concerned. Countries that have experienced similar challenges of ethnic/racial exclusion like ours have resorted to constitutional instruments. This is what Singapore did. 

Singapore’s model of managing ethnic relations has been described as interactionist, rather than integrationist or assimilationist. This model acknowledges social heterogeneity and views the population to be composed of separate, distinct "races". In public policies, education, employment, housing, immigration, defence and national security policies are designed to ensure that each race retains and perpetuates its distinctiveness within a general framework of national interest.  The abortive OKOA Kenya constitutional amendment bill had proposed two amendments to cure ethnic exclusion: to ensure that each ethnic community does not exceed its share of national population in every cadre of the public service; and to ensure that at least 30 per cent of all civil service jobs are taken by ethnic minorities. In its referendum bill, the BBI steering Committee is advised to look at this proposal.

On shared prosperity, the report proposes a raft of measures that would promote entrepreneurship and put good cash in the pockets of young people, women and other groups surviving on the margins of the economy. The most outstanding include granting a 7-year tax holiday to start-up businesses by the youth. While this is welcome, there are hurdles faced by the young entrepreneurs that if not addressed will see many young people still unable to avail themselves of the incentives. One of these hurdles is lack of skills and mentorship. The other is pressure for loan repayment. For us to help our youth, the first intervention should be training and skills development; the second should be start-up grants to those who have acquired such skills as they are mentored in the world of business; and finally, those who have been successfully weaned from the foregoing interventions given credit facilities to expand their chosen lines of business. This would minimise the rate of failure of these enterprises and defaulting on loans even if the rates were concessional. 

Biashara Mashinani policies and incentives, which are aimed at promoting village-level businesses, are a welcome proposal. However, the challenges faced by the youth similarly apply and should be address through both policy and administrative interventions so that Mama Mboga, persons with disabilities and village artisans and urban hawkers may benefit.
Regarding lending to priority sectors, the government would provide legal and regulatory guidelines for banks to lend a part of their portfolio to priority sectors. These are micro, small and medium businesses, export credit, manufacturing, housing, education, health and renewable energy. It also includes sanitation and waste management, and agriculture including livestock and fishing.
In a very timid manner, the report proposes that the State be held accountable on opening markets for labour-intensive manufactured Kenyan goods in EAC countries. This would result to more business opportunities for women and youth, taking into account the government’s support of women and youth-led enterprises through Uwezo Fund and Women Enterprise Fund. This matter needs to be given prominence and call for the fast-tracking on East African regional integration, including exploring “federation of the willing” option.
The taskforce has also suggested a Kubadili Plan intended to lift marginalised wards out of underdevelopment. It would identify the wards and establish a framework of building the social and economic infrastructure to facilitate development. This should not wait for the anticipated referendum.
Finally, the BBI report proposed making Kenya a 100 per cent e-service nation by digitising government services, processes, payment systems, and record keeping. While this is welcome, the danger lacks in “communicative capitalism.” This refers to a phase of knowledge- and technology-based commodity production in which information on a massive scale is produced, gathered, and sold for profit. What we now call the “information society” or “knowledge economy” sees the large-scale proletarianization of often highly-educated people in low-paying (often low-skilled) jobs, precariously scraping by to pay student loans, and living pay cheque to pay cheque.

Another more insidious feature of communicative capitalism is the role of technology companies in exploiting the participatory features of the knowledge economy (especially social media, digitized personal information archives, search engines, and online shopping) to harvest, store, organize, and sell consumer information to other companies. We all know something happens to the information we share on Facebook, input into Amazon or Google when we search, and are rarely surprised anymore when we see ads in our feeds and email for commodities that are similar to what we’ve searched for.

This aspect of the knowledge economy as free labor producing commoditized data for technological capital. Whenever we participate by watching the latest hit on Netflix, buy something from our favorite online store, or add information to our LinkedIn account, we are producing bits and pieces of our lives and interests that are transformed into products by technology companies. We do it for free and spend hours and hours on it. Technology companies are able to construct significant digital images and profiles of consumers, their needs and desires, their work and habits, their movements, alignments, and affiliations. I know it sounds like a scary science fiction movie, but it is true. 

The “knowledge economy” is most effective at using our desire for connection, for collectivity to promote the commodities that we help to build back onto us in ways that promise, but fail, to make up for the lack we experience under alienating capitalism. It successfully tweaks our desires and needs to negate our yearning for collectivity and convince us that our individuality is most important for a healthy life. It uses this false belief to divide us one from another and to absorb our dissent or criticisms or desire for political actions into its commodity-building software.

One dimension of this commodity-producing information behemoth is higher education. Once the domain of elites who transmitted the culture and civilization of the wealthy, higher education, by the mid-twentieth century had become a domain of working-class struggle and class mobility.

Nairobi, 18 March 2020

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

45TH ANNIVERSARY OF JM KARIUKI’S ASSASSINATION: DOWN THE MEMORY LANE

By Oduor Ong'wen

Today is a red-letter day. On this day, forty-five years ago, Josiah Mwangi Kariuki (popularly known simply as JM), a freedom fighter, politician and successful businessman was murdered. His badly mutilated and decaying remains were discovered a few days later dumped in the Ngong Forest, a place then known to be roamed by hungry hyenas every night. But why would someone or some people want to eliminate the Nyandarua North legislator so badly that he or they would liquidate him in this most heinous manner?

The events leading to this gruesome murder were the kind of stuff that would attract Hollywood movie producers or fiction writers of crime thrillers. According to the evidence that was pieced up then and later enriched over a period of time thereafter, somebody had decided well before that fateful Sunday of March 2 that that JM had to be eliminated. President Kenyatta was old and not enjoying the best of health. Many hangers on around the President, having eliminated Tom Mboya in July 1969, believed that JM had his eyes on the presidency and was therefore the next piece of nuisance to be got rid of. Besides, JM had a dashing style and struck a powerful chord with the masses. This earned him bitter enemies within the Kenyatta State House. 

The scheme to do away with JM is said to have been developed well before the first post-independence general elections in 1969. For JM, these elections provided him a chance to demonstrate his organisational capabilities and the respect he commanded among colleagues. The elections came not only some five months after the elimination of Mboya but barely six weeks after the Kisumu massacre, the banning of the increasingly popular Kenya People’s Union (KPU) and the detention without trial of the entire KPU leadership led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. It was the beginning of the increasingly radical JM projected through word and deed, snipping at the Kenyatta government at every opportunity. Speaking during a student graduation at Highridge Teachers College in early 1970, he said that the Kenya Government had betrayed the vision of the freedom fighters. New black settlers had only replaced colonial white settlers. He told a dumbfounded crowd: "I believe firmly that substituting Kamau for Smith, Odongo for Jones and Kiplagat for Keith won't solve what the gallant fighters of our uhuru considered an imposed and undesirable social injustice". A few weeks later he received a standing ovation at the University of Nairobi when he declared: "It takes more than a National Anthem, however stirring; a National Flag, however beautiful; a National Court of Arms, however distinctive, to create a nation". Later, he spoke to Uganda's Makerere University and declared Kenya's policy on African Socialism a hoax. 

JM was now the man to watch. A GEMA delegation called on Kenyatta to complain about the MP. But it is reported that Kenyatta dismissed their worries, saying JM was "just a young inexperienced bull that doesn't know from which side to mount a cow". But clearly others did not think so. 

A scheme was put in place to slow him down by denying him permits to hold or address meetings. The restriction was extended even to innocuous gatherings like family parties. A birthday party he had scheduled for March 21, 1971,was cancelled at the eleventh hour by the State. And on January 1, 1972, a huge rally he had organised to be attended by a number of cabinet ministers and MPs was cancelled at the last minute. An incensed JM later told Parliament: "This anti-JM campaign is now bordering on stupidity". Denied a chance to speak outside Parliament, JM turned to the floor of the House to communicate. The then Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Munyua Waiyaki, would later recall that "JM would call and ask me not to miss Parliament as he was preparing a bombshell. He particularly liked the days when I was in the Chair as he knew I wouldn't deny him a chance to say whatever he wanted". 

JM's political enemies went on the offensive against him in the run up to the October 1974 General Election. All his campaign meetings, except one, were cancelled. He was virtually banned from visiting his constituency during the campaigns. In the meantime, Nakuru's Mayor, Mburu Gichua had camped in Nyandarua North with instructions to ensure that JM didn't go back to Parliament. To the great chagrin of his detractors, JM retained the seat with three times more votes than the combined total of his opponents. During the swearing-in of the new Parliament in November 1974, MPs gave JM a standing ovation. It rivaled the applause they had just given Kenyatta, who was in the Chamber. 

It was about this time that secret meetings began in Nakuru and in the city on how to stop JM. Taped speeches of his addresses were played to Kenyatta but it is said Mzee was not alarmed. He only suggested that the MP should be warned to change his ways. According to the late former Nakuru Town MP Mark Mwithaga, the State House clique that wanted JM eliminated was itself interested in keeping a hold on the presidency after Kenyatta. Which is why they held meetings in Nakuru and resolved that JM must die despite Kenyatta’s obvious reluctance.

JM's other strategy was to give generously to development projects. Not only did the debonair Nyandarua North MP give generously to charity, but his speeches were increasingly getting favour and approval with the Kenyan masses. His contributions to Harambees were also unsettling not only to Kenyatta’s courtiers, but to the King himself. For instance, he was known to have given the princely sum of Sh 80,000 to a public cause at a time when the President's highest known donation was Sh 3,000 to the Jomo Kenyatta College of Agriculture at Juja. The contributions aroused suspicion that foreigners who preferred him as a future president of Kenya were externally funding him. Propaganda was hatched and popularized that Chinese communists were behind JM's seemingly endless resources. But his widow Terry in a later media interview denied that JM had any foreign backer. "For all the time I lived with him, he never held a secret bank account. In any case, the government had the machinery to uncover such an account had it existed", she said. 

JM’s repeated harsh verdict on the growing inequalities and commentaries in favour of a more caring society founded on social justice did not help matters. On the 10th anniversary of Kenya's independence (1973), old Jomo joyfully extolled the country's achievements while JM remarked elsewhere that Kenya had become a country of ten millionaires and ten million beggars. 


In early 1975, the first bombs to strike independent Kenya exploded. In the month of February, there were two detonations in Nairobi’s Central Business District. The first blast was inside the lavatories of the then Starlight Night Club on Valley Road (the spot where Integrity House now stands) and in a Travel Information Office in front of the Hilton Hotel. The day after the second explosion, JM Kariuki revealed in Parliament that his car had been hit ‘by what seemed to be bullets’. There were rumours of a botched attempt on his life.  They were followed by a more serious bomb blast in a Mombasa-bound bus on February 28 at the terminus of the OTC buses long Nairobi’s Racecourse Road. The explosion killed 28 people and left about 100 people injured. Despite a massive public outcry and a police manhunt, no arrests were made. For several days thereafter, the city lived in fear, destabilised by numerous telephone bomb hoaxes. 

It was clear that someone or a group was creating a climate of fear and despondency. But the Kenyatta government took Kenyans on a diversionary path. The nation told that this bomb was the handiwork of a group called Maskini Liberation Organisation (MLO). In the months preceding these bombings, leaflets had been distributed all over Kenya claiming that JM, Charles Rubia and five other ‘dissidents’ were the trustees of the MLO. This disinformation campaign was followed by a series of bomb hoaxes in the form of anonymous phone calls to the police and media houses. None of them ever came to anything.  This was not until after there was an actual explosion at the popular Starlight club. The call to the Central Police Station was not treated with much seriousness given that they all ended up chasing a hoax every time they received these bomb alerts. Two hours after the call was made, a bomb did go off at the Tour Information Office. There is often no mention of any casualties or injuries at the second bombing, but it is likely that there were a few.

On March 2 1975, two days after the bus blast, top security officials, among them Ben Gethi, who was the Commandant of the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) of the Kenya Police, are said to have publicly accosted JM outside the Hilton. He had been followed by the police throughout the day, including police reservist Patrick Shaw. Gethi reportedly asked JM to accompany the Security officials into a convoy of cars and took him to an unknown destination. 

After JM’s disappearance, there was a lull of five days as his friends and family members tried to find out his whereabouts. Rumours began circulating that he had been detained without trial – a phenomenon that was the hallmark of Kenyatta dictatorship. Finally, on March 7, Vice President Daniel arap Moi who was also the Home Affairs Minister told Parliament that JM Kariuki was on a business trip to Zambia. All along, this was diversionary as top security honchos in his ministry were aware that JM’s partly decomposed body was lying at the City Mortuary. The police had sent the corpse to the mortuary as an “unidentified African male.” The same day of Tipis’ appeal, Kenyatta, on his way back to Nairobi from a month-long stay in Nakuru, made a thinly veiled speech that appealed for order, and warned ‘the government would have no mercy on any individual or group that attempted to disrupt peace and harmony in Kenya. It was then not obvious but Kenyatta apparently knew what was to come.

On Saturday March 8, the Daily Nation reported that JM Kariuki was in Zambia on a business trip, although the news desk already had sworn statements that the corpse in the city morgue was JM’s; editor-in-chief George Githii ordered a reluctant news desk to print this misinformation. On March 11, nine days after his abduction, a person who identified himself as “Israeli businessman” telephoned Terry Kariuki, JM’s third wife, and asked: “Have you checked whether your husband is lying at the morgue?”  Mrs Kariuki informed the anonymous caller that the family had been to the Nairobi City Mortuary twice. The caller said, “Just check again” and disconnected. 

After collecting herself following this terse hint, Mrs Kariuki called her two co-wives, Nyambura and Mwikali. Kariuki’s three wives met at the mortuary and had no difficulty identifying his partially decomposed body. Though the face was disfigured, the body was in the same green jacket and a dotted red scarf JM had worn on the morning he left home never to return. The widowed women screamed inside the morgue, after which armed GSU personnel sealed off the place. At the same time Vice President Moi was making a statement, reporting that Kariuki’s whereabouts were still unknown. On March 12, Police Commissioner Bernard Hinga finally confirmed that JM Kariuki was dead, killed by two bullet wounds. He claimed that the ‘partial decomposition’ of the body made identification impossible.

Hinga’s pronouncement was greeted by a mass outpouring of popular anger amid collective national grief. As soon as JM’s death became public, angry students at the University of Nairobi staged massive demonstrations, which were violently dispersed by the GSU. Large crowds gathered around street corners as the police tried to cordon off roads leading into Nairobi. Most shops and schools in Nairobi and environs closed down. The media reported that, fearing public attacks, several ministers removed the flags of office from their cars and fled in fear.

Kariuki’s death also roused the National Assembly into open hostility to and defiance of the Executive. MPs immediately demanded an investigation into the murder. Moi publicly subjected himself to ridicule before Parliament, swearing that he had had no idea that JM Kariuki was dead, and was only repeating what officials had told him: “I did it in good faith. I am sorry, I am sorry.” 

On March 14, parliament unanimously voted to appoint a  Select Committee to investigate the murder. The committee was chaired by Elijah Mwangale , the MP for Bungoma East Constituency, and it included Martin Joseph Shikuku of Butere, Jean Marie Seroney of Tinderet and other friends of Kariuki’s. The Kenyatta administration, infamous for exercising iron grip over the legislature, appeared to have lost control of Parliament completely; there was talk of the murder as being Kenya’s Watergate ( an eavesdropping scandal that had hit the US a few months prior, leading to the impeachment and resignation of President Richard Nixon).  In the meantime, Kenyatta, furious at the ministers’ weakness, had summoned an emergency Cabinet meeting, where, one by one, he forced each minister to declare continued loyalty to him.

The entire cabinet was to boycott JM’s burial. Mwai Kibaki was the only government minister that attended JM’s funeral in Gilgil, stressing he was there not in his capacity as a cabinet minister but as a friend of the late JM’s. Central Provincial Commissioner Simeon Nyachae bravely represented the government, but faced deep hostility and was unable to read Kenyatta’s condolence messages. Even the churches were roused into opposition, with a young Kikuyu Anglican cleric David Gitari (later the Archbishop), particularly outspoken in his criticism in a series of life radio broadcast, Kenyatta and senior ministers lay low, avoiding public events. There appears to have been hatched a plot of misinforming Kenyans over this matter with a shocking zeal. In a matter of ten days, Kenya was transformed from a nation of relative calm to a nation in crisis.

Although I was only a Form Two student, I followed very keenly the developments in the JM Kariuki inquiry, particularly the sharp analyses that Hilary Ng’weno and his team provided in the Weekly Review. For me June 3, 1975 was a day of great expectation - and overpowering tension. The team investigating JM's murder had completed its work and was due to table their report in Parliament. Elijah Mwangale, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee, according to Weekly Review, was in conference with his 13 members in Room 7 on the first floor of Parliament Buildings, going over the details of the 38-page report when word came through the Clerk's office that the Committee was required at State House, Nairobi. 

The Committee was reported to have made three copies of the report. Mwangale reportedly took one with him. The other two were each put in the "custody" of the then Butere MP Martin Shikuku and Diriye Amin, then MP for Wajir East. Their instructions were simple: They were not to leave the precincts of Parliament until the afternoon session of the House was over. Meanwhile, Mwangale left for State House with a few members of his committee, among them Starehe MP Charles Rubia and Lurambi North MP Burudi Nabwera. The two MPs with the other copies were "policed" by other MPs. Suspicions were high. Attempts to sabotage efforts to table the report could not be ruled out. The tension was aggravated at 2.30 p.m. when the afternoon session of the House started without any word on when the Mwangale team would return. 

It was reported that at State House, when Mwangale and his team faced Kenyatta, they were asked one question: Why were the names of Cabinet Minister Mbiyu Koinange and that of the president's bodyguard, Senior Supt of Police Arthur Wanyoike wa Thungu, in the report? 

Rubia: "Kama ni hivyo Mzee, tunaweza kuondoa hayo majina tu alafu tuipeleke bunge" ("If that is the case Mzee we can just delete the two names and thereafter we table it in Parliament"). 

Kenyatta: "Kama ni hivyo, sawa sawa"! ("It’s alright if you can do that"). 

Kenyatta is said to have given Mwangale a green pen. He made him delete the two names and sign against each deletion. Back in Parliament, Shikuku and Diriye entered the Chamber with their copies clutched under their arms. Without warning, Mwangale and his team entered the Chamber, eliciting sighs of relief, foot-thumping and loud cheers. Mwangale tabled the report minus the two names. 

As we mark this 45th anniversary of JM’s brutal murder, I cannot help but marvel at how far we slaves have come!

Nairobi, March 2, 2020.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

MOI AS I KNEW HIM

By Oduor Ong'wen


There has been an outpouring of love, adoration and canonisation of former President Daniel arap Moi since the announcement of his death yesterday. I don’t begrudge those trying to sanitise the departed former president and portray him as a saint. They have every right to do so because that is how they knew him. In their tributes, many have described Moi as “the best leader this country ever produced.” The Moi I knew doesn’t fit this description. In African traditions, it is unacceptable to talk ill of the dead – more so if the deceased was an elder.  So, I will seek to not to condemn him but to describe the man as I knew him and let history do the judgement. Those who have acknowledged that the departed former president was not a paragon of virtue have averred Moi was a good man and a democrat until the abortive coup of August 1982 and his oppressive mien emerged as a reaction to the putsch. That is the narrative I seek to debunk. 
Those without memory lapses will recall that even before ascending to presidency, Moi was part of political assassinations and/or cover-ups of the same. In March 1975 when JM Kariuki was reported missing and before his body was discovered disfigured and dumped at the City Mortuary, the then-Vice President Moi without batting an eyelid told Parliament that JM was alive and on a business trip to Zambia. It later transpired that very senior people in government – especially the police – were responsible to for the legislator’s execution and attempts at concealment. Moi lied to Kenya with a straight face.

On ascending to power in 1978, Moi sought to either kill or neuter any potential institutional challenge to his autocratic rule, however modest. Barely a year into his presidency, he in 1979 banned student union – the Nairobi University Students Organisation (NUSO) – and expelled the entire leadership comprising among others Rumba Kinuthia, Otieno Kajwang’, Mukhisa Kituyi, Josiah Omotto and Wafula Siakama. This was followed in quick succession by the proscription of University Staff Union (UASU) and the Kenya Union of Civil Servants in 1980. Simultaneously, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) and Maendeleo ya Wanawake were coopted and later made affiliates of Kanu, the only political party.

As if the killing of these institutions was not enough, Moi went ahead to politically harass individuals that were seen as posing real or perceived threat. In August 1980, Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o was arrested twice in a move clearly aimed at intimidating the dons that had been at core of UASU leadership.  Others subjected to routine harassment were Oki Ooko-Ombaka, Micere Mugo, Mukaru Ng’ang’a, Katama Mkangi and Shadrack Gutto. In May 1981, Moi ordered the expulsion of another lot of student leaders seeking to revive the student union. These included Odindo Opiata, Makau Mutua, Saulo Busolo, George Rubik, Dave Anyona and John Munuve among others. As this happened, Moi closed the university for close to five months and for the first time in the history of the university, we were ordered to report to chiefs on a weekly basis. Despotism had become a hallmark of Moi’s rule.

Parallel to this, and riding the populist crest of fighting tribalism, Moi banned socio-cultural organisations like the Gikuyu Embu Meru Association (GEMA), the New Akamba Union, Luo Union and others.

In May 1982, Jaramogi had made a widely publicized visit to the United Kingdom, where he addressed the British House of Commons, among other engagements. Jaramogi’s address was on “The Role of political Parties in Africa.” A firm believer in the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy, Jaramogi had fought all his adult life to institute and nurture the same in Kenya. This had put him on a permanent collision course with the colonial government (who ironically were practicing the same in their metropolis but subverting efforts to institute it in their colonies) and post-independence oligarchs. Jaramogi’s lecture received very positive coverage in the British press. The Kenyan print media took the cue from the British press but largely ignored the entire content of the address, only reporting that Jaramogi had announced his intention to launch a new political party to challenge KANU’s stranglehold on power. 
On May 26, 1982, the Governing Council of the ruling party (composed of 12 members) instructed parliament, the Attorney General Joseph Kamere and Minister for Constitutional Affairs Charles Njonjo to prepare a bill amending the constitution such that Kenya would by law become a one-party state. The resulting bill also proposed to create a new office of the Chief Secretary to serve as head of the public service. On June 9, 1982, after less than one hour of debate, Parliament of 170 members voted 168 to 2 in favour of the amendment.
Between May and June 1982, Moi ordered a crackdown targeting university lecturers, This resulted in detention without trial of Kamoji Wachiira, Edward Oyugi, Mukaru Ng’ang’a and Al Amin Mazrui. Maina wa Kinyatti and Willy Mutunga were charged with trumped up sedition offences. Mutunga’s charges were later withdrawn as he was also detained. Kinyatti was later, on October 18, 1982, sentenced to six years in jail. Others like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Micere, Nyong’o, Gutto and Kimani Gicau had to flee the country into exile. In this crackdown, scribes were not spared. In apparent reaction to his audacity to stand against “Nyayo candidate” in a Nyeri Town parliamentary by election occasioned by the jailing of ex-freedom fighter Waruru Kanja for “violating foreign exchange laws,” journalist Wang’ondu Kariuki was charged with “possession of seditious publication” called Pambana and jailed for four-and-a half years. It is worth noting that by this time, the tyranny had become so entrenched that the despot had detained even the Deputy Director of Intelligence, Stephen Muriithi. It was at the height of this repression that junior cadres of the Kenya Air Force staged a poorly organized and executed coup. So, the coup was a consequence of Moi’s tyranny – not the converse.
 The coup provided Moi with the opportunity and excuse to intensify crack down on lawyers, authors, activists, scientists, and (especially) university lecturers and students perceived to be critical of his authoritarian rule. I was among the more than 70 students arrested and detained at the GSU Training School, Embakasi. Having been held for two months incommunicado, 67 of us were eventually charged with “Sedition.” We were released six months later when the state could not manufacture evidence to convict us. But six amongst us – Jeff Mwangi, Tom Mutuse, Ong’ele Opalla, Wahinya Boore, Ephantus Kinyua and Kituyi Simiyu – were convicted sentenced to jail term of six years each. Raila Odinga, Prof. Otieno Osanya and Otieno Mak’Onyango who had been charged with treason also had their charges dropped as they were detained without trial.
More than the foregoing, the attempted coup provided Moi with an arsenal to settle old scores and assert himself by systematically instituting an oppressive one-man state through consolidation, centralisation, and personalisation of power while neutralising disloyal elements, real and imagined. In his book, African Successes, David Leonard notes that the coup attempt was “a piece of good luck” for Moi. The attempt legitimised Moi’s reorganisation of the command structure of the armed forces and the police. Once the attempt had been made and suppressed, he was able to remove leaders from positions that were most threatening. The armed forces and the police “were neutralised”.

Ben Gethi, the Commissioner of Police, for instance, was detained at Kamiti and laterretired “in public interest”. Moi also eliminated Kikuyu and Luo officers from the military and put in Kalenjin and non-ethnic challengers. For instance, he named General Mahmoud Mohammed — an ethnic Somali — the army chief of general staff.
With the disciplined forces in the hands of handpicked loyalists, the political structure was next. President Moi had a Bill enacted that granted him emergency powers, and the provincial administration and civil service came under the Office of the President, for the first time in post-independence Kenya. In effect, a DC could stop an MP from addressing his constituents.

Next was Parliament, whose privilege to access information from the Office of the President was revoked, thus subordinating it to the presidency. The Legislature could only rubber-stamp — not check — the excesses of the Executive. That is how, in 1986, it imposed limitations on the independence of the Judiciary.

Two expatriate judges — Derek Schofield and Patrick O’Connor — resigned, lamenting that the judicial system was “blatantly contravened by those who are supposed to be its supreme guardians.” Parliament also gave police powers to detain critics of Moi’s authoritarian regime. It did not end there. The freedoms of the press, expression, association, and movement were curtailed. In effect, Kenya became a police state.

President Moi ensured that his presence was felt everywhere; he stared at you from the currency in your wallet and mandatory portraits in every business premise. Streets, schools, a stadium, university, airport, and monuments were named after him. He gobbled half the news time on radio and TV, where he was always the first bulletin item. Ministers wore lapel pins with his photo on them. Indeed, one Cabinet minister in the Moi government was said to have had a dozen suits, each with its own pin lapel – just in case he forgot and wore the wrong suit!

Moi was felt in the education system, in which students recited a loyalty pledge, learnt about the Nyayo philosophy in GHC, and drank Nyayo milk. In the remotest parts of the country, the local chief was the president’s eyes and ears.

Kanu replaced the secret ballot with a system where voters lined up behind candidates in 1986. Parliamentary candidates who secured more than 70 per cent of the votes did not have to go through the process of the secret ballot in the General Election in what was more or less a “selection within an election.”Take the case of Kiambu coffee picker Mukora Muthiora. He “defeated” the late Njenga Karume for the Kanu sub-branch chairmanship. Karume was then a former assistant minister for Cooperative Development. Provincial Commissioner Victor Musoga declared Muthiora the winner, yet he never participated in the election. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.


On the morning of March 27, 1986, Moi stopped at the gates of Kipsigis Girls High School where I was a teacher on his way to Kisii Teachers College to preside over a graduation ceremony. He arrived a few minutes to ten o’clock.  Perched on the sunroof of his limousine, the President praised the school and told the students how fond of the school he was. He told them that it was due to his love for the school that he had given them big land and dairy cattle. He spotted me and warned that I should not teach subversion. “I have sent you good teachers like the Secretary General here, but he should desist from teaching subversive behavior,” And with those pronouncements, I knew my goose was cooked. 


On Monday April 14, 1986 at around 7.00 p.m., I was picked up by the Special Branch after a three-hour search in my house. After 16 days of torture at the basement and 24th Floor of Nyayo House, I was sent to Kamiti maximum Prison for a four-year stint as Moi’s state guest.

Moi’s vindictiveness did not stop at the so-called dissidents. Their kith and kin were also guilty by association. None personifies this than Ida Betty Odinga. A young woman in her thirties with three children, the eldest of whom was barely nine years old, Ida Odinga was thrown into the deep end of the pool of life by Moi’s police state and expected to swim through. This was at a time when Moi had placed her father-in-law, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, under house arrest. When Raila was arrested and falsely charged with treason, she proclaimed her husband’s innocence and went on to seek for him the best legal representation locally and internationally. This struck mortal fear into the face and heart of Raila Odinga’s tormentors. Ida was determined that her husband got justice. The State was bent on perpetrating a sham trial on treason charges then hang Raila. To them this young woman was a nuisance. But they were forced to make a quick retreat. Since they had no evidence to sustain a charge of treason, they had no option but to withdraw the charges and place Raila Odinga in preventive detention. Because she had shown that she could fight for justice, she was no longer just another teacher – a public servant. Because of her association with “an enemy of the State,” Mrs Odinga was now “a person of interest.” Even though she tried to do her best in her job as a teacher at the Kenya High School and bring up her young children as a single mother, the Moi government would use security officers to constantly harass her with a hope of breaking her. She was eventually retired “in the public interest.”
Maina wa Kinyatti, having been jailed on October 18, 1982 and sentenced to six years in jail contnued to be tortured in jail by various methods, including being held naked and without food for up to seven days at a time, living with mental patients, subjected to arbitrary anal searches and being beaten with sticks while being forced to do physical exercises. The torture, in different form, was extended to his wife Mumbi. She became a marked person. Her interactions with her students were watched, her shopping analysed and her correspondences intercepted in the post office and read. On April 11, 1987 Mumbi was arrested while attending a Drama Festival in Embu. She was driven back to Nairobi and locked up overnight. In an interview with the New York Times published on April 27, Mumbi said that, during a total of seven hours of questioning, the police accused her of giving money to Mwakenya, organising exiles outside of the country and planning to train members of Mwakenya as guerrilla fighters. 

Winnie Muga, was a student at Kenyatta University College at the time her husband, Muga K’Olale was arrested from their house in Umoja Estate. At the time of K’Olale’s arrest, Winnie had just given birth to their firstborn girl the previous week. As they arrested K’Olale, the officers turned their house inside out – throwing nappies around, moving furniture, and even ransacking the cradle. Leaving things strewn on the floor in both their two bedrooms, kitchen and the living room, Special Branch took K’Olale with him. Restoring order in that house was left to this woman that had just given birth a few days earlier. The police chaps did not tell Winnie Muga where they were taking her husband. The young woman was to spend the next four months combing police stations and the Kenya Police headquarters in Nairobi without a clue as to where her husband had been taken. After fifteen agonizing weeks of waiting to know the whereabouts of her husband, Winnie Muga was somehow relieved to know that the husband was alive but at the same time hit by a sentence of ten years in jail slapped on K’Olale after “an own plea” of guilt to a charge of Sedition. It was alleged that K’Olale knew about the coup plot and actively participated in its planning and execution. 

Koigi wa Wamwere’s wife Nduta, and Koigi’s entire family had to endure intimidation and harassment by police on numerous occasions. Nduta eventually left Kenya in 1988 to join her husband who had fled Kenya after detention and was now living in exile in Norway. Koigi’s mother, Monica Wangu Wamwere, had her house surrounded and searched by the police on several occasions and demolished twice. In January 1995, the police once again surrounded Monica Wangu's home while a service was being held there in memory of her husband, who had died a year earlier. She had refused to bury her husband until her two sons were allowed out of prison to attend his funeral.
Josephine Nyawira Ngengi, sister of G.G. Njuguna Ngengi who was on trial with Koigi, was arrested in May 1994 in Nakuru. She had been actively involved in the campaign for the release of political prisoners incarcerated by Moi and participated in the Mothers' hunger strike in 1992. Nyawira was held incommunicado for 22 days before being charged with robbery with violence, which carries the death penalty. Two other women, Ann Wambui Ng'ang'a and Tabitha Mumbi, and 16 men were charged with the same offence. All the three women complained that they were tortured while in police custody. Nyawira stated that she was beaten and that blunt objects were forced into her genitalia until she bled. As other people canonize Moi and talk of his legacy, this is the Moi I knew. To rephrase Mark Anthony in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, The evil that men do lives after them;The good is oft interred with their bones;So let it be Moi. 

Nairobi, February 5, 2020