Wednesday, 5 February 2020


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

Tuesday, 28 January 2020


By Oduor Ong'wen

Kenyans have learned, practiced and perfected the art of flying like chicken. Like most birds, chicken can also fly. But unlike other birds, they cannot soar high and only fly short distances. This is what Kenyans have done at every stage in our struggles for nationhood. We have gallantly fought to assert and defend our independence and forge a nation out of our many nationalities. But we have also undone these efforts with alacrity. The latest episode in this one step forward two steps back journey is being replayed in the Building Bridges Initiative conversation.

While it was gratifying to see everyone troop to Mombasa last weekend to declare their support for the BBI, it is not lost on keen observers that many of the politicians were and still are talking with both sides of their mouth. The Naivasha retreat by a section of Jubilee politicians underscores how skin deep our nationhood quest is. Every time we thought we had got it right, we have ended up shooting ourselves in the foot, thanks to our unwavering allegiance to sectarianism and self-aggrandisement. It happened immediately after the attainment of independence when the nationalist fervour was neutered less than two years later. There followed a long period of autocracy, repression and the emergence of unrepentant looting cabals in the formal and deep state. The nadir was almost three decades of, first de facto and later de jure, one-party, one-person rule.  It took the courage of a few Kenyans – workers, peasants, university dons and students, clergy and various professionals – to mobilise the nation and end the autocratic regime and return Kenya to democratic and accountable system of governance. But we once again flew too low and for a very short distance. The much-hyped Second Liberation was outflanked, encircled and aborted.

Another decade of sustained struggle marked by twists and turns spiced with arrests, teargas, extra-judicial executions and political chicanery finally led to a National Constitutional Conference at Bomas of Kenya that gave us a progressive draft constitution that was immediately nipped in the bud. It took a national madness of us slaughtering each other, burning people who had sought refuge in churches, ethnic cleansing and mass displacement of “visitor populations” in 2007/2008 for us to finally overhaul the Constitution – but ending up with the Bomas Draft being substantially diluted. Again, at this juncture in 2010, we thought we as a country had exorcised the ghosts that have always stood on our path to forging a nation. Once again we aimed high but flew low and a very short distance.

Why is it that our attempts at forging nationhood are always thwarted when every promise is there for all to see as happened immediately after 1963, in 2004 and in 2010? In my view, it is because we have not been able to give appropriate appreciation to the reality of being a socially diverse society. Unlike countries that found themselves in similar situations like South Africa or Tanzania that were able to forge nations out of ethnically diverse countries, here in Kenya were either quick to deny the motive force that ethnic diversity is or retreated and submitted ourselves to its most backward dictates. We either consciously or otherwise evaded confronting what has become known as The National Question.

We have naively assumed that a Luhya labourer at a construction site in Nairobi would stand in solidarity with a fellow Gikuyu labourer because their class interests dictate that they do so. In our romanticisation of class struggle, it is easy to lump the Kamba and Kalenjin policemen and assume they will collectively and in class solidarity confront the oppressor since “they have nothing to lose but their chains.” I aver that this would not happen unless and until we confront the National Question. A Luo worker would rather identify with a Luo manager as long as the promotions even at the factory shop floor will be based on the surname of the worker. A Digo petty trader is more comfortable defending a Taita parastatal chief accused of graft because they have been collectively oppressed as watu wa mwambao wa pwani.

We as Kenyans have over the last sixty years lived another lie. We aver that politicians will come and go but Kenya will always be there. Welcome to the fool’s paradise. The reality is that republics are the most delicate and potentially transient of political entities. Those who make this argument forget that barely two decades ago we had a country called Yugoslavia. Others were the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. These republics are no longer in existence. Closer home, we now have four neighbouring republics in the north fashioned out of two – from Ethiopia and Sudan, there now exist additional republics in Eritrea and South Sudan. At what cost do these people end up with these self-determining entities? More than three times, Kenyans have been at the verge of joining these cleavaged former “cohesive countries.” 

Let us remove our heads from the sand with alacrity. After August 2017, the threat of Kenya breaking into two or more republics was very real. As our politicians would say, it was going to be messy, noisy and I dare say bloody, and with consequences. But there are persons who call themselves leaders in this country but prone to mistaking threats of war for war games. I am not sure if President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga broached the National Question but the nine issues they identified in their Memorandum of Understanding form very good beacons for the discussion thereof. A look at contemporary history would make those of us that care for this entity called Kenya take the BBI-triggered conversation very seriously.

In both theory and practice, the national question was a subject that generated debate, controversy and disagreement within the liberation movement in South Africa. Despite widespread agreement that South Africa’s ruling class has cynically promoted tribalism and racialism, as well as fraudulent types of nationalism, in order to divide the oppressed and exploited majority, there is no consensus over how to define the nation., national identity, and nationalism. With the collapse of white minority rule and installation of a democratically elected government under the leadership of the majority this matter is far from settled if the recent xenophobic attacks against non-South African blacks is anything to go by.

As I have observed herein before, the national question lies at the heart of the creation of Yugoslavia in 1918 and of its destruction in 1991–92. A vision of national liberation and modernization brought the various South Slav nationalities together after World War I. However, seventy years later, a retrospective, mythical, antimodernist vision tore them apart. The appeal to the concept of self-determination was used to justify both.

At the center of China’s modernization drive as it concerns national minorities are four core issues: social equality, economic development, cultural autonomy, and national integration.

To establish the Soviet Union, the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917 at the high point of a revolutionary drama. Three aggregate forces soon contested Bolshevik power, whose future was far from secure. First, the Bolsheviks were faced with indigenous counterrevolutionary forces whose armies sought to overturn the revolution. Second, the armies of various Western capitalist states, including the United States and Japan, invaded the fledgling Bolshevik state. Finally, the Bolsheviks found themselves face to face, as the czars had been, with the problem of the non-Russian nationalities. By the mid-1920s, Soviet leaders had overcome the first two obstacles and firmly established state. The inability to conclude the resolution of the national question aided Soviet Union’s imperialist foes to undo the revolution.

Northern Ireland is a product of the opposing forces of imperialism and nationalism. Ireland was England’s first colony, and it has been said that the conquest of Ireland was the model for British imperialism. As a consequence of England’s attempt at domination, Ireland has been home to a variety of nationalist movements. The two nations’ mutual history offers many insights into the relationship between imperialism and nationalism, and the impact of class, ethnicity, social consciousness, and national movements on this relationship. 

As it has everywhere else, at least in Western history, the national question has evolved in Quebec in the context of the formation and transformation of the capitalist economy and the liberal democratic state. The internal market and wage relations that tend to homogenize economic practices within a social formation (money, weights and measures, salaries, free circulation of individuals and goods) were becoming institutionalized at the same time as the modem state was becoming the center of regulation of social relations and relations of power that are now administered in the name of the nation within the framework of popular. With its French heritage, Quebec has ad to fight to assert itself within the English speaking Canadian state, with intermittent threats of seceding. 

Even though more than seven decades have passed since India became independent, doubts remain in the minds of many regarding its future as a viable nation-state. Every now and again commentaries on the Indian political situation fill with speculation about how long Indian unity will hold. These speculations are inspired by Western notions of the nation-state where ideally language, religion, and political sovereignty have coterminous boundaries. 

A keen interrogation of the nine “Handshake Issues” at the centre of Kenya’s National Question. Can we develop and exhibit national ethos and ensure inclusivity and equality of opportunity without asking why we are likely to see a Luo slum dweller pelting a Gikuyu worker with stones as opposed to seeing these two confronting a Kalenjin industrialist to demand decent and dignified working conditions? From where I sit, it is impossible to eliminate corruption amongst us as long as looting of state coffers is seen as bringing home booties of conquest. State power will remain a trophy of victory – hence divisive and fraudulent electoral processes – to competing ethnic formations as long as the national question remains unresolved.

In the on-going discourse, the most fundamental question that has so far emerged was the proposal by coastal counties that Kenya should adopt a federal system. Let’s debate in earnest and develop the capacity to soar high and tenacity to go far. 

January 28, 2020

Sunday, 12 January 2020


By Oduor Ong'wen

Yesterday, leaders from six counties of the former Nyanza Province organized a leaders’ meeting at Kisii Sports Club to interrogate together contents of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report that was launched at the end of last year. The meeting brought together close to 4,000 leaders drawn from grassroots and comprising religious leaders, CBOs, women groups, small business associations, elected leaders (MCAs, MPs and governors), fisherfolk, trade unions.

The meeting invited experts that took the delegates through the key recommendations contained in the 156-page report after which the delegates gave their feedback based on the presentations. Thereafter, each delegate was given a hard copy of the report to take home and read. Resolutions were then adopted of which in my view the most important was that the process of public participation and discussion of the report should be taken to ward level.

Even before the delegates arrived in Kisii, the gathering was already condemned as unnecessary and a drain of public funds. None other than our Deputy President William Ruto led the chorus of condemnation. I find this to be a public display of either hypocrisy or confusion. But I doubt whether Ruto is confused. It’s not easy to confuse a PhD holder. So, the former is more likely and this is why:

During the national launch at the Bomas of Kenya on November 27, 2019 speaker after speaker, Ruto included, called for the document to be taken to the grassroots so that Wanjiku may read for self and give feedback. Indeed, leaders allied to the DP were the first to organize the first consultative meeting on the report at the Great Rift Valley Lodge. It was highly publicized but nobody faulted it. Was that consultation fine because the DP’s brigade did it or because it excluded grassroots leaders?

The most hilarious observation from persons faulting the public consultations launched by some of our governors is that it was a waste of public funds. Did I hear right? Deputy PORK William Ruto a defender of public funds? Am I the only visitor in Jerusalem? May I try to walk down the memory lane?

On October 18, 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta convened at the State House what he dubbed ‘Anti-Corruption’ Summit. During the event, the Head of State lamented that he was unable to deal with rent seeking, which has become the hallmark of his administration. The image of the Commander-in-Chief of our defence forces, raising his arms in surrender and saying, nifanye nini jameni (what do you expect me to do) endures. This was an explicit admission by President Kenyatta that corruption was rife but he lacked the mechanism and support to deal with the vice.

When they emerged on the steps of Harambee House on March 9, 2018 to famously shake hands with Raila Odinga, corruption was one of the nine issues they committed to confronting head-on. Since then, we have seen reinvigoration of graft fighting agencies, high profile arrests and attempts at asset recovery. We are yet to see big shots serving jail terms, but we have a rule of law that would rather be faulted on account of granting suspects full rights than for violation of the same. Graft suspects have fully used and abused the loopholes provided by our celebrated Bill of Rights to delay cases; interfere with evidence and witnesses; and be detained in hospitals as opposed to gazetted custodial facilities.

It has become clear that the President never attempted to slay the dragon of corruption in his first term because his principal partner Ruto was unwilling. The DP has been mentioned severally in suspected corrupt deals. Apparently after the “Handshake,” President Kenyatta discovered there is something he can do about corruption and is acting.

In the fifty-six months of Jubilee’s first administration, Kenya witnessed at least 29 cases of mega scams involving more than Sh. 2.6 Trillion. This translates into roughly one major case of corruption every two months. Herein below, we recall some outstanding cases. 

Number One is the scam of “Hustler Jet.” Hardly a fortnight after the Jubilee Administration was sworn into office, the new regime was entangled in an irregular expenditure of Sh. 100 million where the Deputy President had hired a private jet to visit four African countries. Mission?  To lobby African Heads of State to support President Kenyatta and him in dealing with cases of crimes against humanity that they then faced at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. It is instructive that less than two months earlier, then candidate Kenyatta had said that the cases were “personal challenges.”

Number two, it is in the public domain that Sh. 21 Billion of public funds was misappropriated in the scam involving the proposed construction of two dams Arror and Kimwarer in Elgeyo Marakwet counties. What did Dr. Ruto say about it? It was “only” Sh. 7 Billion. Among the most interesting payments were Sh. 15 million paid to New Italico Limited to supply bed sheets, pillows, towels, duvets and other beddings. Of what relevance were these items in dam construction? It’s alleged that the items were delivered in Mombasa yet the dams’ locations are almost one thousand kilometres. Sh. 11 Billion is said to have been paid upfront for insurance yet government guarantee would cost zero shillings. Other questionable payments included Sh. 10.2 million to Tusker Mattresses for supply of foodstuffs even before the project started; Sh. 6.2 million to Long Rock Engineering Limited to supply furniture and transport services; Sh. 100 million to CMC Di Rivenna Kenya for unspecified services; and Sh. 19.4 million paid to Highland Valuers for relocation and valuation services even though the land where the projects were to take place is still occupied. To Ruto, these payments and others were not a waste of public funds. 

Number three is the much-hyped Laptop Project for primary school learners. The Jubilee Alliance was to provide laptops to all children enrolling in Class One by January 2014. Seven years later, the project is yet to be implemented as it has been dogged by one scam after another in the tendering process.  The tender was nullified by the high court because ‘tenderpreneurs’ inflated it by Sh.1.4 Billion from Sh. 24.6 Billion to Sh. 26 billion.

Conflict had arisen between tendering companies and the Ministry of Education following accusations that the ministry gave top listing to Olive Telecommunications, an Indian company. Competitors Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Haier Electrical Appliances of China accused Olive of not meeting the basic tendering requirements as stipulated by national regulations. It emerged that Olive is not a device manufacturer but uses Chinese subcontractors to manufacture their Olive-branded electronic devices, contrary to the tender project's OEM (original equipment manufacturer) requirements. Kenyan tender regulations required that only OEMs could participate in the laptop bidding, according to media reports. This rule would effectively rule out Olive from participating in the tender since it could not prove it was an OEM. The Kenyan government decided to add this tender rule after it emerged that brokers had participated in the first round of tendering, which led to an inflation of proposed costs. Despite this requirement however, Olive was assigned the top position, as it allegedly pitched the lowest bid of KSh. 22 billion (US$261 million) compared to the Ksh 23 billion bid by HP and 24 billion shilling bid by Haier. Both HP and Haier had offered to establish Kenyan assembling plants for the laptops. But Olive would not be manufacturing the devices locally, according to reports.
Fourth was the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project. This was one of the flagship projects of the Grand Coalition Government under Vision 2030. The exiting Kibaki-Odinga government had processed tenders for the project and awarded China Roads and Bridges Corporation (CRBC) at Sh. 220 Billion for the Mombasa- Nairobi leg. When it came to power, the Jubilee Government cancelled this tender, then awarded it to the same company, through single sourcing, at Sh. 334 Billion (Sh. 114 Billion more). It was later inflated to Sh. 1.3 trillion (US$ 13.8 Billion) for the entire course. The subcontracting for civil works immediately went to a local company APEC whose directors remain unknown. 

At number five, we have the Eurobond. In his report of the Special Audit of Eurobond in 2016, the then Auditor General Edward Ouko observed that his office was unable ascertain how Sh. 215 Billion Eurobond proceeds were utilised.  

Scam number six was a Sh. 63.5 Billion terminal tendering. The project, located at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), was designed eight years ago to make Nairobi a premier aviation hub for Africa. The contract, signed in 2013 between the Authority and Anhui Construction Engineering Group, was a variation of the original contract signed in 2011, with the introduction of a new inflated provision for Sh9.5 Billion. The first contract signed in December 2011 between KAA and the company was for an agreed sum of Sh54 billion (US dollars 653.7 million).

The government later abandoned the project in April 2016, exposing the country to a loss of Sh. 20 Billion. This Sh. 20 Billion has been used by to build the towering Global Trade Centre (GTC) along Chiromo Road. If Ruto is so concerned about prudent use of public funds, he should have been the first to raise alarm of such a colossal sum being siphoned from the Kenyan tax payer to fund a private enterprise.

Other public heists include the National Youth Service (NYS), which paid out millions to a company five months before it was registered; the Kenya Pipeline scams, Kenya Power; and the Geothermal Development Corporation mega scandals among others. We know whose surrogates head these parastatals.

Lastly, I still recall a scene reminiscent of the SOWETO massacre in Johannesburg, South Africa on 16th June 1976, where Kenyan police tear-gassed, battoned and mercilessly kicked Langata Road Primary schoolchildren protesting against a move by a hotel owned by Ruto to seize their playground and turn it into a car park. After a long circus of denials and name-calling, Ruto admitted to both his ownership of Weston Hotel, and the fact that it is built on a piece of land acquired fraudulently from Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.

Governors have not hidden the fact that the money used for these consultations have come from county government coffers. Ruto chairs the Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Council (IBEC) and is aware that each county government appropriates money for public participation. He has just panicked because the contents of the BBI report are being taken to the ordinary citizen thereby denying him and his troops opportunity for disinformation. 

Indeed, panic is real.

 January 11, 2020

Friday, 3 January 2020


By Oduor Ong'wen

The Year 2019 is behind us. And the year was marked by plenty of tragi-comic shows. Forget about Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko clowning as traffic Marshall at a train station in Paris. That one is now the new normal for the Governor and would not make a headline even of a student-training publication in some makeshift media school in the neighbourhood of Mua Hills. I know many are occupied with wonder of how we let a thug and clown like this to run and ruin the most important county in the nation with more than 4 million people. Indeed East Africa’s second largest economy after Kenya. But the arch-clown of 2019 remains one William Kipchirchir Samoei arap Ruto, who tragically also doubles as the Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya.

Unlike veteran scribe Philip Ochieng’, I do not wish to accuse the press. However, I know that in Kenya the profession is now heavily infested with lazy, rent-seeking quarks masquerading as journalists. So, when they refer to Ruto as “front-runner” in 2022 presidential race, I just nod in acknowledgement that the capture is indeed complete. All I know is that apart from Ruto, no [serious] contestant has declared their candidature for the position of President of the Republic of Kenya (PORK) in the August 2022 elections. So, Ruto is running against himself and leading.  Although uttered in a different context, Malindi legislator Aisha Jumwa was right when she declared that Ruto is not a front-runner but the only runner. I was socialised to regard a person who enters the track before the race to run alone as either insane or a clown. But I have no reason to believe that our Deputy President is insane. That would be a ground for his removal from that lofty office.

In the race against himself, Ruto has come to believe that he is running against Raila Odinga. This is crap even if it’s his obsession. Odinga has not said he will be in the presidential race when that time comes. Many have urged him to while a sizeable number even have doubts if he will. But that has not stopped Ruto from getting busy on the campaign trail against him. Clowns are made of this. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s advisors get cheeky at times. One of them must have counselled him that if you want to make Ruto go berserk then start talking and being friendly to Raila Odinga. The man from Sugoi took the bait and swallowed it hook, line and sinker – and it is working marvellously. What with the clowns’ choir conducted by the DP himself and comprising such crooners and poets like Kipchumba Murkomen, Aden Duale and Oscar Sudi?

Since the famous “Handshake” between Kenyatta and Odinga, Ruto and his orchestra had been practising two hits that they released in 2019. One is that Raila has been in politics forever and should retire. The other is that Kenya has been ruled by dynasties since independence and it was time for son of a peasant. Yes, it’s true that Raila Odinga has been in politics of resistance against dictatorship, looting of public coffers and impunity for a long time. Nine of those years he was in detention in such maximum security facilities as Kamiti, Manyani, Shimo La Tewa and Naivasha prisons while Ruto was stealing our money and land. If at all Ruto has set foot in those jails, it was as a minister where the inmates’ pain were increased manifold by being paraded like prize bulls for him to inspect. 

Another of those years in politics Odinga spent in exile when repressive forces that Ruto was then serving as Secretary of Youth for KANU ’92 (YK92) tried to assassinate him. Again, Ruto has never been a refugee all his life and cannot comprehend the pain and indignity that comes with it. As a matter of fact, Ruto has never done anything else other than being in bad politics, robbing the public and private citizens and being linked to gangs notorious for killing people. That is his resume and we have seen it “live live” for decades. It is going to be on the table come 2022. Stories have been told about the Kiambaa Church massacre in 2007 where we saw kids being thrown back into a burning church when they tried to escape. Many accusing fingers have pointed towards one direction and the International Criminal Court indicted Bill Ruto. Sad indeed.

Now, we take a look at Dynasty versus Hustler narrative. My dictionary defines a dynasty as a line of hereditary rulers of a country. Its broader meaning is a succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in business, politics or another field. A hustler, on the other hand is defined as a person adept at illicit dealing e.g. a drug peddler, pimp, or one who sells contraband goods. The second meaning of a hustler is a prostitute. Given these clear meanings, I am not sure whether this nation wants to engage in this Dynasty-Hustler diversion. Trying to be clever by half, Ruto wants to engage the country in a class debate, which to me is welcome. If we were to trigger a class struggle pitting owners of means of production (exploiters) on one side and providers of labor (the exploited) on the other, I have no doubt which side Ruto would be.

Ruto is a Botanist and so he might not be well versed with our country’s history. If he were, he would know that Raila was born to a schoolteacher who had to quit his teaching job in protest against racism and paternalistic attitude of white teachers against their African colleagues. He was Vice President for less than 16 months (December 1964-April 1966) and spent the remaining thirty years fighting alongside the people against land grabbing, entrenched human rights violations, assassinations, one-party dictatorship and corruption amongst other ills. This came with stints in detention and house arrests. These are by no means trappings of power associated with dynasties.

Ruto says he was born poor and went to school with no shoes. So was I. It’s all right to be born poor in an impoverished country like Kenya. Many of us can relate with that. It is also normal for persons from such backgrounds to rise, through sheer personal efforts, to become doctors, engineers, lawyers, accountants, teachers etc. and lead comfortable lives. 

But when Ruto boasts now that he is big and rich, the question is how he got there. Stealing public and private lands like those belonging to the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority or Ngong Forest or poor Muteshi’s 100 acres. That is the truth, simple and clear. Ruto is basically telling Kenyans that he has been a very successful thief his entire adult life and for that Kenyans should reward him with the presidency. Is he clowning when he tells us that he is a “hustler” because he sold chicken? Unless he was selling stolen chicken. Otherwise selling chicken is not hustling.

What should alarm Kenyans is that Ruto isn’t just running against himself. He is clearly sending us a warning on what to expect in the unlikely event that he becomes PORK. A public statement released by Duale, the Majority Leader in the National Assembly, cannot go unnoticed. In it, Duale delves into folklore about a shepherd who found abandoned lions in the bushes and brought them home to nurture them. Later, the lion cubs become a menace to his lambs, dogs and family.  The shepherd eventually throws the lions back to the bush where they “fade away.” 

Duale uses the story to warn that Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho and no doubt many others will face the same fate as those who enjoyed power during Jomo Kenyatta, Moi, and Mwai Kibaki presidencies when there is a change in administration. He mentions past public servants like Charles Njonjo, Kihika Kimani, Hezekiah Oyugi, Christopher Murungaru and many others. Duale’s message is unambiguous: civil servants considered nasty to his King Ruto will be dealt with once the “cycle” of power comes to the DP and his crew.

Now you can talk about whatever you want but threatening public officials that you will give them the Kihika Kimani treatment is ominous. Kihika worked with some rogue civil servants like Kim Gatende and Provincial Police Chief James Mungai as well as Nakuru Mayor Mburu Gichua to routinely harass Moi and was forced to run into exile as soon as Moi took power to save his life. Is that what awaits some Kenyans if Ruto were to take power from Uhuru?  We take notice that Duale’s warning is not some stupid speech made at a funeral in some village. It is an official statement released to the media.

Even Jomo Kenyatta didn’t do anything like that. He made nasty remarks and insulted people but did not issue official public warnings. He was even implicated in political killings and Moi did the same but this era of public warnings is a new thing. We shudder to imagine how many other people are in this list of those who will face the wrath of the assumed next regime?

Nairobi, January 4, 2020.

Saturday, 22 December 2018


Oduor Ong'wen
Miguna Miguna, the self-proclaimed general of the National Resistance Movement Kenya, won an important case against the State this last week. But the significance of that ruling was lost in the inordinate focus the Kenyan media and public trained on the quantum of compensation – Seven million Kenya Shillings – rather than the upholding of Miguna’s right to citizenship, being one by birth. Kenyans love money, dream money, kill for money, live for money, and worship money. 
Without downplaying the role of money as a medium of exchange and store of value, it becomes worrying when everything is reduced to monetary worth. But I am not begrudging the man from Nyando his award – in fact he merited much more given, the persecution he has been subjected to.
Three weeks before this landmark ruling, the Technical Committee of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM)’s proposals to be presented to the Building Bridges Initiative Task Force were widely reported by the local media. Among other proposals, the ODM team proposed the addition of a clause to Article 16 that states that a citizen by birth does not lose citizenship by acquiring the citizenship of another country. The Orange Party seeks a new clause to categorically assert that citizens by birth who may have lost such their citizenship before 2010 Constitution shall be deemed not to have so lost their right to citizenship. This clause shall ensure that the right to citizenship of a person who is a Kenyan citizen by birth is not subject to any condition or discretion of any person or authority. 

Of course, I agree with Miguna when he avers that Kenya is ripe for a revolution. Yes, as witnessed during the January 30 inauguration ceremony for Raila Odinga as the People’s President, the objective conditions do obtain. However, my views are at variance with Miguna’s regarding subjective factors. His interpretation of these subjective factors is wanting, in my observation. V.I. Lenin, whose worldview has so inspired Miguna, is categorical that even though objective conditions for a revolution may exist, a regime cannot just tipple over if subjective forces to topple it over are absent. Hurling insults at Raila Odinga who has been more consistent in trying to shape those subjective factors is where, in my view, Miguna misses the ideological boat and rides on emotions, ideals and Narodnik motivation.

But Miguna and I agree politically on much more than the things we see and react to differently. That’s the reason I cannot agree with the action of the State to abrogate his citizenship just because he took a position, which those exercising the authority of State illegitimately considered treasonous. Citizenship by birth cannot be conferred – not even by the Constitution. The Constitution simply guarantees it. One does not choose where one is born. No law made by humans can erase the fact that Miguna Miguna was born in Nyando, Kisumu County, which is part of the Republic of Kenya.

Between 2011 and 2013 when Miguna Miguna was pillorying Raila Odinga – the vendetta that culminated in a very subjective book, the very forces that recently elected to declare him non-Kenyan pampered him. He was even cleared to run for the position of Nairobi Governor. Since he then had indicated the “correct” presidential preference, he was a “patriotic citizen.” But when his conscience couldn’t allow him to watch as electoral autocracy took root and decided to join Kenyans in resisting, he became a non-citizen. 

We have seen this country grant citizenship to all manner of characters. The most notorious ones were the Artur brothers. These shadowy figures were not only conferred with the citizenship of our country, but were also allowed unfettered access to our national security system, donning as they did the ranks of Deputy Commissioners of Police. I know many Kenyans of both African and Asian extraction that have for eons held dual or triple citizenship but since they have not been seen as threats to State Security, they are not only tolerated, but feted.

But Miguna’s case is not unique both in this country and elsewhere. Dictators always feel they hold the key to citizenship. In 1997, Sheikh Ahmed Balala, a radical Muslim preacher, was stripped of Kenyan citizenship by the Moi-KANU regime and was stateless for more than three years. Because he was a thorn in the flesh of KANU oligarchs, he had to be declared non-Kenyan.

Elsewhere, we may want to recall former US President Bill Clinton’s address at the 2016 Democratic National Convention where he sought to reach out to the Muslim community, a group that had been profiled, targeted and demeaned by Donald Trump’s campaign. “If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together,” Clinton offered.  Everyone in attendance applauded. Many Muslims received the speech very favourably across America and beyond. But behind the rosy rhetoric, the clear implication was that Muslim’s rights were conditional on their support of U.S. security commitments and that such support was how Muslims earned and cemented their status as American citizens. The implication of this statement was that Americans Muslims that would declare opposition to US military misadventures around the world do not deserve citizenship even if they were born there.

Recently, when the Movement for Black Lives unveiled its vision after a spate of racial killings and police brutality targeting Blacks, it was roundly condemned by the [white-owned] mainstream media as being unpatriotic.  No part of the vision statement received as much immediate mainstream pushback as its stinging repudiation of U.S. foreign policy. Its demands, which included a call for military and security divestment, permanent opposition to the War on Terror, and a declaration of solidarity with Palestinians, generated criticism about specific policies (especially with respect to Israel and Palestine) and about the perceived disconnect between police brutality toward black citizens and U.S. military practices in distant lands. The implication was that by extending their vision beyond the national borders, black freedom activists were combining issues that were not inherently connected and better left to the security experts.

Moreover, critics were uncomfortable with the statement’s rejection of one of the most common mechanisms for outsider groups to gain inclusion in the U.S. life: national security citizenship. By this is meant the idea that one shows one’s worthiness for membership by supporting—and being willing to fight and die for—the security policies of the American State. To this day, the idea that oppressed groups earn inclusion through sacrifice on behalf of the American State remains a potent one.
By contrast, in linking black freedom to opposition to the U.S. foreign policy orientation, the Movement went beyond Black Lives Matterstatement to repudiate the classic assumption that the objectives of the securocratsand the goals of oppressed communities coincide and should be thought of as being one and the same.  Instead, it affirmed the oppressed communities’ right to articulate their own independent foreign policy grounded above all in the interests of other marginalised groups nationally and internationally. As the document reads, “The Black radical tradition has always been rooted in igniting connection across the global south under the recognition that our liberation is intrinsically tied to the liberation of Black and Brown people around the world.” This independent orientation emphasizes solidarities abroad (between poor or colonized peoples) and, as a consequence, directly challenges the security state’s prerogatives. Suspicious of any harmonious “we the people,” freedom activists instead see a shared community emerging, not with fellow co-nationals, but with the oppressed, exploited and marginalized people everywhere.
By emphasizing the tie between the foreign and the domestic as well as the need for a distinct black foreign policy, the authors of the vision statement carried on an essential element of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s own political legacy that is often deliberately forgotten. King isn’t ordinarily thought of as an exemplar of a black and radical internationalism, but in the last year of his life, he went much further than simply declaring his opposition to the Vietnam War. He also declared his hostility to U.S. militarism in all its forms and asserted that such hostility was integral to his account of black freedom.
King saw the war as emblematic of a general U.S. approach to foreign affairs that treated local, often non-white communities as means to the end of national ambitions and as instruments for the perpetual extension of global power. The logic that justified subverting anti-colonial independence movements in Southeast Asia was the very same logic that maintained structures of racial and class subordination at home. It is why he argued that one could not coherently promote black freedom while supporting the war. The two issues, he contended, were inextricably intertwined.
I am of the strong view that Miguna’s support or opposition to electoral theft or the handshake should not determine his citizenship status. His insults of and innuendos directed at Raila Odinga notwithstanding, I know – and Miguna knows too – that Raila Odinga cannot and will not support pegging the citizenship of any Kenyan on the support of state policies. Indeed Raila would defend unto death Miguna’s right to criticize (not insult) leaders – him included.
Wishing you the best this festive season.

December 22, 2018