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.