Saturday, November 29, 2008

MP Taxation - Who is Fooling Who

I have been following the MPs taxation debate keenly, but also with a lot of anger. First I felt angry watching the speaker equate paying of taxes with charity, and then upon hearing that the minister for Industrialization said that he did not know where taxes go therefore he could not pay taxes (surely if a cabinet minister does not know where taxes go, what then is expected of us mortals?). The prime minister is on record as saying that the MPs have too much commitment to pay taxes (mortgages and loans), as if we ordinary Kenyans are also not interested in the finer things of life as well. My anger dissipated as soon as I realized that we are dealing with politicians anyway and therefore they are just keeping in character.

Things however got a bit complicated when I started hearing that there were MPs who were now 'volunteering' to have their pay taxed. Make no mistake, I appreciate people submitting themselves to be taxed, but this is mere hypocricy. Would it not have made sense for them to stand on the floor of the House and actually vote for taxation? The cabinet, if you count the assistant ministers, has slightly over 90 MPs...I am sure if the President, the PM and Michuki whipped them in line, then we would have seen a real commitment by the Government to have the proposals pushed through, and even if the Government lost in the process, Kenyans who have been able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Lastly, how will the public be able to keep tabs on the so called tax volunteers? Will they publish their payslips every month for us to ascertain that indeed they have been taxed?

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Fear to "Name"

Just to follow up on what Oby (quoted below) mentioned in response to the Obama article posted...

"I do not belive this. Did you notice how many times the pronoun 'we' is used? I do not agree with this collective implication. It is not true that WE killed Tom Mboya, Pinto, JM or Ouko. Everybody know WHO did that and trying to make us all feel guilty for that I protest. This is part of the problem we suffer from, refusing to put the blame squarely where it belongs." - Oby

Just to follow up on what Oby (quoted) mentioned in response to the Obama article posted...

For some reasons we feel comfortable in making everything collective, and there seems to be a phobia in naming things or people by name. For example when Kikuyus and Kalenjins fight in Kuresoi, the media will often say "two communities", yet we know who these are. There is a general fear in the political community in terms of confronting realities head on. We are now witnessing this in the circus being played out in the Waki report saga...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Hey guys, something interesting I found...

I am finding it very difficult to join in the jubilation about Senator Barack Obama. Not that I want to deny the man his victory, but my impulse to celebrate keeps deflating on the idea that the best thing that happened to little Barack was not growing up in Kenya .

I have been imagining alternative trajectories for him if he had come to know the world through the eyes of a Kenyan citizen, if his mother and grandparents had not rescued him from our chaos and contradictions and brought him up somewhere his intellect and talent could grow.

If he had grown up here, and had he somehow managed to retain most elements of his current self, he would have been another outstanding, intelligent and competent Luo man in our midst: and he would have been killed.

Yes, we would have assassinated a Barack Obama if he had remained ours, with us, one of us here in this schizophrenic cauldron we call home. This is not going to stretch the imagination of any Kenyan - after all, when we had that incredibly good-looking and charismatic home-grown hero, Tom Mboya, we shot him to death. And when that austerely intellectual and elegant leader, Robert Ouko, threatened to look overly intelligent to the world, we killed him too. We killed Pio Gama Pinto and we killed JM Kariuki. There is no reason to suppose that Barack Obama, whose integrity of purpose and stringent sense of ethics even his enemies concede, would have survived his Kenyan roots.

He is much too intelligent, too charged with the promise of history, too bold in his claim to a shining destiny, too full of the audacity of hope, for us to have let him survive. Kenya would have killed Barack Obama, or at least his dream, as we inevitably destroy, in one way or another, the best and the boldest of us. Goldenberg whistle blower David Munyakei's challenge to his country to be bigger than our greed was met with a whimper, and then with rapid abandonment. We did not deserve him, either.

As for John Githongo, he should have known better than to take the idea of public ethics seriously - this is Kenya , after all. Let him enlighten people at Oxford instead; such considerations are too virtuous for us, too sensible, too conducive to a promising future. We do not even remark on the haunting wastage of all this shining accomplishment - Micere Mugo sings her lyrical poetry for Americans, and we do not even know enough to mourn the loss.

And yet we are all enchanted with the power of the idea of Barack Obama, the hope of him, the beauty of his life's trajectory, the universe of possibilities and probabilities that it conjures for the least of the rest of us. If someone's cousin's friend's neighbour makes it to the United States ... then we all have a chance. We have a strange predilection for schizophrenic loves and loyalties; we let geography dictate our alliances and imaginary lines decide our friends. It is as if our social contract states that here, at home, we are obliged to behave like fighting rats to each other but when abroad, when released from the shackles of kin and clan and conclave, we can fly and soar and master the sky.

When Wangari Maathai is abroad, we feel that her Nobel Prize is partly represented in each of our Kenyan living rooms; when she comes home, she is just another Kikuyu politico. We preen about our athletes winning yet another international competition to anybody who will give us half a chance, but when they are at home we turn them into more fodder for militias.

Caine Prize winners are Kenyan by automatic assent, but Binyavanga Wainaina is a Kikuyu writer when at home and Yvonne Owuor is indelibly a Luo - we shrink them to fit the midget-sized visions we have of ourselves.

It is clear to all of us, and the evidence continues to accrue, that we have, collectively, a certain global competence, as Kenyans, that we produce individuals of substance and historical purpose.

Being Kenyan, however, we prefer to drown in the pettiness of our parochial quarrels when at home, and if one of us threatens to be too hopeful, too ambitious, too intelligent, too creative or too inspirational to fit into our trivial little categories of hatred and suspicion, we kill them, or exile them from our societies, or we just cause them to run away inside, hiding from us and from themselves the grandeur of their souls, the splendid landscapes of their imagined tomorrows.

Nothing but the worst for us, at home. We recognise each other by our most rancid rhetoric. We insist upon it, we cultivate it, we elevate it to an art form: Kenyan, and quarrelsome.

Kenyan, and clannish... Kenyan, and counter-productive. Kenyan, and self-destructive. Kenyan, and consistently heart-breaking. Genius everywhere and not a thought to be had. Promise and potential everywhere, and not an opportunity to be had. Money everywhere and not an honest penny to be earned. Helicopters aplenty, but no help for the needy. A land awash in Cabinet ministers and poverty.

I have been watching Kenyans getting high on Obamamania, and I am wondering what we are so happy about? It is perhaps that we are beginning to acknowledge what we should always have known - given a half a chance, an ever so slightly conducive context, Kenyans are more likely to over-achieve than not. At the faintest provocation, Kenyans will leap past expectations without breaking their stride or breaking a sweat, especially if they happen to have escaped the imprisoning edifice we call home and found foreign contexts to flourish in, no matter how alien.

I went to a town in the Canadian Arctic once, in the far north, where in summer the sun shines even at midnight and in the winter the world is an endless landscape of ice and snow. Here, far, far away from home, where nothing was familiar except the gentleness of elderly Inuit women and the comforting weirdness of the white residents, I was told that the local dentist had, for many years, been a Kenyan. Everybody said he had been an excellent dentist, out there in the desert of the cold. I was unsurprised.
We are an adventurous people, we Kenyans, and we take to the world outside our home as if born to a conquistador culture - we are brave and brash and bold, out there. We buy and sell things, and make money at it, out there. We go to school and excel and cover ourselves with accreditations, out there. We win things, out there. We get prizes, out there. We are at our best, out there.

However, at home, for some reason we refuse to either acknowledge or examine - we have chosen simply to set aside this capacity. Here, at home, nothing but the very lowest common denominator will do; nothing but the basest and most brutal aspects of our selves are to be presented to each other; nothing but the most cynical manipulation is the basis of our political space. We prefer to be ruled by individuals whose mediocrity is matched only by their mendacity, here at home.

We prefer to abdicate our adult responsibilities and capacity for reason to "leaders" whose lack of virtue is as legendary as our attractively exotic pastoralists. We do not only waste talent, here at home - we go out of our way to suppress and repress it. We do not only deny dreams, here in Kenya - we devour them, and ask each other, "Who do you think you are?" As if the success of another is an affront.

In Kenya , grand vision and soaring imagination is illegitimate; here, they just call you naive. Out there, you stand a chance of becoming a hero; at home, you will have nothing but the taste of ashes in your mouth. Mothers, take your children abroad.

Barack Obama has written two books, in which he discusses ideas. Ideas. This is a man with vision and conviction, and enough good ideas that even those who do not like the pigmentally-advantaged are listening, and changing their minds.

Even those who think that his name sounds suspiciously like a terrorist's are reading his books and listening to his speeches, and changing their minds. This is a man with interesting and inspiring things to say - which disqualifies him from any Kenyan-ness we would have liked to claim.

Americans like the image of them that Barack Obama has painted in words; which Kenyan leader would dare to build dreams bigger than his roots? Which Kenyan leader would ever be so foolish as to attempt inspiration instead of instigation?

Barack Obama has seduced the world by the power of his persuasiveness, and while Kenyans raise another glass to the accomplishments of "one of our own," it seems clear to me that we gave up our rights to him when we gave up our hopes for ourselves. When we settled for incompetence, and corruption, and callousness, we defined ourselves out of his universe, and out of his dreams.

We rejected Barack Obama-ness when we allowed those pangas to slash our dreams, when we watched our hopes spiral away in smoke. We allowed the ones who had done this to become the only mirrors of ourselves, and then squelched our disgraced selves back to the mire of our despondency.

Barack Obama cannot be a Kenyan, and Kenyans cannot grasp Barack Obama's dream. We have already despaired of it, and of ourselves. His dream would have died with ours, here at home, here in the graveyard of hope.

But oh, how we yearn to see ourselves reflected in his eyes...

*Wambui Mwangi is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, Canada. This article first appeared in The East African, June 15 2008.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Can't Write

The stuff that happened over the weekend in Kuresoi and the discussions that have since followed have left me feeling like I cant' write. No voices of reasons. Will be back in a couple of days though...I still need to gather my thoughts and see if there are leaders talking sense out there.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cabinet Shies Away From Discussing Waki

Once again President Kibaki is proving that he is averse to taking risks as far as tough political decisions are concerned. Of course this is in line with keeping with his character. What I can't understand though is the Prime Minister. Many of us had always expected Raila to be more aggressive and tell it as it is. We had glimpses of this when he started by tackling the Mau Forest and the rot at KPA issues. on both issues he now seems to have given in to the demands of other politicians. This does not seem to be the man i queued for several hours to vote for.

Again, unless our politicians start taking bulls by the horn, Kenya shall remain the same old.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What Happened to Rev. Musyimi?

A few years ago Rev. Musyimi was being touted as potential presidential candidate, until of course Raila declared 'Kibaki Tosha!'. Last year the man of cloth retired from the church and plunged into politics, eventually becoming the Gachoka MP via PNU. When the country eraptued into post election violence, nothing much was heard from the man who had been touted the voice of reason. When there was a cabinet formation stalemate, the chap was missing in action. At the height of the Kriegler and Waki report debates, the man is conspicously absent. When the public is raising an outcry against MPs fight not to be taxed, mum is the word for the good Reverend. When is this guy going to speak?

It looks like the comforts of Kenya's Parliament is such that even the best intentioned of fella's tongues gets tied. And he is not the first man who has gone to Parliament with the public's great expectations only to go silent. I have also been trying to watch the likes of Ababu Namwamba, Shakeel Shabir, Millie Odhiambo and Kabando wa Kabando but so far I am not impressed. Looks like the mabadiliko we all craned for is not going to happen soon. We need an Obama to emerge here but when I look at the horizon, I cant' see anybody. Can someone please drop me a name?

Cabinet Discusses Waki Report

The Cabinet is meeting today to discuss the contentious Waki Report, with the Waki envelop threat hanging over some of their heads. I for one, I am very sceptical about the cabinet taking any risks that would put their careers on the line, but I beleive that this matter must somehow be brought to a close if this country is to move ahead. And especially those whose names are rumoured to be in the envelop, it helps to sort out this matter once and for all with 2012 still far away. Raila has already intimated that he is ready to quit the Government if he discoveres that ODM leaders were victimized in the report....question is, can this report bring down the coalition government?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Space to rant and organize

I have created this space to rant and share my ideas on the political scene in Kenya. For long I have sat back and listened to our politicians and their loyal supporters spew all manner of nonsense and I have decided I am not going to take it lying down. I will now start challenging them and this is as good a place as any to start.