What’s African about unalloyed misogyny?

The just passed marriage bill is unambiguously the most offensive idea to come out of the 11th Parliament yet. According to the BBC:

MP Samuel Chepkong’a, who proposed the amendment, said that when a woman got married under customary law, she understood that the marriage was open to polygamy, so no consultation was necessary, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reports.

Mohammed Junet, an MP representing a constituency from the western Nyanza province, agreed.

“When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa,”

This is Grade A horse manure.

President Kenyatta should veto this bill. And the group of Kenyan MPs who think that disempowering women is a smart idea are advised to watch the video below of President Kibaki at a press conference ostensibly to confirm to Kenyans that he has ONLY ONE WIFE, following rumors to the contrary [More here].

Also, Mr. Kenyatta should require that before he assents to the bill it must expressly forbid dabbling in both civil and “customary” marriages because the resultant legal arbitrage only benefits men. SOMEONE TELL ME, WHY DO WE NEED A DUAL SYSTEM ANYWAY??? A woman entering a civil marriage should have the guarantee that it will always remain so, with stiff penalties for men who violate the contract. The provisions for Muslims have always been clear and should remain so.

And just for good measure, they should also hear what Chimanda has to say about gender relations:

More on the unbelievably sophomoric debate on this matter in the National Assembly here.

Kenyan politicians, you keep using that word [culture], I don’t think it means what you think it means

Here is the Standard reporting on the proposed amendments to the Marriage Bill:

The Bill passed through its second reading in the House Wednesday, even as controversy raged over how much say women should have on their husbands’ choice to get them co-wives [?!!!???!?!??!?!?!?!?].

Although the Bill has wide ranging provisions touching on marriage, the clause on polygamy has assumed a life of its own, with debate in the House and in the public zeroing in on the controversial clause. During debate last week, the chairman of the National Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee Mr Samuel Chepkonga said they had considered an array of opinions before the decision to introduce the amendment that may see the controversial clause deleted when the Bill comes before the Committee of the Whole House.

Predictably, the reaction during debate was sharp and immediate, with mostly male MPs supporting the amendment, terming the consent clause “impractical and unrealistic” in the context of African culture [emphasis mine].

To which I say:

 

 

Insecurity in Kenya and the upcoming March 2013 elections

It is a mere three and a half months before the March 4th elections in Kenya and compounding the problems facing the electoral commission (which is riddled with corruption allegations and is yet to register voters) is the fact that insecurity in the country appears to be on the rise. The recent killing of at least 40 police officers in Baragoi (in northwestern Kenya) says it all. This comes just a couple of months after the Tana River massacre that left over 100 villagers and police officers dead in mid-September.

(credit: Gado)

The Tana Delta and Baragoi massacres exposed the failures of the intelligence and policing operations in the less-governed parts of Kenya (roughly the northern half and most of the east and southeast of the country). In both cases the government was caught flat-footed and unable to respond rapidly to emergent security threats.

A lot of finger pointing followed both incidents, with the police claiming that their hands were tied by strict laws on the use of force (thanks in part to the justifiably hyperactive human rights crowd in Nairobi) and the politicians blaming one another for incitement of the perpetrators of the crimes.

The latest incident in Baragoi has forced the president to order the deployment of the Kenya Defense Forces to assist in bringing to book the bandits behind the murder of dozens of policemen.

But the deployment of the security forces alone will not bring an end to the cycle of killings that have plagued Kenya in the last several months. In order to clean up the toxic mix of archaic cultural practices, local politics and economic interests, the government will have to be a little bit more broad and nuanced in its approach. What ought to be done about the cultural practices behind cattle rustling? How, if at all, are local leaders ever involved in these operations? What is the local political impact of these raids?

Which brings me back to the 2013 elections. The electoral commission has only one month beginning on Monday Nov 19 to register 18 million voters. Serious lapses in security that seem to be commonplace in large parts of the country do not inspire confidence in the agents of the commission who are supposed to traverse the whole country to build a new voter roll.

A failure to register enough voters for the election due to insecurity will de-legitimize the whole process, with dire consequences.

I hope that the electoral commission is following the investigations of these incidents of violence closely (especially since it has the power to punish those in contravention of election laws). Many Kenyans trust that the commission will be fair on election day. It is therefore not inconceivable that knowing that they won’t change the results after people have voted, crooked politicians have resorted to gerrymandering by other means – by dislocating certain pockets of voters or instigating violence to suppress voter registration and eventual turnout.

The new constitution and patronage politics in Kenya

Former president Moi infamously liked warning voters that siasa mbaya maisha mbaya (bad politics leads to a bad life). This was code for vote for the opposition and no roads, no schools and no hospitals for you.

The framers of the new Kenyan constitution must have particularly disliked the power of the presidency in doling out development money and other patronage largesse. According to the Daily Monitor (Ugandan Daily):

“From 2012, it is likely to have the most limited presidency in Africa. The president has only about 10 per cent of the budget to dole out his patronage and fund his pet projects. The bulk of the rest are fixed; both by a constitutional cap, and a negotiation process.”

It will be interesting to see how the Kenyan presidency evolves following this revolutionary clipping of its powers. Already the executive has seen its powers watered down by an increasingly powerful parliament. To reinforce this trend, the judiciary has just seen the appointment of a card carrying reformer as Chief Justice. A powerful judiciary will provide a check not only on the presidency but on the wider executive branch as well – especially the now independent and obscenely corrupt Kenyan ministries.

Credit for the relatively more limited presidency also goes to President Kibaki.

Many forget that for a long period of time Kibaki governed with Moi’s constitutional powers. It is a relief that the limited presidency will now be both de facto and de jure, especially because there are way more Mois than Kibakis vying for the presidency in 2012.

A word of caution, though. Institutions are not automatic fixes to problems of governance. They are like incomplete contracts that have to be reinforced by numerous conventions and “gentleman agreements.” The Kenyan political elite may yet find ways to circumvent the spirit of the new constitution.


The evolution of parliamentary sovereignty in kenya

It is an interesting time as far as the institutions of governance in Kenya are concerned. The country is seeing the entrenchment of parliamentary sovereignty. Real power in the country is slowing but surely shifting from the executive to the legislature. Kudos to KBC and the parliamentary authorities for allow this to happen.

I am of the humble opinion that democracy is meaningless without credible de facto (as opposed to de jure) mechanisms for horizontal accountability. Elections (vertical accountability) take place only every five years, and even then votes, in most places, are oftentimes easily bought with bags of maize and sugar. The real game remains restricted among the political elite.

Democracy is only stable and productive to the extent that elites can check each other and agree to a modus vivendi. That is how democracy emerged in post civil war England. That is how it has been sustained in most of the West (even during periods of limited suffrage). And that is how it will take hold in Africa.

The trick is to end the one-man-show syndrome that has characterized African politics for decades. Kenya is making that crucial transition as power sips from Ikulu to Bunge and from Harambee Avenue to Parliament Road (more on the causes soon).

Let’s not kid ourselves that horizontal accountability equals democracy. It is not. But my contention is that it is better simply because the tyranny of 210 is, to me, definitely more palatable than the tyranny of 1.

Kenyan MPs raise their salaries, again

Being a member of parliament in Kenya is one of the most lucrative jobs on the Continent. The men and women of the August house unanimously voted to raise their salaries to US $174, 400 a year – which puts them at par with what US congressmen make. Most of this money will not be taxed. Understandably, lots of Kenyans have cried thieves! Although having the biggest economy in the wider region, per capita GDP in Kenya stands at a dismal US $ 1,600. 50% of Kenyans live below the poverty line. 78% of them live in rural areas; the vast majority of whom survive on rain-fed subsistence agriculture. On average, a child born in Kenya can hope to live to be 58.2.

The only good that can come out of this is that it will incentivize MPs to take their constituents more seriously – losing one’s seat has suddenly become more costly – thereby granting parliament better institutional standing by lowering the MP turnover rates (The idea here is that once they feel secure enough in their seats they may start to take their legislative duties more seriously — I know, wishful thinking). The pay hike may also empower parliamentarians and make them less dependent on party bosses and their patronage networks.

That said, it is still grotesquely obscene that Kenyan MPs make 109 times what their masters – the Kenyan electorate – make on average in any given year. And don’t even get me started on whether these clowns honorable members are worth the 1.1 million shillings they hope to make every month.

populism gone mad

The Kenyan parliament today passed a law that empowers the finance minister to fix prices of “essential goods” in an effort to tame unscrupulous traders who exploit wananchi with arbitrary price hikes. That is the story the sponsors of the bill want us to believe. Trade Minister Amos Kimunya has criticized the bill as a bad signal to investors. Kenya, he said, is still committed to the principles of economic liberalization. I concur with Mr. Kimunya’s criticism of the bill. Hayek’s old wisdom about the impossibility of controlling the economy still holds; You can’t fix retail prices without also having to fix the costs of production, transportation, advertising etc. And don’t even get me started on the demerits of allowing politicians – like Finance Ministers – to have this much power over the market.

The market definitely needs responsible regulation but in this instance the best way to protect wananchi, if this is the true aim of parliament, would have been to reduce the barriers of entry in the relevant industries and let competition and the invisible hand of the market drive the prices down. It is the best way to do it. President Kibaki should reject this bill.

UPDATE: For more read Jaindi Kisero of the Nation

those opposed to the creation of an unrepresentative senate have a point

The Kenyan Draft Constitution seems to have hit a snag. A section of parliamentarians are opposed to the section of the proposed constitution that gives all counties equal powers via their elected senators. I agree with them. The to-be-formed senate, as currently constituted, grants too much power to sparsely populated counties. Theoretically, this should not make any difference because people could just move to better served, over-represented counties thereby balancing everything. But we all know that this does not happen in Kenya. The country remains divided into various “ethnic homelands” that are more often than not inhabited exclusively by a single ethnic group.

I hold the opinion that part of the reason why we currently have a corrupt and unresponsive political class is that those who actually pay taxes – and therefore feel the pinch of mismanagement of public funds – are grossly under-represented. For instance, Nairobi only has eight members of parliament even though it generates a huge chunk of Kenya’s tax revenue. Let us not worsen this by creating an even more powerful senate whose members will bribe their way into office with a few bags of sugar and flour per voter and then proceed to steal millions of urban Kenyans’ hard earned cash. I am not advocating for an urban-biased senate. What I am saying is that the constitution should, at a minimum, respect the principle of equal representation. Nairobians and other Kenyan urbanites should make it clear that they are not into the idea of taxation without equal representation.

The alternative would be to have independent incorporate urban districts that elect their own governments and have greater control over the collection and expenditure of their tax revenue. I don’t particularly like this idea though because places like Suba and Maragua still need Nairobi, Eldoret, Kisumu, Nyeri,Mombasa and others, to pull them up.

That is my peni nane opinion on this.

it is time more districts translated into wider taxation

President Kibaki has created about 180 districts over the last 6 years. The logic behind the creation of the many districts, according to the president and his men, has been that there is a need to bring government services closer to the people. One obvious question then is what government services? Are we talking about registration of births and deaths, motor vehicle registration, licensing, issuance of title deeds, judicial services and all that stuff? Because these services are still mostly highly centralised, requiring one to travel either to Nairobi or to far off provincial headquarters. Critics of the new districts have oftentimes highlighted their high cost and non-viability (The president thinks such critics are “backward”).

It was therefore welcome news when yesterday the president announced the halting of the creation of new districts – citing financial reasons. For some reason this fact (high costs) never crossed the minds of the president’s advisers somewhere between new district # 1 and # 180.

And now that we have over 180 new and expensive districts – most of them dished out for political reasons and “people’s demands” – I think it is time we require the new districts, being local governments, to do what governments do: TAX EVERYONE. Each district should be required to raise a percentage of its expenses from local populations (it is quite unfair for Nairobians to pay for non-viable districts in remote parts of the country created purely for political reasons). This minimum requirement need not be uniform across the board – people in West Pokot need districts too, you know – but should be geared towards making local people bear some responsibility for their local governments. With local funding for local districts, Kenyans may be persuaded to care more about who gets appointed to be DC and what their DC and the many district committees do. And to add to the positives, the DC’s will have an incentive to promote local economic activity to generate revenues.

Eventually, one hopes, this idea of local taxation for local services will make Kenyans demand that they get to elect their local DC’s instead of having State House appoint them.

This may sound like a pipe-dream but there is hope. Given parliament’s increasing assertiveness and power-grab from the executive and judiciary it is conceivable that such an idea can successfully be passed into law by the august House. Does someone know a crafty MP with nothing to lose who can champion this cause?

ps: I never thought I’d ever say this but I am actually missing the Standard online edition. What happened to them? Can’t they afford a website?

Kenyan MPs and their salaries

kenya_parliament_03Kenyan MPs are some of the highest paid parliamentarians in the world ($ 136, 160 p.a.) – and this in a third world country with per capita income of $ 1800. The MPs have forever refused to pay taxes on their hefty pay, and for no good reason. Over the years their main defense has been that since they are forever helping their constituents with school fees, medical bills, funeral expenses and what not, they should be exempt from taxes because such help is an implicit tax. I say this is a load of horse manure.

If these people really cared about helping their constituents they should formalize such means of assistance and then pay taxes to fund such programs. The faux welfare system that they claim to be running as it is only serves as a tool for patronage and corruption. Their ‘help’ is essentially a money-for-votes racket and therefore should be declared illegal by the electoral commission (oops, wait a second, we do not have an electoral commission – how is any Kenyan politician in their right mind able to go to bed knowing that the country has  a  president who ‘has eaten a lot of salt’ (not to mention old military helicopters) but no polls body?????).

I agree with Kenya’s chief taxman (KRA Commissioner General Michael Waweru) and the secretary to the cabinet (Ambassador Francis Muthaura) in their calls for a pay freeze and taxation for our under-performing parliamentarians. They don’t deserve the very high salaries to begin with and so the least they could do for the millions of poor Kenyans whose money they continue to steal is pay taxes.

It is my hope that the Akiwumi Tribunal will let common sense prevail and write a sane report that will recommend the abolition of the Parliamentary Service Commission (these clowns should not be allowed to give themselves raises whenever they want) and its replacement with a general salaries body for all civil servants  as has been suggested by ambassador Muthaura.

PS: If only we had this level of transparency. This is why America still rules the world. They have very honest leaders.