The (Un)Broken Promises to Youth and Women in Kenya

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A recent study, The Kenya Youth Survey Report, at the Aga Khan University found that today’s youth do not consider being corrupt a big deal. They do not consider how one makes their money important so long as one does not go to jail. Young people are optimistic about the future materially, but expect that the levels of corruption is going to increase.

Even though Article 10 of the Constitution of Kenya espouses national values and principles such as good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability, and Article 3(2) provides that “Every person has an obligation to respect, uphold and defend the constitution”, the study also found that the youth of today are afraid to stand up for what is right and may not be relied upon to defend the constitution. This dominant culture of apathy, indifference and tolerance to corruption threatens to erode the gains made since the promulgation of the new constitution in 2010.

The youth constitute the most economically disadvantaged segment of the population. An assessment by the World Bank reported that Kenya has one of the highest youth unemployment rates among developing countries. Kenya has the highest youth unemployment rates in East Africa despite having the biggest economy. Disadvantaged populations are economically and socially excluded and face may barriers to success that may have negative implications both today and in the future.

Article 10 of the Constitution of Kenya calls for equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, non-discrimination, and protection of the marginalized groups. It is on this premise that the government created affirmative action funds to improve the economic engagement of youth, women and persons with disabilities (PWDs).

A recent study by The Institute of Social Accountability (TISA) used a social accountability approach in measuring the extent to which the youth are able to exercise accountability in youth funds. The study looked at three aspects: transparency, accountability, and public participation. Jipeshughuli is a youth participation in governance campaign which seeks to empower citizens as a means of combating widespread corruption.

There are four main funds that targeting the youth, women, and PWDs. The Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF) was established 2006 to create employment through the promotion of entrepreneurship by providing loans services to small and medium sized enterprises. In 2007, the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) was established to provide accessible and affordable credit and/or expand business for wealth and employment creation. In 2013, as an initiative under Vision 2030, the government also created Uwezo Fund to expand access to finance and promote women, youth and persons living with disability led enterprises at the constituency level. To date, YEDF has disbursed Kshs 11.7 billion to 850,000 beneficiaries, WEF has disbursed Kshs 6.3 billion to 63,342 women groups, and Uwezo fund has disbursed Kshs 5.2 billion to poor people at the constituency level.

Transparent systems ensure that there is availability of information to the public and clarity about government rules, regulations and decisions. A transparent government empowers and supports the right of citizens to know, which enables them to monitor the implementation and performance of affirmative action programs. More than half of the target population for the funds do not have access to information due to limited publicity at the local level, according to the #Jipeshughuli study.

On the other hand, accountability means that government officials are able to account for or take responsibility for their actions. Citizens who are socially accountable have the capacity to hold the state to account. In the case of affirmative action programs, there must be clear and practical mechanisms for addressing grievances from fund officials, as well as space to appeal to higher level supervisory and oversight bodies to ensure that services are rendered efficiently. Issues of accountability persist. Corruption remains an unending sore in the administration of the funds. From the TISA study, 13 percent of applicants for YEDF were asked for bribes, 15 percent in WEF, and 14 percent in Uwezo fund.

Article 10 of the Constitution also demands rule of law and participation of the people in policy and legislative processes. Participation builds on individual and collective capacities to enhance the willingness and ability of citizens to engage with government officials, local leaders, and service providers. Active engagement of citizens with local governance fosters democracy. The degree of public participation remains worryingly low. Take for instance, in the TISA study, 73 percent of YEDF beneficiaries stated that the officials did not involve youth in the management of the fund, 63 percent of women were not involved, and up to 81 percent of Uwezo fund beneficiaries decried lack of involvement in the fund affairs.

There were various measures that should be put in place to reduce corruption such as inclusion of beneficiaries in management, regular monitoring, enhancing transparency, rotation of officials, and digitization of the process. Public participation remains minimal, and there is need for more involvement of beneficiaries in the design of these funds.

The efficiency of the YEDF can also be improved by simplifying the loan application process, rolling out a robust training and mentorship program, and expanding access to the fund through increased budgetary allocation. The conditions for collateral and guarantors continue to lock many women out. These prohibitory collateral requirements disempower the youth, women and PWDs and deny them access to affirmative action funds.

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The Death of Europe

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THE DEATH OF EUROPE

Her lyre rots unplayed by countrymen,
Sovereign Queen half-sleep, watches
the diseased sceptre of the Great Empire.
her enlightenment torches, clouded
by a miasma of complacency, die
as peasants and Cambridge elites
cheer on Thames bank.
The boat race has ended, the camera is dead
past glories run to the pod – to hibernate.

The devil’s tears beneath Arabian deserts
is angst and barters with long stifled ire,
cards crush under cheap Chinese shoes;
above the table a new rule is blessed.
Days of opium for sugar are long buried
and Africa: yesterday’s pot of hope,
bleeds gold and diamonds no more:
her ravenous striplings
guard her stores day and night.
She is pregnant with the world – again.

Europe’s holy sins butcher like graffiti
bathing on sighs of awaited tumult
the calabash is broken, the pot leaks
the past has risen to rob the present
of a glorious mat spread on mire.
With World War laurels dirty and torn
the Union eats the hands of democracy
jotted on fading sovereign titles and notes,
twenty seven bouncing boys yesterday – now
they close their eyes one by one – to everlasting rest.

Richard Oduor Oduku ©2013

On Tear Gas Monday: How to turn a section of the public into a virtual propaganda arm of the government

I woke up to find so many Facebook updates with the phrase ‘Tear Gas Monday’ or TGM. This is in response to CORD’s protests against IEBC in Kenya. The protests are scheduled for every Monday, probably, until IEBC commissioners are thrown out of office, as the opposition says. These protests have been characterized by police brutality and excessive use of banned and poisonous tear gas.

The phrase ‘Tear Gas Monday’ awoke the keyword INTERNALISATION in mind. In psychology, this word means ‘installing’ objects/ideas into the ego in such a way that it becomes integral to a person’s sense of self. When fully internalized, a person grows to fully own these concepts, even consider them normal. In sociology, it is how a person accepts a set of norms and values, and how they shape the person’s inner self. Both versions are drawn from Lev Vygotsky’s work. Now if we can jump to political science, propaganda does the job of ‘installing’. Propaganda usually starts from the government (and the political system) but after some time it grows to become a part of society.

In a country such as the United States, propaganda has grown past the government, it now happens without government censorship or coercion. The ‘truths’ in propaganda have become an internalized belief system, and this is what makes it possible for media personnel, or what we call ‘global media houses’, to be enthusiastic spokespersons in pushing US propaganda, and give it a naturalness that often lacks in crude propaganda that is created and pushed by the government. The ignorant masses of course do not recognize the media’s propaganda role and accepts the self-image of the media as an independent, adversary, truth-seeking entity that helps the public to exert meaningful control over politics. Noam Chomsky says that once propaganda is internalized by the public, deviations and dissent are derided as foolishness or pathology, and should be excised.

When writing about Yugoslavia, Raju Thomas says that in such situations, where propaganda has been internalized and institutionalized, “the media can be used to display a form of hysteria that helps mobilize the public in support of whatever forms of violence the government wishes to carry out”. In essence, the public and media becomes “a virtual propaganda arm of the government”. Now if I’m to map this onto the Kenyan scenario, it is exactly what it means when you hear the public use terms like ‘Tear Gas Monday’ etc.

If this internalisation continues, and things like extreme cases of brutality become more accepted as normal, the media and public would have created a perfect environment for the government to develop and implement structures of disinformation, right in front of the public’s eye and the public will not see.

In the end, you can gain who wins and who loses – the government, media, or public.

Corruption and the moral incentive to do right

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#DiaperMentality

The issue of corruption in Kenya, and in African countries generally, is that political leaders and public service employees lack the moral incentive to do right. When I talk of moral incentive, I mean what motivates individuals to do right. But refusing to eat is not considered ‘right’, ‘proper’ or even an ‘admirable’ thing to do in Kenya. In fact, refusing to dip your fingers into the pot is viewed with hostility and disdain, both by the government and the public. Until we transition towards a culture where clean hands is rewarded in public service, not even constitutional commissions and statutory bodies will help us.

In Kenya, people who are corrupt, or who fight corruption, are more likely to be hounded, not only by fellow employees, but also the ‘ogas at the top’ – if I’m to borrow a little from Nigerians. They are viewed as obstacles to a life nourishing river of corruption. Whistleblowers have been known to be sacked and thrown into oblivion to die in poverty. Our societies glory wealth irrespective of how it is acquired. A gun-toting thief who buys stuff for his villagers/watu wa mtaani will be lionised and protected, so is the most corrupt politician.The honest, hard working fellow, who has not an extra coin to throw away to frivolities, will be talked down upon, despised and placards of stinginess taped on his name. If you don’t bribe the electorate (euphemised as ‘gonyo jopiny’ in Luoland) you will not win any election in Kenya.

And if you are a honest guy, your professional expertise, whether you are an engineer, manager, doctor, community mobilizer, an artist or street sweeper will not be used as examples of success when parents are talking to their children. It is the drug dealers, the thieving politicians, and the known shady individuals who will be feted and their stories of ‘rags to riches’ told to children, in conversations, in motivational books. Corruption in Africa is a culture issue, not entirely a resource mismanagement issue. We, the public, in different ways, whether it’s buying jobs or lionising the evil among us, provide the manure for corruption, but evil is evil, and unfortunately, it grows fat and strong, sits on our bended backs, and whacks our asses like nobody’s business. Its madness.

The Politics of Dismissal & the Gay Debate

Reading helps us to think in ways that were initially foreign to us, and for some of us pursuing better and more advanced ways of thinking, reading is so much important. I was reading Sarah Ahmed’s essay, ‘Against Students’ on The New Inquiry, in which she talks about the politics of dismissal and how the ‘problem student’ is conceptualized in our societies.

She talks about how different student protests can be conveniently dismissed by posturing arguments such as “they are suffering from too much will”, they have “weaknesses of moral character”, they represent a “general decline in values and standards.” All these arguments help to dismiss, sometimes genuine student concerns, and sweep them under the carpet because the administration, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to deal with them.

Now that the gay debate is once again, all over, I was thinking about this argument, this politics of dismissal, to the gay debate, and whether I could see something. Most emotional arguments against gay persons lament the demise of humanity, ‘the end of the world’, ‘Jesus is coming’ or even those comments that implicitly voice ‘disgust’ and ‘anger’ at how other people, not related to them and not under their direct care, are living their lives.

Of course in all these cases, there is a certain assumption of purity or ‘righteousness’, of ‘living the right life’. But then we can as well ask ourselves a question: what then is the ideal life, and how many people are living it? How, in my mind, is other people’s sexual lives less ideal, and why should its less idealness make other people, not party, to the consensual act angry? But more importantly, I was thinking about what such dismissal justifies. Does a dismissal of their agitation for equal protection under the law justify the need for their persecution by law or by people, their being cut off from the face of humanity, a sort of ‘cleaning up’. I’m also interested in such kind of thinking because Africans, I think more than any other race, have suffered from this politics of dismissal.

And every single day you wake up “you sense the vigour of the sweep. How convenient.”

A Snake in the Gourd – #GarissaAttacks

 

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When death is bounteous, and every flower is tattooed with the names of the dead, mourning is profound and prolonged. Sack clothes are worn and dirges clothe the air. The sheer immensity of death means it will not escape conscription into collective memory, into unwritten history books.  They become the fodder of national narratives. They become the eternal voices in oral narratives. Mother’s rocking their newborns remind them, for a thousandth time, how in the year XXXX, so and so happened and so and so was killed. And the children when they grow up, and marry, and birth – they too, when rocking their children to sleep will sing them a dirge-turned-to-lullaby about the year XXXX when so and so happened. And every day, old memories are etched on the minds of whimpering children suckling on mothers’ laps.

It is easy to talk about radicalization, while standing from a pedestal of self-righteousness, and wonder why him, why did he become that?

“He was a Kenyan Somali; a member of the Degodia Clan that was viciously attacked by the Kenyan military 31 years ago, and who have never received any justice since. He was 26 years old (I think) with a fine taste in suits. He graduated from University of Nairobi in 2013 with a Bachelors Degree in Law, scoring a coveted Second Class Honors, Upper Division. And his name was Abdirahim Mohamed Abdullahi,” Magunga says (2015).

“The City of Garissa in Kenya’s North Eastern Province (NEP) (Now Garissa County) has been on the top list of the most peaceful cities in East and Central Africa for over twenty years. It is the provincial headquarter of NEP as well as the administrative center for Garissa District. Named after a riverine local Pokomo elder or farmer called Karisa, Garissa became a recognized settlement in 1936.  Majority of the inhabitants of Garissa are ethnic Somalis.”

“For decades, Garissa had been under the radar of Kenya security and intelligence agencies primarily because the region was under martial law decreed immediately after Kenya’s proclamation of independence.”  Adan Makina says (2010).

It is easy to justify, using religion, because the argument is simple: A+B=C. Which may be true, but sometimes it is not that simple.

As we mourn with each and every family of the students massacred in Garissa, the question of why such a person can be radicalized, is as important as our exhortations of ‘no stone will be left unturned’.

In Luo, there is a proverb saying “thuol odonjo e ko”, literally translating that, “a snake has entered the gourd”. That is the situation we are in today, and Kenya is the gourd. Our own are radicalized. We know of histories of repression, disenfranchisement and the Kenyanness scale. We know how and why such histories can create people who have never nurtured any sense of belonging, who cannot be co-opted into our refrains of “justice be our shield and defender/may we dwell in unity, peace and liberty/plenty be found within our borders.”

What do you do when there is a snake in the gourd? Do you break the gourd? History can teach us something. We cannot rewrite history, but we can learn from it, even as we reflect on why anybody who is repressed or disenfranchised can be radicalized.

We can also begin looking at that other side of the coin.

My heart goes out to the innocent students caught up struggles they know little about, and the gallant officers who responded to a call of duty.

May you Rest In Peace.

This is (Not) A Short Defence of Religion

When I was about 15 years old, when herding cows in the village, I used to walk around with an old book titled “A Short Defence of Religion: Chiefly for Young People Against the Unbelievers of Our Days” by Prof. Rev. Joseph Ballerini from the Seminary of Pavia.

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Got it from one of the Catholic books Dad had. It’s a very good book, but not short as the title implies, and I think the best defence of the Christian doctrine that I have ever read. Even today I still have the book. It’s a very old book, was first published in 1908.

The preface of the book begins this way:

“It is proper that Catholics should not only have a good knowledge of their religion, but also to give a correct and satisfactory answer to honest inquiries of non-Catholics. At the present day there are great discussions everywhere on matters connected with religion, and immense multitudes of people take erroneous views. Unfortunately, it often happens that Catholics are not in a position to remove their difficulties.”

The book intended to weigh the arguments of guys like Darwin, Huxley, Tyndall, Spencer, Harnack, Loisy etc to show how they are totally unworthy. So at 15 I was already reading arguments and counter-arguments on existence of God, origin of man, origin and nature of human soul, which is the true religion bla bla. Some arguments are logically sound, especially in those cases where he tries to prove that there is no conflict between Catholic dogma and scientific evidence, such as in the evolutionary origins of man. Back then I could see many of the weaknesses in the Professor’s arguments, it was not until I did Biomedical Science and Technology for my Undergraduate and this made it easier for me to access and understand scientific data and findings, and also see the deliberate misinterpretations that the good theologian had engaged in. But the book is way above, in terms of quality of reason and logic, when compared to most of the books defending Christianity that you’ll find on the bookshop shelves today. It is rigorous. It has citations, and very detailed footnotes on direct quotations from books you can hardly find anywhere.

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The infallibility of the Catholic Church and its dogma (or as the book says “Every dogma of the Catholic Church is infallibly true”) was also an interesting one to note. Not sure whether it holds any water today. Not with the many scandals rocking the church.

I tried to think about why an organized religious system, like the Catholic Church, would write a book to shield ‘young people against the unbelievers of our days’. Later on I got English translations for Quran and Bhagavad Gita, and downloaded Buddhist texts and books on ancient history, ancient religions and cults and so many many other things. I think nothing exposes the fact that religion is a sociocultural human construct like studying many religions and cultures.

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Since 1950s science has produced so much knowledge about the nature of the physical universe that most of the arguments in this 1908 book have been rebutted in millions of discussions in blogs. The Table of Contents of the book is like a summary of the religion-science debates even today, the only difference is that science has shed off most, if not all, its philosophic abstractions and has become more empiricist, more mathematical, more observed data. The usefulness of scientific arguments, tools, and technology can be seen in every sphere of our lives. Sadly, arguments for many religious doctrines still gamble with belief and piggyback on base human instincts such as fear of death.

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Like the Prof at the beginning of the 20th century, believers still talk about “supernatural facts” in the 21st century.

How times change. How times remain the same.

To paraphrase the theology Prof: “At the present day there are great discussions everywhere on matters connected with religion. Unfortunately, it often happens believers are not in a position to remove their difficulties.”