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THE NUMBERS GAME: Predicting Winners and Losers in the August 2017 Poll

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Two Horse Race

Back in September 2016, I published a piece on Facebook that suggested, based on recent party dissolutions and mergers into Jubilee and the accompanying defections by numerous politicians, that – barring discontinuous events, such as the death of a senior leader – the August 2017 general elections in Kenya were already almost over and that Jubilee’s victory seemed assured. The key data I used was the publicly declared political affiliations of each incumbent constituency MP and governor. At the time, the Jubilee bandwagon looked near unstoppable, with two-thirds of the elected constituency incumbents then in their camp (compared to only half after the 2013 elections). Nine months have passed since then. With hindsight, how accurate does that prediction look today?

What follows is an independent, unpaid analysis. It is not sponsored or supported by any political party, and it makes no attempt to argue right or wrong, or to favour one alliance over the other; it is purely to assess the current situation and to make an educated guess as to the likely outcomes. As it contains predictions about the unknowable future, it will of course be wrong in many details. But Kenyan election results are far from random; they follow regular patterns and rarely exhibit discontinuous changes, and it is possible to make educated guesses about what will happen based on previous experience. This piece of crystal ball gazing assumes no sudden deaths or disbarments amongst senior leaders, and it doesn’t suggest these results are immutable. Most voters are pretty clearly spoken for, but there is still a sufficiently large “floating vote” to change the result.

Reading the Kenyan media, the answer to my question would seem to be “no”: my 2016 prediction of a Jubilee victory doesn’t look good at all. The opposition NASA has had an excellent 2017. Since the start of the year, it has formally brought Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress (ANC) and Isaac Ruto’s Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) into the CORD alliance of ODM, Wiper and FORD-Kenya, creating NASA (The National Super Alliance). Its aim was to emulate the national alliance that created the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), which defeated Uhuru Kenyatta in 2002 (and to respond to the creation of the Jubilee Alliance Party itself). It has also chosen its presidential and vice presidential candidates without mass defections among those who lost out. Energised by numerous real or imagined corruption scandals and by the recent food crisis, Jubilee has been on the defensive throughout. For example, the opposition took good advantage of the grand opening of the Standard Gauge Railway between Nairobi and Mombasa, intended to be a “signature” Jubilee achievement, by focusing on alleged corruption in its procurement, leaving Jubilee’s claims of service delivery looking hollow and unconvincing.

NASA’s choice of Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka as presidential and vice presidential candidate, respectively, was both logical and predictable, but also a conservative strategy that set the two candidates up for an exact reprise of 2013, with the same two frontmen on both sides.

However, a strong performance doesn’t yet mean victory. There are several reasons why my prediction back in September 2016 of a 55-45 victory for Kenyatta over the (yet to be chosen at that time) opposition candidate remains plausible.

Firstly, the opposition shunned the chance to play a different game, and faced up to Jubilee with exactly the same lead players as had fought and lost in 2013. NASA’s choice of Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka as presidential and vice presidential candidate, respectively, was both logical and predictable, but also a conservative strategy that set the two alliances up for an exact reprise of 2013, with the same two frontmen on both sides. On that basis, it is hard to see the result being materially different. For NASA, the opportunity to improve on their 42% performance in 2013 lies with the incorporation of much of Mudavadi’s vote (4% nationwide, mostly in western Kenya) into NASA. For Jubilee to improve on their 50% performance in 2013, it needs to leverage the power of incumbency, its deeper pockets, the resources it has allocated to specific communities, and the positive messages (hard to sell as they are proving) about their delivery to Kenyans during 2013-17.

Secondly, Jubilee is only just beginning to start campaigning in earnest, and has substantial resources in reserve. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are now touring nationwide, leading public rallies with exhortations to support Jubilee because of the (state) resources they have directed to local communities and the (state) jobs they have given to local elites in classic KANU-era style. At the moment they appear strangely uncertain and unconvincing in their message. But elections are not won on the campaign dais. There is much more work which can and will be done at the grassroots in parallel to target specific swing groups and persuade voters in those regions to stay with the “devil they know”. Jubilee is significantly wealthier than NASA, with a more unitary command structure and better campaign technical support. It has barely started to attack Odinga and Musyoka personally, and there is a huge amount of mud which could – and probably will be – thrown at NASA between now and August.

Third, Jubilee went into the primaries with the support of even more MPs than it had in 2016. Rather than mass defections to NASA, the stream has continued to flow (though more slowly) to Jubilee. Individual politicians can be both “leading” and “lagging” indicators, either encouraging their constituents to change course or responding to a disquiet already felt at the grassroots. But they rarely make a change without expectations of at least a chance of electoral victory.

The attached images show where the 290 elected constituency MPs stood at the beginning of the party primaries, viewed by county, and each sized according to the number of seats in that county.

This is a new view of Kenya by constituency, organised according to the 47 counties. One square is one parliamentary constituency, whatever its geographical size or population. Rough geographical similarity is preserved, but it is only rough.

Opinion polls show the gap between the alliances narrowing, but Jubilee is still ahead. The end-May Ipsos poll after Odinga and Musyoka were declared as the presidential candidates showed a 47%-42% lead for Jubilee, but with 10% of those polled undecided or unwilling to answer. With so many successful or near-successful insurgent political campaigns over the last 18 months (Brexit, Trump, Macron, Le Pen, and most recently, Corbyn) nothing is certain. But most of those undecided/unwilling voters will go with one or the other alliance in the end. If simplistically, one split the “undecided/unwilling” down the middle, the result from this poll would be a 52-47 victory for Jubilee. In practice, the undecideds will probably fall – if lessons can be learned from other recent elections – slightly in favour of the more conservative option (here, the incumbent). No poll at any point has yet suggested a NASA victory.

Although a mess, the April-May 2017 party primaries were probably better run than ever before, despite the ensuing complaints, cancellations and court cases. Apart from rotating and refreshing ethno-regional political elites, however, they changed little at the national level. Party-hopping after losing has been banned, but it has been replaced this time round by a plethora of newly-independent candidates. However, these politicians are not truly independent; they are simply allies of one national faction or other who were unsuccessful in the primaries. Virtually none have changed their underlying allegiance. With so many independents, the main parties do risk splitting their vote in some marginal seats. Both alliances have this problem, though Jubilee’s is more severe. But NASA has an even more serious difficulty – their Wiper, ODM and ANC candidates are standing against each other without any pre-election deal in many parliamentary, senate and gubernatorial seats, including in Kakamega, Vihiga, Kisii, Mombasa and Taita-Taveta counties. If some cannot be persuaded to stand down, they will split their votes and may allow Jubilee candidates to slip through. This is only a problem at lower levels in the political structure though. Although eight presidential candidates have been cleared, the national race is effectively a two-horse one and a second round is very unlikely (in contrast to 2013, when Mudavadi was running as a third force and the runoff chance was much higher).

Party-hopping after losing has been banned, but it has been replaced this time round by a plethora of newly-independent candidates. However, these politicians are not truly independent; they are simply allies of one national faction or other who were unsuccessful in the primaries, and virtually none have changed their underlying allegiance.

Next, democracy is a numbers game. The “tyranny of numbers”, has become a curious point of contention in Kenya over the last decade. But much depends on how you present the concept. The “tyranny of numbers” is also “one man, one vote”: electoral democracy where all are equal and no-one’s vote is more important than any other’s. As long as that widely supported and widely praised system is in use in Kenya, victory comes with winning the support of most voting adults, not of most clans, ethnic groups or counties. So, to understand where Kenya stands, we need to look at two key numbers: the number of registered voters in each county and their propensity to turn out for their favoured candidates, and to combine these with a model of voting preference amongst the people in those counties. And, like it or not, the majority of Kenyans (probably two-thirds) can have their political alliances predicted with a high degree of confidence based on their ethnicity. This heuristic can be confirmed (or challenged) by examining where key politicians are standing in each community, the number of voters turning out in the various party primaries, fighting and complaints of intimidation by weaker parties, and whether the other “side” can even find a candidate willing to risk standing for them in some seats.

We now have provisional and unaudited registration results from February 2017 which show that 3.5 million voters were added in the last three months, with the growth fastest in the Coast and North-Eastern regions and in Nairobi. There are no obvious signs so far of structural pro-government bias in the allocation of voter registration kits or in these unaudited results. These numbers give us a strong (though unvalidated) baseline to work predictively. Next, we need to estimate the turnout figures in each county. 2013’s numbers are a solid basis for this, though turnouts will probably be a little lower across the board this time than last. Some of the turnouts last time (such as in Mandera) were very suspect and this analysis assumes – for now – that these exceptions return to the norm.

Finally, we need to make a judgement about how each county and each community within that county is likely to vote, based on previous experience, but adjusted for events and changing alliances since 2013, and the influence of major regional political figures. So, let us run through the old provinces or regions and the 47 counties one by one, to set the basis for that prediction.

Since 2016, the generally pro-CORD/ODM Mijikenda coast (Kilifi, Kwale and parts of Mombasa) has once more solidified for NASA. Many of the MPs who defected with pomp and pride to Jubilee in 2016 now look very vulnerable and Jubilee’s inroads in 2016 seem to have been reversed. Despite misgivings about the regional dominance of the controversial Hassan Joho and the Arab/Swahili community, NASA will win almost all the Coast, except Tana River, Lamu and perhaps one seat in Taita Taveta. In Nyanza, Odinga will get virtually every Luo vote, his support as solid as ever, and a plurality (perhaps 70%) of Gusii votes, where again the 2016 defectors to Jubilee look to be falling en masse.

Western Province now seems solidly for NASA too. But the result nationwide will hinge on how well Mudavadi, Moses Wetangula and others can turn out the Luhya for NASA (with no “horse in the race” now and relatively low registration in Mudavadi’s home Vihiga). Through ex-New FORD-Kenya recruits, Jubilee still has a position of sorts among the Bukusu of Bungoma and Trans-Nzoia. But I suspect Jubilee is going to poll no more than 10-15% of the vote in Western overall, even including their majority support amongst the Iteso of Busia and Kalenjin of Mount Elgon.

In contrast, Nairobi seems to be firming up narrowly for Jubilee, especially in the governorship, where Mike Sonko’s spectacular campaign is overwhelming ODM incumbent Evans Kidero’s low profile and modest legacy. A 50-50 split looks plausible at the moment, though this may change. This assumes that pro-Jubilee independent Peter Kenneth will not materially split the Jubilee vote or create a cross-party movement and that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) does not disbar Sonko or Kidero or both.

As in 2013, Central Province will vote entirely for Jubilee. NASA has no candidates and no prospect of support here, the homeland of the Kikuyu community that is still numerically the largest in the country. Apart from the ethnically mixed peri-urban areas of southern Kiambu, more than 95% of voters in the province will back “their President”.

Despite misgivings about the regional dominance of the controversial Hassan Joho and the Arab/Swahili community, NASA will win almost all the Coast, except Tana River, Lamu and perhaps one seat in Taita Taveta. In Nyanza, Odinga will get virtually every Luo vote, his support as solid as ever, and a plurality (perhaps 70%) of Gusii votes, where again the 2016 defectors to Jubilee look to be falling en masse. The Somali North-East, in contrast, is stronger for the ruling Jubilee party than in 2013. Mandera was already wholly Jubilee in 2013 and remains so, and Wajir has been moving steadily towards Jubilee during Kenyatta’s term.

Jubilee will also win almost all the Kalenjin voters in the Rift Valley, bar the Kipsigis of Kericho, Bomet, western Nakuru and northern Narok. The alliance between Ruto and Kenyatta remains deep and strong. Despite doubts about whether the Kikuyu will really hand over the presidency to William Ruto in 2022, regional support for “their man” and for the power-sharing deal remains firm. The support for maverick Kipsigis Governor Isaac Ruto is the key variable here. With strong support in Bomet, he has the potential to fracture the southern Kalenjin vote and bring a material chunk to NASA. But I suspect that many of his supporters will vote for him for governor and Uhuru and Ruto for the presidency. Trans-Nzoia will split but probably favour NASA, Laikipia will favour Jubilee, while Nakuru will be a solid Jubilee zone.

The Somali North-East, in contrast, is stronger for the ruling alliance than in 2013. Mandera was already wholly Jubilee in 2013 and remains so, and Wajir has been moving steadily towards Jubilee during Kenyatta’s term. The incumbents have worked hard among the Somali and now only Garissa remains a battleground. The mostly pastoralist non-Somali northerners (the Samburu, Turkana, Borana, Gabbra, Rendille, Orma, Burji and Wardei) of the Rift, North of Eastern and Tana River will vote mostly Jubilee or allied parties. However there will be a few constituencies where those alliances reverse and Samburu and Turkana might still vote ODM. Among the southern communities, the Kuria will remain Jubilee, but the larger and politically significant Maasai will again split their affections. With Jubilee having made several missteps and put forward a lacklustre set of candidates, NASA will do better here than in 2013, and will probably win Narok, while Kajiado might go NASA at governor level but Uhuru for president.

In the southern half of the old Eastern province, the densely populated Embu and Meru are solidly for Jubilee (despite Odinga’s efforts) and will vote more than 90% for Kenyatta and Ruto. The key question in Eastern is how well NASA will do in Ukambani. It will win a majority in all three counties, to be sure, but their support appears weaker than in 2013. Then, Musyoka delivered 85% of the vote in Ukambani for Raila, with a turnout of 84%, not a census vote but a strong performance. Now, however, he is struggling, even after his selection as NASA’s vice presidential candidate. He has lost nearly half of his Ukambani MPs (10 out of 23) who have gradually defected to Jubilee, while recent internal disputes within Wiper and his estrangement with two of his most senior and experienced allies (Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama and Kitui Governor David Musila) leaves him vulnerable. He also faces an insurgency of unknown power in Machakos led by influential Governor Alfred Mutua, whose “Maendeleo Chap Chap” party is allied with Jubilee. I suspect, based on current knowledge, that Jubilee will poll 20-30% of the Kamba vote.

Jubilee will also win almost all the Kalenjin voters in the Rift Valley, bar the Kipsigis of Kericho, Bomet, western Nakuru and northern Narok. The alliance between Ruto and Kenyatta remains deep and strong, and despite doubts about whether the Kikuyu will really hand over the presidency to William Ruto in 2022, support for “their man” and for the power-sharing deal remains firm.

Applying this analysis at the county level gives us the following prediction for winning candidates at the presidential and county levels: 17 counties are solid for NASA, 22 for Jubilee and eight are still – in my view – in play.

June 2017 predictions of winning presidential and gubernatorial candidates

*In this image, one square is one county, whatever its size or population.

While the presidency remains the most coveted job, experience since 2013 has shown that governorships are extremely lucrative and politically rewarding roles, with MPs coming third, senators and the reserved seats for women in the house next, and county assembly members (MCAs) last (even though county assembly members are the closest to the grassroots and most likely to be known personally to voters).

As in 2013, all six contests will tend to follow a similar pattern, with most (though not all) voters voting the same way for the presidency, senator, governor and women’s representative, with more variability at parliamentary and MCA levels. I predict that Jubilee will win 23-26 governorships and NASA 21-24. The symbolically important Senate – created in the 2010 Constitution to enshrine a US-style division of legislative powers – has proved of limited effectiveness, and is likely to be abolished in the next Parliament (as its predecessor was in 1966-7).

The heavy legacy of “Chickengate” makes the IEBC extremely vulnerable to campaigns by NASA (or indeed by Jubilee, if needed) alleging its systematic incompetence and corruption, and therefore bias. That has not started yet in earnest, but the groundwork is being laid to undermine the credibility of the commission by election day, if NASA believes it will lose and that Jubilee will cheat to win.

Nationally, the combination of registration numbers, turnout and an ethnically and historically voting-based preference model still predicts a first round win for Uhuru and Ruto, by 53% to 46% (with a maximum of 1% of votes to other candidates). It suggests Kenyatta and Ruto will get roughly 8.5 million votes (of which more than 5 million will come from the Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities) while Odinga and Musyoka will poll 7.5 million, of which approximately 3 million will come from Luo and Kamba voters. This would be on a national turnout of 83%, with a regional variation from 90% in Central and Luo Nyanza to 65% in Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale. Turnout is one of the great imponderables, however, and elections can be won or lost on the day based on successes or failures at the grassroots level in turning out supporters. Historically, Jubilee and its predecessor alliances have been slightly better than NASA and its predecessors at this, but in this election, Jubilee may have less of an advantage here.

Finally, let us turn to the referee and organiser of the upcoming contest, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The IEBC, after an appalling 2016, seems to have stabilised under its new lower-profile leadership. It appears to be trying to keep its head down and focus on technical delivery of its mandate, while trying to cope with a stream of complaints and allegations of bias. It has had good success in ending party hopping, but it has so far failed to exercise its authority over the integrity issues raised about a number of high profile candidates, and has not yet responded to evidence of salaried civil servants campaigning for Jubilee. In fact, it is struggling to match its duties and obligations to the timelines allocated and seems unable to proceed whilst following competitive procurement procedures, with its every decision contested in the courts. The heavy legacy of “Chickengate” makes the IEBC extremely vulnerable to campaigns by NASA (or indeed by Jubilee, if needed) alleging its systematic incompetence and corruption, and therefore bias. That has not started yet in earnest, but the groundwork is being laid to undermine the credibility of the commission by election day, if NASA believes it will lose and that Jubilee will cheat to win.

Will there be post-election violence? Personally, I believe the experience of 2007-8 was so appalling and salutary for Kenyans that any trouble will be localised, unless the electoral abuses are gross.

Whether Jubilee could and would in fact cheat to win if necessary – in a way the IEBC could either not prevent or in which it was complicit – is a hypothetical question with strong judgemental implications. Both sides cheated last time, to varying degrees (local stuffing, forced voting and voting dead voters in their homelands). There is a strong suspicion that Kenyatta’s presidential numbers were topped up at some point in the counting process to push him over the 50%+1 threshold, which probably didn’t change the final result but finished it on the first round rather than in a runoff. The recent court case (strongly backed by NASA) to ensure that the results announced by constituency returning officers are final and cannot be corrected at the IEBC-controlled national tallying centre, even if obviously arithmetically incorrect, is designed to address this most contentious part of the whole election: the critical and semi-opaque presidential count at the national tallying centre. But whatever the outcome of that case, the presidential count will be a key flashpoint after polling day.

The recent focus on electronic transmission of the results – which so spectacularly failed in 2013 – as safer and more reliable than stamped and attested paper forms, is a potentially dangerous misunderstanding. In truth, the speed, independence and impartiality of an electronic system relies entirely on the competence, neutrality and independence of the small number of technical staff managing the IEBC’s databases and servers (who could be personally subjected to very strong pressures to “lose” passwords or make adjustments themselves to numbers) and on the ability of those teams to protect their IT systems from external hacking attempts, which the IEBC now admits happened in 2013. In fact, subtle manipulation is easier to carry out and much harder to spot electronically than with paper forms.

Will NASA and its leadership cry foul if they lose or if they think they are losing? Yes, of course they will, as they and their predecessors did in 2007 (with good reason) and 2013 (less certainly). Whether there will be any basis for this is, of course, unknowable in advance, but what is clear from 2013 is that the presidential election petition rules are so restrictive and time-bound that a successful presidential petition remains extremely unlikely under those rules. Will there be post-election violence? Personally, I believe the experience of 2007-8 was so appalling and salutary for Kenyans that any trouble will be localised, unless the electoral abuses are gross. But that still depends on how things work out over the next eight weeks. And some observers are predicting more serious trouble in specific counties.

But whatever the final outcome, it is clear that Kenya remains polarised and dangerously divided, almost down the middle, and that there is little trust or goodwill between the two major parties to work with each other in whatever political settlement that will follow the August elections.

So, the champion’s and the challenger’s players are on the pitch, the game is under way and the substitute referee’s whistle has blown. Inevitably, things will change and these predictions will need updating. I hope to do that periodically during the campaign and to “call” the result on election night. On 3 March 2013, I predicted a 50% vote for Uhuru, 42% for Odinga, with all others getting 8%. Excluding spoilt ballots, the actuals were 50.5% Kenyatta, 43.8% Odinga and 6% for the others. I’m unlikely to get it so close again.

But whatever the final outcome, it is clear that Kenya remains polarised and dangerously divided, almost down the middle, and that there is little trust or goodwill between the two major parties to work with each other in whatever political settlement follows the August elections.


Editors Comment: This article was written on the 16th of June 2017

Kenya: A History Since Independence

Charles Hornsby is the author of Kenya: A History since Independence.
He lives in Ireland.

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Charles Hornsby is the author of Kenya; A History since Independence and lives in Ireland.

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MISSING THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: Mathare’s environmental apartheid

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MISSING THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: Mathare’s environmental apartheid

On 12th May 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the National Tree Planting Day under the slogan “Panda Miti, Penda Kenya”. It was another of those Jubilee-ese slogans that ring hollow. The event took place in Kamkunji sub-county at the Moi Forces Academy in the Eastlands part of Nairobi. This was the government’s knee-jerk response to the heavy long rains season that sparked an environmental crisis around the country. There were 32 counties affected and over 300,000 Kenyans were displaced. In his official speech, the President repeated the familiar pledge to achieve at least ten per cent forest cover, as required by the constitution, and to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The news reporting of the event focused on the power politics between Nairobi governor Mike Sonko Mbuvi and Environmental Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko. Two weeks after the launch, news reports were awash with the latest financial scandal. Sh2 billion allocated to establish the green school project in all 47 counties under the auspices of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) had been embezzled. A task force chaired by Marion Wakanyi Kamau of the Green Belt Movement released a report that revealed that Kenya’s forest depletion occurred at an alarming rate of about 5,000 hectares annually and which implicated KFS personnel. Kenyans, numbed by the numerous other cases of grand theft in the Jubilee government, hardly reacted.

Kenya, the birthplace of the Green Belt Movement and its illustrious founder, Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, remains stuck in the optics of environmental activism. Reforestation is an activity that the media reduces to a “tree planting exercise” and has evolved into an elite pastime where prominent personalities pose for photo opportunities in formal dress next to freshly planted trees. Public forests have been privatised and primed for plunder by those tasked to protect them while corporates, NGOs and politicians plant thousands of trees in cosmetic public relations and corporate social responsibility activities without evoking any of the ecological consciousness that Wangari Maathai dedicated her life to raising. Of the several Wangari Maathai quotes I regurgitate, this particular one sticks:

“Anyone can dig a hole and plant a tree. But make sure it survives. You have to nurture it, you have to water it, you have to keep at it until it becomes rooted so that it can take of itself. There are so many enemies of trees.”

Planting trees is easy. Taking care of them requires a different level of commitment. This was Wangari’s enduring message and the one lesson my country fails to learn. This much I know because I have been involved in an urban afforestation project with Mathare Green Movement (MGM), a campaign of the Mathare Social Justice Centre ( MSJC).

Public forests have been privatised and primed for plunder by those tasked to protect them while corporates, NGOs and politicians plant thousands of trees in cosmetic public relations and corporate social responsibility activities without evoking any of the ecological consciousness that Wangari Maathai dedicated her life to raising.

The two Nairobis

In August 2017, a group of concerned Kenyans from Mathare got together and decided that they were going to plant trees in memory of all their colleagues who fell to police bullets. Over months, the activity evolved into a concerted effort at ecological and social justice using the tree as a symbol of regeneration and resistance to structural oppression.

Planting trees in Mathare is a process and not an event because the soils of this informal settlement have lost their capacity to sustain trees. Mathare Valley is an infamous slum, a crucible of suffering where white tourists arrive in droves to marvel at the resilience of its residents and to photograph the miracle of optimism. The shanty structures, a canopy of rusty brown mabati roofs separated by narrow alleys dropping down precarious rocky slopes, is home to multitudes. Broken souls exist alongside delightful children. Complete despondence rides alongside cheerfulness and the kaleidoscope of intense human interaction has made Mathare a location of extremes with no middle ground to stand on.

The physical environment is devoid of life-sustaining features. The further east you go in Nairobi, the poorer the neighbourhoods become. The absence of basic amenities and greenery and the human congestion and neglect evoke caricatures of a dystopian city. Martin Oduor, a member of MGM, tried to conduct a tree census and came to the disturbing estimate of about one tree for every 1,200 residents.

The Mathare river is turbid, dark grey and sickly – an open sewer that occasionally turns rogue on its residents, sweeping all in its path. The extent of the long-term socio-environmental damage has created the existing spectacle of human suffering that draws in “saviours and observers” from around the world fascinated by the resilience of the residents. Children, accustomed to the white benevolent visitor on a poverty safari, switch character to become entitled beggars peddling the currency of hopelessness.

Mathare is a perfect illustration of Nairobi’s environmental segregation. The informal settlement is surrounded on both sides by a leafy green belt. To get a sense of what I prefer to call environmental apartheid, one only has to shift one’s gaze to the thick wall of green that is the Muthaiga suburb to the west of Mathare.

The wealthy districts of Nairobi abut its poorer districts from where they draw much of their domestic labour: Muthaiga has Mathare, Karen has Kibera, Loresho has Kangemi, Lavington has Kawangware. A similar pattern is observed in the city’s greenery. From an aerial point of view, the classes are separated by a green belt. All of Nairobi’s best-kept public green spaces – Karura Forest, Nairobi Arboretum, City Park – are in the affluent parts of the city and maintain restricted access. The neighbourhoods to the east of the city centre have minimal public spaces and, where available, we find dusty fields with no green cover.

Mathare is a perfect illustration of Nairobi’s environmental segregation. The informal settlement is surrounded on both sides by a leafy green belt.

The reality of trees as the markers of aristocratic privilege in Nairobi’s urban spaces is rooted in the colonial state. Between 1906 and 1926, Nairobi was colonised to serve the interests of the white settler population. Eighty per cent of the city’s residential land was reserved for its white elite. The two Nairobi’s were divided into residential areas for Europeans and Asians, and peripheral housing for African labour as an afterthought. One white half of Nairobi was serviced and the other black half was neglected. The colonial zoning policy created a pattern of racial and class segregation and social stratification that persist to this day.

The 1948 Master Plan for a Colonial Capital and the 1973 Metropolitan Growth Strategy employed segregation principles to maintain racial and class divisions. After independence in 1963, the white neighbourhoods of Karen, Lavington and Muthaiga became accessible to the emerging moneyed African and Asian upper classes who, rather than reverse the social apartheid, opted for the retention of colonial governance structures.

To cater for the unserviced poor masses, an informal modernism emerged in Nairobi, created with the sole intent of exploiting vulnerable city residents. Rural-to-urban migration brought a large influx of people to the city in search of a better life who found themselves trapped in “slums” and denied social mobility by the rigid class structures. The lack of formal housing gave rise to informal settlements operating outside the legal framework and, therefore, subjected to gross violations of rights and a culture of exploitation.

Kenyan filmmaker Tosh Gitonga illustrates the desperation of rural-to-urban migrants and the plight that awaits “shags-modos” in the brutal class-restricted spaces of Nairobi in the captivating film, Nairobi Half Life. Today the primitive accumulation and land expropriation of the post-colonial state has led to 70 per cent of Nairobi’s population of 4 million living on 5 per cent of the city’s land area. Mathare’s 500,000 residents fight for dignity in an area that is barely 3 square kilometres.

Anti-human environmentalism

In his forthcoming book, Paracitations: Genre, Foreign Bodies, and the Ethics of Co-habitatation, Kenyan scholar Samson Opondo describes the economic security and greenness (which had previously been a manifestation of whiteness) becoming inscribed on a class-based identity complete with a rhetoric of “threat”. When we see trees from the purely conservation ideology of the state, we fail to problematise the socio-economic and historical contexts within which possession and disposssesion and threats emerge.

The environmental culture in Kenya is essentially anti-human. The native continues to be a threat to green spaces and must be forcibly relocated to the reserves and this access to greenery must be monitored. Public forests are protected by armies with guns and access is restricted by high fees. Opondo futher notes in his 2008 paper, “Genre and the African City: The Politics and Poetics of Urban Rhythms, that Nairobi’s hides (in the open) an ugly history of racial segregation based on the South African model of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City concept where greening of the city corresponded with creation of structures of racial exclusion.

The environmental culture in Kenya is essentially anti-human. The native continues to be a threat to green spaces and must be forcibly relocated to the reserves and this access to greenery must be monitored.

In both South Africa and Kenya, the impoverished masses cluster in shanty towns where environmental rights only come to bear during hostile weather crisis management. Gacheke Gachihi of Mathare Social Justice Centre says, “ Our suffering is invisible.” In Kenya’s election cycle, the slum areas are hotspots that are heavily policed and a ready tinder box of ethnic rivalry, police brutality and gang violence. After every election cycle, we witness the cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of corporate media from the spectacle of mass violence of poor against poor, state crackdown on protesting poor masses, and lockdowns.

Elections spell death, destruction and despair for the residents of Mathare. In the lead-up to August 2017 bungled elections, Mathare was marked as a “hotspot” that was heavily policed by rogue units who relish brutalising residents under siege. When it all simmers down, the politicians invariably end up negotiating new pacts, leaving residents to fall back on resilence. As soon as they turn their backs, the slow violence resumes, felt only by those within who are invisible to those on the outside – a violence that is exaceberated by an environment that is metaphorically lined with unexploded landmines. The environmentally dispossessed only make the news in the midst of great tragedy and calamities.

Hunting grounds

In the book, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, author Rob Nixon shed lights on the inattention to calamities “that are slow and long lasting, continuously dispensing devastation but without the necessary spectacle required to raise public outrage or sustain the fleeting attention (that) spans breaking news corporate media spectacles.”

Therefore, it is no surprise that the Kenyan public remains unaware of the humanitarian crisis in the form of extrajudicial killings in Nairobi’s slums. The MSJC brought this to light in 2017 after the launch of “Who is Next: A Participatory Action Report Against the Normalisation of Extrajudicial Executions in Mathare”. Between 2013 and 2015, over 803 cases were documented.

The report was the first major concerted effort by a grassroots movement to raise awareness about the reality of extrajudicial executions. Despite the moderate buzz created in human rights spaces, the killings have not stopped. The policing culture persists. In the month of May 2018, for instance, Wilfred Olal of the Dandora Justice Center reported that 15 young men had been gunned down. Justice for the victims is a long shot. Wangui Kimaru, a researcher at MSJC, told me that there have been only 4 convictions despite 9,000 cases being forwarded to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA).

Human rights defender Kennedy Chindi says that there are between 10 to 15 cases of young men reported missing or killed by police every month in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Cases of police threats and intimidation deter the aggrieved from coming forward with information. “Everyone knows the killers but no one even dares call them by their names,” says Wyban Mwangi, a young musician. Instead, they use a codename, “Mjamaa”, for even in a valley of hundreds of thousands, the walls have ears. The names Hessy of Kayole and Rashid are whispered and the youth live in dread of who is next?

The Bill of Rights in the Kenyan constitution guarantees every person the right to life. Howeve,r in an unequal society, the rights of the poor come with no guarantees. The normalisation of the extrajudicial killings is an existential generational crisis. Amnesty International, Haki Africa and emerging grassroots organisations in Mathare, Dandora and Kayole have harrowing documentation of enforced dissapearances and deaths that are often atrributed to the police.

Encounter killings have turned urban ghettos into legalised hunting grounds, no different from the death match in the dystopian Hunger Games trilogy by American novelist Suzanne Collins. Or perhaps District 9, a South African sci-fi feature by Neill Blomkamp that astutely explores social segregation in a scathing satirical analysis of urban populations treated with the level of vile contempt reserved for pests. In Kenya, Tosh Gitonga’s Nairobi Half Life dramatises this unofficial routine killing of young males in a complex narrative of the cyclical violence of toxic masculinity where the line between the criminal and the police is blurrry.

Researcher Naomi Van Stapele, in her book Respectable “Illegality”: Gangs, Masculinities and Belonging in a Nairobi Ghetto, explained that the killings in Mathare continue without raising any public outrage because the dead are labelled as criminals or thugs, which justifies the executions. “Let the police do their work”, is the divorced public response. No one advocates for the killing of perpetrators of grand theft, but the children of the poor, the petty criminals (vermin) must be eliminated on the strength of suspicion. In the words of Trevor Noah, they are “born a crime”. In middle class circles, a conversation with a journalist friend turned into a sermon heavy on class snobbery. “Kenya’s ghetto mentality is what is holding those people in slums back.” Then he cherry-picked the example of musician Juliani as the mascot of possibility.

No one advocates for the killing of perpetrators of grand theft, but the children of the poor, the petty criminals (vermin) must be eliminated on the strength of suspicion. In the words of Trevor Noah, they are “born a crime”.

Local media has made a profession of reporting poverty through derogatory frames. Therefore, the numerous reports, occasional protests against police harassment and demonstrations do not draw media attention or public solidarity beyond the spectacle of tragedy.

Structural violence

These examples show that the slum ecology harbours systemic and structural violence that is silent. Johan Galtung, the celebrated Norwegian mathematician and sociologist, coined the term “structural violence”, which may be described as a form of violence wherein some social structure or social institution may harm people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs.

Like soil erosion, the effects of structural violence are not immediately obvious. Because its consequences only become evident in the distant future, there is little incentive for long-term solutions. Zangi, a resident of Mathare notes that it does not matter who comes to power; the problem is the system and the police culture. The problem is also the enabling physical environment that legitimises extrajudicial killings.

The Kenyan version of “electoral democracy” thrives in violent geographies. The problems of social justice are too many, too complex and not sexy enough for short-term political strategists who live for the optics in between elections to sustain popularity. Remedial environmental policy takes years. The benefits cannot be accrued in one political cycle and are certainly not bankable in the transactional nature of Kenyan politics. Article 42 of the constitution confers the right to a clean and healthy environment but is yet to interrogate systemic issues. The issues of the environment may be important but they not urgent.

The Kenyan version of “electoral democracy” thrives in violent geographies.

Therefore, to muster the political will needed to implement real change is difficult in a country where leaders cannot think beyond the next election. There are no immediate political rewards for planning to avert a human catastrophe. In nature terms, no one wants to plant a tree under whose shade they won’t sit or whose fruit they won’t eat. Long-term benefits may accrue for others and that is just not smart business in this instant gratification culture where exploitation and extractation is a privatised enterprise.

It is this context that we have to broaden the idea of what violence is. Personal violence is a consequence of structural violence. Lack of basic resources leads to competition that degenerates into violence in the quest for dominance. Gangs in urban ghettos organise around resources that leverage power and influence. Public toilets, garbage collection, water points, electricity connection and security are centres of frequent conflict. Kenyans awake to the economic and political realities of the 80s and 90s can track back how the slow violence of neoliberal policies began as a benign condition known as Structural Adjustment Program.

Beyond counting and documenting the victims of slow daily violence, the Mathare Green Movement is conscripting nature’s healing powers to challenge and alleviate the long-term effects of and sustain attention towards social injustice causes. Those grassroots environmental activists that Wangari Maathai called “foresters without degrees are at the forefront of plotting new futures, imagining new worlds and planting ideas of hope. Wangari Maathai underscored the need to keep environmentalism connected to global questions of human rights and social justice.

In a letter smuggled from a Nigerian jail, the writer-activist Ken Saro-Wiwa wrote: “The environment is man’s first right. That notion seems to have been forgotten in urban ecologies and serves as a focal point in articulating the experiences of oppressed people who are rendered invisible in the national economy and silenced when they demand to be heard.

Seeds of peace

Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement brought a new discourse to the public consciousness, linking the slow violence of environmental degradation to its consequences, while at the same time proposing a public participatory methodology to advance environmental recovery. The Mathare Green Movement’s focus is young men facing the threat of extrajudicial executions who plant trees to reclaim lost life and dignify in the memory of peers labeled as criminal and forgotten after death.

The lesson of the Green Belt Movement is that poverty does not operate in a vacuum. Prof. Maathai’s brilliance was making clear the link between the collapse of the environmental economy and its support systems, on the one hand, and its revival as a strategy for eradicating poverty, on the other. She correctly diagnosed that corrupt exploitation of resources impacted vulnerable masses directly and insisted that environmentalism of the poor is inseprable from redistributive justice

Like the Green Belt Movement, the theatre of the tree gives the Mathare Green Movement a new vocabulary that is loaded with civic duty. Prof. Maathai called it “doing my little thing”. It is fitting that the new millennial generation of her disciples would emerge from Kenya’s marginalised urban spaces. Planting, not merely trees, but the seeds of life, healing, ideas, courage, hope and solidarity.

Prof. Maathai’s brilliance was making clear the link between the collapse of the environmental economy and its support systems, on the one hand, and its revival as a strategy for eradicating poverty, on the other.

The greening campaigns create the connection between environmental injustice and the erosion of social justice; the link between a healthy environment and quality of life. A tree has a right to grow to maturity, to fruit and bloom as every young life does in Mathare.

Planting trees in this spirit is more than a public relations exercise; it is work towards changing spaces so that they are less vulnerable to the elements and the forces that exploit the sense of deprivation. Importantly, it is the deliberate and conscious action of engaging in intergenerational optimism and responsibility, and accepting that we may never sit under the shade of the trees we plant.

Just as violence in Nairobi’s urban ghettos is continous and slow, so does healing through tree planting have to be a continous process. Urban reforestation that is people-centred is the primary symbolic vehicle for demanding ecological and social justice. The slow and deliberate effort of rehabilitating green spaces forces one to examine the systemic challenges that sustain these conditions. These young men choose to be eco-warriors, creating an enabling environment, restoring dignity and demanding the right to life from a state that minimises their existence. Wangari Maathai called it planting “seeds of peace” to stop the poverty profiling that disproportionately targets the poor. The existing structures of slow violence is why politicians consistently exploit the tensions in Nairobi’s slums during election cycles, easily igniting violence because below the surface, old antagonisms linger unresolved.

The Chipko movement, which originated in the Himalayan region of Uttar Pradesh in India in the 1970s, gained notoreity as a non-violent social and ecological movement whose members protected trees by hugging them to discourage loggers.

They are no trees to hug in Mathare. However, following in the footsteps of Wangari Maathai, the young people of Mathare will one day pass down trees of peace that stand for their right to security and protection from a state that terrorises its own citizens.

The lasting solution to ending direct and indirect violence against young lives is by adddressing the conditions that perpetuate the cycle of violence. Planting trees we must, but we can no longer fail to see the forest.

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NAIROBI: A city in which ‘contempt for the resident is everywhere apparent’

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NAIROBI: A city in which ‘contempt for the resident is everywhere apparent’

“The people are the city.”Citizens in William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus

At the crack of dawn, roughly between 5a.m and 7a.m, the “Great Trek” in Nairobi begins. Hordes of security guards, domestic workers, office cleaners, factory workers, vegetable hawkers, office messengers and jua kali artisans, among others, start their journey to work – on foot. It is a scene to behold. Thousands of people purposefully walking on roads meant for cars – sometimes for as long as three hours – to report to work by 8a.m., if not earlier.

These are the forgotten people, the ones the city’s urban planners have not catered for since Nairobi came into existence more than a century ago – when the city was planned as an apartheid city, built for a minority white elite that owned cars. Since then Nairobi has been characterised as a city that lacks pavements. Road builders either fail to build pavements during construction or pavements are so small or dilapidated that people have to use the road when walking.

However, even the roads meant for cars are failing the city’s residents. Traffic jams have become so normal in Nairobi that people plan their days around them. Moreover, recent proposals to have “car-free” days will not have the desired impact because those who use private cars are unlikely to walk to work or use public transport. To make matters worse, the frenzied construction of apartment blocks in residential areas has not been accompanied by a commensurate increase in the number of roads and pavements. On the contrary, the construction of office blocks and apartment buildings in many neighbourhoods has led to the uprooting of precious green spaces.

A World Bank study estimates that around 40 per cent of trips in Nairobi are made on foot. Matatus and minibuses account for 30 per cent of these trips while buses account for 10 per cent. Only slightly more than 10 per cent of the city’s population uses private cars. Unlike in many European cities, where walking is considered a lifestyle choice, and where pedestrian pathways and public transport is part of the transport infrastructure, in Kenya a large number of people walk because they can’t afford any other means of transport. Urban transport here is, therefore, not only deeply related to poverty and inequality but also to poor or non-existent transport infrastructure, including sufficient roads and pavements.

A World Bank study estimates that around 40 per cent of trips in Nairobi are made on foot. Matatus and minibuses account for 30 per cent of these trips while buses account for 10 per cent. Only slightly more than 10 per cent of the city’s population uses private cars.

According to Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Urban Prosperity, a UN-Habitat report published in 2013, Nairobi has allocated just 11 per of land to roads, which is way below the optimum level of around 30 per cent. (About a third of the land in Manhattan, for instance, is allocated to roads and pavements.) Moreover, the scarcity of roads is evident in both rich and poor neighbourhoods. For example, only 3 per cent of the land in both the up-market Muthaiga and the low-income Kibera is made up of streets. This is worrying because roads and pavements are not just important for mobility, they are also important for the development of related infrastructure, such as water and sewerage systems, which are usually laid down along existing road networks. According to the report, fewer roads and poor road connectivity make cities less prosperous.

Build it and they will come?

But will the construction of more roads improve mobility in the city? Not necessarily. Evidence suggests that more roads in urban areas can actually make mobility more difficult. During the Mwai Kibaki administration, for example, there was a concerted effort to build more roads and highways in Nairobi, ostensibly to ease congestion and improve transport infrastructure. The irony is that despite having more roads in the city, traffic in Nairobi has reached nightmare proportions

This contradiction was predicted some years ago by Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of the Colombian capital Bogota, when he gave a public lecture at Nairobi University a few months before the construction began. Penalosa said that expansion of the road network in many cities had shown that instead of reducing vehicular traffic, the traffic actually increased. This could be attributed partly to the “build it and they will come” logic that is based on the idea that the building of infrastructure is itself an incentive for more people to use it.

In Nairobi, there has also been a marked increase in the number of private vehicles and matatus on the roads. The construction of highways has also improved connectivity with satellite towns, which has increased traffic flow into the city. These are probably some of the reasons why, despite the construction of several bypasses on Mombasa Road, Uhuru Highway remains the most congested main artery in the city at all hours of the day. The construction of the Thika Superhighway has had a similar effect: the highway has led to urban sprawl as satellite towns have emerged along it, with the result that more commuters from peri-urban areas are now using the highway.

The former mayor of Bogota said that instead of making more room for cars, cities should make more room for pedestrians, cyclists and mass rapid transit systems. This would encourage residents to use alternative forms of transport, which would lessen traffic on the roads.

When he was mayor of the Colombian capital Bogota between 1998 and 2001, Penalosa created a bus rapid transit system featuring bus-only lanes. Penalosa will also be remembered for building an extensive network of bicycle paths and pedestrian-only streets at a time when cities such as London and Paris had not even thought of them. (Now both London and Paris are emulating the Bogota example.)

Penalosa believes that today’s cities need to be totally re-designed to cater for pedestrians and cyclists. In an interview with the online Citiscope magazine, he stated: “For 5000 years we designed cities for people without cars. When cars appeared, we should have begun designing totally different cities. We did not. We just made bigger roads.”

When he was mayor of the Colombian capital Bogota between 1998 and 2001, Penalosa created a bus rapid transit system featuring bus-only lanes. Penalosa will also be remembered for building an extensive network of bicycle paths and pedestrian-only streets at a time when cities such as London and Paris had not even thought of them.

Streets as public spaces

In Nairobi, planners and policy makers are planning for vehicles, not pedestrians. This is in sharp contrast to trends in Europe where citizens are reclaiming their streets as “public spaces” by re-designing streets so that they are accessible only to pedestrians and cyclists. For instance, London has made parts of the famous Trafalgar Square inaccessible to cars and many European cities, including Copenhagen and Amsterdam, encourage the use of bicycles. Apart from the health and environmental benefits, the reclamation of streets as public spaces has immense social benefits. Streets become the great levellers where people from all walks of life meet and interact. This promotes social inclusion.

The idea that streets should be public spaces gained momentum in the mid to late 20th century when American urbanists, such as Jane Jacobs, suggested that “you need to walk a city’s streets to see its soul”. More recently, the American economist Edward Glaeser suggested that the most successful cities in the world are those that “enable us to work and play together” in close proximity and through physical interaction. These interactions are only possible when people mingle on streets and public spaces.

Penalosa is also a great advocate of public spaces, such as parks and playing fields. He notes that New York City created Central Park in 1860 when the city was much poorer than it is today, and that London, a heavily built-up city, has 1,500 public football fields that are open and free to all residents. (In contrast, Nairobi County Governor Mike Sonko had at one time suggested that Uhuru Park – Nairobi’s largest public park – be turned into a matatu stage. Neither under Sonko nor under any of the city’s former leaders have there been plans to build more public parks in the city. What’s worse, in recent years land grabbers have even attempted to steal playgrounds in Nairobi’s public schools.)

The idea that streets should be public spaces gained momentum in the mid to late 20th century when American urbanists, such as Jane Jacobs, suggested that “you need to walk a city’s streets to see its soul”.

Nairobi, like many African and Asian cities, seems not to have learnt lessons from European and other cities where there is a growing “liveable cities” movement that emphasises reduced dependence on motorised transport by making streets more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians. Nairobi’s streets are clogged with cars, matatus and private vehicles, and pavements are fast disappearing or are in a dilapidated state. Many streets do not even have pavements, and those that do are often encroached upon by hawkers and even by motorists. As one Kenyan commented on Twitter, “If there were pavements in Nairobi, motorists would drive on them.” The lack of adequate pavements and bicycle paths has also resulted in unnecessary deaths of pedestrians and cyclists; in fact, cycling and walking are considered among the most dangerous forms of transport in Kenya.

Penalosa is also against the new trend of shopping malls (which has become a rage in Nairobi), which he says deprives city dwellers of walking in and enjoying their city. Local corner shops disappear as the rich flock to enclosed malls. In Nairobi social apartheid that separates the urban rich from the urban poor is now becoming increasingly apparent in these up-market malls and gated communities.

Kenya Urbanization Review, a World Bank report published in February 2016, says that Nairobi is at a particular crossroad and can go down one of two main routes: It can either build its way out of congestion by building more roads to serve the increasing motorisation rate, or it can invest in public transport networks to promote a more compact and environmentally friendly city. “Either way,” says the report, “the fundamental priority is to avoid a trade-off between access and sustainability” that will lock Nairobi into highly land-consuming and car-dependant development patterns.

Devolution: Challenges and opportunities

Like most African cities, Nairobi did not grow as a result of a grand master plan – much of the city has grown spontaneously and haphazardly. Even when there were plans, they were largely ineffective because they did not reflect the reality on the ground and did not anticipate the rapid urban growth rate (driven largely by rural-to-urban migration) after independence in 1963.

For instance, if urban planners and policy makers understood that a large proportion of the city’s 4 million or so residents walk to work (because they cannot afford public transport), they would be ensuring that there would be more and wider pavements in the city and more affordable mass public transport. Urban planners are also in short supply. According to the World Bank report, in 2011 there were only 194 accredited urban planners in the whole of Kenya, compared to 1,690 in South Africa.

Nairobi has ambitions to become a “world class city”, but these ambitions are being hampered by the city’s delusional sense of its own importance that fails to recognise that more than half of the city’s population lives in overcrowded slums with few amenities, such as piped water or electricity. It is estimated that only 36 per cent of households in the city’s informal settlements have direct access to piped water. The urban poor in the city also pay more for water than rich households, as water has to be purchased from water vendors who sell them by the litre. Slum dwellers in Nairobi do not even have access to sanitation and are forced to use makeshift pit latrines. It is estimated that only 18 per cent of Kenya’s total urban population has access to a sewer system; 70 per cent of urban dwellers rely on septic tanks or pit latrines.

Tunku Varadarajan, writing in Forbes in September 2009, described Nairobi (along with Lagos, Karachi, Lima, Cairo, Jakarta, Dhaka, Caracas and Manila) as “an utterly charmless city” – “edgy, aggressive and inhospitable”, a city in which “contempt for the resident is everywhere apparent” and where there are “few parks and sidewalks, and scarcely any of the amenities that comprise the core of urban civilization”. Varadarajan’s assessment of the city may appear harsh, as other observers have commended the city for its vibrant culture and cosmopolitan nature. (Lonely Planet, for example, has described Nairobi as one of the best cities in the world, and has praised it for its “excellent nightspots and good music scene”). However, it is clear that Nairobi lacks the one thing world class cities have – a safe, affordable, reliable and well-regulated public transport system.

Tunku Varadarajan, writing in Forbes in September 2009, described Nairobi (along with Lagos, Karachi, Lima, Cairo, Jakarta, Dhaka, Caracas and Manila) as “an utterly charmless city” – “edgy, aggressive and inhospitable”, a city in which “contempt for the resident is everywhere apparent”

Poor leadership and corruption have further contributed to creating an urban culture that lacks vision. If Nairobi was a place that catered for the majority of its residents’ needs, there would be more pavements, bicycle paths, public parks, public toilets and playing fields in the city. But a land grabbing frenzy has ensured that even the few green spaces (and even public toilets) in the city have now become concrete blocks.

The fundamental reason why Nairobi is so dysfunctional is because its dysfunction is self-perpetuating. Urban dwellers do not demand better infrastructure and services and expect little from the authorities, which leads of a vicious cycle of low expectations, little infrastructure investment and low productivity. When the city fails to provide services, such as garbage collection, those residents who can afford it hire private garbage collectors. The same applies to security, water provision and other essential services. This has resulted in widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Devolution may have actually contributed to the city’s woes as there is no longer a City Council or Ministry of Local Government to blame. The 1963 Local Government Act created 175 local authorities in Kenya, which were abolished under the new constitution that was promulgated in 2010. As required by Article 184 of the constitution, national legislation should provide for the governance and management of urban areas.

The Urban Areas and Cities Act (Revised 2015 edition) does provide for a system of city and municipal boards and town committees that are tasked with adopting urban policies and strategies, including on service delivery and land use. However, the criteria for the creation of these boards are rather restrictive, and could serve as a deterrent to the formation of such boards, especially in poor and largely rural counties.

One of the conditions for the creation of a city or municipal board is that the city or town should have the capacity to generate sufficient revenue to sustain its operations, which is difficult for many of the poorer counties that rely on the national government to carry out operations, including the building of roads that are not part of the national highway network. Nairobi, Kenya’s largest and wealthiest city, collected Sh11.7 billion in revenue in 2015/16, but it is the exception in a country where the majority of towns have populations of less than 250,000 and where urban-based activities are not the mainstay of largely rural economies. Another condition is to have the capacity to effectively and efficiently deliver services, which is a tall order for most smaller towns in Kenya.

One of the pitfalls of devolution is that urban areas may suffer under a system where devolved funds are being used to cater mostly for rural populations in the counties, rather than to the needs of urban dwellers. While this is understandable, given that the majority of counties are predominantly rural and considering the marginalisation of several regions under the previous centralised system, neglecting urban areas may come to haunt counties in the future.

As the World Bank’s Kenya Urbanization Review report concluded, Kenya’s ambitious experiment in devolution holds great promise and comes at an important period but aspects of the process may weaken urban centres at a time when they need to be strengthened. “On balance,” says the report, “Kenya still has an opportunity to leverage urbanization to drive economic growth. It is in the early stages of urbanization, and evidence suggests that cities can drive economic development – especially when they are developed through a ‘system-of-cities’ approach and where devolution empowers counties…to develop strong urban centers.”

One of the pitfalls of devolution is that urban areas may suffer under a system where devolved funds are being used to cater mostly for rural populations in the counties, rather than to the needs of urban dwellers. While this is understandable, given that the majority of counties are predominantly rural and considering the marginalisation of several regions under the previous centralised system, neglecting urban areas may come to haunt counties in the future.

Urbanisation and economic growth

The 2009 Kenya census shows that nearly one-third of the country’s population is now urban, but urbanisation levels are still way below those of other African countries. In fact, along with Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, Kenya has among the lowest urbanisation levels in the world. This has implications for the country’s economic prospects.

Nairobi, and Kenya as a whole, need an urban strategy that increases productivity and promotes inclusion. Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between levels of urbanisation and economic growth – in general, most countries do not attain middle income status until they are at least 50 per cent urban. In 2009, the World Bank published a report by the Commission on Growth and Development that showed that there is a clear and robust relationship between urbanisation and per capita income in nearly all countries. The report stated that to achieve middle-income status, countries need to have at least half their populations living in urban areas and that “in all known cases of high and sustained growth, urban manufacturing and services led the process”.

The first challenge, of course, is to make cities and towns sites of high-productivity industries. The second challenge is managing the negative consequences of growth on urban areas, including congestion, pollution, inequality and slum formation. Both challenges require investments in infrastructure – but only if that infrastructure does not contribute to other problems (like pollution and congestion) and if it contributes to making productivity more efficient.

In its current state, the transport infrastructure in cities like Nairobi has proved to be an impediment to productivity as most workers spend more time commuting than engaging in productive activities. Over-dependence of private mini-buses (matatus) has also led to a situation where other forms of public transport have been crowded out, leading to increasing congestion and air pollution.

Building more roads has not helped either because the roads fail to cater for the majority of residents who walk, cycle or use public transport. As Edward Glaeser reminds us in his book, Triumph of the City: How our greatest invention makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier and happier, “The folly of building-centric urban renewal reminds us that cities aren’t structures; cities are people.”

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AN ODE TO SILENCE: The Church’s abdication of its role in society

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AN ODE TO SILENCE: The Church’s abdication of its role in society

The Church in Kenya struggles in silence while endemic corruption ravages the public and private sectors of the country.  On this matter, I’d rather lament with Prophet Jeremiah when he supplicated the appalling backsliding of his people by asking: “Is there no Balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why is the wound of my people not healed?”, rather than sing in faith, the Negro spiritual affirming: “There is a balm in Gilead to heal a sick, sick soul…”

Wounds inflicted by corruption on this nation will need a more “potent balm”, yes, more than an “expert physician”, for neither the laws enacted so far nor the commission instituted to deal with the scourge have proven effective.

The law is clear: Corruption, active and passive bribery, abuse of office and bribing a foreign public official are outlawed under the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act 2003, which is further reinforced with the Bribery Act of 2016 ostensibly to aid in the fight against the supply side of corruption.

Comprehensive enforcement of Kenya’s anti-corruption framework, however, remains a challenge because of weak and corrupt public institutions.

But in choosing silence in the face of this obscene level of corruption, perhaps at the counsel of the English poet Thomas Carlyle (“Silence is Gold”) or the American rock song by the Tremeloes (“Silence is Golden, but my eyes still see, Silence is Golden, but my eyes still see…”), the Kenyan Church is abdicating its unique and vital role in society. What has become of the once-vibrant voices within the Church who challenged the draconian Moi rule, risking their lives for a just cause?

Then the Church took a radical and militant approach. It was not afraid to say, like the prophets of old: “Thus says the Lord…” It had clarity on matters of national importance affecting the people, unlike its counterparts today, who are even failing to define their own mandate.

Pope Benedict XVI is emphatic about the role the Church should play in society.  He defines the Church’s role in the political sphere as primarily education (understood not as schooling, no matter how important that is): “The Church must awaken man’s receptivity to the truth, to God, and thus to the power of conscience. It must give men and women the courage to live according to their conscience and so keep open the narrow pass between anarchy and tyranny, which is none other than the narrow way of peace.”

Then the Church took a radical and militant approach. It was not afraid to say, like the prophets of old: “Thus says the Lord…” It had clarity on matters of national importance affecting the people, unlike its counterparts today, who are even failing to define their own mandate.

He also highlights the need for society, both local and global, to recover the divine element in our humanity, which includes moral consensus, without which society flounders and humanity is endangered.

There are some though, who would rather have an aloof Church and one that is measured in contentious matters of public concern. Stephen Carter, the Yale scholar, in his book, The Culture of Disbelief, laments that “our public culture more and more prefers religion as something without political significance, less an independent moral force than a quietly irrelevant moralizer, never heard, rarely seen.”

Could it be that the dearth of the prophetic voice is a sign of a Church struggling to define itself and its societal role in the post-2003 era? Kenya needs to hear what the Church is thinking and saying on corruption. The Church cannot extricate itself from politics because it cannot refrain from the task of reflecting on the implications of its faith within our political context. It has reason to intervene, for we cannot afford the haemorrhaging of this country through corruption.

A 2016 survey released by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) indicated that the rate of economic crimes in Kenya is 25 per cent above the global average. It further revealed that every record set against stealing is broken. In the year 2015 alone, economic crimes rose to 61 per cent from 52 per cent in 2014 and maybe worse today. Philip Kinisu, a retired auditor and a former chairman of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) told Reuters: “Kenya is losing a third of its State budget – the equivalent of about $6 billion (KShs. 608 billion) – to corruption every year.”

Our plight did not escape the notice of former United States President Barack Obama during his visit in 2015. He rightly criticised Kenya’s corruption, inequality, and tribalism before an audience, which included President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Cabinet, at Kasarani Sports Centre in Nairobi.

Obama quoted a study showing that every year corruption costs Kenya 250,000 jobs. He said rising prosperity in the economy was leaving out the vast majority of the people, the burden of which is borne by the poor.

This is exactly what Samuel Paul of the Public Affairs Centre in Bangalore established in “Corruption: Who Will Bell the Cat?” His study found that in five Indian cities, poor households were much more likely to pay “speed money” for public services than households in general. Consequently, when access to public goods and services requires a bribe, the poor may be excluded. Given their lack of political influence, the poor may even be asked to pay more than people with higher incomes. Furthermore, when corruption results in shoddy public services, the poor lack the resources to pursue “exit” options, such as private schooling, health care or power generation.

We can learn from the struggles of the 1980s, during which Galia Sabar, Professor of African Studies at Tel Aviv University, observed that limited political association paralysed the process of transforming information and ideas into action. As such, she gave credence to the emergence of informal individual activism and the culture of defiance that was growing day by day.

On the frontline of Kenya’s individual Church activism during the Moi era were the Anglican Church’s Bishop Henry Okullu of Maseno South Diocese, Bishop Alexander Muge of the Diocese of Eldoret, Bishop David Gitari, the Anglican prelate of Mt. Kenya East diocese, and Rev. Timothy Njoya, a moderator in the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA). These clerics triggered the much-needed change in the country through their political engagements.

Citing the February 1990 edition of Finance magazine, Sabar in “Politics and Power in the Kenyan Public and Recent Events: the Church of the Province of Kenya, said: “Irrespective of how much we might belittle their social standing, the clerics represent the most cohesively structured, the most firmly organised and the most solidly unified institution in the country.”

Stephen Kapinde, a lecturer at Pwani University’s Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, observes how the vitality of the pulpit as a stable platform for change and the sermons of Bishop Gitari (at a time when the state had censored nearly everyone and proscribed gatherings of more than three people) gave credence to the Church in political discourses. The prelate and his peers developed a culture of resistance through the pulpit.

Prof. Robert Press, in his book, Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Civil Liberties, gave more insight into this culture by observing that:

Individual activists can only do so much in their role as ice-breakers in the reform process. Organizational activists build on their advances but need the presence of members of the public at their events to make a serious bid for reforms. The public, in turn, needs the forum for the activists to express their discontent. Together the resistance sends signals to the regime, the public and international officials and agencies that the demands for change have substance and visible public support.

For this reason, the clergy blazed the trail for democratic reforms from their pulpits. Amazingly, such activism was thought by many to defile the pulpit, while in essence, the clerics used the space to liberate the people of Kenya, thereby living up to their calling to be “salt” and “light” in the world.

The contrast is huge today – pulpits are not as sacrosanct and neither are their messages. The frequency with which politicians have graced churches with goodies from corruption, coupled with the silence of clerics, is troubling.

For this reason, the clergy blazed the trail for democratic reforms from their pulpits. Amazingly, such activism was thought by many to defile the pulpit, while in essence, the clerics used the space to liberate the people of Kenya, thereby living up to their calling to be “salt” and “light” in the world.

For instance, Deputy President William Ruto has been a darling of Churches during funds drives, notwithstanding the fact that he has been named in a litany of corruption-related scandals. Indeed, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in 2015 described him as “the high priest of corruption in Kenya.”

The Anglican Church had an explicit stand on the widespread habit of inviting public figures as guests of honour at fund-raising events. Following the Provincial Board of Christian Community Services consultation on “The Theology and Philosophy of Development” held at St. Julian Centre between 11th and 13th May, 1983, the Church issued protocols to protect the likely erosion of the Church’s prophetic role in society:

Inviting public figures as guests of honour at Church harambees or giving them prominence in a church function merely because of the money they bring is not in accordance with our Christian principles. It tends to silence the prophetic voice of our church leaders (A report of the CPK Consultation on Theology and Philosophy of Development, 1989: p. 5, ¶4).

Today, however, several Anglican Churches have overlooked this protocol and indulged the said politicians on their pulpits, thus diluting their prophetic voice. How would they escape the tag of being an accomplice to corruption? They should have heeded Joseph Kamaru’s warning in his song, J. M. Kariuki, “gûtirí múicì na mùcudhìríria” (there is no difference between a thief and a mere observer).

The contrast is huge today – pulpits are not as sacrosanct and neither are their messages. The frequency with which politicians have graced churches with goodies from corruption, coupled with the silence of clerics, is troubling.

According to British evangelist and theologian G. Campbell Morgan, “Sacrilege is defined as taking something that belongs to God and using it profanely. But the worst kind of sacrilege is taking something and giving it to God when it means absolutely nothing to you.” If we accept this, then the Church would have committed double sacrilege in this indulgence: Knowingly giving platform to sanitise corrupt money in the name of God, and perpetuating delusion that that is investing in heaven.

How do I answer my friend Joe Kobuthi’s query: “What does it mean when the Church goes quiet or turns a blind eye to corruption to the extent that a politician like Ruto can claim his contributions to churches to be ‘investing in heaven’”?

The Church, by indulging in questionable money being “invested” in its programmes, undermines its own ability to help the poor. Proper “investing in heaven” is investing in Christ. St. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD), one of the greatest Early Church Fathers of the 5th century, warned: “Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that?”

How do I answer my friend Joe Kobuthi’s query: “What does it mean when the Church goes quiet or turns a blind eye to corruption to the extent that a politician like Ruto can claim his contributions to churches to be ‘investing in heaven’”?

How about using one’s position in government to save the annual 250,000 jobs lost to corruption? Wouldn’t that give many Kenyans opportunities to feed their hungry, and not to leave them to stare at Church tables embellished with gold? Investing in heaven would mean putting to proper use the US$6 billion lost to corruption to provide for proper health services and housing for homeless Kenyans.

The Kenyan public is livid at the multi-million-dollar scandals that have failed to result in high-profile convictions. They accuse politicians and top government officials of acting with impunity and encouraging graft by those in lower posts.

Again, Kinisu opines the real drive to stamp out corruption has to come from public pressure for change. Yet in an environment of fear and intimidation by corruption cartels and politicians, it becomes nearly impossible to set up any social movement against corruption.

A curious episode in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring is instructive, as it well depicts our challenge on corruption:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”.

It is not freedom from corruption, but rather the freedom to take a stand against it, that we must all pursue. If the Church is to retain its credibility and relevance, I believe it needs to utilise its eminent position to influence public opinion on matters affecting the nation. I would like to believe that, sooner or later, it will recover its earlier prophetic fervour for the sake of the public good and provide the moral leadership we so desperately need today in the epic fight against corruption.

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