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A Good Man in Gomorrah: How Shame Died in Kenya, Why Seppuku Is Alive and Well in Japan

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In Japan, public officials routinely resign for reasons that would frankly astonish their Kenyan counterparts. In Mauritius, the President resigned for a matter that would be considered ridiculous in Kenya, where bureaucratic cock-ups, and entrenched sense of impunity and a basic lack of decency lose lives, stoke public health emergencies and waste vast sums of money. What is wrong, says MIRIAM ABRAHAM, is the end of shame in public culture.

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A Good Man in Gomorrah: How Shame Died in Kenya, Why Seppuku Is Alive and Well in Japan
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I recently watched with interest a video of four senior Japanese officials bowing and apologizing to the public. I was curious. I wanted to know how many deaths these officials had caused or what a lifestyle audit had revealed about each one of them. I was curious to know if they too had been involved in approving contaminated food into the market, or rigging elections.

“It’s deeply regrettable that this misconduct took place. We’re sorry,” said one of the Japanese officials as the other three looked on gravely.

The misconduct was that one of their workers had been leaving work three minutes ahead of his lunch break. It was not just the public apology that took place. The worker was reprimanded and fined, losing thousands of Yen. This is how seriously public service is taken. It is about ethics and integrity.

I found this remarkable, especially during a week in which in my own country, public servants had done far worse things and shown no remorse. A week in which those entrusted by the public with their safety and security had probably been bribed to allow the importation and sale of contaminated sugar into the country.

Looking at the downcast faces of the four Japanese officials reminded me of how on 1 September 2017, I was tasked with preparing what was supposed to be a major statement following a historic decision by a key organ of government. The draft started with a public apology. Later, in consultations, reference to even the barest sense of remorse was deleted. To date, no apology has been offered. Not from me or any of my colleagues. Nobody has been made to account for the lives lost, the money lost, the time lost and the complete running down of the state institution. Instead, in small regular doses, we are treated to theatrics.

On 1 September 2017, I was tasked with preparing what was supposed to be a major statement following a historic decision by a key organ of government. The draft started with a public apology. Later, in consultations, reference to even the barest sense of remorse was deleted. To date, no apology has been offered.

Corruption, impunity, state capture and lack of integrity make for a toxic mix. Nobody feels responsible for failure. No shame. No possibility that one of these individuals, driven by guilt, will suffer a nervous breakdown because of the plunder of state resources. Or failure to uphold the Oath of Office. Not the President or any State Officer. Political leaders consciously lead their supporters to their deaths to increase their political bargaining power with their adversaries and feel no remorse. The police use violence to quell peaceful protests causing deaths and yet there will never be an apology, resignation or firing. The conclusion is simple: if I will not be held responsible for my actions, why apologize? If I can steal and still remain in office, why resign?

In hindsight, I should not have been surprised by the video of Japanese officials resigning. Tolerance levels for scandals in Japan are extremely low. Except for its current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been in office since 2012, Japan’s Prime Ministers since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, have served for an average of only two years. Prime Minister Abe, is facing public pressure to resign for actions that would be considered frivolous in Kenya or even in Donald Trump’s United States.

Abe is accused of cronyism in a case in which an old friend of his sought regulatory approval to open a veterinary medicine department at his university. This is not illegal in Japan. Another “scandal”: Abe is accused of assisting the owner of a kindergarten to buy a plot of land from the national government at around 14 percent of the market value in order to set up an elementary school. I must stress, that this was not a case of a public official trying to “convert” a school playground into private property. The details of that land controversy in Japan are nowhere near the Ksh 1.5 billion Ruaraka land scandal, or the myriad frauds documented in the Ndung’u Land Commission report.

Except for its current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been in office since 2012, Japan’s Prime Ministers since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, have served for an average of only two years. Prime Minister Abe is facing public pressure to resign for actions that would be considered frivolous in Kenya… Abe is accused of cronyism in a case in which an old friend of his sought regulatory approval to open a veterinary medicine department at his university. This is not illegal in Japan.

The private sector in Japan is not spared from scrutiny either. It is fairly common for Japanese chief executives to step down and take responsibility for unethical actions in their firms. The list is long including the CEO of Dentsu, Japan’s biggest advertising agency, who resigned in 2016 over a worker’s suicide due to overwork (there is a formal term for this: karoshi); Toshiba’s CEO who resigned due to an accounting scandal; the CEO of Olympus who resigned after a scandal over hefty advisory fees; and the CEO for Tepco over the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant crisis in 2011.

We are yet to have a resignation or even an apology from any of the entities involved in the pingpong corruption scandals in Kenya. The Central Bank and several other banks that facilitated the corrupt transactions have not taken responsibility for their actions. The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce, Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) – the lobbies always the first to appeal for peace and calm in the aftermath of rigged elections, have been silent, as though the companies involved in corrupt practices are from Jupiter.

I am not implying that Japan is scandal-free. Far from it. They have their share of scandals. Public officials have been found guilty of corruption, cronyism, name it. The difference is the way their leaders deal with these situations, the society’s high bar of expectation, the shame accompanying these acts, and the legal processes designed to deter reoccurrence.

For sure, they have had sub-standard food approved for sale in the market but the officials involved have not waited for litigation. They own up to their actions, apologize to the public and face the full force of the law. In our case, public officials approved the importation and sale of contaminated sugar – whether it contains mercury, gold or bronze. Others approved the purchase and storage of contaminated maize and watched as their bank accounts bulged. What level of greed is this? Why would we not protect the lives of those we have been charged to serve? Why would we consciously approve the sale and distribution of “fake” fertilizer to unsuspecting struggling farmers? The answer lies in a combination of corruption, lack of basic ethical behavior and the lack of value for life.

Public officials receive bribes and look the other way when sub-standard construction of buildings and dams are done. Engineers and architects are willing to sacrifice the lives of hundreds of people for their personal gratification. And even when Solai Dam tragedies happen, there is no accountability. No heads roll. No apologies are given. No prosecution. We move on and wait for the next tragedy.

If Japan sounds too remote for us to analogise, there are examples closer to home worth looking at. In March this year, the President of Mauritius, Ms. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was accused of using a credit card given to her by an NGO to cover travel expenses. Instead, she used the $27,000 to buy clothes, jewelry and other personal items. She refunded the money and stepped aside with Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth saying that she had done so in “the interest of the country”. And we have Ministers and Governors in office who have been accused of stealing millions of dollars! It is no wonder that Mauritius ranks 50th in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and we rank 143rd out of 180 countries and territories.

Public officials receive bribes and look the other way when sub-standard construction of buildings and dams are done. Engineers and architects are willing to sacrifice the lives of hundreds of people for their personal gratification. And even when Solai Dam tragedies happen, there is no accountability. No heads roll. No apologies are given. No prosecution. We move on and wait for the next tragedy.

Like many others, I often wonder what makes countries such as Botswana, Japan and Mauritius exceptional in their approach to leadership and governance. Some argue that for Japan, the magic lies in their education system that makes moral education compulsory. The principles of reflecting on one’s relationship to others, the relationship to nature and relationship to society. They credit Confucianism for it: “man’s relationship with the world around him, man’s relationship with others, with family and man’s relationship with nature”. Then again, we are taught all these morals in Kenyan schools – but only for the purpose of passing exams. We are super religious with a healthy competition between the number of religious centers in our communities and the bars. But as we know, teaching is one thing and practicing the ethos is another. This is why Japan, Mauritius and Botswana pull ahead. These countries have continuously led the pack in setting the pace for leadership and good governance.

Some would argue that we are evidently on that path too since there are countries setting plans to visit us and “benchmark” our fight against corruption! I am all for the fight against corruption. It is a fantastic idea to prosecute all those found guilty of siphoning money from the National Youth Service and other bodies. I could even support lifestyle audits, if I understood their methodology. And even the lie detectors if they were not so obviously a technological decoy designed to further mystify the basic question of public integrity.

But beyond the Machiavellian drums of corruption that we keep beating, we need to develop a national ethos that is beyond making a quick buck. We need to build a critical mass of leaders that will do to Kenya what the people of Mauritius, Botswana and Japan have been able to attain so far. Change does not need millions of people, it requires a few people committed to leadership and integrity. It needs individuals conscious that the path we are following will only lead to total annihilation of the nation. It requires strong men and women who are ready to challenge the status quo. Men and women, who are willing to challenge the corruption within their ranks.

Change does not need millions of people, it requires a few people committed to leadership and integrity. It needs individuals conscious that the path we are following will only lead to total annihilation of the nation. It requires strong men and women who are ready to challenge the status quo. Men and women, who are willing to challenge the corruption within their ranks.

This leadership is absent. Like many African countries, we face a leadership deficit. We lack a few men and women of integrity who are ready to take on the challenges ahead of us. Many of us are still waiting for the 2022 elections to usher in change, on the basis of a misleading assumption that voters decide who leads Kenya! This difficult work of change must begin in earnest now. Those who previously presented themselves as leading anti-corruption crusaders in the Opposition side appear to have thrown in the towel. Even as we collectively criticize them for doing so, we should seize the moment and begin nurturing that critical mass of change makers. As I have argued in these pages in the past, the millennials should seize this moment and fill the current leadership vacuum!

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Ms. Abraham is a governance and institutional development expert.

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What Kenyans Have Always Wanted is to Limit the Powers of the Executive

As Kenya’s political class considers expanding the executive branch of government, no one seems to be talking about restricting its powers.

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The tyranny of numbers, a phrase first applied to Kenyan politics by one of Kenya’s most well-known political commentators, Mutahi Ngunyi, was repeated ad nauseum during the week of waiting that followed Kenya’s 2013 general elections.

In ads published in the run-up to the 2013 elections by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), people were told to vote, go home and accept the results. Encouraged by a state that had since the 2007 post-electoral violence dominated public discourse and means of coercion, the military pitched camp in polling stations. Many streets in Kenya’s cities and towns remained deserted for days after the polls closed.

According to Ngunyi, the winner of the 2013 elections had been known four months earlier, that is, when the electoral commission stopped registering voters.

In a country whose politics feature a dominant discourse that links political party and ethnicity, the outcome of voter registration that year meant that the Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto-led coalition, the Jubilee Alliance, would start the electoral contest with 47 per cent of the vote assured. With these statistics, their ticket appeared almost impossible to beat. For ethnic constituencies that did not eventually vote for Uhuru Kenyatta – the Jubilee Alliance presidential candidate in 2013 – a sense of hopelessness was widespread.

For them, a bureaucratic, professionalised, dispassionate (even boring) discourse became the main underpinning of the 2013 elections.

This was not the case in 2017.

Uhuru Kenyatta, pressured by opposition protests and a Supreme Court ruling that challenged his victory and ordered a re-run, met with Raila Odinga – his challenger for the presidency in the 2013 and 2017 elections – and offered a settlement. It became known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

In his 2020 Jamhuri Day speech, Uhuru reiterated that the purpose of the BBI process is to abolish the winner-takes-all system by expanding the executive branch of government.

As he explained it, the challenge to Kenya’s politics is the politicisation of ethnicity coupled with a lack of the requisite number of political offices within the executive branch that would satisfy all ethnic constituencies – Kenya has 42 enumerated ethnic groups.

The revised BBI report that was released on 21 October 2020 (the first was published in November 2019) has now retained the position of president, who, if the recommendations are voted for in a referendum, will also get to appoint a prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and a cabinet.

Amid heckles and jeers during the launch of the revised BBI report, Deputy President William Ruto asked whether the establishment of the positions of prime minister and two deputy prime ministers would create the much sought-after inclusivity. In his Jamhuri Day speech, the president conceded that they wouldn’t, but that the BBI-proposed position of Leader of Official Opposition – with a shadow cabinet, technical support and a budget – would mean that the loser of the presidential election would still have a role to play in governance.

One could not help but think that the president’s statement was informed by the fact that Odinga lost to him in both the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections –  this despite Odinga’s considerable political influence over vast areas of the country.

The 2010 constitution’s pure presidential system doesn’t anticipate any formal political role for the loser(s) of a presidential election. Raila held no public office between 2013 and 2017, when he lost to Uhuru. This did not help to address the perception amongst his supporters that they had been excluded from the political process for many years. In fact, Raila’s party had won more gubernatorial posts across the country’s 47 counties than the ruling Jubilee Alliance had during the 2013 elections.

While Raila’s attempts to remain politically relevant in the five years between 2013 and 2017 were largely ignored by Uhuru, the resistance against Uhuru’s victory in 2017 wasn’t.

The anger felt by Raila’s supporters in 2017 following the announcement that Uhuru had won the elections – again – could not be separated from the deeply-entrenched feelings of exclusion and marginalisation that were at the centre of the violence that followed the protracted and disputed elections.

The reading of Kenyan politics that is currently being rendered by the BBI process is that all ethnic constituencies must feel that they (essentially, their co-ethnic leaders) are playing a role in what is an otherwise overly centralised, executive-bureaucratic state. This is despite the fact that previous attempts to limit the powers of the executive branch by spreading them across other levels of government have often invited a backlash from the political class.

Kenya’s independence constitution had provided for a Westminster-style, parliamentary system of government, and took power and significant functions of government away from the centralised government in Nairobi, placing significant responsibility (over land, security and education, for instance) in the hands of eight regional governments of equal status known in Swahili as majimbo. The majimbo system was abolished and, between 1964 to 1992, the government was headed by an executive president and the constitution amended over twenty times – largely empowering the executive branch at the expense of parliament and the judiciary. The powers of the president were exercised for the benefit of the president’s cronies and co-ethnics.

By 2010 there was not a meaningful decentralised system of government. The executive, and the presidency at its head, continued to survive attempts at limiting their powers. This has continued since 2010.

As Kenya’s political class considers expanding the executive branch of government, no one seems to be talking about restricting its powers.

Beyond the minimum of 35 per cent of national revenue that the BBI report proposes should be allocated to county governments, it is less clear whether the country’s leaders are prepared to decentralise significant powers and resources away from the executive, and away from Nairobi.

Perhaps the real solution to the challenges of governance the BBI process purports to address is to follow the prescriptions of the defunct Yash Pal Ghai team – it went around the country collecting views for constitutional change in 2003-2004.

According to a paper written by Ghai himself, the Ghai-led Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) had no doubt that, consistent with the goals of the review and the people’s views, there had to be a transfer of very substantial powers and functions of government to local levels.

The CKRC noted – much like Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga now have – that the centralised presidential system tends to ethnicise politics, which threatens national unity.

Kenyans told the CKRC that decisions were made at places far away from them; that their problems arose from government policies over which they had no control; that they wanted greater control over their own destiny and to be free to determine their lifestyle choices and their affairs; and not to be told that they are not patriotic enough!

Yes, the BBI report has proposed that 5 per cent of county revenue be allocated to Members of County Assemblies for a newly-created Ward Development Fund, and that businesses set up by young Kenyans be exempted from taxation for the first seven years of operation. However, this doesn’t amount to any meaningful surrender of power and resources by the executive.

In emphasising the importance of exercising control at the local level, Kenyans told the CKRC that they wanted more communal forms of organisation and a replacement of the infamous Administration Police with a form of community policing. They considered that more powers and resources at the local level would give them greater influence over their parliamentary and local representatives, including greater control over jobs, land and land-based resources.  In short, Kenyans have always yearned for a dispersion of power away from the presidency, and away from the executive and Nairobi. They have asked for the placing of responsibility for public affairs in the hands of additional and more localised levels of government.

This is what would perhaps create the much sought-after inclusivity.

But as the BBI debate rages on, the attention of the political class is now on the proposed new positions within the executive branch. And as the debate becomes inexorably linked to the 2022 Kenyatta-succession race, questions centring on political positions will likely become personalised, especially after the political class cobbles together coalitions to contest the 2022 general elections.

Meanwhile, ordinary Kenyans will be left battling the aftermath of a pandemic, and having to deal with the usual stresses brought on by a political class seeking their votes for another round of five years of exclusion.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

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Democracy for Some, Mere Management for Others

The coming election in Uganda is significant because if there is to be managed change, it will never find a more opportune moment.

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Western powers slowly tied a noose round their own necks by first installing Uganda’s National Resistance Movement regime, and then supporting it uncritically as it embarked on its adventures in militarism, plunder and human rights violations inside and outside Uganda’s borders.

They are now faced with a common boss problem: what to do with an employee of very long standing (possibly even inherited from a predecessor) who may now know more about his department than the new bosses, and who now carries so many of the company’s secrets that summary dismissal would be a risky undertaking?

The elections taking place in Uganda this week have brought that dilemma into sharp relief.

An initial response would be to simply allow this sometimes rude employee to carry on. The problem is time. In both directions. The employee is very old, and those he seeks to manage are very young, and also very poor and very aspirational because of being very young. And also therefore very angry.

Having a president who looks and speaks like them, and whose own personal life journey symbolises their own ambitions, would go a very long way to placating them. This, if for no other reason, is why the West must seriously consider finding a way to induce the good and faithful servant to give way. Nobody lives forever. And so replacement is inevitable one way or another.

But this is clearly not a unified position. The United Kingdom, whose intelligence services were at the forefront of installing the National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) in power nearly forty years ago, remains quietly determined to stand by President Yoweri Museveni’s side.

On the other hand, opinion in America’s corridors of power seems divided. With standing operations in Somalia, and a history of western-friendly interventions in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and even Kenya, the Ugandan military is perceived as a huge (and cut-price) asset to the West’s regional security concerns.

The DRC, in particular, with its increasing significance as the source of much of the raw materials that will form the basis of the coming electric engine revolution, has been held firmly in the orbit of Western corporations through the exertions of the regime oligarchs controlling Uganda’s security establishment. To this, one may add the growing global agribusiness revolution in which the fertile lands of the Great Lakes Region are targeted for clearing and exploitation, and for which the regime offers facilitation.

Such human resource is hard to replace and therefore not casually disposed of.

These critical resource questions are backstopped by unjust politics themselves held in place by military means. The entire project therefore hinges ultimately on who has the means to physically enforce their exploitation. In our case, those military means have been personalised to one individual and a small circle of co-conspirators, often related by blood and ethnicity.

However, time presses. Apart from the ageing autocrat at the centre, there is also a time bomb in the form of an impoverished and anxious population of unskilled, under-employed (if at all) and propertyless young people. Change beckons for all sides, whether planned for or not.

This is why this coming election is significant. If there is to be managed change, it will never find a more opportune moment. Even if President Museveni is once again declared winner, there will still remain enough political momentum and pressure that could be harnessed by his one-time Western friends to cause him to look for the exit. It boils down to whether the American security establishment could be made to believe that the things that made President Museveni valuable to them, are transferable elsewhere into the Uganda security establishment. In short, that his sub-imperial footprint can be divorced from his person and entrusted, if not to someone like candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, then at least to security types already embedded within the state structure working under a new, youthful president.

Three possible outcomes then: Kyagulanyi carrying the vote and being declared the winner; Kyagulanyi carrying the vote but President Museveni being declared the winner; or failure to have a winner declared. In all cases, there will be trouble. In the first, a Trump-like resistance from the incumbent. In the second and the third, the usual mass disturbances that have followed each announcement of the winner of the presidential election since the 1990s.

Once the Ugandan political crisis — a story going back to the 1960s — is reduced to a security or “law and order” problem, the West usually sides with whichever force can quickest restore the order they (not we) need.

And this is how the NRM tail seeks to still wag the Western dog: the run-up to voting day has been characterised by heavy emphasis on the risk of alleged “hooligans” out to cause mayhem (“burning down the city” being a popular bogeyman). The NRM’s post-election challenge will be to quickly strip the crisis of all political considerations and make it a discussion about security.

But it would be strategically very risky to try to get Uganda’s current young electorate — and the even younger citizens in general — to accept that whatever social and economic conditions they have lived through in the last few decades (which for most means all of their lives given how young they are) are going to remain in place for even just the next five years. They will not buy into the promises they have seen broken in the past. Their numbers, their living conditions, their economic prospects and their very youth would then point to a situation of permanent unrest.

However, it can be safely assumed that the NRM regime will, to paraphrase US President Donald Trump, not accept any election result that does not declare it the winner.

Leave things as they are and deal with the inevitable degeneration of politics beyond its current state, or enforce a switch now under the cover of an election, or attempt to enforce a switch in the aftermath of the election by harnessing the inevitable discontent.

Those are the boss’ options.

In the meantime, there is food to be grown and work to be done.

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Uganda Elections 2021: The Elephant Website Blocked Ahead of Poll

For about a month now, some of our readers within Uganda have been reporting problems accessing the website. Following receipt of these reports, we launched investigations which have established that The Elephant has been blocked by some, though not all, internet service providers in the country.

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Uganda Elections 2021: The Elephant Website Blocked Ahead of Poll
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Dear Readers/Viewers,

For four years now, The Elephant has been one of the premier online sources of news analysis in the East African region with a fast-growing readership across the African continent and beyond.

For about a month now, some of our readers within Uganda have been reporting problems accessing the website. Following receipt of these reports, we launched investigations which have established that The Elephant has been blocked by some, though not all, internet service providers in the country.

We have further ascertained that the directive to do so came from the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) and was implemented beginning 12 December 2020, when we noticed a sudden traffic drop coming from several providers in Uganda, including Africell and Airtel. A forensics report, which provides technical details on the blocking, is available here.

We have written to the UCC requesting a reason for the blocking but are yet to receive a response.

The Elephant wholeheartedly condemns this assault on free speech and on freedom of the press and calls on the Ugandan government to respect the rights of Ugandans to access information.

We would like to assure all our readers that we are doing everything in our power to get the restrictions removed and hope normal access can be restored expeditiously.

As we do this, to circumvent the block, a Bifrost mirror has been deployed. Readers in Uganda can once again access The Elephant on this link.

Thank you.

Best Regards

John Githongo
Publisher

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