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Blog = poor (wo)man’s printing press

That’s why I’m posting this here, because the Nation wouldn’t publish it back in November for some reason (and because I’m a bit swamped right now and can’t do the still elusive “real” post).

First read this op-ed(from someone who should really know better, I think). [EDIT: link has been fixed and the author is a former Nation editor in chief and UN PR rep).

Here’s my response, which apparently didn’t meet the editor’s muster…

To equate the campaign being conducted by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) against misuse of public resources by government officials to “stalking a mandazi thief” as Peter Mwaura recently did (Daily Nation, November 12, 2005) suggests, at best, a facile understanding of the National Commission’s work and approach and downplays the serious implications of government misuse of public resources. Perhaps the Commission’s approach would have been more comprehensible had Mr. Mwaura attempted to first contact the Commission and clarify what the campaign is all about, rather imply that the Commissioners “are busybodies who have nothing better to do.”

There are several things that Mr. Mwaura got wrong in his critique of the Commission’s campaign. First, in pursuing its campaign against government misuse of public resources, the Commission is indeed sticking to “its core mandate of furthering the protection and promotion of human rights….” Under the International Convention of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), our government is committed to taking steps to achieve the realization of social, cultural and economic rights using the maximum resources available to it. The diversion of public funds from their intended use is not just a violation of the law; it affects the government’s ability to deliver on services and in essence inhibits the realization of human rights – particularly social and economic rights such as the right to education, and the right to housing. Moreover, the Kenyan government is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees all persons equality before the law and the equal protection of the law. For far too long, our public officials have been unaccountable for their criminal misdeeds while in office, suggesting that there is a dual system of justice – one for ordinary mwananchi and one for those who are in public office – the KNCHR is committed to ensuring that all persons are treated equally before the law.

Second, the Commission is interested in both obtaining results and making a point. Kenya has long been bedeviled by unethical politicians whose “political crimes” have remained beyond reproach. The campaign against misuse of public resources signals a call for a new culture of accountability and ethics among Kenyan politicians. By suggesting that the misuse of government vehicles by our politicians is “petty corruption” or a “relatively minor infraction,” Mr. Mwaura perpetuates exactly the status quo that most Kenyans have expressed a desire to end – the continued willingness to let our politicians get away with all sorts of crimes and misdeeds. The fact that there is nothing “petty” about misusing using government cars for non-official use should be self-evident. However, for those who are unclear about this, some clarification may be in order.

As Mr. Mwaura himself notes, Section 15 the Public Officer Ethics Act, which was enacted specifically to stem the abuse of public office and as part of the government’s “total war on corruption,” forbids the use of public resources for private purposes by all public officials. Furthermore, the improper use of government vehicles was expressly forbidden in a circular issued on 18th December 2003, by the Head of the Civil Service, Francis Muthaura. According to the circular, “government transport facilities, including those of State Corporations and Local Authorities are for official use only.”

Third, the KNCHR is carrying out a targeted campaign and is not pursuing “all wrongs, real or imagined, everywhere” – the campaign is focused specifically on government cars that are being used for non-official purposes. Contrary to Mr. Mwaura’s accusations, the Commission is engaging in solutions that are proportional to the problem. These are not cases where personal benefit is being derived from official use, or where the personal use is “incidental” to official use unless Mr. Mwaura adheres to a previously unheard of definition of “incidental.” There is nothing incidental about a government Minister arriving at a campaign rally in his or her official car, since campaigning for or against the referendum is not government business (as the Vice-President himself recently reminded us). If a public official wishes to campaign, they should use their personal or party resources and not taxpayers’ money.

Finally, it is important to reemphasize that the Commission’s effort towards increasing accountability in our political leaders is part of a concerted effort to end the prevailing culture of impunity in Kenya that has resulted in the violation of various human rights. Politicians who do not operate in a transparent or accountable manner are unlikely to respect the human rights of the citizens once in power – you cannot have one without the other. Moreover, no one has a monopoly on ensuring that the government is transparent and accountable to its people; the fact that the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority (KACA) exists does nothing to undermine the work that the KNCHR is doing and vice versa. By inculcating a respect for the rule of law and for accountability in government, and by involving the Kenyan public in our campaign through the setting up of hotlines, we are emphasizing two important pillars that ensure the protection and protecting human rights.

It is interesting, if not disappointing, to note that the very politicians who spent years vilifying the past regime for abuse of public office are now scampering to justify or excuse their illegal behavior; if they feel that they have not broken the law, let them defend themselves in court like the average accused Kenyan does. This kind of “petty corruption” that Mr. Mwaura refers to is precisely the kind of behavior that leads to “grand corruption” – maybe Mr. Mwaura should let us know where exactly we should draw the line. If working to ensure that taxpayers’ funds are put to proper use amounts to being “busybodies,” then I encourage Kenyans to help us keep busy.

33 comments to Blog = poor (wo)man’s printing press

  • The op-ed link appears to be kaput. Please revise it for complete orientation.

  • The implication ought to be that crime does not pay not withstanding the unbridled extreme ideologues that see it as the nature of the Kenya we live in. Forget public bravado, what say you about the rule of law? We either abide by it or face the consequences irrespective of statue. Infact there lays the problem.

    In Kenya, so goes the norm, statue bequeaths immunity and in some quarters, statue is heralded as the quintessential passport to anything and everything, forget the means by which that is achieved. I think its fair to assert that politicians play by different merits or demerits and to argue on a common mans platform of merit is to miss the point.

    The crime, as I see it is our comfort level with incidental corruption or prejudice and acceptance of the ‘reasonable’ given the circumstances irrespective of the true nature of the law as subscribed. Furthermore, the mucky territories of right or wrong or borderline redundancy of the law as contorted by those in authority hardly inhibits even the most critical of the regime. Instead, they skate along albeit at a distance. Such is the norm so much so that recourse is deemed alien.

    The realism in a short story:
    I sat down with some high school friends at a round table, chatting away and catching up on old times as well us forging parallel ambitions. In came-I’ll call him Judas, loud, pompous, conceited yet successful in whatever the heck he does. Of the six at the table, one less fortunate classmate-I’ll call him Jonah, had been through turbulent times; I mean what’s new in Kenya. As we all settled down howling and drowning fermented wheat, Judas decided to spread his wealth and shower the table with ale waters except he left out Jonah. Finding it rather rude, I slid my drink over to Jonah only to be reprimanded by Judas for acting in kind. Before I could wonder aloud, the pompous old self that is Judas made it clear that Jonah is not successful and his joblessness was rather due to his limited inabilities and more so his ‘position’ in society-fate. Trust me I’d had it; needless to say I excused myself for good.

    Well, we all know a Judas or two. Now imagine Judas as a policy maker in the corridors of power or corporate boardrooms. Well guess what, he is and a Young Turk at that. That’s the Kenya we live in……………….! Shameless, unabated cruelty or simply lost.

  • Oh, dear, yet another person whose letters the Nation will not print. And, unlike mine, you make perfectly logical arguments, based on actual documentation.I tell you, we need a pseudo-magazine called “letters to Kenya.”

    Mwaura’s reaction seems all too typical of the, “it used to be worse” school of political and economic development.

    I am so on board with KNCHR! I’m waiting to see if anything will come of the recent report on government transport, because, you know, every minister needs to travel like Britney Spears.

    It seems that many of us are in the non-publishable letters predicament. I suggest we take up Steve’s offer (especially if you are prolific letter writer).

  • Mymmoh

    You made a very good point and we are reading it. I have been a victim of Nation’s and Standards ” will not print” articles too. I was however telling them off about misinformation and under researched posts. Which I think you were doing too. Only you pointed out they were trivializing important issues. Point being, there’s a pattern here as to “how not to get your articles printed by the newspapers”. That’s ok, pundit. Blog away. We’re reading this and I personally agree with your sentiments.

    Save your letters in case the “Letters to Kenya” idea takes off…

  • quoting Keguro
    “Oh, dear, yet another person whose letters the Nation will not print. And, unlike mine, you make perfectly logical arguments, based on actual documentation.I tell you, we need a pseudo-magazine called “letters to Kenya.”

    I have been following this thread for a while and I am happy to see the direction that it is going in. If you are serious about this ( starting a ( letters to Kenya type magazine), let me know. I would be glad to initially participate by setting up and maintaining an online edition.

    Let’s take this idea and run with it… we could even allow for anon letters…sort of like Post Secret (http://postsecret.blogspot.com/). Could you work on a beta version? We can use the KBW to publicize it etc…

  • OK people. My thoughts.

    I am not a letter writer so do not expect much on this front from me. It seems to me however that for a forum like this to work, it will have to be moderated to give it a a decent signal/noise ratio. Unmoderated posting will make it just another one of the multitude of Kenyan sites out there filled with tons of junk to wade through before one can find a gem worth reading.

    I suggest:
    – vet/edit all letters before posting. Not edit in the sense of edit the content of the letters but edit ensuring that letters pass muster before publishing. If so, the letters are published as they were sent without changes.
    – allow anon posting provided the author provides a valid contact ( email address ) which will NOT be published

    Thats it.

    Let me know what you think. I will work on finding out about domains and layout then get back to y’all.

    In total agreement with you. As far as domains and layout, I like Maitha’s idea of using the Kenya Unlimited Open blog (http://www.kenyaunlimited.com/blogs/open/) That save some reinventing of the wheel and puts the space to good use. I’ll pitch the idea to the KBW admin via email.

  • Liked your response to Mwaura’s op-ed. Mwaura’s is the kind of defeatist attitude that encourages and eventually midwifes grand corruption as you so eloquently pointed out. While I think many Kenyans did not see KNCHR’s quest as that much of a priority, Mwaura went overboard by sprinkling his article with what amounted to insults and belittlement of the Commission, and the “Nation” should have been objective enough to run your response (equal time.) Now, about the “Letters to Kenya” idea, superb! I normally get some items printed by the “Cutting Edge” but there’s not much space there.

  • good idea to make more use of the KBW space , the open blog has been lying idle for a long while now

  • Ory..you make too much sense. Perhaps Mwaura’s thought process represents a sort of naivety that enables corruption in Kenya to take root and thrive..the fact that some wrongs are viewed as not worth pursuing. What I get from reading his article is a sense of concern about the KNCHR stretching itself too thin pursuing what he deems petty corruption issues while institutionalized corruption continues to kill ordinary wananchi more than the effect of actions for which he criticizes the commision for pursuing with such zeal. I guess in all fairness I think you are both right (although Mwaura’s article was more of an attack on the KNCHR rather than a point of concern raised – but i’ll take it in the spirit I hope it was written), fundamentally we’d like an organization that pursues corruption and seeks to bring to justice the perpetrators however small the ‘crime’ is (or is perceived to be) wherever it may be. At the same time we also welcome reasonable logic that the watchdog pursues crimes which our judicial machinery can succesfully prosecute -merely pointing out incidents in the public eye does little in the way of enforcing laws since the perpetrators are not in a court of law and the body is not enacted to enforce the law anyway, rather supplement the KACA and provide the judiciary with sufficient evidence to help enforce it : this I think it does/hope it will do by doing just what it promised, take the fools to court if the AG is not interested . That’s just my 10 cents worth.

  • Osas

    Did the Nation ever answer your submission at all, Ory (and be it only with a single-line rjection slip “We regret, but…”)?

    I am asking, because in my experience, Kenyxan journalists and editors have a nasty habit of never answering emails and inquiries. And that isn’t limited to the “Nation”, alas.


    Answer my submission? Hahaha. Very few establishments answer emails in Kenya…not just journalists.

  • Osas

    The one establishment that immediately answered an inquiry was KACC. Most others never did. Little wonder that my friend (whom I quoted in anoter comment) now works right there. 😛


  • A very good piece too bad it couldnt overcome the politics that is Kenyan journalism.

  • Well said,

    Pitty the Nation didn’t publish it. Then again it could just be a sign of Mr. Muaura’s inability come up with a sufficient rebutle.



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