Wednesday, June 08, 2005

To Prime Minister TB on the Eve of the Kenyan Budget Speech

Onyango Oloo Writes to the British Head of Government...

Dear TB:(Can I call you that, or is that way too plebian?)

I have been browsing through your official website.

It is rather nifty, I must say, and I note with satisfaction that it is designed with a link that allows strangers such as myself to email you directly and if one were to go by the pledge posted at the entrance of that link, I am guaranteed a response from your own hand by first thing tomorrow morning.


I forgot to introduce myself.

My name is Onyango Oloo and I am a left-leaning Kenyan rabble rouser-at-large currently living in Montreal, Quebec.

Believe it or not, the reason I am writing to you today, is because our Finance Minister

(the Kenyan, not the Canadian) is delivering his budget speech tomorrow(Wednesday, June 8, 2005)- a day after the giant civil servants union buckled under the pressure of state terrorism to end their six day strike for more pay and better working conditions.

You may be, understandably, quite baffled, why I am writing to you over there in Britain from over here in Canada about a budget speech that is being delivered in the very near future over there in Nairobi, Kenya.

Do I have my wits with me,

the geeks who screen these prime-ministerial emails before unleashing them to you may very well be pondering.

Well, let them ponder no more.

A quick spot check inside

my capacious cranium verifies that indeed, I have

ALL my marbles with me.

Still, the question was posed, so let me answer it.

Why is this Canada-based Kenyan social justice activist called Onyango Oloo writing to British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the eve of Kenya's Budget Speech?

I have two simple and straight forward answers:

1. Britain is

Kenya's former colonial ruler and one of the most powerful donors to the neo-colonial regime in Nairobi that Whitehall, in conjunction with Washington, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and other G-8 capitals control directly and indirectly. One does not have to be a 16-year veteran of the M15 to know that when Blair sneezes at 10 Downing Street, Kibaki goes into a convulsion in Muthaiga, Nairobi. Simply put, you have sufficient pull with the Kenyan authorities to the extent that realpolitik aficionados recognize you and your G-8 colleagues as the real rulers of our still dependent country of Kenya.

2. The UK has made several declarations about doing something concrete to alleviate or eradicate poverty in Africa, of which Kenya remains a part.

I hope by now you can see where I am coming from.

Just by way of précis, the gist of this communication is to exhort you to use your leverage on the NARC government to persuade them that it is retrogressive in the 21st century to balance the budget on the backs of thousands of fired public sector workers; it is immoral to mortgage the future of our country in pursuit of donor approval for draconian anti-people fiscal and monetary policies; it is inhuman to brutally suppress thousands of the same people who lined up for hours to vote you into power only three years previously; it is obscene for Kenyan cabinet ministers to preach frugality to the working people of Kenya while living like hogs on the swag swiped from state coffers; that it is comical to prance on the national political stage preening for media cameras when as a government NARC has fallen woefully short of its pre-election pledges.

To proceed.

As I mentioned at the outset, Dear Prime Minister, I have spent about half an hour browsing through your official site. One of the sections which intrigued me was the link to the AMREF website that contains the the final Communique Of The Commision For Africa Review Meeting held at the AMREF International Training Centre, Nairobi, Kenya 6—7TH June, 2005.

The meeting which wrapped earlier today(June 7, 2005) had a number of interesting recommendations that I will be touching on shortly. I will excerpt a section of the communique starting with bullet point number 5:

The Meeting called on African governments to show their clear and unambiguous support for the CfA’s report and urged them to unequivocally commit themselves to undertake the following measures:
Promote constitutionalism and rule of law in order to enhance the well-being of every African family
Increase human development through increased nationalbudget allocations
Improve political, corporate and economic governance by promoting democracy, accountability and transparency.
Promote regional integration including attention to improving infrastructure
Promote intra-African trade and trade with the rest of the world by creating an enabling environment for investment opportunities.
Maintain commitment to achieve the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and other development targets and accelerate the actions to meet the Goals.
Promote the sustainable use of natural and other resources in a manner consistent with national and regional development.
Strengthen national, regional and continental capacities for conflict prevention, resolution, and post-conflict reconstruction.
The Meeting also urged civil society and the private sector to play their role as key players in the following areas:
Implementation of the recommendations of the Report
Holding governments, donors and themselves accountable to each other
Strive to work with government to enhance good governance
Collaborate with governments to develop mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation as a means of ensuring compliance of governments and non-state actors
Increase advocacy for pro-poor social and economic policies, good governance, gender equality, HIV/AIDS awareness and protection of vulnerable and marginalized groups.
The Meeting further urged the Governments of the EU, G8 and other developed countries to undertake the following:
Cancel debt owed by African countries
Remove agricultural and export subsidies
Eliminate trade distorting barriers (tariffs and non-tariff barriers)
Facilitate value addition of African products in Africa
Promote transfer and exchange of technology between developed and African countries
Take all necessary legal and administrative measures to disallow and repatriate illicitly acquired state funds and assets
Grant aid that responds to African priorities and is untied and predictable
Fulfill ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) commitments of 0.7% of their national income immediately
Work jointly with African governments, civil society and private sector to strengthen mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the CfA Recommendations.
The Meeting urged all parties concerned in particular the AU, to put in place appropriate mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of recommendations contained in the Report.

Perusing the above, I want to make the following observations:

The Kibaki-NARC regime that you support with billions of sterling pounds from British tax payers has failed the test of "promoting constitutionalism and rule of law in order to enhance the well-being of every African family".

Three years into its mandate, the current post Moi-KANU regime has yet to deliver on its pre-election promise of a new democratic constitution within its first 100 Days in office. Or any other promises for that matter as you can see from this audit released today by the Nairobi-based Chambers of Justice.

Regarding the rule of law in Kenya, this is a precept that has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance.

As you are no doubt aware, Mr. Amos Wako, the country's Attorney General recently unleashed two nolle prosequis- one, letting

Young Thomas Cholmondeley off the hook despite his written confession that he shot a Kenya government employee dead; the other, stopping in its tracks a bid to prosecute

First Lady Lucy Kibaki on charges of assault-a crime captured on national television and flashed across the world, including, I would imagine, your own living room;

On the other points, I will leave my comments in the parking lot for a few minutes as we turn to some of the issues germane to the looming budget speech in Nairobi tomorrow(or today, depending on when you get to see this).

The 2005 Kenyan budget is being presented two or three days after the same Kenyan government brutally repulsed an attempt by public sector workers in our east African country to mount a nation-wide strike for better pay and working conditions. I have argued elsewhere, that the Kibaki government used the strike as a ruse to implement retrenchment plans from donor governments such as yours, Prime Minister Blair.

I therefore find it unconscionable for G-8 states like the UK, the USA, Japan and other EU member states to rush with cash infusions into our battered economy when this comes in the form of a bribe rewarding the leg-breaking hooliganism of the Kenyan government against the working people of Kenya. I have noticed that the EU announced a new aid package to assist the Kibaki regime.

Prime Minister, the Kenyan government has used odious and hostile anti-worker state generated propaganda, strong arm tactics and other underhand methods to distort the demands of the public sector workers and paint them in the media as heartless demons who selfishly abandoned the sick and the infirm to wither away and die.

The request for a 600% wage increase appears to be more than a mere trifle until you consider the actual salaries Kenyan public sector currently eke out a subsistence on.

Just before I sat down to compose this letter to you, I took the precaution of placing a phone call to Mombasa, the main city in the Kenyan Coast Province to speak with a very dear friend of mine. I asked her to give me her own unvarnished opinion about the strike. She responded by telling me about one of her friends-a Kenyan nurse with over 20 years experience. She told me that her nurse friend was still earning 7,000 Kenyan shillings every month(49.68158 British Pounds)- and this is a mother with children, with rent to pay and obligations that extend far beyond the nuclear family to embrace unemployed rural cousins and orphaned nephews and nieces who have lost both parents to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

How much would this nurse earn if she got a 600% pay increase?

Well, let us do the math:

7,000 times 600 divide by 100 equals 42,000 shillings every month.Or to use your currency=298.090 British Pounds. That is 681.188 Canadian dollars.

By comparision, one of those Good for NOTHING so called members of parliament who attended parliament for an average of only 57 days last year (with some of them keeping their mouths shut throughout as if they were auditioning to be Trappist Monks) "earns" a MINIMUM of 500,000 shillings every month- and this does NOT INCLUDE the hundreds of thousands of shillings claimed for travel allowance, the soft loan of 3 million shillings to purchase a gas guzzler of their own choice and a very generous mortgage to buy a palatial residence while millions of their constituents have to make do with leaking grass thatched rural huts or rusty tin roofed shanty dwellings in the teeming urban slums.

Another way of stating the same point is that one monthly salary of just one MP can pay the same nurse for a full year or approximately 12 nurses for one month(after these nurses have achieved a 600% increase on a 7,000 shilling monthly salary). And we are not even talking about how many nurses a minister could pay if they decided to forgo their salary for just one month.

Mr Prime Minister, contemplate what lies in store for the same overfed parliamentarians in tomorrow's budget as reported by the East African Standard:

Parliament and MPs will be some of the biggest beneficiaries of Finance minister David Mwiraria's budget.

Projections of the amount to be given to Parliament and MPs indicate an allocation of Sh7.2 billion. This has been described as capital and grants to Government agencies and other levels of Government, including constituency development funds.

The minister will be asking MPs to approve Sh5.6 billion for their salaries, allowances, insurance and car loans among other items under the Parliamentary Service Commission vote.

Mr Mwiraria has allocated Sh1.3 billion in allowances for the 222 MPs, Sh900 million for their local travel and Sh32 million for insurance cover.

The projections show an increase of Sh56.8 million over last year's allocation.

MPs will be getting Sh210 million for constituency offices, while Sh250 million will be used to host two major international meetings in Nairobi, the Commonwealth Speakers' meeting in January 2007 and Inter-Parliamentary Union in May next year.

The 437 employees of Parliament have been allocated Sh211.3 million in salaries, Sh104.9 million house allowance and Sh175.8 million in other allowances.

Parliamentary committees, boards and conferences have been given Sh400 million and an allocation of Sh5 million is given for HIV/Aids sensitisation, buying anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) and running the VCT centres and counselling.

The proposals contain Sh214 million for a new fire fighting system to be installed at the three buildings owned by Parliament, a new lift, printing machine and recording machines.

Parliament's debating chamber will be redesigned and refurbished at Sh500 million; there is Sh10 million to build a fly-over connecting the three Parliament buildings; and Sh50 million for renovations and adjustments to Continental House where MPs have offices.

The fly-over on Harambee Avenue is meant to make it easy for MPs and Parliament staff cross without being bothered by traffic.

MPs who have not taken advantage of their duty and interest free car loans will have access to a Sh16.5 million fund to buy vehicles. There is a provision of Sh80 million to pay duty for MPs' cars.

There is Sh52 million to cater for medical insurance for a family of up to six members.

While government ministers like William Ntimama, Newton Kulundu and David Mwiraria complain that there is not enough money to pay the civil servants, we hear that the Kenya government wants to increase military allocation to the defence department from Sh17.8 billion allotted last year to Sh23.1 billion this year-an increase of 5.3 billion shillings. Yet Kenya is NOT at war with any of its neighbours and faces NO credible security threat from within or without.

Dear Prime Minister, as I indicated just now, many of us are convinced that the draconian lunge at the Kenyan civil servants is part of a desperate attempt by the Kibaki regime to please your government and other Western donors. CNN and Reuters reported yesterday that the Kenyan government had promised donors that it would lay off 21,000 public sector workers. It would now appear as if they want to go even further and dismiss these workers without even the humane courtesy of terminal benefits and other packages that would help them during this difficult transition.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, many of us are NOT convinced that the IMF/World Bank G-8 bitter neo-liberal medicine can work to create a miracle recovery- at least we do not see it happening on the backs and on the graves of hundreds of thousands of workers.

Your own government's initiative to spur development in Africa is to some of us, a sheepish admission that the privatization, cost cutting, mass layoff agenda, followed so slavishly and loyally all over Africa- in Ghana, in Uganda, in Mozambique, in Kenya has not worked and will never work.

Kenyans and Africans are in dire need for other, shall we say, more HUMANE, more ETHICAL, more JUST, more DEMOCRATIC socio-economic alternatives other than the sickening snake oil from the discredited Bretton Woods pin striped salesmen

We commend your government for jump-starting the international discussion among the major industrialized countries that something must be done now in order for real development to take place in Africa.

But if there is to be real development, it must be based on a genuine partnership between the UK, for instance and Kenya, if we are to restrict this to two countries.

As you know, the whole discourse and debate on development is very rich in terms of the diversity of suggested approaches, interventions and recommendations, but there seems to be very little room for dissent if one posits a democratic foundation to this partnership.

In December 2002, millions of Kenyans thought they were laying this very democratic foundation when they lined up for hours(and yes, those hundreds of thousands of public sector workers were in those throngs) to turf out the 39 year old dictatorship of the former ruling party KANU.

Three years later, it is obvious that Kenyans elected a bunch of political conmen and conwomen more intent on lining their own pockets and extending their own distended tumbos( that would be tummies to you Brits) than carrying out meaningful political, economic and social reforms. We have no constitution; millions of Kenyans, especially the youth wallow in unemployment and underemployment; crime is rampant; prostitution is rife; street children walk the expanses of our urban jungles tussling with stray dogs and rats for their next meal; you get the picture...

Meanwhile, as your own outgoing high commissioner

Sir Edward Clay loudly articulated, the Kibaki regime continues to coddle cabinet ministers implicated in grand graft; men and women of conscience like John Githongo and Jane Kiragu have resigned from high profile anti-corruption bodies while courageous anti-vice crusaders like Gladwell Otieno have been hounded from their positions by powerful tycoons who have the President's ear.

On the eve of the 2005 budget Kenyans are wondering where the Kenya government would save more money- from the civil servants or from within its own rarefied ranks.

How many ministers were tycoons before they entered parliament? How many of these tycoons need an extra gas guzzler or a new loan to buy yet another home?

How many of these members of parliament NEED half a million shillings to spend every month when a hard working nurse with twenty years experience is given the choice between subsisting on a 7,000 shilling monthly salary or getting the sack if she dares to ask for a salary increase to cover the rising cost of living?

Mr Prime Minister, this is the government you have chosen to patronize. What is more odious to some of us, this is the regime which hopes to win even more brownie points by attacking its own employees, nay, its own voters so that they can be in your good books as having achieved the milestone of trimming the civil service payroll.

Dear Prime Minister Tony Blair- this is unjust, this is obscene, this pornographic; this will NOT make Kenya "develop" any faster; this will, on the contrary, ensure that Kenya sinks deeper and deeper into underdevelopment.

Prime Minister, when you talk of development in Kenya and Africa, to which segment of the population do you hinge your hopes?

Is it to the tiny sliver of self-seeking politicians, businessmen, technocrats and other elements of the comprador and petit-bourgeois largely urbanized elite; or is it the majority of the segment we call the wananchi, most of them living in the countryside and the teeming urban slums hankering for a better life?

Will you tomorrow turn a blind eye to the culprits fingered in the Goldenberg, Anglo-Leasing and other major scandals because they are working day and night to retrench thousands of workers or will you seek out new development partners among the Kenyan civil society and democratic formations locked out by the greedy and selfish gate keepers from the centers of political power in Kenya?

Dear Prime Minister Tony Blair, I would be very gruntled (to paraphrase

P.G. Wodehouse, the favourite author of our incumbent President) if you would respond to some of these questions.


David Onyango Oloo
Secretary, Kenya Democracy Project
Montreal, Quebec


WM said...

FANTASTIC!! I love "gruntled". And the pictures...too much! Ati wodehouse? And the marbles!Brilliant, this. Simply brilliant.

WM said...

I've changed my mind. I just read the whole thing again. This is genius.

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