Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Who Will Emerge Kenya's Prezzo in '07?

By Onyango Oloo in Nairobi

It is about nine minutes to nine on this Tuesday morning, this second last day of a warm tropical February 2007 and I have just finished listening to the BEST live radio interview in Kenya that I have encountered since I relocated back to my pays natal at the tail end of October 2005.

I am referring to the fifty minutes of absolutely wonderful, unedited, free flowing encounter with Germany-based Kenyan revolutionary, poet, writer, and renowned Kiswahili scholar

Abdilatif Abdalla
in a warm, revealing, politically conscious conversation on Radio Citizen.

The author of Sauti ya Dhiki, Utenzi wa Maisha ya Adamu na Hawaa, Kenya Twendapi? and

other literary and political classics was in his element, retracing the history of Kenya’s anti-imperialists struggles (overt and covert); skewering the mainstream politicians in government and opposition; puncturing holes in the much vaunted 5.8% “growth” (he says he will start believing there is growth when he is told that the poor person who has to wait for his one shirt to dry before wearing a clean shirt now has a second one) ; bigging up Mwakenya and other socialist oriented political formations-registered and unregistered; denouncing tribalism, nepotism and other backward vices; allaying fears that Sheng will corrode Kiswahili Sanifu and refusing to put a time-line on his permanent return to the country of his birth.

What a fresh gust of progressive air! What a wonderful blast of political optimism!

And what a marker, a pointer, a milestone of how far Kenyans have come in terms of freedom of expression!

As Abdilatif himself observed, that interview would have been unthinkable a mere decade ago- because every single word that the poet-activist uttered would have been tagged “seditious” by the powers that be. What is even more incredible is that this interview was being carried over the state-friendly Radio Citizen-hardly a bastion of the opposition.

Before Dr. Alfred “Goebbels” Mutua rushes to recruit Onyango Oloo as the latest prize catch Kibaki propagandist, let me hasten to add that this expanded democratic space has NADA to do with the policies of the Kibaki administration which is more well known to me as the employer of the fascist Internal Security minister and the bully that thwacks peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators, often not hesitating to open fatal, unfriendly fire on its own former supporters who voted it to power in the year 2002.

Rather, the space that allows an Abdilatif Abdalla to go on the public airwaves and extol the virtues of Mwakenya and other former proscribed underground movements has to do with blood, with sweat and with sacrifice of unbowed patriots like Ngugi wa Thiongo, Micere Mugo, Abdilatif Abdalla, Adongo Ogony, Mwandawiro Mghanga, Karimi Nduthu and many, many, many other wazalendo who spoke truth to power, endured police torture, torrid prison conditions and debilitating exile keeping theirs eyes firmly locked on the Kenyan democratic prize.

The just concluded Radio Citizen February 27, 2007 interview with the man whose friends, comrades, relatives and colleagues sometimes refer to as Atifu rekindles the sentiments I had expressed in an essay I wrote way back in November 2002 which I extract as follows:

Cynicism is a luxury I cannot afford.

What keeps me going after decades of working with fellow compatriots and progressive activists around the world for social change is the conviction that fighting for a New Kenya is still a worthwhile endeavour; that at the end of the long night that Ngugi wa Thiong’o talked about, there will indeed be a bright new dawn in our nation; that iniquity, inequality, corruption, sloth and social decadence are not the prescribed destinies for millions, whether in Kenya or elsewhere around the world; that it is possible to organize a successful social transformation process in this very country of ours and turf out the notorious Kenyan political crooks, swindlers and charlatans; that the day of reckoning for assorted local tyrants and unconvicted despots can not be put off indefinitely.

Indeed, taking inspiration from the South African poet Dennis Brutus, we soldier on with stubborn hope, not oblivious to the gargantuan hurdles and realistic of the myriad challenges ahead of us, with our ideological foes making futile attempt after futile attempt to construct roadblocks to our prospects of overcoming ingrained reactionary obduracy to national renewal in Kenya...

Sometimes one must admit though, that this resilient optimistic vision and hopeful world view is very difficult to maintain in the face of a world increasingly dominated by a notorious global bully from the west and in light of the repeated disappointments from former comrades and once upon a time political colleagues and fellow travelers who decided, after decades of keeping vigil at the barricades, that it was easier to sell three quarters of their conscience to their former tormentors while making a half-hearted gesture at sustaining the flickering flame that once blazed in youthful and zealous eyes.

Surrounded by burned out ex-revolutionaries, bombarded by a shrill triumphalist screeching tinged with xenophobic and tribal ranting, it is tempting to throw in the towel; it is inviting to walk away from the activist trenches to a safer petit-bourgeois demi-world of skeptical by-standers, suburban social climbing fence-sitters washing their opportunistic hands with a supplicant’s sigh and a traitor’s shrug with the tepid, thread-bare excuse:

“ I tried, I gave it my best, let others take it from here”-

escaping their rueful sold out lips even as the Kenyan wananchi continue to meander towards an uncertain political horizon.

What tempers these temporary vacillations however is the glaring reality that one has to soldier on, one has to keep fighting against all odds, against the snide side swipes; one has to continue struggling, working tenaciously for the eventual realization of the national democratic goals that made some of us forego mainstream conformity for revolutionary disobedience…”

For the last week or so the Nairobi based newspapers and the two main Kenyan television stations have been more than obsessed with the wrangling and infighting apparently raging on within ODM-K and NARC-K despite protestations to the contrary by their respective leading lights.

To be sure, part of the hullabaloo is pure media hyperbole and bombast.

Part of it is impish digs by spinners from the opposing camps.

A fraction is misdirected mischief as in the cyber squatting incident when some internet prankster tried to play havoc with the websites of Kalonzo Musyoka, ODM-K and NARC-Kenya respectively.

Last night I saw an interview clip on KBC’s Channel One of ODM-K State House aspirant Ms. Nazlin Umar castigating some of the interim officials of ODM for cheer-leading for “one candidate”- a thinly veiled reference to Raila Odinga and his supporters.

In the meantime I see the resident media pundits on television and in the newspaper columns giddy and dizzy with their recycled takes on the political situation.

It is frustrating, that a lot of what passes for political analysis in our country rarely ventures beneath the surface with many “observers” remaining virtual clones and lazy copy cats of each other.

Anyways, this is not a slag piece so let me go ahead and give my own take on the internal contradictions in the stables of the alleged two main race horses.

Tempting as it may be to zoom in on the psychological profiles of the Kalonzos, Railas, Kivuthas, Kituyis, Kibakis, Mungatanas, Muites and Karuas et al, it may be more fruitful to locate all these tussles within a context underpinned by the ongoing transformations in Kenya’s political economy.

A Sri Lankan activist/poet/radio journalist friend and mentor that I met in Toronto in the late 1980s never tired of drumming into me that if I wanted to understand what was on the front pages, I should first rush to the business section.

Unsurprisingly, all the hot, sexy news on the front pages (at least in Kenya) more often than not revolve around the latest political bombshell, scandal or fall out.

We rarely bother to seek any correlation, if any between the latest political cat fight and the latest reading from the Nairobi Stock Exchange.

Is there a connection in the first place?

The dialectical and historical materialists out there are no doubt smiling indulgently as they shrug their collective shoulders at my very rudimentary prod. Those connections after all, form the bread and butter of their intellectual infrastructure.

To other thinkers reared on the pap of liberal discourse, they detect a detour in a supposedly doctrinaire direction.

Well, never mind their carping and hear me out instead.

I want to analyze the inter/intra contradictions within and across the Kenyan political establishment by locating these within an economic and historical context.

Without understanding what drives Kenyan politicians to seek the highest office in the land, one cannot understand their gambits, ripostes, about turns and other flip flops.

Without wearing a historian's thinking cap one will not understand why politician X who used to be in Y camp is today veering towards Z.

The most fundamental thing for my readers to grasp is that the current kinyanganyiro for political power is based, NOT on so called “blind ambition”, apparent “insatiable greed” or congenital “tribalism” or even rapacious “corruption” but rather a very rational, sober and determined effort to be in a strategic position to loot and plunder Kenyan national and natural resources in the immediate and mid term future.

Many of the country’s leading lights are acutely aware that Kenya is on the cusp of prolonged economic growth and prosperity that will propel our country almost into a situation comparable to South Africa’s sub-imperialist regional clout if present trends hold into the next eight to fifteen years.

To put it more crudely, our top politicians know, from their internal economic intelligence gathering that Kenya as a country is about to strike pay dirt.

Where are the indicators to back up my claims?

First of all, we are about to earn, as a country the “The East and Central African peace dividend” as neighbouring countries long tainted by bloody conflicts enter into a period of sustained stability and tranquility. I am thinking of countries like the Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As a country, we have had a head start because our relative “stability” and believe it or not, our relatively more entrenched infrastructure-pot holes and endemic road carnage not withstanding.

Officially, we are seen as “honest brokers”- despite the evidence of our meddling and partisanship in Somalia and other places. The US based correspondent for the Daily Nation, a Mr. Kelley citing a New York Times piece regurgitated what many Nairobi observers already knew- that the Kenyan authorities were in cahoots with the CIA and the American military during the recent onslaught against the Union of Islamic Courts.

Names like General Sumbeiyo, Ambassador Kiplagat, Presidential hopeful Kalonzo Musyoka and even former kleptocratic dictator Daniel arap Moi are counted among the region’s respected peace makers.

Never mind the contents of the Akiwumi report for a split second…

In any case, I started arguing almost four years ago that the Kenyan political leadership has more than an altruistic interest in pushing regional peace efforts in the East and Central African region.

Apart from being obvious local conduits for US led imperialist (and increasingly Chinese) ideological and geopolitical objectives, our Kenyan leaders-many of whom have extensive comprador business empires-can savour the truism of Sir Cecil Rhodes’ infamous sneering quip:

“Philanthropy is good; philanthropy at 5% is even better.”

Of course the famous imperialist conquistador is more notorious for his brutally honest statement:

“We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labor that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories.”

For example, looking at the emerging scenario in Somalia which neighbouring state has more leverage over Col. Yusuf’s US-backed neo-colonial fascist regime than the authorities in Nairobi?

How many Kenyan politicians have cashed in on the long presence of the SPLA leadership in our country?

In 2003, a somewhat senior Kenyan public administrator confided in me that Lokichoggio was fast becoming a boom town with real properties in that once sleepy township being gobbled up by top SPLA leaders- and the likes of Nicholas Kipyator Biwott.

By now, at least according to one of my good journalist pals, it is a very poorly kept secret that ODM-K’s Raila Odinga has oil interests in the Sudan.

Besides, we need not confine ourselves to the high flying luminaries among the Kenyan mainstream political stratum.

Hundreds, if not thousands of Kenyan professionals, civil society players and business people are resettling in southern Sudan in droves because that once conflicted region is being transformed into an oasis of bustling economic activities.

Kenyan-based construction, energy, banking,wholesale/retail, security, telecommunications and related infrastructure firms are at a comparative advantage versus other companies from the region to be the most effective junior (read comprador) partners for the slew of Chinese and Western transnationals flooding to the Sudan and the other soon to be post-conflict states in the region.

One can extend the same prognosis and projection to the DRC once a peace deal is hammered out with the recent ascendancy of the Kabila civilian government.

Now when I said earlier that Kenya is on the cusp of long term economic growth and prosperity, I was NOT referring to the pie in the sky hallucinations of pro-Kibaki rabid cheer leaders and veteran court poets who point to the mythical 5.8% leap in GDP or the 2030 phantasmagoria which is unsurprisingly slated to be realized AFTER all its major authors, architects and proponents are residing comfortably in their fetid decades-old graves.

Nor am I talking about the ephemeral IPO madness deluding misguided wananchi that if they purchase these many shares from East African Cables, Ken Gen or Safaricom then they are on track to emerge as the next Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Prince So and So from Saudi Arabia.

The fact of the matter is that these stock market transactions are just marginally better than purchasing sweepstakes tickets or throwing down a wad of a thousand shillings notes to a recognized karata playing trickster on the back alleys of Nairobi.

Investing on some of the financial options offered at the NSE is largely speculative. Many of these high-flying stocks are grossly over-valued and sooner or later some of our wannabe “capitalists” will be locking themselves up in their lavatories to cry their eyes out before flushing themselves down the loo after realizing that they have wiped out all their life savings with nothing to show for it. I know at least three, fairly intelligent Kenyan friends of mine (one of them is a doctor who scored straight As from kindergarten to university) who confessed to me that they are stuck with essentially worthless stocks that they were goaded into purchasing at the height of the frenzied hoopla and media hype regarding one well company that I will NOT mention.

I do agree with those people who have said that many of these IPOs are well-calculated gimmicks to raise money for Kibaki’s re-election effort.

Here is the scary downside:

If you are feeding the Trans Century cabal with your tens of thousands because you feel they are a safe bet because their major handlers are close to the Kibaki kitchen cabinet and political elite, what happens if Kibaki and NARC-K or NARC whatever is trounced at the 2007 elections?

You will be holding thousands of useless pieces of paper in your safe by mid next year. If anything you are contributing to inflationary trends that may help some magnates and their financial empires built on quick sand collapse even faster than they should.

I am also NOT ruling out the possibility that some of the free flowing millions being “invested” in the stock exchange is little more than drug and illicit cash from well-connected and protected political tycoons being cleaned up before being reinvested into apparently more legit business endeavours.

Well if you think I am overstating this, please go ahead and BITE ME.

So I am NOT talking about over valued IPOs, dubiously expanding financial empires, badly disguised political fund-raising and shady money laundering operations as evidence of a robust Kenyan economy.

Rather, I was contemplating the fact that recent natural resource findings and “discoveries” are harbingers of a rosy economic future, certainly for some rich people but hopefully for most Kenyans if we get our political act right. I will confine myself to the ongoing plans to mine titanium in Kwale and the hushed up oil exploration and drilling that is taking place in large chunks of northern Kenya and off the coast of Lamu.

Oil is not called “black gold” for naught.

Another marker is the laying of the undersea fibre-optic infrastructure to facilitate the broadband revolution and innovation sweeping the telephony and communication sectors.

Sooner or later (and I think it is already underway) some smart Kenyan entrepreneurs will cash in on two other things:

One, a big fraction of our highly educated, but largely unemployed young adult population to follow India, Senegal and South Africa in attracting outsourcing contracts thrown up by the vagaries of the globalized world capitalist economy and

Two, responding to the endemic health crisis engendered by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. My stay in Kenya so far has convinced me that more and more Kenyans Living With HIV/AIDS are throwing away their toxic retrovirals as they seek safer, healthier and more natural herbal and nutrition based remedies and supplements to boost their chronically compromised immune systems. One indicator of this is the growing popularity of health products from Tiens, GNLD and other multi-level marketing firms.

The next Makini Super Clinic and Health Matt will be a huge Kenyan based corporation serving the East, Central, West and Southern African market selling mass produced herbal capsules, crates of natural fruit juices, bags and bags of amaranth (terere) flour and other products increasingly consumed by Kenyans living with HIV and AIDS right across the country.

Call me kooky and demented, but I consider the above two paragraphs as 100% FREE INVESTMENT ADVICE TO KENYAN BUSINESS PEOPLE CRAZY ENOUGH TO THINK OUTSIDE THE CLICHÉD BOX.

I predict that some Kenyan Biz Whiz somewhere will seize this once in a lifetime market opportunity before the beginning of 2009.

As the brand builders of the West aver, if you want to build a brand new brand, you have to first create a unique category that only your product fits in and ANTICIPATE, rather than FOLLOW trends…

Kenyans (including yours truly) often yak about John Michuki, the intolerant cabinet minister with a home-guard past. I think we should be keener on deciphering the business moves of Michuki the old-money billionaire country golf club owning magnate and his cozy ties with Chinese big money. He is ahead of the curve in terms of realizing another source of future wealth in this country.

Speaking of ministers, in future the most POWERFUL cabinet position will be that of Energy.

Putting away my management consultant’s hat for a few minutes, let me revert to the kernel of this essay.

My argument is that the expanded business opportunities in the offing are the BIGGEST drivers of the vicious tussle for political power in Kenya today.

Being a neo-colonial state wedded to the diktats of the capitalist market, the political contestations that are taking place in Kenya today are predicated on the fact that whoever controls the levers of the state puts them as at a competitive advantage when it comes to minting trillions over the next few years.

If you accept the basis of my argument, then it is very easy to discern and dissect the wrangles within NARC-Kenya and over across at ODM-Kenya.

Within NARC-Kenya it is all about creating dynastic rule anchored in Central Kenya among the Gikuyu comprador bourgeoisie.

Saitoti’s challenge to Kituyi is NOT personal; it is all about ensuring the supremacy of a mundu wa nyoomba to succeed Kibaki- that is if Kibaki succeeds in the first place to retain his bed at State House after the 2007 polls. There is a certain cynical arrogance among the so called Mount Kenya Mafia political elite that you can BUY political power in this country to sustain tribal based rule at the central government level.

A crude and quixotic manifestation of this was the recent shower of bank-notes that rained down in Ikolomani courtesy of one “NARC-Kenya activist” and mysterious millionaire Livondo.

Many Kenyans suspect that the recently launched Youth Fund is just an upgraded version of the YK92 experience in political bribery.

Unfortunately for the barons and thinkers of NARC-Kenya it would appear that the foxy Kibaki has realized that NARC-Kenya is a leaking vessel that will most certainly drown him at the polling stations should he decide to captain it.

Sadly for Kibaki also, he has alienated the core constituencies that make up DP, FORD-Kenya, NPK and other government friendly parties that if he now decides to lurch over to the original NARC, the stench of opportunistic betrayal will leave a swarm of hungry house-flies trailing him wherever he goes.

And speaking of NARC, Kibaki should remember that you do not step in the same river twice-NARC is no longer NARC without the LDP faction which formed a sizable component of it back in the day...

Kibaki is basically an ex president already-unless things completely unravel over at the ODM-K edifice.

Which is a possibility that we should NOT rule out.

Despite the brave façade of unity erected for mass media and public consumption, the same high economic stakes that I mentioned are driving the internal wars within ODM-Kenya.

Buoyed by opinion polls tagging him as the “most acceptable and appealing candidate” Mwingi MP Kalonzo Musyoka may throw a petulant fit and trudge over to the Third Force to undercut what will be seen as an insurmountable march to power by Lang’ata powerhouse Raila Odinga.

It flabbergasts me that a formation touting itself as a credible alternative to the Kibaki status quo DOES NOT seem to have TRANSPARENT and democratic methods of executing the simple task of choosing a presidential candidate to face Kibaki at the polls later this year.

The key to the solution will be the moves, NOT by Raila OR Kalonzo, but by the OTHER Presidential aspirants, ESPECIALLY Ruto, Mudavadi and Uhuru Kenyatta- in that order.

William Ruto holds the key that will unlock the impasse. The custodian of the sizable Rift Valley vote, the eventual ODM-K Presidential nominee MUST KISS HIS KALENJIN ass to succeed.

Musalia Mudavadi CANNOT be the ODM-K candidate, but will turn out to be the second kingmaker who decides whether it is Kalonzo or Raila who becomes the ODM torch bearer. He has clout due to the leverage of the SWING VOTE in western Kenya. If Kibaki manages to woo him away, there will be serious obstacles for the ODM in winning the elections.

Uhuru Kenyatta should NOT be underestimated, despite his current standing in his home province and among his kith and kin that make up Kenya’s largest ethnic group. In terms of voting, the Agikuyu are nothing if not PRAGMATIC. In 2002, Uhuru was the “Gikuyu candidate” with Kibaki the so called “Raila stooge”. Voters in Central Province and in the Mount Kenya region read which way the wind was blowing and voted for the NATIONAL candidate, who happened to be Kibaki before he took over Uhuru’s mantle. Ironically and sadly, Uhuru Kenyatta is probably the LEAST TRIBAL of all the presidential hopefuls and yet he is imprisoned by his famous last name and his geographic and ethnic origins which have probably knocked him out of contention given the orgy of tribal appointments that have characterized the Kibaki regime.

Najib Balala KNOWS he will not be the ODM-K nominee. He is playing a strategic game to ensure that he is a powerful cabinet minister in the next government to protect his business interests.

Ditto for Dr. Julia Ojiambo.

In terms of her RHETORIC, Ms. Nazlin Umar is the most “left wing” of the ODM-K aspirants. However some of my sources within the Kenyan Muslim community suspect that she is an AMERICAN Trojan Horse within the opposition and therefore quite dangerous. Given the systemic sexism and patriarchy in Kenya’s mainstream politics she does NOT have a chance in hell in making a dent. She seems to have alienated the big boys in ODM-K so it is doubtful that she will bag even the consolation prize of being a mere MP.

It would appear, as of the time of writing that Raila Odinga has probably managed to out organize and out strategize his rivals in ODM-K. The question is whether he can risk the defection of Kalonzo Musyoka to the Ngilu/Kombo fronted “Third Force” or even horror of horrors the Biwott Moi backed Kibaki camp.

Whatever the case, whoever turns out to be respective protagonists/antagonists facing each other come the end of the year, they will NOT have transcended the naked struggle for power. Their political vehicles will remain just that- electoral machines to catapult them into the State House.

That is why the MOST IMPORTANT TASK for progressive Kenyans, especially the socialists and anti-imperialists out there is to create and build a NATIONAL democratic movement for progressive change which enters into the 2007 election campaign NOT to wrest power, but to MAINSTREAM issued based politics as the sine qua non for deepening the transformation process in this country.

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Matheri's Demise & Crime's Further Rise.....

Onyango Oloo Offers a Commentary on Crime and Punishment in Kenya

There has been a catharsis of near epileptic proportions throughout Nairobi and its environs since the news broke on Tuesday, February 20th 2007, that the notorious Simon Matheri Ikere, alleged to be linked to several murders and violent robberies across the country, had been shot dead by over one hundred police officers.

In macabre scenes of public revelry, the cadaver of the infamous brigand has been

photographed, gawked at and spat upon.

Many Kenyans see the demise of Matheri as a form of release, a redemption of sorts, a respite from the endless orgy of crime reports rekindling widespread trepidation about insecurity.

Sadly, the latest grisly slaying of the latest grisly slayer will not prevent the emergence of the next grisly slayer.

This country has had its Rastas, Nugus, Wacucus, Cheruyoits, Musevos and Matheris who have come and gone with predictable succession.

It seems that every six months there is a brand new most wanted criminal.

Largely because of my strong anti-fascist principles, I have stayed away from the clamour for harsher law and order measures to curb and curtail rampant crime and run away insecurity in Kenya.

I have been mute struck to hear both Mwai Kibaki and William Ruto, not to mention the blood-thirsty John Michuki, reading from the very same script in urging tougher measures against alleged criminals in Kenya.

The Kenyan president was quoted by the local media advocating shoot to kill strictures.

William Ruto penned an op-ed piece calling for the military to be involved in crime fighting. He later repeated those remarks at a Rotary Club meeting in Westlands.

Ironically, it was a retired senior military officer who cautioned against this draconian suggestion- pointing out correctly that members of the armed forces are NOT trained in police methods, but rather are more adept at the business of exerting military force.

What is overlooked in all this warlike posturing is that it is actually illegal for the police to execute criminal suspects with impunity.

For instance,

Matheri’s widow is insisting that she had convinced her spouse to voluntarily and peacefully give himself up to avoid a bloodbath that would have threatened the lives of their innocent children. She says that he was interrogated for about a half hour before gun shots rang out. (See the accounts in The Standard, February 21, 2007 p.2 columns 5 and 6; also, Daily Nation of the same date, pp 2-3. She also repeated the same story on the 9 pm news on KTN, Wednesday, January 21st dramatizing how Matheri had come out with his arms clasped over his head in an obvious gesture of surrender to the waiting cops).

If these accounts are credible, then there are obvious questions and concerns as to the manner in which the suspected violent felon met his end.

Already, according to a VOA story filed from Nairobi, human rights groups in Kenya are castigating the police for the gangland style execution of Simon Matheri Ikere and casting serious doubts on the official version that the most wanted gangster was even armed.

Surely with 100 cops surrounding the humble Athi River dwelling, it was more than possible to apprehend Matheri alive.

It seems incredible that the police would choose to snuff out the life of a suspect who may have provided valuable leads in cracking other unsolved crimes-had he been preserved alive that is.

The Rambo style cutting down of Matheri Ikere plays well to the public galleries- the same galleries that salivate at rowdy lynchings and burnings of mobile phone suspected thieves.

These machismo forays hardly attack the crime problem at its roots.

For instance, is there any truth in the frequent allegation that many of the crooks shot dead by cops are either NOT crooks to begin with, or if they are, that they know far too much about the complicity of elements of the police force in rampant crime?

It would appear that when the Kenyan police want to, there have little trouble tracking down and grabbing their suspects. The use of GPRS technology, criminal informers and other crime busting tools are certainly NOT novel things, Nairobi press reports notwithstanding.

This leads me to conjecture that perhaps members of the Utumishi Kwa Wote force may be going through some internal turmoil leaving them demoralized and unmotivated in crime fighting.

There have been persistent reports of an acrimonious feud pitting the current police commissioner on the one hand versus elements in the criminal investigation department on the other hand- a face off traced to the salad days of ousted CID chief and Atur Brothers ally Kamau.

The endemic corruption in the judiciary that sees some of the most notorious criminals off the hook after a bribe or two can not be seen as a great incentive for police officers who want to remove dangerous hoodlums from the streets.

For five years back in the 1980s I was a political prisoner at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.

My last year in that prison saw me further locked up in a prison within a prison as a Special Watch inmate in Block E which was the designated “punishment block” housing the escapees, the mentally deranged, the hard core convicts and those like us who were deemed to be too politically volatile to be allowed to mingle with the general prison population.

My room mates-when I was briefly moved from solitary confinement-were young Kenyan men and other young people from other countries, in their early to mid twenties.

If you did not know what had led to their incarceration you would have been forgiven if you mistook them for secondary school leavers or young workers whiling away the weekend.

But wait until you heard their tales.

I vividly remember this short young man who was barely out of his teens gleefully recount how they had raided some homes in the Huruma neighbourhood and how he had personally and casually cut open the womb of a pregnant woman in his quest to steal a radio of all things!

His colleagues boasted of the number of people they had killed.

All of them were convinced of one thing:

In future, they would make sure there were NO witnesses left alive to identify them in court.

Some complained that they decided to become more hard core criminals after they had been framed and railroaded to jail. They were quite bitter with the rich because the rich seemed to get away with the most serious offences because of their deep pockets.

Others were contemptuous of underworld colleagues who engaged in petty crimes. They urged their counterparts to step up to the big league and engage in audacious armed robberies.

Let me spare you other gory details.

I kept wondering what had made all these young people to derail.

Several were of above average intelligence.

What condemned them to a life in crime?

Was it because of poor upbringing and bad influences as society’s moralists insisted?

Was it a simple question of poverty?

Why then were the majority of the poor law abiding citizens?

Here is an interesting factoid:

Many of the young criminals also believed in a shoot to kill credo. They believed that to survive they had to be ruthless with everybody- including children and other innocent bystanders.

I keep wondering after all these years how many of those fellow inmates morphed into future Nugus, Rastas and Matheris.

Did our Kenyan society, in barricading them in those festering and overcrowded penitentiary cages rehabilitate them or harden their criminal resolve?

From the twenty first century vantage point of my late 20th century prison reveries from a quarter century ago I see that our culture as a society from all sides of the law and order debate is suffused through and through with a blood-thirsty violent mindset.

Village dwellers and urban residents believe in stoning suspects to death because they believe nothing will happen to thugs once they are arrested.

Cops shoot to kill either because they believe also that the corrupt judiciary will let the suspects off the hook or because the people they kill are too well known to them.

Politicians from both sides of the political divide appeal to the basest demagogic instincts simply to stay relevant and win re-election.

I would want to believe that Kenyans can transcend these throwbacks to the primitive eye for an eye tooth for a tooth laws of the jungle of bygone eons.

Politicians rooting for a shoot to kill policy should extend that to their political colleagues who plan and execute the Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing scams, criminal offences that impact on a lot more people than all the crimes of the Matheris quadrupled. Gun down the Pattnis, the Saitotis and the Mwirarias if you really believe that dangerous criminals do not deserve to live for one more second.

Of course the above paragraph was written tongue firmly in cheek but what I am appealing for is a more nuanced and sober approach to the nagging question of crime and punishment in this violent nation called Kenya.

The cliché goes that an eye for an eye leaves all of us blind.

Let us go back to what chain of events transformed the Matheris into the headline hogging ogres we meet in the media every day.

Let us create an environment where our law enforcement officers feel empowered.

Let us step back from the Neanderthal shoot to kill blathering.

Let us find out how societies like Cuba have all but eliminated serious and violent crimes- let us find out how they treat their criminals once they are convicted and jailed.

And please let us forget this nonsense reasoning that blames amnesties and prison reforms for the upsurge of crime.

That demented notion is ignorant and twisted!!

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya