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NDEMO: We can build better governance in Africa

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By BITANGE NDEMO
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It was Alan Dershowitz, an American lawyer and academic, who made the following penetrative observation in relation to governance:

We all learn in school that the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government must check and balance each other. But other non-state institutions must participate in this important system of checks and balances as well. These checking institutions include the academy, the media, religious institutions and NGOs.

In Kenya, while the executive and the media have in the past few months been vocal on the issue of corruption, all the other institutions in Kenya that are supposed to support or disapprove allegations by other institutions have largely remained silent.
The tragedy is that no one questions the veracity or seeks to establish the impact of corruption anymore. The academia, just like a street vendor, relies on rumours to tell part of their story on corruption.

If the academia bothered to understand the relationship between corruption and economic development or the impact of corruption and institutional efficiency, they would help intensify the fight against corruption and shed some light on the responsiveness of each institution with respect to citizen needs.

The Judiciary, for example, has been on the receiving end for what is alleged to be its impediment to justice but no legal scholar has helped to explain how we can strengthen judicial integrity in the face of corruption.

To change the corruption narrative from where we are at the moment and make steps toward improvement, research must inject more information. We have millions of data sets in the form of wealth declaration but it is never used to reconcile with suspect wealth.

Cartels behind corruption are known and they can fix anybody through Kenya’s case law management that begins with the police and ends up in Judiciary but no credible study has ever been done to expose glaring loopholes.

Many cases have gone through our courts and most of them are in the public domain through the digitisation of court cases at the Kenya Law Reform Commission, but rarely do we see legal scholars combing through these records to review the cases as a strategy to validate the rulings based on the maxim of checks and balances or to compare such jurisprudence with African traditional morality and international norms.

Such reviews will send warning to judges that their work is being monitored and that at some point in future their decisions will be revealed to have been nothing but obstacles to progress. How else can we deal with the acrimonious relationship in the justice system if such reviews don’t exist?

In the past, we have suggested digitisation of Kenya’s case law management from the police occurrence book to the Judiciary, but there has been spirited resistance with strange excuses like the cost of digitising tools being fronted. A simple smart phone could easily capture data and have it stored in the cloud to avoid tampering of evidence.

This too is a huge area of study by a multidisciplinary team of researchers to give evidence on building of a robust case law management. Instead, nothing changes and that is why the current corruption narrative seems to be leaning more towards being a socially tolerated menace as evidenced by politicians calling on their communities to stand behind their indiscretions.

The Civil Society and other interest groups in their role of checking institutions need credible evidence to confront other institutions but in the absence of research even their arguments can pass as opinions.

It is also time for these institutions to change tact and begin evidence-based interventions. Activist Okiya Omtata, although seemingly running a solely managed outfit, has done more legal research as a public defender than some of the well-oiled institutions.

Religious organisations, despite sometimes adding their voices to the fight against corruption, have also been receiving dirty money.

Even as the Catholic Church refused a gift that in their wisdom may have compromised their integrity, many other religious institutions have served to fuel corruption and as a result compromised their ability to speak out.

In governance, there are sacrifices that we each must painfully make as a strategy for building a better future. Religious groups must not just be heard condemning corruption but must be seen fighting it.

If we all did our part to change this country, we could effectively deal with most of the problems we face. The irony is that we accept and empathise with those who claim to have been falsely accused of corruption instead of asking them to reconcile such wealth with what was declared a few years back.

It is President Harry Truman who said, “You can’t get rich in politics unless you’re a crook.” As we move closer to 2022, politicians are splashing money but no “checking” institution has asked the source of such wealth. Our silence means that the corruption scourge has become part of the fabric our society.

We are all in one way or another part of the watchdog institutions and as such have some responsibility as to what happens in this country.

Let us stand up and be counted. And that is how we can build a better governance system for our country.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.@bantigito



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SHAW: Competent management of maize staple needed

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By ROBERT SHAW
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White maize is the foremost staple food in Kenya today. The crop is grown by a mix of large and small-scale farmers in the higher altitude areas north of Nakuru.

Due to the high level of inputs needed, the Kenyan crop is more expensive to produce than, for example, maize grown in neighbouring Uganda.

Consumption is in the region of 30 to 34 million bags (90kg) per annum while production varies at around 30 million bags or below, depending on rainfall. Being a largely rain-fed crop, maize production in Kenya is highly dependent on the vagaries of the weather. Cross-border imports from Uganda and Tanzania tend to make up for shortfalls in production and are relatively accessible.

When the deficit is large, as in 2017, then formal imports from countries with surplus white maize such as Mexico are brought on board.

The fact that Kenya has a structural deficit in its staple crop has been a challenging issue for many years. Improvements in seed variety and crop yields have literally been consumed by an increasing population. The move to rely less on rain-fed maize has also had a troubled history. The one million-acre Galana-Kulalu irrigation project has stalled, less than five years after it was started.

The project was seen as the key to getting Kenya out of its food deficit hole and, indeed, moving it into becoming a food surplus nation.

The project was a partnership between the National Irrigation Board (NIB) and Israel’s Green Arava Ltd and the latter blames cartels, which had a vested interest in maize imports. NIB, which has a relatively chequered history in its own right, appeared unwilling or unable to prevent the collapse. The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is a key player in the sector.

Its overall role is to facilitate inputs to farmers, buy surpluses from farmers, provide storage and keep a strategic reserve.

It also sets buying prices although these are often dictated more by market conditions than the NCPB price. Farmers often try to sell much of their maize privately and offload the balance onto NCPB. The former is preferred by many because payments are largely in cash whereas being paid by NCPB can be a lengthy and arduous business.

NCPB has been beset by a number of issues over the years. Its role as a holder of strategic reserves does not often work as it will often have plenty of stock at times of surplus and next to nothing in times of shortages.

It has also been beset by a number of scams over the years. A more recent one was the buying of Ugandan maize by NCPB via brokers while local farmers were sitting with unsold maize.

This put a number of farmers in a difficult financial position and undoubtedly involved collusion from within the echelons of NCPB. The current position is changing fast. The surpluses from the harvest of 10 months ago when the rains were generous are fast depleting. The overdue March to May rains are late and meteorologists are projecting they could fail.

A likely scenario is that the next main harvest could be well below average, thus putting further pressure on maize supplies and prices. Bearing in mind the stock drawdown due to the last poor rains there will be a need for imports.

The Kenyan government does not have a good record in planning for shortfalls and tends to resort to knee jerk importations later rather than sooner. Once we are clearer of the likely size of the next crop and when imports will be needed the government should plan what and when it needs to import and go through a transparent tendering process.

If the worst case scenario pans out and the rains fail, then the country and its planners must work doubly fast on a number of fronts. First we need to plan for maize imports to last us until February next year at least when hopefully the next crop will be harvested. Considering the quantities and costs involved, the logistics would be a very demanding exercise.

Funding of such an importation exercise would also be a huge budgetary challenge which would inevitably seriously strain government finances. That, together with distributing it equitably and efficiently, would stretch government administrative and financial resources to limits which may be unsustainable in parts of the country.

Last, failure of the rains could raise social and civil fluidity to flashpoint levels especially if prices keep rising and supplies become erratic. In the longer term, it is essential for Kenya to become more self-sufficient in maize and indeed it has the opportunity to do so if it can get the Galana-Kulalu project back on track.

What comes out clearly is the need for a much more competent and transparent management of the sector with some significant remedial measures both within the government and in the NCPB itself.



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EDITORIAL: Arrest Sisi extension plot

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By EDITORIAL
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Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the current chairman of the African Union and has been in power for just a few years. However, his increasingly tyrannical tendencies must worry all who hold dear the principles of democracy and good governance. The former military chief has made it increasingly clear that he is in leadership for the long haul and will not be restrained by constitutional strictures. Unsurprisingly, he has been labelled as a dictator and strongman, like his predecessors.

Egypt’s Parliament, which is dominated by Sisi supporters, on Tuesday approved the constitutional amendments to allow him to stay in power after his second term ends in 2022.

To Sisi, any whiff of dissent must be countered ruthlessly and two top Egyptian actors recently learnt that lesson the hard way. Mr Amr Waked and Mr Khaled Abol Naga, who criticised the amendments, have been expelled by their national union. The duo had joined a congressional briefing in Washington, USA about the human rights situation in their motherland.

The path the Egyptian leader has taken to entrench himself in power is well-trodden. But the consequences are grave. The forced and humiliating exit of Abdelazziz Bouteflika of Algeria and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan just the other day, should have been appropriate lesson. The late Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal employed similar strategies, albeit with no success.

How one wishes President Sisi could work to entrench democracy, now that he is the embodiment of the AU! Coming from the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship of over three decades, Egyptians must be shuddering at the prospects of a repeat under Sisi. Uprooting Mubarak in 2011 cost many lives and massive destruction, which the North Africa country is still recovering from.



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NJOROGE: Easter is a season of hope and a new lease of life to the weary

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By Fr LAWRENCE NJOROGE
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Easter is the festival commemorating the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, believed by his followers to have been raised from the dead as the Christ or the Anointed One.

Belief in the resurrection is the oldest and most controversial tenet or element of the Christian faith.

Religious scholars often make a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. In a word, Easter is the celebration of Jesus becoming Christ.

The term Easter can be traced to the Venerable Bede (673-735 AD) who uses it several times in his book, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

He borrowed the word from the name of the European goddess Eastre, whose festival fell on the spring equinox, March 21. Devotees of the deity believed she caused new life to sprout at the end of the winter season.

One of the earliest and most moving accounts of the resurrection is by Simon Peter, disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ.

Addressing worshippers at the temple of Jerusalem, Peter told the story of Jesus, the man who had gone about doing good but was rejected and killed (Acts 3: 11-15).

Peter’s proclamation was: “God raised him from the dead.” It is a compelling story recounted by the disciple, who had denied his master three times. He concludes his account by stating: “Of this, we are witnesses.”

The story of resurrection is the final resolution of the betrayal, suffering and death of a good man. For Peter and early Christian believers, death is not the last word.

Jesus is vindicated, or proved to be innocent, through his resurrection as the Christ.

Peter, Paul and their congregations are grappling with some of the most difficult mysteries in human existence, the meaning of suffering and death.

For them, the risen Christ provides the answer. The irony of the matter lies in the fact that they are ready to die for their belief proclaiming that Jesus is alive.

The Church dedicates 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost as a special period called Eastertide to proclaim that death does not have the final say.

Christians are believers in life after death, celebrated as the resurrection at Easter.

Suffering and death form part and parcel of the human condition. Science, philosophy and religion each has its answers to the questions of pain and death.

For many people, the problem is real and pressing, not theoretical or imaginary.

Consider the recent tragedy of the air crash in Ethiopia in which all passengers lost their lives. Human language and analysis prove inadequate to explain the ultimate reason for and meaning of such a catastrophe.

Reflect on the unspeakable agony of family, friends and colleagues following the horrifying series of the murder of girls and women witnessed in the country. The list of bad news can be depressing.

One cannot forget that as a country, we are in the throes of a serious drought causing hunger, thirst and untold suffering to many.

Yet, in the midst of this gloom, there is a ray of hope. Brother Peter Tabichi, Franciscan monk and high schoolteacher, won the coveted Global Teacher Award, doing the country proud and raising its spirits.

The liturgical ceremonies of the Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday include the blessing of fire and water as symbols of life and growth.

May this Easter be a season during which we all experience a new lease of life and the country is blessed with dew from the heavens.



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