Week #3 The five things we learnt from the news

The third week of 2012 marked the start of the long wait for the International Criminal Court’s verdict on the Ocampo Six, the realization that the thinking at Jogoo House is not exactly straight, the endless shenanigans at Athi River and the arrival of a few other home truths. As the man said as he chased his wife around their house at night, read on.

Like the law, our education system is an ass

From time to time, we get people in our office who strongly feel that they have been through experiences that would be of benefit to the rest of Kenyans, and they are usually adept at telling all manner of attractive but exaggerated stories about their experiences.

Some turn out to be telling a truth that is verifiable and newsworthy, while some have very clearly lost it.

I remember a particular one with thick clear lenses and who carried about his person the scent of something that has been locked in a room with dried tobacco leaves for several days. He was manifestly mad, and had with him a thick file of newspaper cuttings and closely written notes of the sort university students refer to as Mwakenya, which he used to support the theory that his neighbour at Kariorkor had developed a complicated device that listened to his thoughts and somehow made all those who listened to him turn away.

His wife had quite naturally left him, and when I realised from the gleam in his eye that our discussion was rolling down the steep slope, I suddenly asked him whether he had kids. I learnt, from the manner in which the gleam of madness in his eyes was changed to the gleam of affection a man has for his progeny, that the thought of one’s children will soften most men.

Which brings me to my point.

A man we will refer to as Mr B is a receptionist with more than 20 years’ experience. His experience has not translated into more money at the end of the month but because he is a diligent worker and his family is the fore of all he does, he has invested his savings in a sacco.

He also understands the value of education and sees it as the best way he can enable his children to move from the class they were born into a higher and ultimately better one. Mr B thus enrolled his son at a private primary school in his neighbourhood.

It is nowhere hear the likes of Makini, Riara and Hillcrest as far as facilities are considered.  It has a small compound, a field that cannot accommodate adults playing football, a few swings but thrives on the promise that teachers will pay full attention to your child’s education and put him on the path of a good secondary school.

It is not rocket science that passing the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations guarantees a student a place at a secondary school where the system and the teachers are tailored towards academic excellence.

In some parts of Kenya, your child could be selected to join an erstwhile excellent secondary school  and acquire the art of smoking cigarettes and cannabis within three weeks of starting school.

Anyway, Mr B’s son did pass last year’s KCPE, with 419 marks, and he was one of the happiest men I saw on December 28 when I looked up his son’s marks and called him up with the results.

Enter the honchos at the Education ministry at Stage Right and Mr B has recently become quite a pale shadow of the happy man on 28th.

The honchos have somehow decreed that because their parents are somehow at a greater advantage financially, students from private schools should be at a disadvantage in chances to join good secondary schools.

While the parents of those who fell flat on their faces troop from school to lowly schools, bribing headmasters and principals to have their children admitted, Mr B is doing the same.

He wonders how he could be considered rich and his child therefore unfit to join a good secondary school. He wonders when the Kenyan education system became an ass.

Politicians will always meddle

Some time back, I was researching on cement factories in Athi River for the newspaper’s County Edition on Machakos County, where there are about six of them.

For some strange reason, the managers at Athi River Mining and East African Portland Cement Company gave me the run-around before finally slamming the reinforced steel doors in my face.

Given we were not out to dig up dirt on the factories and their owners, I found it rather weird that the managers at these two places could as stiff-necked as the Government bureaucrats that tell you the boss is absent as he enjoys his power nap.

Thus the feeling that there is some sort of poetic justice now that the infighting at EAPCC has been exposed over the past three weeks as Industrialisation minister Amason Kingi sought to remove the board of directors.

The argument by Mr Kingi is that since the Government has a virtual majority in the shareholding of EAPCC, and the board there has allegedly been involved in impropriety, it should be replaced. The Government actually only owns 25.3 per cent of Portland’s shares while the NSSF and LaFarge, the French multinational owns 41 per cent.

Mr Kingi and his lieutenants argue that NSSF’s shares are virtually Government shares.  That is nonsense, as explained by Jaindi Kisero here http://bit.ly/AvUtBF, and the truth is the politicians are simply happy to meddle  and use the organization for their own plots.

There are those that have convinced the Maasais of Kajiado and Isinya that because they were born near the Gypsum mines, they have a natural right to the factories where it is taken for conversion into cement.

There are also those who have convinced the voters in Athi River, who also earn their daily bread at the factory, that it would be best if they prevented the firm’s board of directors, who have the backing of the law, from running it.

And so, as the machines start gathering rust and the raw materials turn to mountains of cakes, the fights can continue in the courts, at the blocked gates and in the corridors at TelPosta Towers, where Mr Kingi spends some time when he is acting as Industrialisation minister.

Media houses can play the waiting game too

Something turned inside when I saw on TV a journalist talking in Rebecca Kerubo’s ear as the tears streamed down her cheeks.

It was certainly not like the American or British variety, which involves parking a truck outside a news subject’s house or installing cameras to monitor Nelson Mandela’s house. It certainly did not involve hacking into their mobile phones and email. But it did walking into her house when a visitor representing an important came calling with bags of groceries.

This something strikes me at times when I feel an inner voice saying I might have crossed the line when chasing an important story and have to employ neat tricks to get to the facts.

There are those that have complained that some media houses appeared to feel the tension over the verdict by the Pre-Trial Chamber at the ICC more than the suspects and their supporters would.

There were certainly some ridiculous moments, like Citizen TV sending their star reporters to Eldoret, Thika and The Hague to wait around  and feel the ground since Monday, waiting for the moment the decision would be posted on the ICC website.

You see, the ICC judges had managed to befuddle Kenyans with the vacant promise that the verdicts would be announced on any day before January 23, meaning there were those, like my colleagues, who spent several hours each day on the “Refresh” button.

I write this on the eve of the announcement of the verdict at the ICC. Most media houses have sent journalists to talk to the suspects’ lawyers, Kenyans living at The Hague, Luis Moreno-Ocampo and anybody else that can throw a little light on the matter.

If the decisions of the judges necessitate further trips to The Hague, and more acres of space on the subject, we can rest assured that like the suspects’ long wait, Kenyan media can also hold a vigil.

Issack Hassan and team are not to be envied.

Speaking to Samuel Kivuitu on July 23 for this article here, http://bit.ly/wnez4R, we got the impression that carving out new constituencies is not anybody’s favourite job.

The public has to put in a word, the politicians have to come and mess it up by suggesting you create a ward and a constituency for each of their friend and enemies and the Government has to withhold funding and complicate the process to no end. In the middle of all this, there will be some who find it perfectly normal that you are a normal bloodthirsty Kenyan who can do anything for money, and will therefore offer you a prime plot at the South Coast in exchange for the new voting zone inland.

Consider, also, that there is a formula that you must adhere to, population quotas to be watched and no small number of illiterate and semi-literate people to listen to at the public hearings.

When you have done all these, you have to take the new zones to the public and bear with their whining, repetition and preachiness in yet another round of hearings.

If you are not prepared to do this, a man with a bit of money, a bunch of followers and a few notes in his pockets can go and have a judge declare the process unconstitutional.

All this when everybody else is somehow allergic to a General Election in March 2013, when the people have rid themselves of December’s hangovers and the payment of school fees.

Watching the news, and the numerous reports of divisions and a clan declaring it would rather commit mass suicide than share a ward with another, one discovers there is no shortage of headaches for the men and women at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

It is possible to calm the Ocampo Six

Campaign coverage is tedious. One has to liaise with operatives in the candidates’ camp- who have the propensity not to answer calls when it is necessary that they do- and spend long hours in the sun.

It is made less tedious when the elections are in a predictable cycle, and more time, resources and mental preparation can be in place to rid the process of its troublesome aspects.

That some of the Ocampo Six elected to go about their prayer rallies in the manner of campaigns before they appeared at The Hague in April 2011 made following them around quite tiring.

Add to this the foul language they employed to describe and discuss their perceived persecutors and I can assure you it was not a very pretty picture.

Thus the relief that this time round, those of the Ocampo Six that are interested in such affairs elect to attend church services on Sundays and say a few things later.

The catch 22 here is that if the suspects are rid of the ICC noose 12 hours from the minute I type this out, we might as well prepare for the ostentatious returns home in circuitous routes from the airport and the subsequent hullabaloo.

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