Five things you learn from time at a rural police station

Briefly, exactly a year and two days after I was tracked and picked up by cops from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, to the chagrin of many a colleague and friend, I put myself directly in trouble buy attempting to lecture a group of people I thought were employees of a bar where some really drunk fellows had caused a ruckus. I spent the next 12 hours in a police cell and learnt a few useful lessons.

 

1. Police brutality is real
One of the guys suffered a cracked tooth. He had blood all over his face and blood all over the front of his shirt. Four of the buttons on the shirt had been ripped off and the vest underneath split in half at the front. The cops are supposed to subdue a suspect if they resist arrest but their options are not limited. They can punch you in the face, hit you in the teeth with the butt of a gun or kick the hell out of you. Another guy had a boot imprinted across the front of his white shirt. When he went home and was showering, he discovered a series of grazes on his shins. A week later, his body was still feeling the effects of the cracks the cops took at him.
The funny thing was; the head cops knew what had happened. When they discovered the people they had arrested were not their ordinary drunk and disorderly characters, they pointedly asked whether there was any complaint. A complaint would have opened up an opportunity for endless litigation. Why bother?
2. Police stations are in deplorable states
The celings used to be white but are now making steady progress towards black, moving through the spotted grey phase and the small circles of black radiating from the spot where the water first made contact. Some boards have given up their allegiance to the wood above and are simply falling apart. The cupboards in the offices are filled with dusty files without any evident order. The chair in the best office was once a regal red one, but that is long gone, the red now shiny and dirty at the arms and the stability and the balance gone. At Central Police Station in Nairobi, the floors in the office where abstracts are issued is potholed, the chairs the variety common in school with metal tubes bent and plywood riveted to form the seat and the back. Sometimes the back is broken and never replaced. Sometimes the plywood cracks.
The one thing that worked admiringly well was the lock to the steel door to the cells. The key is a big, shiny phenomenon, like one of those decorative Keys to the City handed out by mayors like Nobel prizes when an especially important person comes to the city. When you hear it turn in the door, your heart beats faster and there is some excitement. You want to get up. You look towards the door. You raise up your head. It is likely not your turn.
3. There’s a whole cast of characters in the cells, and the world
If you have been arrested in a group, you can get a decent cell. Be loud and be aggressive and you can kick people out of once cell and get comfortable. Settle in. You’ll see your companions well at the 6 a.m. headcount, where the officer at the desk will call out the names of the prisoners and when they shout ‘present’ might casually say what they have been arrested for. ‘Steve Kageche’. ‘Present’. ‘Wewe ni mlevi’. ‘John Kagondu’. ‘Mimi huyo’. ‘Wewe ni mwizi wa ng’ombe’.
The vilest suspect we met at the cop station was a youngish man with a loose green shawl who bore the marks of a thorough beating. His left eye was swollen shirt, the right one red from being punched and the head covered in bruises that stood out red and black on his light-skinned shaven scalp. No shoes. Not even the one shoe left at the big box at the counter with the belt. The shawl clearly grabbed from a woman in the crowd by the arresting officers. Obviously spent a few days in the cells as he sleeps on a small sack unlike the rest. His crime? He was caught mounting a cow and beaten like a snake by villagers.
4. No good comes out of a tussle with them cops
What do cops do when they realise a case might be difficult to prove? They mount a harder case. Some of the fellows involved in the affray that landed us in one of the worst places you can step in had apparently threatened to beat up his arresters (the little green bottles can make you say things) on the basis that he is a trained member of the defence forces and so well trained that the Israelis watched him undergo that capacity building. Another fellow had apparently gone to his car to collect a weapon. Well, the cops deemed it fit to say in the Occurrence Book that we were impersonating police officers, all six of us. But that was a hard case considering the arresting officers were intoxicated and that could have been brought up. Worse, they had a journalist in their hands – and thank God they don’t have Google otherwise they would have discovered the kind of journalist they had in their hands. They had also been a little more enthusiastic than they should have been in encouraging the fellows being arrested not to resist arrest and had hit one of them in the face, cracking his tooth. There was therefore a chance they would end up being hated on in the press or that the fellow with a cracked tooth and another with the imprint of a boot on his chest would have raised issues.
They felt a softer but more impactful charge would not hurt; Creating a public disturbance likely to lead to a breach of the peace. That is in Section 95 of the Penal Code and states: “Any person who—(a) uses obscene, abusive or insulting language, to his employer or to any person placed in authority over him by his employer, in such a manner as is likely to cause a breach of the peace; or (b) brawls or in any other manner creates a disturbance in such a manner as is likely to cause a breach of the peace, is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for six months.”
The catch there is the six months. That is a damn long time. With that hanging over our sobered heads, our options were very limited, and that is how we end up with the last thing you learn when rural cops arrest you.
5. Rural cops are idle, but very excitable
That they are idle. When they were told that reinforcement was needed, they flew out of the station, lacing their boots and checking themselves as they jumped into the Toyota Land Cruisers. “These guys spend their nights here idle, arresting drunk fellows and running after weed smokers. When they encounter cases such as these, they behave that way,” one of them would later say.
In an area beyond the peri-urban crime belt, the biggest concerns are thefts, cow munchers, domestic disputes such as the guy who was making so much noise in the plot that the wife got him arrested, the chap who kicked the ass of another and bit his head in a bar and now needs a Sh20,000 cash bail as he awaits assault charges ( and three years if he is convicted) and the weed dealers who never get caught and the occasional stolen pick-up. When you show up and you want to put up a fight, the chaps remember their days in Kiganjo and the exhortation to put the raia in its place.

Advertisements

Cow-ardly thieves

There is always work to be done on a farm, even if it is squeezed into a quarter acre plot and we were repairing the cow shed on a Saturday morning when a cow attacked my father.

He had swung at it casually to shoo it away – cows try to feel anything out with their muzzles – and it so happened that he had a hammer in his hand. He barely touched it but the cow reversed away, he made to continue hammering but saw out of the corner of his eye that the beast had only reversed so it could come at him better.

He leaned back and away but it still nailed him in the hips. We sprang to action. My brother hit it with the back of a spade and I think I beat its back with a stick. It backed away. Then we laughed as we asked Dad whether he was okay. He was, but said, “The bloody animal wanted to kill me.”

It was Saturday. By Wednesday, the cow had been sold to a butcher, with Dad keenly instructing me to go buy meat the next day at Karumaindo, the butchery where its meat was bound to be found hanging the next day.
In Githunguri, you have to be like my Dad when dealing with cows. His mantra has always been that cows are wild animals tamed, so when he comes home from taking the milk to the collection centre (which we call dairy, pronounced dayree) and finds pregnant Kairitu with some balloon-like thing in its rear, he doesn’t fret or bother telling Mum when he gets back to bed. He goes ahead to catch his 40 winks as usual.

He knows that just like would happen in the wild, the cow will give birth. If that doesn’t happen, the cow will probably need help, and a veterinary will come in and administer the appropriate medicine. But any dairy farmer will tell you a cow that needs help birthing is no good. Its organs will probably be ruined and it will have issues conceiving and even then, birthing, which ruins the balance the body needs to supply a steady stream of milk, the life juice of the people of Githunguri.

Being a dairy farmer requires a certain cold pragmatism. But there is still some pain felt when a promised good cow turns out bad. You can almost touch the anger and frustration in a farmer’s voice when you ask my father whether his newest cow has conceived and he tells you, “It seems that cow had a bad disease that the man who sold it to us didn’t say.” The last such cow he had of that sort had a crazy white discharge that made him conclude with a bittersweet laugh that it had a sexually-transmitted disease. He had to sell it at a loss.
Fresha’s own extension officers advise farmers in the green sub-county that they should be the ones milking the cows and not the other way round. That a cow that takes more than it gives is no good. Cows are not pets, as we used to think they were growing up in the 90s.
For my uncle, one Nduati Githere, they were going to be his way to riches. He called me Tuesday last week and told me the story you saw in the Daily Nation on April 21.

The advertisement used to be on the back page of the same paper about a year ago. With time, there was a story buried in the pages of Seeds of Gold magazine in the Saturday Nation. Seeds of Gold is a dope magazine, by the way. There are people who swear by it, like the Computer Science graduate who told me, and I believed because he was so damned serious, that a chicken should eat 15 grams of food in a day and if you give it more the rest is wasted labour. Your chicken, like your cow, should not milk you any more.

The cows my uncle set out to buy were of the Holstein variety, high-yielding and were to come all the way from South Africa. That’s why they cost Sh280,000 that was payable in installments of Sh35,000 after paying a deposit. Mr Githere paid in full for three cows. But then the whole thing started unravelling. Visits to their offices at Kimathi Chambers at the northern end of the street by the same name started yielding excuses delivered by listless receptionists and secretaries. They probably weren’t getting their pay and were starting to see through their employers’ lies and had probably overheard one too many conversations on the phone. The farmers, their hopes now drowned in the miasma of promises and missing directors, trooped to the police. A criminal investigation was started.
Mr Githere is a thorough-going man. He used to be an accountant or auditor, a bean counter at any rate, and he now has a long list of the prospective farmers who were also skinned along with him. They know the director of the company, that he is from Othaya, goes by the name Emilio Mwangi and harboured political ambitions, running for the parliamentary seat to succeed Mwai Kibaki in 2013 and coming closer to last.
The man preyed on the base instincts of the hopeful dairy farmer, a more moneyed version of the guy who buys a cow with a hidden diseases for Sh60,000. The one who sells off a cow with a reasonable yield – 15 litres of milk a day – for the promise of one that yields 25 litres a day because there is always a better cow that day.
Mr Githere’s story had good news value. I liked and asked my colleagues to use it because unlike the fellows who handed over money to Deci and other pyramid scheme companies and waited for it to grow without any evidence, Mr Githere and other dairy farmers were lured by the promise of flesh and blood, not riches generated through mysterious investments.
Perhaps wiser folk would have demanded to know whether the cows would be brought over by overland trucks, by sea or by air and what guarantee there was that they would come. Better else, how about a walking and breathing and milk-producing sample?
I believe, with all shadows of doubt, that my uncle and the other 140 conned – plus tthe contractor who put Sh10 million of his money into the construction of sheds for the farmers, will probably never see their money.

We have seen many like Emilio who have walked away. One even went to Parliament and has not stopped his deviant ways.
But if there is a way to give these people justice, I would be happy to see that justice given at whatever cost.

Five things we learnt from the KDF’s statement on El Adde

  1. The bombs were massive: General Mwathethe said there were three Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices. One got into the centre of the Kenya Defence Forces camp and was exploded and the two more blew up inside the camp in the course of the attack. “If you can imagine that one Vehicle-Borne went through the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi did that damage, you can imagine three of those in that small defensive position,” he said. Al Shabaab clearly have the capability to collect material and assemble it into ammunition that has a big impact.
  2. The impact was devastating: “I am aware that most of you are interested to know the figures. I’d like you to appreciate the briefing already given on the magnitude of this attack and therefore the need for proper identification of our fallen heroes, which in some cases will require DNA tests.” DNA testing takes long as samples have to be taken from the families first and then compared with that taken from the dead. It is basically a case of trial and error as they are basically checking whose genetic material matches with the samples available.
  3. Troops were probably not used to the environment and the terrain: General Mwathethe confirmed that they had just rotated into the deployment. They had also gone through the routine pre-deployment training although that is nothing like the real deal.
  4. We cannot be sure about whether the troops knew something was coming. “This is something that is yet to be verified. There is intelligence in the air every other day but I cannot say at the moment that there was specific intelligence for this attack,” said General Mwathethe. There has been talk from a Somalia National Army officer in charge of the Gedo region that the KDF had been informed about the imminent attack. The Board of Inquiry set up, and already on the ground as the CDF said, would help establish whether this is true.
  5. Al Shabaab are in possession of a serious load of arms, ammunition and equipment: The folks on the other side routinely carry a camera on these sort of missions and on Wednesday began putting up photographs of their exploits at El Adde. Among the equipment taken were Armoured Personnel Carriers, Land Rovers, trucks as well as armoured fighting vehicles. There is also a load of very bad images that would do you no good to look at. Gen Mwathethe said sending assistance by air, usually the game-changer when it comes to Al Shabaab- was ruled out because the fellows had also mounted anti-aircraft guns, probably the same they had taken from KDF.

Questions from El Adde

Like last Friday, they struck at dawn, had amassed fighters and equipment beforehand and were well prepared for what they knew awaited them. They were lucky last Friday.

At Hosingo on April 4, 2012, the battle lasted six hours, and they were not. The official report from the Kenya Defence Forces contained in their book on Operation Linda Nchi says about 800 Al Shabaab fighters were involved, 200 of whom died.

That was one of the biggest battles in Somalia in the course of the operation started in October 2011 by the KDF, who later rehatted and are now part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).

The Battle of Hosingo was won mainly because KDF knew in advance that the enemy was on its way and had prepared appropriately, with the commander in charge there also able to ask for reinforcement immediately he knew it was necessary.

Even as they attacked in eight waves of 50 to 60 fighters each time, it was possible for reinforcements in the form of fighter jets and helicopters to be called in, which was a game-changer.

That, and the experience from other engagements in Somalia since the start of the operation, point at areas from which hard questions could arise as the search and rescue mission continues in El Adde and the mourning families start to receive the bodies of their fallen sons and brothers.

Before an attack on a Kenyan base, Al Shabaab engage in typical behavior; the switching off or destruction of transmission masts ran by Hormuud, a major mobile phone service provider in Somalia, information amongst the locals and some locals fleeing the villages nearby.  They also attack from different directions.

Questions for the KDF personnel involved would centre on whether there was information, as there usually is, before the attack, whether that was acted upon and how it was done as well as how the camp responded to the attack. Was the camp exposed?

Yesterday, Voice of America reported the commander of Somali troops in Gedo region, General Abbas Ibrahim Gurey, alleging that the commander of the unit had been informed about the possibility of an attack hours before.

That would not come as a surprise as the Somalia National Army routinely share intelligence with the KDF. It would however raise questions on whether this intelligence was made available and whether and how it was acted upon.

Other reports from Somalia also suggest that the commander in charge of the camp and several other officers in the company that was in Somalia since January 2 had been taken hostage. While KDF has stated that Al Shabaab is using some of the captured personnel as human shields, it has revealed neither their identities nor ranks.

Military bases are organized such that the commander is in the most secure location, in the middle and surrounded by other personnel. The capture of the commander and other officers suggests that Al Shabaab were able to breach the defences.

Sleeping in Trenches

Typical sleeping arrangements in a base.

This would have been made possible by the vehicles loaded with explosives and driven by suicidal militants that are reported to have started off the attack.

This would in turn mean that the vehicles got past the camp’s defence positions located on its perimeter, which would have been equipped well enough to stop them or warn others in the camp of the approach of unknown or foreign vehicles.

That the commander could be captured, and some soldiers had to flee the camp and the enemy was able to take KDF’s vehicles and arms indicates that the camp was completely overran, the first time that has happened since the start of Kenya’s mission in Somalia.

Military authorities will make most of the decisions in the matter, whether there are individuals to go before a court martial or otherwise but some questions are bound to be asked when the dust settles and the mourning ends.

With Amisom having declared that its mission continues and Kenyan authorities going by that, the catastrophe in El Adde can only help plan for the future, not lead to a withdrawal of KDF from Somalia.

*A shorter  and edited version of this post was published by the Daily Nation on January 20, 2016.

ngirachu-11.jpg

February 2012. Somalia National Army soldiers had discovered an Improvised Explosive Device on the road to Billis Qooqani.

Five things I learnt from #FreeNgirachu

“You survived,” is what most people say when we meet nowadays. Others are shy to even mention it and will use all manner of veiled references. My cousins who sent messages of support reminded me when they came over last Christmas that they stood with me in those trying moments. We had a good laugh. An Administration Police officer who mans the police post at the shopping centre near my rural home asked to take photographs when we ran into each other at a bar over Christmas. Professional colleagues like to refer to me now as ‘jailbird’ and ‘convict’ in a good-natured way of course,  and I heard it whispered after we came back from a three-day trip to Kismayu with the Kenya Defence Forces that there had been some concern about my possibly accessing security material and officers given my recent history with the Interior ministry. I had planned to put down something in this private yet public space about the whole issue. It would have given me the opportunity to put something in this rarely-used blog and when the guys at WordPress sent me their annual email about how much I had posted here and who had read it (2,400 views by people from 43 countries), I hang my head in shame and promised to put this here.

  1. Politicians will almost always take advantage 

One of the posts on Facebook that caught my attention – there were quite a number- because I had just activated the feature that lets me approve to be tagged before the post appears on my page, was by someone called George Nyongesa. He announced: John Karobosta Ngirachu has been freed after the intervention of Cord lawyers James Orengo and Paul Mwangi. That was a lie, a blatant one at that, and I wrote: “He he he. That is a lie,” chuckled and moved on. Nyongesa later deleted my comment. But he was not alone. One senior politician, whose call was among the few I took, would later tell me the great lengths to which he personally went to get me freed. But that was polite and the conversation ended as he jokingly said I was nailed for my eagerness to go meet a potential source. A friend who works for another was however more demanding. We were talking about unrelated matters when he quipped, “Yaani hata hamuwezi sema asante kwa ile kazi tulifanya muachiliwe?” We were with Shiundu. I struggled to find measured words to tell him that freedom was attained mainly because of the refusal to make a statement without a lawyer present and partly due to the pressure the police came under to let me go and end the purported investigation because it was manifestly illegal and unnecessary.

Still on politicians. One MP who is a member of the Public Accounts Committee called me early November 11 and immediately launched into a denial of his very own Twitter account, which had since the story broke out been expressing dismay and shock and generally saying that the behaviour of the journalists who covered the meeting with the Interior Ministry bosses was a disgrace to the profession and that those who had covered the meeting would need to answer tough questions. To get on the right side of the wave, he had created another account. It was pitiable. Another one officiously told me: “That is not the official position of the Jubilee government.”

2. Police can work if they want
Fred, the officer who led the team that picked me up, cleverly preyed on my journalistic instincts. Well played, Fred. He was brought to me by my own cellphone signal, which they could have used to locate me at Parliament. It is also possible that they figured a Parliamentary reporter would be nowhere but Parliament when there are sittings. At the offices of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, one officer would ask, “Unajiita Karobo?” A sign that they had trawled the foolishness I usually perform on Facebook. The thought that occurred to me then was: these people can work if the need arises.

3. Michael Joseph wasn’t wrong 

As is usual for smartphones in the mid-afternoon, mine was on the blink and I had just hooked it into the laptop for charging when the call from Fred, the head of the abducting platoon, came in. When I told my bosses that I had been picked up, they authorised the sending of a breaking news text and the creation of #FreeNgirachu. That’s when the calls started coming in. Most I ignored because the officers got alarmed after I described to my boss the car we were in (a white Toyota Land Cruiser), the street it was speeding on and the possible destination plus the number of people in it (four plus me. They sent four officers for one unarmed man) but others because the callers would have received the breaking news text and would just be seeking to verify whether what they had read is true. The Daily Nation sends you a text saying its Parliamentary Editor has been arrested and you call the Parliamentary Editor? It might be a natural reflex action but it is not advisable. Why? You end up flooding the person with so many calls that their phone might crash. Mine didn’t. It ran out of power eventually, fortunately after the last crucial conversation allowing the lawyers to come in, and when I switched it back on, was choking with the ‘I tried calling you’ message as well as actual messages for close to two hours. In the end, it actually makes more sense to call the person in the news the following day, or after Michael Joseph when he said Kenyans have peculiar calling habits.

4. People in power will often surprise you 
Throughout the ordeal, from the moment the four officers surrounded me and the reality of what was going on and what would follow began to sink in (and up to this moment, I think) the question that was on loop in my mind was, “Don’t these guys research on their suspects? Don’t they know how accessible the media can be?” I was sat behind the Cabinet Secretary, right next to his Personal Assistant, during the meeting where the letters we wrote about were read out. I had spoken to a representative from the ministry the following day, after the initial call from the police came. Had someone senior sought a meeting, they would have been told the entire backstory, which is not long because it would have been like speaking about what happened at a midday rally at Uhuru Park. Instead, here is a dramatic abduction, a hashtag, Kenya’s name abroad for all the wrong reasons, numerous calls, expense of resources chasing an innocent Kenyan as criminals ranging from those who steal billions by the pen to those who rape and murder for a few thousands roam free and the old man from the military banging tables and pointing fingers. Are these the people who run the government and mind our security, a friend later wondered over a drink. They are.

5. Media is awake and watching
“Mambo ya press na politichians sitakangi. Wanasumbua sana. Sasa wewe najua utaenda kujaza jina langu kwa magazeti,” John Kariuki, the Deputy Director in charge of investigations, said soon after I was led into his office. Kariuki had been tasked with handling the issue and when we met, he was a man under siege. His phone was ringing off the hook as calls came in from his bosses, journalists and from politicians. Because everybody involved was constantly on the phone, he was unable to reach Mutuma Mathiu, my boss, and this was one more source of frustration as I was also not cooperating with the request to write a statement without lawyers present. Online, #FreeNgirachu was merrily trending. My colleagues who run the social media pages were on a roll and had in the process even reposted online the story I was in trouble for, saying, “This is the story Nkaissery doesn’t want you to read.” The Media Council, the Editor’s Guild and the Kenya Parliamentary Journalists Association had made statements. Parliamentary journalists had forced the police at Parliament Police Station to show them the cells. The pressure was so much on the police that one felt sorry for them.

 

Parties can get us more women in Parliament

Allamanda Room at the Nairobi Serena was full by the time last Friday the smart people from the Institute of Economic Affairs finished making their presentation and launching their report on the cost of implementing the gender principle.

There was not enough time for the plenary session after the launch because when Kibra MP Kenneth Okoth gave the audience a chance to take a breather, they started taking tea and discussing the report and catching up.

It was with some evident joy that they did this because the bright guys at the IEA have done a great job analyzing what it would cost to implement the requirement in the Constitution that not more than two thirds of elective positions should be held by one gender.

According to their analysis, it would, in a worst case scenario, cost Kenya Sh1.5 billion more per year to cater for the additional women that would have to be nominated to Parliament to fill the current gender gap.

Broken down, this would be just Sh57.83 more per Kenyan.

Viewed from a regional context, that still wouldn’t be expensive because Kenya is the largest economy in the region and has the highest GDP per capita. “By both measures, it is the wealthiest nation in the region,” IEA said.

But with women forming a mere 21 per cent of our Parliament, Kenya is clearly lagging behind in terms of having both genders represented in elective positions. Burundi is at 35 per cent, Tanzania at 36 per cent, Uganda at 35 per cent and Rwanda leads the pack from the very front with 58 per cent.

All this appears to easily justify the position that it wouldn’t cost too much to have more MPs, most of them women in our current circumstances, and to support the suggestion by the Kenya Women Parliamentarians Association.

But from what I have observed in the Eleventh Parliament, which I cover on a daily basis, there is little actual justification in having an increased size of Parliament.

There is as yet no proof that a bigger Parliament does a better job than its predecessors, what with all the laws that have had to be challenged at the High Court within days of their enactment.

It starts right from the parking lot, which, when the Senate and the National Assembly are both in session, are crowded with the large SUVs every MP acquires as a matter of course.

Lounging about close or in each of these are the bodyguards and drivers every one of them has. Every MP also has a personal assistant.

One might argue that with the expansion of the facilities and the continuing acquisition of the buildings around Parliament, we shall in the future have enough space in Parliament Square to accommodate all the MPs we need.

But from the outside looking in on an almost daily basis, we have too many MPs doing too little.

That is not to say that this is attributable to the women. Men are equally guilty. A colleague likes to point out a man he knew as a good doctor in his home town who is no longer using his medical expertise and does not appear to spend his time in the House very well.

So far, there has not been any evidence that a larger House is a better House. I need not repeat here the perpetual complaint about the quality of debate in the House. Forget also the perception that the Senate does not appear to have much work on its hands.

But, judging by the few women who have stood out in the Tenth and Eleventh Parliament, the truth is the House could benefit from having more women in it.

What would happen if women are allowed to hang on the proposed changes to have more of the under-represented gender nominated to the House post-election would be a replication of the situation before the last elections where female candidates were told to contest for the positions reserved for women.

That way, even the voter is conditioned to think that because there are positions reserved for women or that they would be nominated to the House “for free” if there aren’t enough of them, they shouldn’t be elected.

What do we do instead?

Since parties are mainly influenced by the individual or group of individuals at the top, the system could be changed so that it forces the parties to prove that they have taken care of the interests of all special interest groups before they are allowed to participate in elections or to field a presidential candidate.

From what I have heard, some of the youthful nominated MPs in the House, and who I must admit have been doing a good job, were put in that position by the deliberate efforts of their party leaders.

In the face of the plain truth that either scrapping some seats, reducing the number of constituencies or increasing the number of MPs would be a hard sell and an unnecessary and loud political contest, changing the system from the party would seem like the best option.

It is easy and stress-free.

5 Lessons from the Alfred Keter debacle

1. Impunity is alive and well

You might have seen on the internet an image of a letter said to bear the forged signature of Deputy President William Ruto. It is to the China Road and Bridge Corporation purporting to recommend a contractor to the firm building the Standard-Gauge railway. It states rather simply that the contractor is known to the Deputy President and has executed previous contracts excellently, with the upshot being that they are good guys and ought to get the job. In Kenya, it would work in your favour if you did not ignore a letter from the Deputy President saying so and so is a nice guy who delivers on time.
After all, it has been proven that if you are a Cabinet Secretary pulling down homes built on what you believe is grabbed government land, and you hear the President telling on Sonko on phone that you should stop, it is only reasonable that you shut down your noisy earthmover.
It is with this in mind that Alfred Keter was screaming, ““We were about 10 Members of Parliament. You are waiting to hear from who? From God? Jesus Christ to call you? What the f**k is that?”
In his twisted logic, a call from the State House Comptroller is equivalent to a call from the President and a call from the MP who chairs the Administration and National Security Committee is like a call from the head of the police.
It is therefore proper to surmise that impunity, the word Koffi Annan brought to Kenya, is alive and well.

2. Everyone is involved

Before Sonia Birdi and Rahim Dawood, Shakeel Shabbir was the most recent Kenyan of Asian origin in Parliament. But Dawood is from deep inside Meru in Imenti and Shabbir is known to declare that he is a Luo and an honorary Massai. I forget the Massai name he calls himself. Sonia Birdi is every inch the Kenyans of Asian origin we see in Nairobi. Some drink and party and hang out with Kenyans of African origin and get in the muddle with the rest of us. They make up their hair into mohawks, have joined the community of bikers and Subaru drivers and generally mingle quite well.
I noticedSonia during the pre-election campaigns in 2013, taking a place at the front of the dais on a day that ended badly in Dandora and waving dreamily at the crowd with the rest of the politicians,. Although she struggles to make a point during debates in the House, she certainly makes an effort. She is also a regular at the bar and some colleagues have seen her smoking. She caught the attention of a few of us when we spotted a tattoo on her upper arm one day.
While she was not known much before the incident, she now is, and we now know that everyone is involved in whatever it is they were doing.

3. We need to talk about weighbridge corruption

“At that bridge, a lot of bribes are demanded,” Sonia said first thing on the phone Sunday when asked about the incident. It was no surprise that the claim would be among the first reasons Alfred Keter and her would give when confronted. There has been a fracas at the weighbridge at Mlolongo Monday. Not long ago, a cop manning a weighbridge shot at officers from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Unit bent on arresting him. There was also that interesting case where cops sued the Inspector-General after they were transferred away from a weighbridge. Get the drift?
Now we know that even as Keter and Sonia are lynched in the manner deserving of a public officer caught in that kind of affair, there is something seriously wrong at the weighbridges.

4. “Railway Bug”was never a saint.

After he ‘broke’ the story about people in government taking money to give the contract for the construction to China Road and Bridge Corporation, Alfred Keter gave the media in Parliament a copy of the statement he read. We were lounging around at the media centre there when I took a look at the statement, which I had glanced over earlier as I wrote the story. It was then that I noticed that it had “Railway Bag” written at the top. “What is Railway Bag?” I asked a colleague. He was also puzzled a bit by it for a while but then his eyes lit up and he said, “This guy meant Railwayberg, like Goldenberg.” We had a good laugh like all good Grammar Nazis so in such circumstances. There were a few jokes about how he might have meant “Railway Bug” because he was going to be a bugger on that one.
Not that getting a word wrong is a sure sign of a bad guy but when the Public Investments Committee asked for proof of the corruption, he made a point of appearing.
The reporters following the ‘scandal’ expected Mr Keter to show up with a trove of documents showing how this and that official went to China on this and that date and came back with a container full of Reminbi. Instead, he showed up with Senior Counsel Ahmednassir Abdullahi and a statement apparently taken off the World Bank site showing that CRBC had been blacklisted by the World Bank.
Is it fair to say that Alfred Keter was a creation of the media? I think he was. In a coalition that doesn’t exactly like criticism from anyone, much less from within, a rebellious voice was certainly bound to get attention. Who else would say in public that, ““We are holding the horns of the cow while others are milking it,”?
Although he publicly declared an end to his rebellion, Keter had just managed to establish his name. Now we know he was never a saint.

5. If caught, spin it as much as possible

When she was arrested for driving under the influence, she was quite embarrassed and thought that going under for a while would solve things. But a politician friend who has been in the arena for a while had some useful advice: just spin it. When I heard their conversation a few months later at the older politician’s office, she sounded happy that the advice had come. “When they called me, I did not even try to deny. I gave them an explanation and added a little story. I did what you advised me,” she happily said.
“Don’t call me honourable,” Sonia Birdi shouted at NTV’s Larry Madowo when the combative presenter asked her whether she deserved the title Honourable, which MPs are trained to apply to their names the moment they enter the chambers. (By the way, only in politics, academia and in the titled professions will you find people who tell you what title to put before their name, which I find extremely egoistic).
Back to Sonia, who when asked why the title should not apply to her, said it is because if being dishonourable amounted to what she was doing at the weighbridge by fighting for the rights of Kenyans, then clearly she does not deserve the title.
Similar arguments were advanced by Keter, who argued that the focus ought to be on the corrupt, not those, like their two honourable selves, who tried to go around the rules instead of offering the money straight up and sending the crane along to drill holes.
Among other failings. the two failed to stitch their tale together well enough and so the holes in it were so big you could see their tails very well.

But now we know that spin is an essential tactic to counter bad press.