The Inside Out Land: Part 1

It is the year of our lord 2015. Bloggers blog. Poachers poach. Preachers preach. Politicians politic. Masses massacred. Media mediocrity. Beaches bereft. Corpulent commissions. Sorry senators. Compliant citizenry. Grabbers grab. Drum barrels. Roundabouts. Floods. Streetlights. Red light. Green light. Yellow light.Traffic jam. In the city. Kenya special.

As Sunny Bindra (@sunnysunwords) eloquently portends on Twitter, in this part of the world, people die when there is no rain, and probably more people die when there is rain. Drought and floods take turns and draw bets on who between them is going to kill more Kenyans. 52 years later, with fairly predictable weather patterns, and advances in science including irrigation, livestock husbandry, seed technology, farming techniques and other innovation and technological advances,not to mention the human resource available, Kenya still launches(!!!) hunger campaigns like Kenyans for Kenyans, fundraise millions of shillings and foodstuff donations, then flag (!!!) off the food truck convoys, in full glare of unquestioning media cameras to the hungry receptive mouths of Northern Kenya. Unsurprisingly, there are cases of the food donations and money raised not reaching the intended targets. The World Food Program (WFP) also has a full time food distribution program serving the Northern corridor, an indictment of the inability of Kenya to feed its Northern subjects. Can we really not? Is it deliberate? Or are Government policies, priorities and actions inside out?

Then along come the rains. And predictable chaos. Streets in major towns flood either because some idiot of a roads contractor did not factor in the drainage system or blatantly bribed an official to look the other way and not demand it. This also puts professional organizations like The Engineers Registration Board of Kenya and The Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK) into question. Do they not have professional standards to uphold? Over 5 people reportedly died in Bondo. Another 15 died in Narok. Perennial floods in Kisumu’s Kano plains are infamous. Thank goodness the Budalangi dykes seem to be holding. A bus was washed away in Mandera, claiming lives. Sections of Imara Daima Estate in Nairobi were marooned off, and thousands of Nairobians had to devise ingenious ways to get to work. All because city officials did not unblock the drainage on the roads. Meanwhile it is criminal to harvest rain water in Nairobi and many other towns. But it isn’t for negligent officers who collude with shoddy contractors to design roads without drainage and approve buildings in wetlands that cause the same rain water to kill Kenyans. The sad thing is even with all the flood water raging about, the faucets inside houses are dry. Too little water means death and too much water means more death and destruction. So, what really is the connection? Why are we as a people hopelessly unable to anticipate and plan adequately for basic everyday things like what to do when there is too little or too much water? Why is there not enough water in the taps of houses in Mombasa and Kisumu despite the fact they sit astride colossal water masses? Especially when the world is awash (pardon the pun) with working models which we can easily access with the click of a button?

If there ever was a thing that epitomises Kenya’s potential and the bureaucratic buffoonery standing in its way to greatness, it is our archaic driving licence. A horrible colonial relic which is a stark reminder of 52 years of public innovation inertia. There has been remarkable progress in the field of digital innovation, and there is an outbreak of cheap and accessible digital innovation applications. Indeed there is an M for everything, starting with Pesa, Shwari, Kopo, Soko, Biashara,name it. Not to mention the several electronic payment systems. There is a wide application of these digital innovations, which provide Kenyans more convenience for transactions but which primarily also significantly benefit institutions more than their clients. Take the E-Pay platform for paying parking fees in Nairobi, or Kiambu County Government’s e-platform for collecting revenue or the multiple pay-bill numbers. Both are brilliant ideas no doubt. The counter-narrative is that it enhances only one-way efficiency, that of the ability of the masses/subjects to pay or buy without providing avenues for feedback and accountability. How are the levies collected through such a platform utilized? How much was collected? What is the quality of the service? This is the problem with many of the so-called digital innovations. They rarely serve public interest but are sold as so. Recently, most banks and financial institutions in the country rolled out a massive bank card biometrics upgrade to enhance card security by introducing BVN with electronic chips technology. Meanwhile Kenyans walk about with the following odds and ends in their wallets and handbags – IDs, driving licences, voters cards, NHIF cards and NSSF cards. This begs the question, when will some bright Government chap figure out that with BVN chip technology, it will be possible to issue Kenyans one such card which has all these details? When will biometrics serve Kenyans? Other than money transfers, pay-bills and hash tags, how else is digital innovation improving quality of Kenyan lives? Will digital innovation liberate us from the antiquated Kenya driving licence? Somali and Tanzania have a biometric one for God’s sake!!

We are an inside out society, where what should be isn’t and what is shouldn’t be.

Word of the Week: I discovered a new term this week “contronym”, which is a word with 2 opposite meanings. For example “seeding” can mean planting or removing. Seeding the lawn would imply planting grass on the lawn, whereas seeding tomatoes means removing the seeds from the tomato when cooking. Many more examples exist like “oversight” and “sanction”. I am voting to have “public service” declared a contronym, in the Kenyan context.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s