Sunday, 28 June 2015

Tyranny of figures and chats comes to haunt Mutahi Ngunyi

Mr Mutahi Ngunyi, man at the centre of the National Youth Service (NYS) storm at the Devolution ministry. FILE PHOTO
He is credited with some pithy, if not sometimes unpalatable, political analyses.
Mr Mutahi Ngunyi, the man at the centre of the National Youth Service (NYS) storm at the Devolution ministry, has not been short of ideas and comments on nearly everything.
After allegations emerged of irregular tendering and payments at the NYS, which has been undergoing restructuring, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru said she had stopped an attempt to steal Sh826 million through the government’s Integrated Financial Management Information Systems.
The Consulting House, which is associated with Mr Ngunyi, was brought on board to work on the reform blueprint for NYS. A payment of at least Sh38 million for the consultancy is among those that have stirred debate.
It may have come as a surprise to some that Mr Ngunyi was consulting for the Jubilee Government after his tweets in January last year that appeared to deride President Uhuru Kenyatta.
After a story in The Standard on Sunday claimed he was among those giving the President wrong advice, Mr Ngunyi tweeted: “If I ever advise Uhuru, and if he is advisable, it will be obvious.”
He also threatened to sue the newspaper for “insulting my intelligence” by saying he was Uhuru’s adviser.
Mr Ngunyi says his company is the brains behind the NYS five-point plan for the restructuring, ranging from recruitment and training to employment after graduation.
“As the consultant who designed the programme, I cannot run away from it. I am at the centre of what is happening,” Mr Ngunyi said last year.
But the former chairman of the Youth Enterprise Development Fund, Mr Gor Semelang’o, says Mr Ngunyi simply adopted what a task force appointed by then Youth minister Mohammed Kuti had come up with in 2007 and claimed it as his own, a charge Mr Ngunyi denies.
The NYS Review Task Force was gazetted on May 26, 2007 (Vol. CIX No. 36) and its terms of reference were: to review the objectives of the NYS Act and their relevance to present day Kenya; propose amendments to the Act in view of the changing youth agenda; examine the institutional reforms internally proposed by the NYS; and review the training curriculum.
The team that was appointed by Mr Kuti was chaired by Mr Donald Kibera while Mr John Silas Nyamato was the vice-chairman.
Just when the NYS saga broke out, Mr Semelang’o had taken to social media to discredit Mr Ngunyi’s work as a consultant for the NYS.
“This is the task force that did work that Mr Ngunyi renamed 5-point & got 38M,” Mr Semelang’o had tweeted and attached a copy of the Kenya Gazette.
But Mr Ngunyi told the Sunday Nation on Saturday that while he is not aware of the entire recommendations of the task force report, it is much inferior to what he did. According to Mr Ngunyi, claims that he adopted the contents of the task force report “is utter political nonsense.”
“The 5-point vision has issues that are completely different from what the task force had, as day is from the night. That particular allegation is nonsensical. I saw the terms of reference of the task force, which were not innovative enough and had no component on social transformation and daily savings that we recommended,” said Mr Ngunyi.

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: The 5-point vision, he added, was generated by a group of 15 consultants, some local and others international professors, military personnel and an investment banker who worked for about six months.
According to Mr Ngunyi, the current crisis at NYS is because of some remnants of the purge they had recommended and incitement by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who he alleges has paid the media to discredit the transformation at NYS.
“I can read people’s minds and I can guess that Raila is behind what you (Sunday Nation) are doing. I think he is hitting back because it is going to mess him up politically. Write this story in good conscience and do not be compromised because I will sue you,” he added.
Mr Odinga has been demanding the suspension of Ms Waiguru until investigations are completed.
“What is in question is the very shady, murky and extremely unethical procurement procedures at the Ministry of Devolution’s NYS projects where beans, dengu, sugar, rice and milk, among other things, are being supplied at exaggerated prices by shadowy companies, some of which are linked to senior officials in government, under questionable procurement procedures,” the ODM leader said in a statement emailed to media houses this week.
He said the President “has no authority to declare an end to investigations or no investigations whatsoever where the public has reason to believe investigations ought to go on.”
State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu said on the same day that investigations on the NYS had been twisted to meet certain political ends.
“It is for this reason that we need to put the record straight in the spirit of uwazi (transparency),” he told a press conference at State House, Nairobi, also on Thursday.
Following the revelations of a scandal at NYS, Mr Ngunyi took to Twitter to defend his work and attack Mr Odinga for “leading the criticism”.
He also wondered how his Sh38 million consultancy fee could be a scandal and even threatened to sue The Star for under-representing the worth of a “security think-tank in 18 countries.”
Not long ago, Mr Ngunyi was an analyst much looked upon to make sense of complex political subjects.
Before the 2013 elections, he popularised the phrase “tyranny of numbers” which he used to project a win for the Jubilee Alliance over Cord. But his analyses and social media comments have progressively divided opinion.  
For instance, in the aftermath of the Mandera attacks in December 2014 in which Al-Shabaab was blamed for killing of 36 non-Muslims, his immediate reaction on Twitter was that the attacks were choreographed to eventually lead to the removal of President Kenyatta from power. He also appeared to blame the Opposition for the Al-Shabaab attack in Mpeketoni last June.
On Saturday, he defended some of his social media comments. “I do not hold public office. I am not a priest. I am a private citizen and I do not ask anyone to follow me on Twitter. My job is not to make people happy,” he said.
Ford Foundation had at some point sued him and four others for allegedly fraudulently obtaining $127,000 (Sh9.5 million) from the foundation. But Mr Ngunyi said the charges were withdrawn for lack of evidence.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015 The weight of stress

When we’re stressed, we produce a hormone called cortisol and its job is to make us store fat. This may sound like insanity, but it all stems from prehistoric times when this hormone kept us safe during ‘stressful’ times like famine. PHOTO | FILE 

In Summary

  • When we’re stressed, we produce a hormone called cortisol and its job is to make us store fat. This may sound like insanity, but it all stems from prehistoric times when this hormone kept us safe during ‘stressful’ times like famine.
  • You might be eating when stressed, bottling up anger when it deserves to be released, or even engaging in destructive relationships (friendships or otherwise). All these things can take their toll.
Gillian was 36 years old and pretty desperate to lose weight. At her last weigh-in, she was 105 kilos. When I saw Gillian, we quickly established that her thyroid wasn’t the issue. An underactive thyroid can often be responsible for weight that doesn’t shift. I also realised that she wasn’t eating that badly.
There were plenty of colourful vegetables, lean meat, brown rice and even 8 glasses of water (lack of hydrating fluids can also cause weight gain – more on this next week).
So why couldn’t she lose weight? The short answer, is stress.  When we’re stressed, we produce a hormone called cortisol and its job is to make us store fat. This may sound like insanity, but it all stems from prehistoric times when this hormone kept us safe during ‘stressful’ times like famine.
So what was Gillian doing that was pushing her body into stress mode? First was her job.
Yes, it was demanding, but she simply wasn’t able to deal with the stress of it all. She’d had two miscarriages in the last few years and coupled with those, she wasn’t at a very good place emotionally.
As I’ve seen with many of my patients, sometimes it takes an outsider to point out the damaging lifestyle practices that you might have adopted after a crisis. You might be eating when stressed, bottling up anger when it deserves to be released, or even engaging in destructive relationships (friendships or otherwise). All these things can take their toll.
Gillian was also drinking a fair amount of tea and coffee. The caffeine in these not only further increases cortisol levels, but it also boosted the amount of adrenalin in the blood. Adrenalin is another stress hormone and pretty much puts her body in a situation of high alert. 
Yes, this will make her thinking more focused and black and white (there is no grey abstract areas when it comes to survival), but in the long-term parts of her body will wear out faster and she will be carrying more weight.
In just one month, Gillian was sleeping better, her hormones were healthier, her skin glowed and she was feeling altogether happier. Eight weeks on, she’s already lost five kilos and counting.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015 | You don't need to apply for electricity connection, says KPLC

Kenya Power MD Ben Chumo during a press conference at the Intercontinental Hotel on April 17, 2015. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA |
Kenya Power MD Ben Chumo during a press conference at the Intercontinental Hotel on April 17, 2015. He said there was no need to make applications since the decree by the President means that all homes will be connected without having to apply. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA |
Kenya Power has said it has closed applications for electricity connections following a declaration by President Uhuru Kenyatta that all households be connected to electricity at a subsidized fee.
Kenya Power managing director Ben Chumo said there was no need to make applications since the decree by the President means that all homes will be connected without having to apply.
He also asked people living 600 metres from transformers to be patient as they will benefit from the subsequent phases in the programme.
“You know, application is like requesting to be connected. But already, the government has offered to connect everyone. There is therefore no need for applications,” said Dr Chumo.
During the Madaraka day celebrations, Mr Kenyatta directed that the cost of connecting to electricity be dropped from Sh35,000 to Sh15,000 to ease access.
The President said he had commissioned 40,000 transformers in a project that will end up lighting every village of the country.
“And even that smaller sum can be paid in installments, so that every Kenyan has the power he needs to improve and to prosper by investing in enterprises that add value,"
He said the project complements the school electrification programme, under which every primary school in the republic will have electricity within the next few months.
Dr Chumo said they had surveyed regions across the country to determine where transformers would be placed.
He said applicants will now identify a transformer that is 600 or less metres from their homes and notify the engineers when the installation begins.
The first phase of connection will begin in September through distribution of 5,320 transformers. It will take 18 months.
“All we are asking now is that those who will not benefit from the first connection should wait because phase two is coming,” he said in an interview.
Dr Chumo said Kenyans who are unable to pay will be given a grace period of up to 36 months to ensure that the poor are not left out in the electrification process.
Dr Chumo said the country requires nearly 100,000 transformers in order to sufficiently provide power. The government intends to connect 1.5 million Kenyans to electricity by the year 2019.
He said those who had been given quotations earlier should ignore them and use the new rates.
He also said they are working on ways of reducing the high number of unexpected blackouts which have been a major disruption to businesses.
“We can find an alternative way so that we don’t have to switch off power when rectifying mistakes,” he said.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta urges Africa to give up aid

12th.June 2015.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has urged fellow African leaders to stop receiving foreign aid, saying it is not an acceptable basis for prosperity.
"Dependency on giving that only appears to be charitable must end," he said in a tweet ahead of this weekend's African Union summit in South Africa.
The BBC's Robert Kiptoo in Kenya says it is not a government policy but a rallying cry for African leaders.
Aid is believed to account for 5-6% of Kenya's total income.
Mr Kenyatta said that foreign aid "often carries terms and conditions that preclude progress".
"It is time to give it up," he wrote.
Our correspondent notes that while Kenya does receive a lot of aid, it did survive for four years without foreign assistance after western countries suspended their aid in 1991, to express their anger with then President Daniel arap Moi.
The US, EU and the UK are the biggest donors to Kenya.
Since Mr Kenyatta came to power in 2013, he has had an uneasy relationship with the West.
He was accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of crimes against humanity for allegedly inciting post-election violence in 2008, in which more than 1,200 Kenyans were killed.
But the case was dropped last year after the prosecutor's office said it did have enough evidence to prove his criminal responsibility.
He and other leaders from the continent accused the ICC of bias against Africa.


What Ten Years in Kenya Have Taught Me About the Perils of American Ignorance, ‘Aid,’ and Narcissism

Obama’s visit this summer will certainly be a big event, but Kenyans’ interests stretch well beyond the United States.
A man in the Eastleigh neighbourhood in Kenya's capital Nairobi April 8, 2015 (Reuters/Thomas Mukoya)

10.June 2015.
Diani, Kenya—The largest daily newspaper here recently published a column by a British political scientist who argued that Kenya needs “lively disagreement and debate,” rather than efforts at reconciliation, in order to move on from the 2007-08 post-election violence. The political scientist, it’s worth noting, is a recognized Kenya expert with a PhD from Oxford.
A week later, the same paper carried a furious response by two Kenyan academics, one of them a regular columnist whose opinions, particularly on cultural matters, I’ve come to admire. Their objections were numerous, but the main one boiled down to this: The British political scientist’s prescription was all wrong because she didn’t understand the importance Africans attach to community harmony.
I hadn’t done more than glance at the original column, but now, curious, I went back and read it carefully. My conclusion was that while the Kenyans might have been a little too harsh, they were right in calling out the British “expert”: Americans and most Western Europeans may revel in speaking their minds, and indeed consider “forthrightness” a highly desirable trait, but Kenyans generally prefer private consensus-building on highly sensitive matters.
All of which leads me to the first lesson I will take away from living and working in Kenya for most of the last ten years, a period now at an end, which is that differences between cultures, in particular national cultures, are so deep, and so subtle, that it’s hard for outsiders not to put their foot in it. Or, in a political context, not to make a bad situation worse.
Here’s one personal example. I was working as a consulting editor at another of Kenya’s daily newspapers when the secretary of the cabinet had a major heart attack. At the morning news meeting the next day, I suggested that given how serious the situation appeared, the paper ought to have a story on the leading candidates to replace him. The idea was greeted with such an uncomfortable silence that I dropped it. Later, one of the senior editors explained that in Kenya, it’s considered impolite to even hint that someone might die.
I was deeply embarrassed; here I was, several years into my second stint of living in the country, and I was still failing to pick up on fairly basic social mores.
If individuals can get things so wrong because of a lack of cultural understanding, so can governments—and with far more serious consequences. Soon after the Islamic Courts Union (a loose coalition including businessmen and clerics) emerged in Somalia a few years ago and began to gain support for its success in bringing stability to the southern parts of the country, the United States decided the ICU was a terrorist group. Before long, Washington was sending suitcases full of cash by plane from Nairobi to a group of opposition warlords and encouraging Ethiopia to crush the ICU, which it did. And then what happened? With the leadership of the movement having fled or been killed, the ICU’s radical youth wing morphed into al-Shabaab, which has since killed at least 350 Kenyans and foreigners in attacks at the Westgate Mall, Garissa University, and elsewhere, and is now allied with Al Qaeda.
What I take from that series of events is that in Somalia, as in Afghanistan, the United States didn’t know enough about the players or the culture to make an intelligent intervention and would have served itself and Somalia better by doing nothing.
* * *
A second lesson I’ll take away from my years in Kenya is that a lot of “development” aid, both from governments and private charities, is of dubious value—unless you regard the dollars that aid workers spend on safari lodges and good restaurants as a useful contribution to GDP. Sometimes, in fact, I’ve wondered whether, all things considered, such aid does more harm than good.
One reason is that aid focuses too often on donor priorities rather than local ones. Yes, I support “gender equality” and “youth empowerment,” but it seems to me it’s far more important, in a country where many parents can’t afford to take their children to a doctor or to educate them beyond primary school, to concentrate on creating jobs. A few years ago, at a gathering at Harvard’s Kennedy School, a young graduate student working on a master’s degree in international development told me she wanted to “help” Kenya and asked what I thought would be the best way. I suggested she quit her program, get an MBA, and start a company in Kenya that in time might employ hundreds of people. She looked shocked, then disapproving, and quickly moved away.
Another reason I have questions about aid is that it too often leads to “donor dependency.” An acquaintance of mine in Nairobi told me a story about a trip she’d made to a rural area where she’d had a conversation with a group of farmers about their need for mechanized equipment to make their farms more efficient. Why, she asked them, don’t you get together and save until you can jointly buy a tractor? No, was the reply; we are waiting for the donors.
And then there’s the cost to Kenya of being portrayed by those seeking to raise aid money as “starving Africans.” What business, after all, wants to invest in a country where it believes there are few if any people with enough money to buy its products? Even my own two sons expressed surprise, when they came to visit, at the lack of malnourished children and the prevalence of shopping malls filled with Kenyan consumers. “When you’re fundraising you have to prove there is a need,” the head of one large US nonprofit organization told me. “Children starving, mothers dying. If you’re not negative enough, you won’t get funding.”
I am far from the only one with questions about aid. A couple of years ago, my husband asked a Swedish friend who’d recently retired after a career as a high-level UN aid official why he didn’t now parlay that into consulting work. Because, the friend told us, he had serious reservations about the value of his work, and if the impact had actually been negative, as he feared might be the case, he didn’t want to compound the error.
* * *
The final lesson I’ll take away from my years in Kenya is that America isn’t the center of the world—a fact which of course I had known, but which I didn’t fully internalize until I lived here. From my previous vantage point in the United States, I saw New York and Washington, DC, as the world’s most important cities, and US opinions on anything ranging from climate change to pop music as, when you came right down to it, the only ones that really mattered. Now, when I stand on the beach ten minutes from my house and pretend that if I look straight ahead I can see Indonesia, I recognize that webs of connection radiate from here, as from all countries, in many different directions.
Take India. My phone company here is owned by an Indian multinational, and many Kenyans go to India as medical tourists. China looms large, too: Chinese engineers are visible around the country working on road construction while Chinese educators teach Mandarin to young Kenyans eyeing possible careers in tourism or commerce. Dubai is for making plane connections, and, if you have money, for spending it. Australia is for further education. And when it comes to culture, there’s France: many young people in Nairobi have developed an enormous love of all things French thanks to Alliance Francaise, the best place in the city to see free films, work by new artists, and live musical performances.
In contrast, America is relatively remote. When I was here years ago, as a Peace Corps teacher, there was a US-sponsored library where Kenyans could go and read American magazines and American college catalogues. These days, that library is long gone and the US embassy is so far out of town and so ringed with gates and walls that you feel as though you’re going into a prison when you visit it. President Obama’s planned visit in July will certainly be a big event, but it won’t change the fact that while Kenyans are very interested in what’s happening in America, their day-to-day concerns are much broader and more complex.
One related realization that I’ll carry back to America is that there is no such thing as American exceptionalism. Americans may believe in it—heck, even now, despite my best efforts, a tiny bit of me still believes in it, too—but I’ve realized in my time here that few people in the rest of the world do. In particular, no one takes seriously Americans’ ultimate fall-back line, which is that even when we screw up, it’s from a misguided but well-meant effort to make the world a better place. When I was here years ago, many Kenyans were critical of the US war in Vietnam, seeing it as a continuation of colonialism; today many are critical of US policy in the Middle East, tied as it is to oil. I now accept, reluctantly, that America is no better or worse than a lot of empires that have come before. In fact, we’re kind of ordinary, apart from the fact that unlike most Kenyans I know, we believe our own PR.
* * *
The first time I left Kenya, in 1968, I cried so much on the plane trip to West Africa that the Liberian education official in the seat next to me felt compelled to try to cheer me up by inviting me to visit him and his family. I didn’t take him up on his offer, but I’ve always remembered how guilty I felt for not telling him that the real reason I was crying was not, as I explained to him, that I loved Kenya so much, but that I felt Kenya didn’t love me back. Or more correctly, that while I loved Kenya, Kenya was pretty much indifferent to me and wouldn’t even notice my going.
Now, as I prepare to say goodbye to Kenya again, I’ve been thinking a lot about that first parting. I’m quite sure the country won’t notice my departure any more this time than it did the first time, but now I realize that that’s as it should be, and I’m fine with it.
Still, I’ll be sad—sad to leave good friends and sad to say goodbye to a place where I continue to learn something new every day. At the same time, of course, I’ll be happy to be back in the United States with the family and neighbors I left behind. But will I be home? Will I be at home? I don’t know the answer to that question, and maybe I never will.