On this topic, I seek to rehash an anecdote from the post immediately anterior to this one to try to create some context. That’s why I cast my gaze back to the Israelite sojourn in the Deserts of Negev between Egypt & the Promised Land. Circling back to the book of Exodus 31:1 – 6. The Lord spoke unto Moses & pointed him to “Bezalel” whose name means protection of Yahweh. This young man was one of sublime intellect, an uncommon virtuoso in handiwork. Bezalel is described in the many genealogical lists of family trees domiciled in the book of Chronicles as the son of Hur of the Tribe of Judah among the Israelites. The Lord was not only impressed by the lad’s work ethic but also his skill and originality in engraving precious metals and stones. This multi-talented artist was also a wood sculptor, so vaunted that even at a young age he was already able to attract apprentices who made a beaten path to his workshop to imbibe tutelage on artistic prowess from his capable hands and keen eye for detail. This is the man who was head-hunted by the Lord of Hosts and called into the cloud together with Moses to receive the distinct blueprints, building plans, bill of quantities and iron-clad instructions on building the Tent of Worship its sacred furniture in tow, mold the Arc of the Covenant, design & prepare the Priestly vestments and assay the right alchemical formulae for the incense that would issue a fragrant offering unto the Lord. He was capably assisted by Oholiab son of Ahisamakh from the tribe of Dan. This is reminiscent of the word of scripture that the diligent and skilled shall ultimately stand up and perform before Kings, hence shall never be slaves.
Let me be stark in my assessment of matters. Professionalism is slowly but surely dying a painful death in Kenya. This is occasioned by a cynical proliferation of the culture of patronage that is taking root in our society. Apparently, you could be the best student during your time in school. Your academic prowess and intellectual acuity could be revered far and wide. However, in antipathy to the enduring sentiments of Afro-American civil-rights activist and a leader of the negritude movement; Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, men are no longer judged by the content of their character but by their cognizance of a career ‘Godfather’ or ‘Godmother!’ The Saturday Nation of the 25th September 2021 had a post by one of the regular columnists, Dr. Njoki Chege who also doubles up as the Director of the Innovation Centre at Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications. She recounted tales to bemoan the plight of Ph.D. holders who were still working as run-of-the-mill Primary School teachers. Prima facie, this is actually wonderful as what better role model and paragon of intellectualism exist than a professional at the zenith of academic attainment. Traditionally, teaching was a noble profession so much so that my father in regaling me with stories of his upbringing in the heartlands of rural Western Kenya, retold of the halcyon days when newspaper vendors would only sell the quotidian to teachers. After dispensing with salutary courtesies, you would crane your currency filled fist to the vendor as you expect the daily in reciprocation. But not so fast! He would put you through a rigorous grilling session to ascertain your suitability to read the journal before sale. Then Money wasn’t a thing! If you were proven unworthy, you were shooed away forthwith, your cash in tow. ‘Kwani iko nini?’ Deserving readers dotted the landscape. Even the simple newspaper vendor was trying to pass a message about respect for his profession. He did not want the products of his trade to be accessible to village hillbillies who only a few hours later would make utility of the leaves of the newspaper for ablution purposes after answering to the call of nature or worse still wrap up some cattle tripe to gift to those in the vicinity as a symbol of good neighbourliness. My point from this long-winded anecdote is that teaching was a noble profession. The newspaper vendor was no slouch either. It shows then teachers too had the money to back the credibility of their occupation.
Those who have watched the Afro-American Cartoon series, ‘Boondocks’ that is laden with themes on the allegory of the black condition in the United States of America have most certainly encountered a rather flamboyant, obviously misogynistic, eccentric and exuberant character who prefers to go by the self-promoting moniker, “A Pimp Named Slickback.” Any attempts to refer to him by the abridged, ‘Slickback’ more often than not will attract paroxysms of chagrin from the aforementioned, a resting bitch face for good measure. Woe on you, if you are one of the streetwalkers under his charge and in beginners’ exuberance dare call him by the shortened version, then almost immediately the undersigned would break into a mildly-blasphemous supplication for strength unto his pimp hand. The Amen part of that ‘prayer’ is the infamous ‘pimp-slap’ against the ingénue! In the interest of full disclosure, I am not here on any errand as a proponent of the illicit, carnal trade perpetrated by the ‘Grandes horizontales’ and their financiers/slave-drivers, far from it. I only seek to cipher the agenda of respect for professions and the respective professionals who dabble in them.
A few days before authoring this piece, I chanced upon the remarks of Kenya’s self-proclaimed ‘People’s President’ whose feathered cap also features a posting as the current African Union’s High Representative for Infrastructure Development and indubitably a front-runner in the Kenyan Presidential succession race, the Premier (emeritus) Rt. Hon. ENG. Raila A. Odinga. The ENG title before his name is not in the least an honorary designation as this is a self-made man with actual Academic training followed by a Professional profile as a Practicing Engineer. His name currently features among the distinguished as a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya. During an event dubbed as ‘Hiking Mt. Kenya’ where he met the business dignitaries & opinion leaders from Central Kenya at the Safari Park Hotel, he recounted in poignant detail the story of his return to Kenya from a storied academic sojourn in Germany. While at the Technical School, Magdeburg (today’s Otto-von-Guericke University) & Leipzig University he earned a Diploma in Welding supplementary to Bachelors & Masters of Science Degrees in Mechanical Engineering.
After a short stint lecturing at the newly-chartered University of Nairobi, he decided to dabble in business and established himself a metalwork fabrication workshop off Kampala Road in the Nairobi Industrial Area. He majored in the manufacture of metal casements, window frames & steel doors. He acquiesced a series of loans from the newly-founded Kenya Industrial Estates (KIE) adjunct to selling his then priced-possession, a left-hand drive, 1970 Opel Kadett which he had returned with from Germany. Moreover, as a friend of Indian extraction was caught in the throes of escaping the barbarically kakistocratic regime of Field Marshal. Idi Amin in Uganda en route to England, he purchased more metalworking equipment inclusive of a Guillotine machine for cutting sheet metal; a Lathe machine; Milling machines; Welding torches, transformers and sheds. Instructive to note, his financiers at the KIE that was created under the auspices of bilateral-technical assistance from Germany were impressed by his nous as an industrialist who was conversant with what he was doing pursuant to his training in Mechanical Engineering in antipathy to many others who were merely laymen trying their hand at manufacturing. He eventually acquired a tender to manufacture gas cylinders from the multinational, AGIP Petroleum Company which he duly executed. That is the origin story of his East Africa Spectre Limited that supplies gas cylinders to the girth of East & Central Africa to this day. In 1974 when Kenya needed an oversight body over matters of quality and maintenance of the highest standards for consumer protection, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KeBS) was founded with Rt. Hon. Odinga as founding Group Standards Manager. He was eventually promoted to the post of Deputy Director, a position he held until his unceremonious axing in the aftermath of the botched, August 1982 putsch.
At the advent of our independence in 1963, there was already a burgeoning population of erudite African professionals that were prepared to take up the bureaucracy after the departure of our colonial overbearers. This critical mass constituted the bourgeoisie (Middle Class) who worked in the many offices of State agencies and corporations countrywide as Civil Servants. A decade into autonomous rule, deleterious and utterly misguided policies started derailing the dream of full economic empowerment for the denizens of African Republics. Liberalization of the economy was the first that jolted a myriad fledgling local-owned enterprises that were still on the foundational shaky ground. During the Nyayo-era, further policies were wrought to promote foreign trade mostly to the disenfranchisement of autochthonous domestic investment. The result was the creation of the Comprador class of brokers and tenderpreneurs who mostly ran briefcase entities purporting to play the intermediate role to liaise between the indigenous producers of raw materials and either the well-heeled owners of domestic capital or foreign investors. The consequence of this status-quo is that today we have so many people offering all sorts of professional and consultancy services who are charlatans. The tragedy of the situation is that this cadre of non-professionals is so richly rewarded that you will see them whizzing around in their fuel guzzlers talking all sorts of drivel about hard-boiled professionals. The situation is oft exacerbated when this moneyed class are afforded the chance to join politics with the slovenly aim of ring-fencing their ill-acquiesced largesse. A few weeks ago, the nation was treated to the theatre of the absurd when one Hon. Kimani Ichung’wa stood up before a gathering and proceeded to pejoratively chide teachers as “Watu ya ka-Chokaa” (People of blackboard chalk). If you thought his superiors and not less the steward of his political outfit, our often garrulous and pseudo-philanthropic Deputy President would rebuke such utterances, you were in for the shock of a lifetime. The newly-minted Doctorate holder, Dr (con). William Ruto added fuel to this roaring inferno by invoking, “hii watu ya A-E-I-O-U!” The use of the designation Dr (con), in full – Doctor in Conjecture is not meant to impute any improper motives on the character of the Deputy President. It is only meant to convey the implausibility of someone achieving the acclaimed qualification of Doctor while battling an Indictment for Crimes against humanity, starting and fructifying several billion-shilling businesses, executing two consecutive Ministerial portfolios, running a vigorous campaign and subsequent triumph in the 2013 elections, joining the Executive Branch of Government as a Co-Principal, all of these done in the shadows of a ceaseless and vibrant political campaign for his own personal Presidential ambitions. Ipso-facto, the Conferee ought to have undertaken 6 years of arduous academic research and publication, taking into cognizance that we have only slightly over 10,000 Doctorate holders for a population of 53 million highly-skilled individuals. Come On! The demerit of rewarding full-blown mediocrity is that many a time, virtue will get derided, logic trampled underfoot, and truth controverted as the unenlightened majority become an unwitting audience to the shenanigans that is the worship of wealth. With such contempt, it is no wonder that Governors with merely a Bachelor’s Degree feel the predilection to look down upon more literate Medical Doctors within their jurisdictions, going as far as threatening to fire & replace them in case of industrial action (strike). What reason does one have to revile the same Teachers, Tutors and Lecturers through whose labour of love, he went through to attain his academic and professional qualifications? That is conduct perverse, ad-nauseam.
But where did the rains start to beat us? The real cause of this as for all problems of this world is leadership. Who did we choose as our revered, elected public officials? Today, the Executive of the Kenyan state is run by a duopoly with no discernible professional profile outside Politics. That to me is a glaring mishap! Why should two men with no record working as interns to rise to the entry-level positions then subsequent rises to mid-level then expert-level be allowed to join the managerial and executive cadre of an entire state? Such a quantum leap as we see with these evenly-yoked oxen tilling the Kenyan state today has denied them the chance to grow and get paid in the currency of experience which is unlikely to be obtained in any other way but by work. Today our economy is flagging. But who will reinvigorate it if we lack people with the economic tactical-nous, conceptual thinking and even leadership acumen to do so? Today Kenya has become an open shop where the state apparatchiks that are supposed to provide policy direction and actual expertise have been converted to opportunistic fraudsters with no one to hold them in check. No one detects the boat sinking with those in authority often reverting to fire-fighting and knee-jerk reactions after the horse inevitably bolts out of the stable!
The culture of patronage and favouritism is to blame for the dearth in professionalism in our nation. Apparently, in contemporary times, it matters not what you know but who you know. That is tragic as it flies in the face of well-worn counsel by dearly-departed American social-entrepreneur & Harvard scholar; Laila Janah, “Talent is evenly distributed but the opportunity for its expression, only sparsely.” Such bilge has actually begotten more claptrap as presently for some agencies, ‘Sex-For-Jobs’ is already de rigueur. It has become the cost of getting a job. Elsewhere, you need to know some clerk who works for another boss somewhere else to even have a minuscule fighting chance of accessing opportunities as foundational to a career as internships. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the fact that if you apply for a Public Service Job today, you will be forced to disclose to which ethnic affiliation you subscribe. The suits at Human Resources will give you all sorts of gibberish about diversity in the workplace and whatnot. The important factor here is that behind all that smokescreen and Public Relations hullabaloo, you will be denied a job for merely being ethnically discordant. We are also devolving that absurdity to our counties. I will not name and shame today but will point out accusatorily that in some County Job Application Portals, indeed kaleidoscopically-colourful and with well-populated user interfaces, you are unlikely to make any headway if you are not a resident of that particular county. The first tier of the application will give you the entire list of 47 counties, good enough. The second tier will ask for sub-counties. Here is where rubber meets the road. No sub-county outside that County will find a right of place in that list. It gets more muddled moving to the Ward level. This flies in the face of National Integration and the Constitutional entitlement to Live, work, conduct business and even present candidature for election anywhere in this heritage of splendour but who am I to correct experienced aficionados who have even wined & dined, then collected briefcases of cash from H.E. Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi in days bygone!
In the present day, more than any other time in our nation’s existence, we have too many Charlatans in public office. The synonym for these is ‘political appointees.’ These are men and women who may not be able to differentiate between the cleavages of their derrière and a crack on terra firma subsequent to rill erosion! They have no documented experience in the position that by good fortune falls upon their lap. However, you will find them occupying high-level postings in Public Service as Cabinet Secretaries, the mongrel position of Cabinet Administrative Secretary (CAS), State Department Chairmen and Public Service Board directorships. These positions have merely been dished out in repayment of political fealty by the ruling political outfits for these individuals’ efforts in marketing a political outfit to ultimate victory. The most high-profile beneficiary of such malfeasance was Hon. Rashid Echessa who rode his luck and Standard 7 education into Cabinet. However, in no dissimilitude to truculent NBA big man, DaMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, he got himself ejected soon enough. Dignifying the function of the unconstitutional position of CAS is akin to mentioning the ‘g’ in Lasagna. Purely as perfunctory as the human caecum and appendix. The unfortunate drawback from this quid-pro-quo culture of repaying political favours is that accountability becomes the casualty. State resources will be diverted and shared with the political godfathers who gave the jobs. We will have the horrendous feature of political life termed, ‘Mr. 10%’ who will engage in all sorts of uncontrolled tendering impropriety but nobody will hold them to account. Only after they have taken what Chinua Achebe characterized in his political treatise, ‘A Man of the People’ as “Enough for the owner to notice” will they be reshuffled, assigned lighter duties or gently prodded to step aside from the posting.
Tied closely to the paragraph above is the conundrum of skills mismatch that is a logical consequence of political appointees. Many years ago, in an effort to get a firm foothold in his then-tumultuous political boat, the Late President, H.E. Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi plucked Prof. George Kinuthia Musengi Saitoti out of the lecture room and bloodied him into the murky world of elective politics. To understand the reason for this masterstroke chess move, you need to comprehend the Kenyan political terrain. Kenya consists of 43 – 45 disparate nation-states that were cobbled into a colonial state for economic reasons by our former colonial masters. From the beginning, it was clear for the perceptive mind to surmise that the Kikuyu was and still is the biggest tribe pertinent to the demographic statistics. President Moi, the eponymously-declared ‘Professor of Politics’ originated from the minute Tugen subtribe that was a subset of the mighty Kalenjin-speaking nation. His was the underdog story of that man nobody gave a chance, a passing cloud and even derisively given the position of Vice President, merely to keep warm while the substantive titan was being prepared to take over. As occurs more often than not, life intervened and the sitting President, H.E. Jomo Kenyatta died in cathedra with Moi as his principal assistant. This was a vicissitude of fortunes. Constitutional stipulates allowing, he took over provisionally as a Presidential election was being organized which he contested and unsurprisingly won. All the same, as a semi-literate bloke from a numerically minuscule sub-tribe, his grip on power was always going to be tenuous at best. He was justified to live in insecurity, even amending the Constitution to now convert the troubling status of the Country as a ‘de-facto’ mono-party state to ‘de-jure’ (legally) one-party state. Imperative to note is that he preferred a coterie of the ‘not so learned’ in his inner sanctums of authority. His apprehension was validated on the 1st of August 1982 when a few platoons of the Kenyan Airforce attempted a coup-d’état. The ill-fated endeavor was crushed soon enough with President Moi now taking a vice-like grip on affairs of state. He purged his government of all non-loyalists and of course hanged those found culpable in the botched putsch. Similar to an inebriated & unreliable mafia don, he figuratively cocked his Beretta M9 and took out so many of his own ‘Capos’ that the landscape was left bare for new made-men to sprout. Such actions alienated him further and reduced his sphere of influence so much that going into the 1988 Mlolongo Poll, he was running on fumes and was in need of allies. With a keen eye to the inevitable day whence he would have been forced to restore multiparty democracy and taking cognizance of tribal arithmetic, he got himself a new VP. It was the aforementioned, Prof. Saitoti. Another portfolio that fell into Saitoti’s grasp was the Ministry of Finance. This was as a result of the former appointee to the position growing a tough exoskeleton of assertiveness so much so, he could not countenance pinning the famed KANU brooch with another man’s face on his coat lapel. Like Michael Jordan of the famed Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, President Moi ‘took it personally’ and demoted the headstrong Hon. Mwai Kibaki to the less-glitzy Ministry of Health. The entire tale above is a build-up to this point. The man who would become the future President, Mwai Kibaki in no uncertain terms distinguished both academically and professionally as an Economics virtuoso. It was thus an egregious miscalculation to axe him in favour of a Mathematics professor merely because the appointing authority misconstrued the mandate of the Finance Minister as merely “Kuhesabu pesa” (counting revenue) courtesy of sublime mathematical computation dexterity. The consequence is the floundering of the previously semi-vibrant economy for the rest of President Moi’s regime that terminated in 2002. Let’s not even discuss H.E. Kibaki’s role at the Ministry of Health that mostly involved biding his time while waiting for Christmas day, 1991 to bolt out after the repeal of Section 2A that made Kenya a plural democracy again. Today that script is being replayed to erratum as Prof. Magoha, an acclaimed medical professional of long-standing runs amok as a bull in a china shop executing his mandate as Cabinet Secretary for Education.
In recent days, I have been moved to the conviction that concerted efforts are being made to ruin the standing of the Engineering profession in Kenya. The fraternity at the Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK), of which I take the right of place as a member is currently caught in the throes of a life and death battle for the soul of our profession at the National Assembly. We are to file a Petition with the Clerk of the National Assembly pursuant to The Kenya Roads (Amendment) Bill No. 13 of 2021. Shadowy characters who for the want of better vocabulary, I shall refer to as quacks and hyenas, promoted a Bill through the Transport Committee of the National Assembly that opened up the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA), Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) & Kenya Rural Roads Authority (KERRA) to be managed by non-Engineers in antipathy to the well-worn formula that has worked well for an eon. This is anathema to the core mandate of the authorities as it will water down the gains that have been made in the Kenyan Road Sector over the course of the previous decade. I may not exactly know the reason why a non-Engineer who in good continence chose to study another course would want to now delve into the perilous and soul-sapping vexation that is the design, construction and maintenance of thoroughfares in Kenya but I will hazard a guess, The Gravy Train that is the Road Construction Enterprise in Kenya. Our umbrage is especially stocked by the fact that the progressive Constitution we bequeathed ourselves in 2010 adjunct to its subsidiary legislations envisaged a competency-based governance structure as erring on the side of best practice for the sake of quality improvement of every nook and cranny of the highway construction landscape. This, pursuant to the Kenya Roads Act of 2007 entailed the creation of a board that drew delegates from Industry, Highway Engineering, Transport Economists, Surveyors, Accountancy and Law. As per the stipulates of the Engineer’s Act 2011, any professional responsible for Engineering designs should be a man/woman who is either in the process of being or is already a Licenced Professional Engineer. International best practice has embraced skill-specific job prerequisites for the Chief Executives/ Managing Directors and Director Generals for respective institutions on substantive core business. This mantra is shared by our neighbours Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria.
The sages put it best when they posited, “Where there is smoke there is fire.” The portents were clear to see when news reports filtered through that an actual ‘mama mboga’ (vegetable vendor) whose mates have found plenty of prominence in current political discourse actually won a Lot of a Road Construction project somewhere in Kenya! Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) notwithstanding, this to me is in the realm of the surreal. Who is to be held accountable in case of low-quality standards? Engineers may be blamed when a building collapses ignoring the roles of the client & contractors in acquiescing retrograde or poor mixture of constituent materials.
Elsewhere, a coiffeuse carted a 60 Kg sack of money to an unspecified quarry in Ongata Rongai in what has now been unearthed to be the NYS Scandal I. Retired Military Officials and disgraced Police Commissioners have in the recent past found themselves the spanking new appointees to State Corporation boards. I am on record in a previous post bemoaning the rationale of having most of the Electrical Engineering related firms in Kenya overseen by non-electrical Engineers. I do not need to reiterate the situation at KETRACO which is run by an Accountant, KENGEN which has a Lawyer as Managing Director, Kenya Power was until a few weeks ago shepherded by a Procurement aficionado who quit in a huff to be replaced by an experienced Electrical Engineer. Universal karma is now slightly restored.
How are our power-related agencies to be run efficiently and with professionalism albeit accountability if the substantive officials for whom the buck stops are not sufficiently tooled for the task?
Certainly, arguments will be adduced to the effect that the Jobs of the CEOs and Chairmen are simply about managing Policy and Human Resources but I feel this is too simplistic and invariably where the plot is actually lost. Hot on the heels of this debacle is the fiasco at the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) that has seen a new Director General (DG) and his Chairman appointed despite both being not only non-Engineers but men who left their previous postings of similar magnitude under a pungent miasma of impropriety. I feel little predilection to mention names here for those can be found in the Authority’s website and the dailies, nonetheless we all bore witness to the scandal at KEMRI last year that yielded a new class of ‘fat cats’ in town who were christened the ‘COVID-Millionaires!’ For the new DG, we all remember him for previously being the photogenic heartthrob ‘Chilo-bae’ but subsequently forced to issue half-hearted & quite ludicrous rationalizations over the failures that resulted in the botching of electoral returns’ transmission from the Polling stations to the national tallying centre which unsurprisingly led to the Supreme Court annulling of the results for the 2017 Elections. The content of the Electoral Servers is still the stuff of conjecture to date! We can now visualize the trend that is some sort of musical chairs meant to protect a few sacred cows that were clearly political appointees.
In my musings, I usually find my mind wandering as to question why we have to cast our eyes so far & wide it hurts, merely to get Electricians and Plumbers in spite of all these new, imposing structural edifices coming up at a premium certainly requiring the services of both? Isn’t this the same country that laments high levels of youth unemployment? Methinks, it has something to do with remuneration accorded to the operatives of both careers. The gospel truth and in pandering to the laws of natural justice, professionals will always go to where the cash beckons them.
Today more than any other time in our nation’s history, jobs are awarded to any Tom, Dick & Harry on the basis of bribery albeit corruption to the exclusion of any tactical nous. As a result, we find a few skilled employees who are fragrantly overworked as their colleagues ‘diversity employees’ (pejorative for the ones who could afford the bribe) fritter their time away on Facebook, Pokemon go and Spider Solitaire! The sale of Charcoal and Sugar in Somalia by errant servicemen of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) pays little homage to their entrepreneurial acumen & ingenuity but only highlights the rot that currently afflicts the various institutions of State. Today, I will give a pass to the Policemen who take bribes on our roads in the guise of enforcing not just the Covid-19 mask mandate but road safety. For the business class to access government tenders, then some sort of fee has to be paid to some highly-placed officials which is the culture of facilitation fees. Out here some hare-brained political sloganeering will have you believe that “Kazi Ni Kazi” (Every Job has dignity).
If this is the case, why is there no equality of pay?
Why are some taxpayers forced to exist as the working poor who have to cross county lines for decent accommodation at their rent scale if every job has dignity?
Why do we have slums with sheet-iron hovels devoid of ablution blocks housing well-trained professionals who are unable to afford anything more concomitant with their professions?
Unless your thought process is in little dissonance to the famous childhood-cartoon show penguin named Pingu while high on cocaine addiction, you are unlikely to fall prey to the wiles of the duplicitous and aptly-named ‘Man-Willy’!
We need a jolt of realism from our national leaders to snap us all out of this collective state of stupor. It will take resolute and indeed revolutionary action that will involve a reduction in the politician’s pay while raising that of actually-working and taxpaying professionals. I am calling for a benevolent dictatorship. We need to put a kibosh on the culture of politics for money’s sake in difference to raising the standing of professions to be lucrative. Pay scales need to not only be adjusted upwards but also harmonized so that no professional will be adjudged less valuable compared to another. Hopefully, we will get some respect back to the name of the professional from the incoming regime in Kenya.