We did not send you to public office to do business with our state

First published Saturday Standard, June 23, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Life-style audits and integrity testing are all the rage again. Politicians are discussing it, Kenyans on twitter are discussing it and I hope our law enforcement agencies are acting on it. The debates reveal the very best and worst of our moral economy.

Lifestyle auditing was relevant when Jacob tricked Esau out of his birth-right in the bible. It was needed when the colonial fraudsters swindled East African chiefs under the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA) back in the 1890s. We needed it when the Ndegwa Commission obliterated the notion of public servants engaging in business as a conflict of interest. We needed it when Jubilee promised it and then abandoned in 2013. We really needed it in 2015, when I and civic leaders demonstrated the control that vendors wielded over our very budget and the profound flows in our procurement systems.

Instead, we have built and polished a state and public culture that thrives on secrecy, private wealth accumulation and a lack of care. The Official Secrets Act led us to the absurdity of even marking national newspapers in Government offices as “Highly Confidential” despite the fact that they were the same ones everyone else was buying and reading on the streets. Wealth declarations by state officers seeking office in 2013 were likewise kept secret when the evidence of their wealth accumulation was glaring for all to see.

Thousands of Kenyans tweeting photos and figures of properties allegedly owned by elected and appointed state officials under the hashtag #Weknowyoursalary was #KOT at it’s finest. Comedian Jamymo ule Mzee also weighed in. He asked us to be suspicious of those who were travelling in matatus, ordering Blue Moon vodka and half kilo nyama yesterday and are now Ubering everywhere and ordering Hennessy brandy and five kilos of chicken. The broader point has been made. Life-style auditing is both an exercise for the public and our law enforcement agencies. Any intelligent taxi-driver, security guard, travel agent, bank-teller or estate agent without a twitter account can tell you who owns large chunks of our country.

The net worth, sources and uses of their monies and properties, income tax returns and bank deposits lies at the heart of solid life-style auditing and assessing hidden incomes of individuals, families and close friends and partners. Speed is, of the essence. Hidden assets are transferrable and there are a few countries that still accept corruption proceeds. Other countries like USA, Canada and South Africa are perfecting systems of catching those we can call Thieves In State. We can learn from them.

We are at a critical moment in the fight against corruption. Public naming and shaming must be accompanied by an anti-theft and anti-fraud strategy that operates within criminal procedures. Rushed, unfocussed or intrusive investigations that are not guided by our laws will squander this moment and imperil the nation. Search warrants, court orders, records and witness protection are crucial elements in criminal procedures and must be used creatively now.

For the rest of us, we must also challenge our comfort in holding situational ethics. Too many of us still argue that leadership integrity is not for our offices and homes, it is only for those in Government. We can steal a little as long as we get the job done or we are not likely to get caught. We will not win the war against corruption until we have more people seeking to study leadership integrity testing and not how to circumvent public procurement ethics and procedures.

We must have this conversation with our children also. My youngest child recently turned 18. Six months ago, he tried to justify going to an adult night-club saying, “there is an 3% chance of being caught by the karoo”. His interest ended abruptly when I argued that even if it was slim, if caught, there was an 100% chance that he would sleep the night in Parklands Police Station. My duty as his parent is to keep the bar of 100% integrity as a standard for his life. It is his duty as a citizen to maintain it for our country.

We have to share with each other the inspiring stories of Thomas Sankara and other leaders who led with the belief that simple lifestyles is not poverty. We must also demand of our appointed and elected leaders to live within their salaries or step down. We did not send you to public office to do business with our state.

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Values not descriptive tales must drive our proposed Presidential Library

First published Saturday Standard, June 16, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Having spent the last few days visiting North American museums, the proposal to establish a Kenyan Presidential Library, Museum and Exhibition Centre caught my attention. The pressure to frame past President’s legacies for future generations is now on. It remains to be seen whether nostalgia or igniting the national imagination will be its focus.

The North American experience is very relevant for the plans to establish a memorial library “initially” for former Presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki. North America has established thirteen Presidential libraries over the last fifty years. Although they are called libraries, they are really archives and museums that bring together documents and artifacts for lovers and students of American history.

The buildings and their content belong to the American people. Together, they house over 400 million pages, ten million photographs and 100,000 audio and video-tape recordings. The amount of motion picture film they contain could line the road between Mombasa and Lokichogio five times. Millions of people pass through their doors annually. The most popular of the museums are those of Reagan and Clinton. Hoover and Nixon’s are the least popular.

Most North American museums remain preoccupied with the material culture of executive power, its’ protocols, replicas and architecture. Too much attention and cost goes into recreating a self-absorbed nostalgia with the pen he used, the chair he sat on and his favorite car. Grasping to be politically correct, too little attention is paid to the dilemmas and demons they faced or the frailty of their characters. At their worst, the libraries are exercises in myth-making and legacy narrative control.

At their worst, Presidential libraries are exercises in myth-making and legacy narrative control.

Recent plans for the fourteenth library for Obama have generated interesting discussions on the purpose and organization of a Presidential library. Obama’s proposed library in Chicago breaks with the past in two ways. The museum will be owned and operated by the Obama Foundation and the President’s papers will be the property of the National Archives not the Foundation.

Traditionally, American libraries have been built with public financing and major private donations. These private donations have often been made to sitting Presidents and not transparently declared. Public disclosure of who and how much is being contributed matters for the integrity of our own museum.

Our presidential museum must avoid other risks. The purpose of a Presidential library is to honestly reveal the distinctiveness of the period and the decisions and dilemmas of its leadership. The three first Presidents and the current are very different men. Collapsing them into a single space seems to me to be a recipe for blurring national history.

Leadership, personal character and legacy matters in a Presidential library. There is a reason why the museums of bold and charismatic past Presidents like Reagan and Clinton attract and the controversial Nixon and Hoover’s do not. Those presidents who left office with high public approval ratings tend to have more visitors than those who left publicly scorned.

Remaining honest in the face of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report or Joe Khamisi’s “Looters and Grabbers: 54 years of corruption and plunder by the elite (1963-2017)” is the Presidential team’s first challenge. It will be interesting to see how they will capture the actions taken or not to forge a unified, ethical society that is free from want and fear.

Remaining honest to our history of violence, exclusion and corruption is the first challenge

The inner working of the US state is vividly captured in a remarkable conversation between President Lyndon B. Johnson and FBI Director John E. Hoover on the murder of civil rights activists in Mississippi in 1964. Imagine if our Presidential library captured deliberations on how to manage leadership transitions, corruption scandals, high level assassinations, university student protests and economic policy trade-offs. What were their red bike moments? Their concerns and fears? What did they feel were their successes and achievements?

To frame a powerful story-line, planners of our first Presidency Museum should look to National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Muhammad Ali Center in Washington DC and Louisville, Kentucky. Both offer more inspiring models of recreating history. They weave both personal stories and public narrative with both complexity and clarity. Values of integrity, courage, humility and extra-ordinary public service ooze from those walls. Visitors are left with not just past stories but how past choices and sacrifices relate to the present. Above all, the two museums challenge us to live by the principles of confidence, bold leadership, dedication, giving, care for others and spirituality.

It is important that values rather than descriptive tales drive the heart of our presidential museum.

It is important that values rather than descriptive tales drive the heart of our presidential museum. It is not obviously clear which these could be. One approach could be to ask citizens to describe the experience they want when they visit the future museum. Having listened to what Kenyans are curious about and value as important, script a narrative that inspires us in Ali’s words “to be great and do great things”.

Eid Mubarak all.

Greater awareness and vigilant action will stop rapes in our schools and society

First published Saturday Standard, June 9, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

School rapes and state corruption compete for our attention and action. Besides Moi Girls Secondary in Nairobi, there were at least four other reported cases of school-based rape this week. The national attention they have generated gives us an opportunity to reflect again on why we are not winning the war against child abuse.

Kenya has ratified the most important child rights protection international laws. We have enacted important constitutional provisions and laws that outlaw emotional and physical abuse, sexual harassment and neglect. Sadly, we know from experience that neither international and national laws guarantee the safety of our children without concerted enforcement.

By the time 71 girls were raped and 19 girls were killed by male students in St Kizito Secondary School in 1991, we had signed the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. Hopefully, St Kizito’s former Deputy Head-teacher Joyce Kithira is wiser now and regrets her infamous comments at the time, “The boys never meant any harm to the girls, they just wanted to rape them”.

Neither the UN Convention, the African children’s rights charter or Article 53 of our constitution have been able to stop these frightening incidents and trends. More than ten cases of rape and defilement among adults and minors have occurred every day for the last three years. Rape and defilement cases are more than one and half times more likely to occur than cases of economic crimes and corruption according to the 2018 Economic Survey. Yes, there is something more dangerous than the catastrophe of “Grabbiosis”. There has to be some discomfort also in recognising that taking children’s bodies by force, corruption and landgrabbing are all expressions of the abuse of power.

How we treated the case of Nairobi Moi Secondary School speaks volumes where we are as a society. There were the allegations of the Matron’s delayed responses to the student’s cries for help and then clumsy attempt to cover up the incident and bribe the students with bursaries. The refusal to allow parents to collect their children the morning after their trust was shattered. Then the confusion around the first medical examination that initially found the girls had not been raped and molested. Before investigations were even concluded, the National Disaster Management Unit, Nairobi County and armed police brought down 300 Toi market stalls 500 meters from the school. Their knee jerk and possibly opportunistic actions violated Government guidelines on forced evictions and resettlement.

The active engagement of parents and the Ministry to dissolve and elect new slate of Board of Governors and the Parents Association is welcomed. It remains to be seen whether the Education Ministry will pursue Head Teacher Jael Muriithi or her staff for probable maladministration after the Teachers Service Commission allowed her to proceed on early retirement. There must be consequences for that night of violence.

Other cases were reported also at Homa Bay’s Rusinga school and Nairobi’s Huruma Girls School. Moi Girls Kamusinga School Teacher Willy Wanyonyi and Mosa Mixed Secondary School Head Teacher Samuel Kimanzi found themselves in Bungoma and Kitui courts charged with rape and sexual assault this week as well. While their case to prove their innocence is ongoing, it is worth remembering that the Teachers Service Commission has deregistered 262 male teachers over the last three years.

Besides non-consensual sex, sex for marks, pocket money or mobile-phones is also prevalent in our schools. It also has to stop. The lack of safety in our 29,000 schools mirrors our broader society. It is unacceptable that in 2018, women in marriages, women and girls walking to toilets in our urban settlements or to fetching water in our rural villages risk sex based violence.

We must invest in building communities that understands violations and are ready to report and act on them. Rather than clearing away communities around our schools, we can invest in building in them also, monitoring capacity and vigilance to protect children. We have to empower our boys and girls to press for the truth to be known and action to be taken. Like the brave Moi Girls Secondary School girls, they have to know that their parents, alumni, civic organisations, media and their Government will protect them.

The new curriculum commits to creating empowered, ethical and engaged students, parents and school administrators. We can also learn from organisations like Amnesty’s human rights friendly schools and Ujamaa Africa’s Moment of Truth programs. Ujamaa Africa has successfully reduced cases of verbal harassment and rape by coaching boys to shift their sense of entitlement over female student’s bodies towards respect and protection. By building greater awareness, vigilance and a ready to report culture supported by safe complaint mechanisms, we can defeat rape in our schools and the wider society.

Other anti-corruption strategies besides polygraphs we could use

Happy belated Madaraka day everyone. If there is a day that represents our nation’s search for self-governance and integrity it is this. Once again, a vicious struggle by citizens, state officials and cartels for the conscience of our nation framed the day. Perhaps, it is time to try new strategies to realize our constitutional aspirations.

Less than a hundred individuals and briefcase companies seem to have made off with 17 billion shillings intended for our farmers, youth, energy consumers and forests in the last month. I suspect the remaining ethical State Officers will have been left shaking their heads and wondering where to start cleaning up. They can be forgiven for the cowardice of thinking Kenya has no 2030 vision or future anymore. The present is too turbulent. All there is left to do, is damage control.

If we are honest, many citizens are grappling with cowardice too. The figures are mindboggling. Let me put this in context for us all. The estimated losses are twice the amount set aside in last month’s supplementary budgets to recruit new 24,000 teachers. It is slightly more than new Gas Yetu program to buy 3 million gas cylinders for low income families. Our #StopTheseThieves protesters in Mombasa and Nairobi put it differently on Thursday. We lose 25,000 shillings every second to these scandals. Overwhelmed, most citizens can be forgiven for the hopelessness and cynicism that nothing will ever change.

It is worth reminding those that remain apathetic or too busy to address the implications, that this too, is Vision 2030. Let Transparency International help you imagine the complete and catastrophic collapse of Chapter Six for a minute. The bottom five most corrupt states on the Transparency Index are characterized by no public services, child labor, huge inequalities, conflict and violence, no free press or civic organisations and failed states.

The stairway to the top of the Transparency Index is fairly straight forward. Thorough and uncompromised investigations by the National Intelligence Services and Directorate of Criminal Intelligence and convictions by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is what is needed now. Hold bank managers accountable for obviously violating our banking laws. Vet lifestyles and confiscate Officials and their immediate relatives’ assets until the cases are concluded. Keep the investigations in the public domain as much as is possible without jeopardizing the cases. Ask for and guarantee Kenyans immunity to share information on these cases.

Once again, these scandals reflect a fierce battle for the very soul of our nation. The degree of ethical rot reflects in the appetite for supplies management and procurement diplomas. It reflects also in the frenzy for Government tender hustling. The desire to supply goods, services or works is a part of every dinner conversation right now. Seven in ten young people now see this as their main career objective. We must start thinking and acting differently.

Some hard lessons need to be learnt by the President and 47 Governors. Giving State Officers a free pass by appointing questionable past State Officers, campaign financiers and poor vetting is ultimately responsible for the current crisis. Deliberately ignoring voices that raised public alarm during the campaigns and nomination vetting processes is another costly mistake. Criminalizing corruption in episodic music chairs games is not working.

What if we started really incentivizing citizens who fight impunity and corruption? What if we had real incentives for those helping injured on our roads, volunteering in our communities, running benefit marathons, exposing and demonstrating publicly against corruption, filing taxes early, showing up punctually and exercising regularly?

What if Government agencies started to fast-track key services, offer a one-time right to bail card, tax breaks, free parking and matatu rides for patriotic citizens who act against impunity and corruption?

What if State Officials really protected the right of citizens to freely express themselves, assembly and organize against human rights violations, impunity and corruption?

The Director of Public Prosecutions statement in support of Article 37 and the anti-corruption rally this week did not go unnoticed by the public. Like GSU officer Joseph Nthenge’s non-violence coaching of post-election demonstrators in 2009, he affirmed our right to peacefully assemble and protest. Our democracy is richer for both their actions.

Whether you were in Uhuru Park or Safari Park this week, we have to intensify our battle against public theft and find ways of working together. There is power in both prayer and protest when we choose to act decisively together.

Has Government lost its moral compass on Palestinian-Israeli conflict: An Africa Day thought

First published Saturday Standard,May 26, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Yesterday, one billion people across 54 countries marked the 55th anniversary of the birth of the Organisation of African Unity. Africa Liberation Day is marked on May 25 each year. This year, I am left wondering whether our otherwise Pan-Africanist foreign policy may have lost its moral compass on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Only 32 free and independent African states declared an end to colonialism, white minority rule and a commitment to return sovereignty to the continent in 1963. Jomo was there, so was Kwame, Selassie, Nassir and Nyerere among others. Africa had finally found its feet after 400 years of slavery and the forced abduction of 12 million men, women and children. 2 million never made it across the Atlantic to the Americas.

At the time the OAU Charter was signed, popular movements were reclaiming control of the world’s second largest and most-populous continent. The demand for majority rule, equality and non-discrimination anchored their moral compass. In their struggle, they inspired hundreds of millions of non-African citizens and tens of states globally. The abolitionist movement, Organization of Afro-American Unity, Pan African Movement, Non-Aligned Movement, Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation were some of the organized expressions of solidarity with Africa.

Today, Africa is politically free and on the verge of one of the world’s biggest common markets. We can boast of having produced the world’s largest concentration of minerals, 25 Nobel Laureates and two United Nations Secretary Generals. Within this context, it wounds our national conscience that the Government chooses to ignore the recent atrocities committed by the Israeli Government in the Gaza strip.

From March 30 onwards, over 100 Israeli snipers have shot repeatedly into protesting crowds on the border with the Palestinian territory. The demonstrations are protesting the failure to implement a 70 year old UN resolution and Israeli expansion into Palestinian territories. At least 58 have died from gunshot wounds to the head, chest and back. Thousands have been wounded with several now amputees. Children have not been spared in these gory statistics according to the Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights. In defense, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Hamas of violently attacking their border patrols. The United Nations and independent human rights organization disagree.

Violence is also sadly etched in Africa’s history. Despite this, instead of condemning the violence, our Kenyan embassy chose to attend the opening of the United States of America Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14. Our attendance violated a United Nations decision in December that voted against the US proposal to move their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Alongside diplomats from Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Cameroon, Congo, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, South Sudan, Angola and Ethiopia, Acting High Commissioner Jon Chessoni raised a cocktail glass or two, less than 100 kilometers from the killing fields.

The African Union swiftly condemned the relocation arguing it jeopardizes the possibility of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. South Africa promptly recalled its Ambassador and the Angolans fired two top diplomats. Our Foreign Ministry seems to hope no-one has noticed this diplomatic blunder.

The city of Jerusalem is significant for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Often forgotten by non-muslims, Jerusalem is also a holy city for 1.6 billion Muslims globally. Al Aqsa mosque, the third most sacred Muslim site, is located here. By recognizing the US Embassy and failing to condemn the violence, we have violated international law and broken ranks with the African Union, the Arab League and the United Nations. We have also further complicated the demilitarization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the search for peace in the middle east.

Instead of this risky path, we need to re-center ourselves within AU and UN positions. Our moral compass has to be placed out of the reach of the “aid goodies”. We must speak our truth as a country. We owe it to our history. It will not mean we love the Israeli or Palestinian people less. It will mean we care enough to bring this suffering and injustice to an end. It is time our Government also calls for an international arms embargo and an end to the use of lethal force.

This is my birthday wish for Africa. That we remember all the Pan-Africanists who died over the year is my other wish. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Hugh Masekela, Calestous Juma, Rok Ajulu and Adebayo Adedeji have joined Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and all our other ancestors. May they continue to watch over us and send us a signal from time to time.

 

Forest dependent people key in conservation

First published Saturday Standard, May 19, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Last week, the Environment Ministry’s spirited #PandaMitiPendaKenya campaign rallied Kenyans to plant over a billion trees and restore Kenya’s depleted forest cover. The excellent campaign comes in the wake of recent reports that emphasize the importance of locally driven forest conservation efforts.

Forests are at the heart of our current economy and future survival. The recently completed Taskforce report on Forest Management and Logging estimates our forests contribute 7 billion shillings per annum and employs 50,000 and 300,000 people directly and indirectly respectively. Trees and especially the Cedar tree is big business for some.

We lose 5,000 hectares of tree cover or if you like, 5,000 rugby pitches each year, to commercial logging, illegal encroachment and infrastructure. Ten counties namely Narok, Nakuru, Kilifi, Lamu, Kwale, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Kericho, Nandi, Uasin Gishu and Baringo are responsible for the greatest losses.

Our forests hold our water towers and are directly responsible for all the water that is available for human consumption and our entire eco-system. We lose 62 million cubic litres of water each year due to deforestation. Put it another way, every year, 4,300 Kenyans lose their complete access to water. Left unchecked, Kenya will join Egypt and other water stressed North African countries in under ten years

The Taskforce also found the very agency assigned the duty of protecting our forest culpable of involvement in corruption and widespread logging. In a rare and decisive action, Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko braved the cartels, disbanded the Kenya Forestry Services Board, sent senior officers packing for abuse of office and implemented a 90 day ban on commercial logging.

Contestation over the exploitation and conservation of our forests stems back to colonialism. At the heart of this, has been the rights of indigenous peoples and forest-dwelling communities like the Sengwer and the Ogiek of the Embobut and Mau forests. These and other communities have lived, worshipped, harvested and restored our forests for a century.

Indigenous people are recognized in our constitution and international rights standards. The term indigenous does not mean these communities came first. Rather, an indigenous community lives as a collective, has a spirituality and a culture that depends on their access and rights to their traditional forest lands and natural resources. It also recognizes that they have been historically marginalized by central government. Denying these communities access to their subsistence economy threatens to extinguish their very identity.

Having dominated the January headlines, the forced evictions of the Sengwer were revisited this week in a new Amnesty International report that documents the use of excessive force and state violence by the Kenya Forestry Service. Over the last five months, Government has justified the evictions as a military operation to stop banditry, a forestry conservation program and more recently that the Sengwer no longer strictly depend on the forest for their livelihoods. There is a tragic irony that glares at the nation here.

Since January 2014, Kenya Forestry Service rangers burnt down 2,531 forest based dwellings in 76 incidents, killed at least one person, injured tens of others and made thousands homeless. Suffering, destitution, cutting down of more trees to build new homes and disruption of traditional practices of community based forest management has been the impact. To add more pain to injury, Sengwer attempts to denounce illegal logging by companies and KFS collusion in 2015 were ignored. It is absurd to expect this community, after all that has happened to them, to have a consistent strategy and investment towards conserving the forest

Correcting injustices against the Sengwer must include prosecution of all state officers who abused their office and used excessive force to evict hundreds of families against their will. In the light of the Forestry Management Taskforce, Amnesty International Kenya and the soon to be completed Kenya National Human Rights Commission reports, Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Tolgos must urgently convene an inclusive dialogue of national and county actors.

Community forest management and ownership is globally recognized as the most sustainable model for forest conservation. Asking 47 million Kenyans to plant 1.5 billion trees and not hold the very same communities accountable for their nurture and protection doesn’t make sense.

The forest dependent and indigenous peoples of Kenya are easy allies for the state. Instead of forced evictions, the state must move to create partnerships with them for our forests. The rest of us must continue to plant trees in our farms, gardens and remaining urban green spaces while the rains continue to pound. This is the only way to move Kenya from #Grey2Green.

Let apologies come with new actions

First published Saturday Standard, May 5, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Working with pastoralist communities several years ago, I was astonished to find a bridge in the middle of the desert. Baffled, I asked a local leader what was the reason for the bridge? He explained that the seasonal river had meandered soon after the bridge was built leaving it standing all alone. Listening to the 2018 State of the Nation address, there are insights for those that seek to heal us and build bridges for a vibrant, ethical, non-violent and democratic culture.

Geologists call the phenomenon of meandering rivers an avulsion. It is what happens when the river rapidly abandons its original course and forms a new channel. Combine this knowledge with the current anger of the swollen Tana river and nature offers us another lesson how not to fix last year’s toxic politics.

The apology, declaration of a political ceasefire and the call to all leaders to lead the entire country were the most powerful parts of this year’s State of the Nation address. There is always power in apology. To say, “I betrayed your trust and seek your forgiveness” does not lead to a loss of status or indicate inadequacy and incompetence.

I for one accept the apology, if this does not mean that this is the end of the conversation. Those who apologize often know that making an apology is always a good way to have the last word.

This is not the first national apology. The 2015 State of the Nation speech took responsibility for historical injustices, human rights abuses and exclusion. It was backed by a call to implement the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation report and establish a Kshs 20 billion restorative fund. The fact that these promises have not been kept by State House and both houses of Parliament three years on should concern us. So, what needs to happen next?

To fix what ails us requires an honest reflection. Last year, party electoral campaigns demonized opponent’s supporters, State Officers illegally tapped public finances and pierced the integrity and independence of our key public, civic and business institutions. Consistent calls for dialogue to replace grandstanding and hardline abuse were ignored for seven months. We literally allowed our constitution to be raped.

Back to today’s bridge-building exercise. Bridge construction is based on science. This is especially so when the waters below them are deep and destructive. Still missing from the President’s speech or the announcement of the national dialogue team is how many bridges do we need and where do they plan to lead us?

The silence since the March 9 handshake has left the national village confused. Predictably, the same narrow political arguments fill this void. Calls to change the constitution to remove presidential term limits or create the position of the Senior Cabinet Secretary (code for Prime Minister) seem to be testing the waters. Changing the constitution at such a low moment is unwise.

The lack of respect and enforcement for the constitution and not the constitution was the problem last year. These calls are an attempt to extend the electoral season by other means. Sadly, once again, the nation is being distracted from what really ails us.

Another sign on what kind of bridges to expect comes from the choices made in the National Dialogue Team. Thankfully, the two Principals excluded the hardliners that pressed us to the brink last year. However, the absence of young male and female professionals with demonstrated experience of deep social listening, election-management, security sector reform, mass communications and inclusive economies is an obvious weakness. Rather than relying only on personal emissaries, the sponsors also needs a technical team embedded in national professions, labor and community associations.

Apologies and handshakes between politicians are no substitute for a national dialogue and action strategy that promises change for those affected by political violence. This road is clear for several of us. Let hand-shakes and promises start happening with those families also. Can Kenyatta and Odinga jointly visit some of those homes? Can we see their new team publicly listening to whistle-blowers, journalists, judges, doctors and communities on what needs to happen before 2022?

My best apology this week was the Energy Cabinet Secretary’s belated admission that Kenya Power and Lighting Company has been inflating our bills and their promise to give relief to affected customers.

If apologies without new actions are meaningless then new actions without an apology have no integrity. Our leaders must do both to ensure they don’t build bridges over rivers that have moved on.