Presentation to the Mwamdudu school community, August 8th

WhatsApp Image 2016-08-08 at 10.20.41 AM WhatsApp Image 2016-08-08 at 12.05.33 PM

Hii mapambano ilianza na wanafunzi wa Langata road primary school. Mimi na wengine hapa tulikua huko.

Viongozi wa Serikali  kutoka pande zote za Jubilee na Cord wakasema kila shule itapata cheo.
Hadi sasa waKenya kule Lavington, Maralal, St Bridgets, Naka wamejitahidi kulinda shule zao
Tunajua, wakati nzige wanakuja kukula mahindi, hakuli mahindi wa jirani pekee, watamaliza zako na zangu.
Asanteni wa ujasiri ku rejesha Mwamdudu.
Asanteni kwa ku simama na shule zote nchini.
Asanteni kwa sababu mme jibu vita kwa kuzingatia ungwana, haki na sheria.
Kesho tutaongea na Governor wa Kwale
Kesho kutwa tutaongea na walimu wa Kepsha nita wahamasisha kuhusu Mwamdudu
Leo nyinyi mmapatie walimu, wanafunzi na wazazi nguvu kusema “Shule hii, haitauzwa leo au kesho!!!”
Mwamdudu, Kwale County, Kenya
For more see:

Thoughts ahead of the 2016 State of the Nation Address, Kenya, 31 March 2016


This blog draws on the points made on Citizen #Cheche breakfast show, 30 March 

Part 1: Part 2: Part 3:

The President’s State of the Nation address is not just a constitutional requirement under Art. 132. It is a moment of accountability and call to national action. The power of the address flows less from the words. Any decent speech writer can find and use words like rebirth, renewal, transformation and hashtags like #TransformKE. The power come in our listening that the speaker is honest, sincere and committed to results. There has to be space therefore, also for a President to say we were wrong, we didn’t meet our own expectations and we will do better.

The 2014 and 2015 addresses are still present for the millions of Kenyans. 2014 addressed devolution, security (nyumba kumi/CCTV), reducing cost of living and the promise of the Youth Fund and National Youth Service. 2015 addressed the attainment of middle income status, an apology for historical injustices (TJRC report and a restoration of fund of Kshs60 billion), the cancer of corruption and the 179 names on the list of shame.

The 2016 address must revisit these policy choices and commitments. We have seen a Cabinet reshuffle, new laws enacted, asset seizures and pressure on law enforcement agencies to prosecute the corrupt. All this gives substance to the words of the President in 2015. Given that this happened after strong public demand for #FagiaKE, the public can draw satisfaction that their voice and agency has been heard. The establishment of specialised criminal courts to expedite the 350 cases before the courts is also very welcome.

Yet, the absence of convictions, continued appointment of public officers not based on merit, competitive appointment or the spirit of Integrity Chapter 6 and the reluctance to subject all Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries and Directors to life style audits is worrying. The staggering amounts lost to the tax-payer in the National Youth Service, Eurobond, Youth Fund and other scandals since his speech last year has left public servants and the public shocked.

Returning to the historical and I believe, heartfelt apology for human rights abuses, much has not happened. The Kshs 10 billion restoration fund is still not established and the TJRC report remains stuck in the National Assembly. Listening to human rights victims and survivors of injustice many of them women as far back as the sixties last week (#TruthJusticeDignityKE #WagallaMassacre), I am struck how such an important issue for national cohesion has been handled so ineffectively by the Office of State Law, Treasury and the National Assembly.

Looking forward, the President could address four issues that threaten our national values. They are inequalities, corruption (again), negative ethnicity (again) and the looming electoral crisis (new).

#TransformKE claims that we are the fastest growing economy and third best improved country for doing business. Our triumphalism that we have attained middle income country status needs to be tempered by the reality that we are using half chicken economics. A few people have four chickens and the majority none, so by average we all have half chickens. Growth is not shared.

The Mathare Legal Aid and Human Rights Awareness Advocacy speaks of unemployed youth who turn to crime dying in a hail of bullets by other criminals or the police within three years. They speak of homes that survive on a monthly rent of Kshs 1-2,000 shillings and Kshs 3,000 for food. They and their rural counterparts can be forgiven if they are growing increasingly impatient with these announcements.

When asked why the Tunisian revolution took place at a time that all the indicators pointed to a growing economy, the former Minister of Planning and Tourism once said, “Seems the people in the streets didn’t bother to read our analysis”. The President’s speech need to challenge this more rigorously than the Ministry of Planning and Devolution has done in the past.

Government statistics need to be challenged more. It is not that the economy is not growing or that infrastructure, maternal health access and other services are not improving. All this, thankfully is happening. It is that corruption threatens this growth directly. We may be improving the ease of doing business in the world, but we are only 34 countries ahead of Chad in this respect. Further, according to Price Waterhouse Coopers, we are now the 3rd most corrupt country.

The scale of recent scandals, the reluctance to appoint or dismiss people based on their integrity and the awkwardness of unlawful administrative actions struck down by courts have to be transformed if Kenya is to move forward. Here the President could communicate the principle of command responsibility across his administration. If it is proven that a senior official knew a crime was committed as was the case of the Kenya National Examinations Council, that official goes as well.

The issue of negative ethnicity stalks us still. Dr.David Ndii’s “It’s time to divorce” and the subsequent social media #ArrestNdii #Kikuyus discussions inform us that labelling and polarisation still frames the national question. While I believe most Kenyans believe in the unitary state and are enjoying the benefits of devolution, our individual safety and dignity is still subject to ethnic coalitions and not our constitution. We are not far enough from persecution and extermination ideologies.

The last issue we must address is the looming electoral crisis. We turn to the season that typically leads to intolerance, violence and the loss of 2% of our GDP without an acceptable IEBC as referee and Judiciary as arbiter. The increasing securitisation of media and civic spaces contribute to the precipice we lean over. The President could boldly step into this space and establish a mechanism for all the political parties, observer and election management bodies to agree ground rules for a fair, non-violent and meaningful election. The President could also signal the commencement of the Public Benefits Organisations Act 2013 and the value of independent, factual and investigative journalism. The abysmal turn out at the voter registration this month is a sign that the electorate is slowly turning away from the fundamental pillar of democracy, the ballot. What would be next?

The last word is to the President as he faces this constitutional moment. Two empowering quotes can help ground him. They are Andy Stanley’s “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say” and Elbert Hubbard’s “The proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.” Leadership requires an inability to listen to all views and a recognition that power is not controlling everything in the republic. Ultimately the strength of the republic lies in its people speaking and acting to breathe life into the constitutional promises. The role of the Presidency is to respond swiftly, decisively and champion these constitutional promises. The four areas above would be places to start.

Reflections on turning 50: February 22, 2016

    Once I step over the word amazement, two words describe turning 50 on February 22; alive and self-expressed. I was born on February 22 1966 less than two kilometers from my current home. In between I have lived in London, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Washington DC and spent enough days in Addis to pay as much taxes as the locals. Six cities, three continents and back to Kilimani. The last five years alone seem like a couple of lifetimes. A new love and marriage, family, friends, career in the public interest, a community foundation and twitter.
    Five lessons stand out for me. In my twenties, I used to be told to “slow down, you will burn out”. I know now I am never going to burn out before I die but I can prioritise better. Focus on those things that have the greatest chance of transforming the issues that matter to me, the people in my life.
      Secondly, anything very important or really big I want to achieve is too big for me to create alone or in this lifetime. This informs my work with the Kilimani Project Foundation and my belief in my younger colleagues in the dawn of their careers.
    Thirdly, that while I may still struggle with confidence (this was the norm in the twenties), the biggest handicap at 50 is my ego. Most times my impatience with procrastination and endless consultations is actually my ego speaking. Having the wisdom to know when to interrupt others and when to just listen and know that even the endless conversations allow others to clarify their thoughts.
    Fourthly, even the deepest of disappointments can be handled. A few years ago, I was not shortlisted for public office. Dark and righteous thoughts emerged. “Not even shortlisted to 200 applicants?” and a few others too dark to be repeated. I breathed, gave myself 20 minutes to think dark thoughts and then asked, “OK, what do you want to do next?”. Light replaced darkness.
    Out of that came the Kenya Dialogues Project at the Society for International Development. The project is now a 200 million shilling campaigning force working nationally and across ten counties to protect our public schools, challenge corruption and discrimination and create Kenya in the image of our constitution. If we keep our faith ahead of our fears, our actions ahead of our ideas, disappointments and complaints have no power to rob us of life.
    Lastly, an increasingly predictable question these days, are you going to run for public office? As I look at Kenya through the lens of chapter 6, not all who are in public office act in the public interest. Too many have been claimed by the epidemic of corruption. My work in Kilimani and nationally is in the public interest. For now this suits me. My work is to bring the public interest back into the public offices that have forgotten their primary mandate. For unless those in public office recognise that public service is the privilege not the privileges that come with public office they are useless to the interests of the public.
    Lastly, I want to thank my wife, children, family, friends and even the strangers in my life. You have accompanied each and every one of the four decades of this path traveled so far.
    You are my life and I am grateful.

Six pillars for building better societies with women

Opening remarks to the Timeless Women’s Conference 2016, Nairobi 

I grew up in a pre-dominantly female household of sisters. All of us went to school, all us had household chores.

Three broken bridges shaped my feminism as a man. Abrupt and unintentional teenage relationships with girls that left them very angry and me frustrated. A society in which power and privilege leaves women and girls at danger from violence and rape. A continent in which women do 3-4 times more work than men and earn 30% less.

Since 1989, I have chosen to work alongside women to transform the world around me. From being a member of the Kenyan Mothers in Action in the 1990s to the Pan African women’s rights coalitions in Africa, the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights coalition in the 2000s and Kilimani Mums in 2014.

I have been single less than 2 years in the last thirty six years, married twice and parented a couple of super girls. Yet my journey into my masculinity and the transformation of gender injustice is far from complete.

Africa is deeply unequal. According to the UN Women, 89% Women still in non-formal sector and over-represented in unpaid work. Women still earn 30% than men. Yet, this inequality is not inevitable. Rights based policies and strategies and investment could transform all of this in a life-time.

Our homes and workspaces are deeply in need of new bridges of solidarity if we are to transform societies that layer power and privilege based on our gender. These bridges can easily be built on just six pillars;

  1. Equal pay for equal work
  2. Anti-harassment policies and practices
  3. Child friendly working environment
  4. Affirmative procurement for women owned businesses
  5. Career progression plans that target young people and especially young women
  6. Get out of the way

The UN Women 2015 report is a great overview and call to action …

Photo from MyDressMyChoice campaign: Ruth Knaust speaking to the movement (RIP)

My Promise

zafaraniphotography 1 close up

Tribute to Elijah Agevi, RIP

_MG_0544Transition December 4 2015
From Irũngũ Houghton on behalf of the Kilimani Project Foundation
and Society for International Development
I met Elijah first in 1995. I was then a member of the NGO Council Executive Committee, he led the Shelter Forum, one of the Council networks. I last met him two weeks before he passed away. He was finding a way to stop public land grabs and wanted to hear our progress on protecting public primary and secondary schools.
Elijah’s strength was his ability to move between sectors, across spaces and bridge different communities. His life informs a vision of all Kenyans as planners, citizens actively dreaming, designing and building liveable towns for all. 
His vision was far ahead of us but a consistent theme in most first class cities  including those seeking ‘fair share’ housing plan (Miami Valley, Ohio ) or to provide dedicated land exclusively for open green public squares (Philadelphia). Here and elsewhere, community-devised and community-funded initiatives are part of long-term sustainability plans. Planning is not done to people but with people. Elijah believed in a future in which we all would be urban planners. In this understanding, I too am a planner.
Elijah was also an activist. He had a passion for the right to shelter and beautiful and safe public spaces. In an Africa, where ½ of Africa’s urban population live in peoples settlements, urban inequality is the 2nd highest globally with young men and women are 3 times more likely to be unemployed, we all need to be like Elijah.
This city, country and continent that I live in is therefore, is too important to leave to planners. I will honor Elijah’s vision.
I was happy to hear UN Habitat will honor him posthumously and the County of Nairobi Government will name a street or a public space in his honor.
Go well Elijah. The people’s settlements, NGO and Government offices that you know so well shall remember you fondly.
For more on Elijah Agevi, see

Closing remarks at the launch of the SID Policy Brief “Why Corruption prevails and what can be done to eliminate it” December 25, 2015

7 winners and speakers

The @SIDKDP policy brief can be downloaded here Why corruption prevails and what can be done to eliminate it

It is not the absence of laws, agencies and policies that Kenya misses. What we miss is the moral imagination that adopts the humility to recognise not all is well and the audacity to declare a new course of action. Every time it shows up, we are left inspired and ready to act.

The true cost of corruption and impunity is not millions and billions of shillings, it is the helplessness we learn when our leaders, agencies and we do not take action in the public interest.

On June 26, 14 organisations made 12 recommendations to the Presidential Taskforce on laws related to corruption. http:// 11 of those recommendations have now been adopted in the report presented to the President. There is much that we can support in the AG’s Taskforce report

On November 5, ten organisations including TI-Kenya, CRECO, Mzalendo, Africog, Inuka, KCA, ICJ, SID ACAC and the Devolution Forum advised the President to sack Cabinet Secretaries and reshuffle the Cabinet, review procurement processes and press for company transparency. We also called for lifestyle audits. We gave the President 30 days.

17 days later on November 23 and yesterday with the refreshing of the cabinet, three of the four proposals had been taken up by the President.

The important lesson here is that the state listens. It may take long, it may not be recognised, but we have voice and when we act we have influence. This is the essence of democratic governance.

We may not be invited to State House to meet the Pope today. We may not be recognised in the state commendations for 2015. This may not be important right now. The only questions are whether

* We have kept the faith of integrity lived and expressed by Pope Francis?
* Have we spoken and acted in the spirit of the constitution?
* Have we acted with humility in the public interest?

Nothing else matters.

On December 9, we move to Central Park, join us in the park or any other space to talk to Kenyans on what actions can they take to #KataaHiyo and build #IntegrityKE