What could the South Sudanese sunrise generation do next?

First published Sunday Standard, July 16, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group

In the shadows of every conflict, men and women carefully move to repair their societies. Collecting and re-assembling shattered pieces of the national mirror they work until the nation can see itself clearly, again. Last week, I met a group of young South Sudanese leaders who are committed to healing Africa’s youngest democracy.

The meeting was fortuitous. South Sudan has just turned six but there is little to celebrate. Four million men, women and children are in flight. They flee abductions, rape and death by several armed militias and armies. Fear has replaced hope. The Equatorial region is now called the killing fields and women there, see safety only in death. Controlling access to food is a weapon of war. Today, it leaves 1.7 million severely hungry. With the rains, cholera looms for thousands. Calculating their chances, nearly 2 million South Sudanese have left for exile in East Africa and elsewhere.

Yet, South Sudan was born unified and rich. 98% of the country declared their preference for national independence from The Sudan. Today, the Government controls tremendous oil reserves. In the next couple of months, it plans to hold an international oil and gas conference. Despite this, corruption and impunity ensures that this wealth is enjoyed by very few men and women. The gap between the promise and current reality of South Sudan grows wider daily. This gap brings the leadership and governance crisis to Kenya’s doorstep in several ways.

Firstly, a humanitarian and human rights disaster on our doorstep offends our national sense of human dignity and pan-Africanism. South Sudan also represents an opportunity for regional trade and Kenyan business to sell goods and services to the emerging economy. As we have found with the four Kenyan Click Technologies businessmen now imprisoned after an unfair trial, the current situation makes this a risky venture. We also now require decisive non-partisan mediation in the revitalization process declared by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Is it time to bring General Lazaro Sumbeiywo back to directly engage this process?

Ultimately, the destiny of South Sudan lies in the hands of its 12 million people. Three generations – the sunset, noon and sunrise – contest to lead them. The sunset generation are typically in their sixties, fought or supported the fighters in successive wars and negotiated the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The noon generation are between 45-60 and include those that are unwilling or too frightened to disrupt the political status quo. The sunrise generation are under 45 years old. They are tired of a country that is militarized, held hostage by the generals and without a future. They come from 70% of the population that have typically been the child-soldiers but also the emerging professional classes.

“Sunrise” men and women have played a central role in the history of all successive movements for independence, human dignity and justice across Africa. Winnie Mandela, Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, Samora Machel and Thomas Sankara were revered sunrise leaders of their time. Behind them were countless other “sunrisers”. Like those that have done so before them, the sunrise South Sudanese leaders must build the bridges again to create a country that is a match for the dreams of 2011.

Knowledge is power, it is said. Imagination is even more daring. The sunrise generation of South Sudan must have mastery over both. Building a new society requires new values to replace old vices. Values are not the preserve of any generation, they are the glue that could bind the three generations together. Similarly, being overly pre-occupied with being at the upcoming national revitalization talks may be short-sighted. These are spaces that the sunrise generation will be invited into. They are not spaces created and owned by this generation. The sunrise generation are best placed to create new spaces and public campaigns among their people at home rather than presenting positions and papers in neighboring capitals.

Our role as their neighbors is to offer counsel when asked, safe passage and havens when required and a firm voice and action against violence and repression from any quarter, rebel or state. A question could be asked of our Presidential aspirants, how will your Government help restore peace and justice to the people of South Sudan?

Peace mediator Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat died on July 13, the day this was written. He would have been very supportive of the sunrise generation. I dedicate this article also to his forty years of mediation attempts across the continent and during the Post-Election Violence of 2008 in Kenya. The leadership of Dekha Ibrahim and Bethuel Kiplagat during this period is well captured in https://irunguh.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/raising-voices-for-peace-in-kenya-a-personal-reflection/

Caught in a storm of fake news, inflammatory comments? Here’s what you could do

First published Sunday Standard, July 9, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group

Kenyans could borrow a lesson or two from the late Amilcar Cabral. The Guinea Bissau leader often rallied the independence movement with the phrase, “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories”. Kenya is caught in a perfect storm of personal integrity, commercial and political interests. Fake-news, misinformation and disinformation leaps out at us from all outlets. With just under five weeks to go to the elections, it is difficult to know what is the truth about anything political. If this wasn’t bad enough, emotions are also high.

We have mastered the blood sport called “politricks” and become experts in the art of disinformation. In the last 90 days alone, we have discovered no less than five sensational stories were untrue. Our opinions are increasingly becoming untrustworthy. It seems to me that there are three reasons why this is happening.

Firstly, we don’t verify and own the information we are passing on to each other. Once we type the magical words “sent as received” we then proceed to share dozens of sensational half-truths, innuendos and downright lies. We get some laughs at the expense of our targets but in so doing, we cheapen our own credibility. The greater cost is we also distract each other from what is really going on.

Secondly, fake news and websites are being generated by e-hustlers in search of advertising and communications contracts and media outlets in search of sales. All they care is that you click on the links, forward their posts and buy their news. They then sell that to the advertising companies for contracts worth hundreds of thousands of shillings. The national vice here is lie sensationally, it pays.

Thirdly, the politricians and their communications teams want you to get mad, literally. Mad enough to come out, campaign and vote against their opponents. The formula is simple. Watch your opponent very closely. Ignore the issues, just focus on their identity. Find something that undermines their personal credibility, exaggerate it into a major character flaw and pull them down in full view of the public. The practice is literally assassinating characters on all sides and scorching the political landscape.

In fact, it has got so inhuman that humans are not really needed anymore. Just before Christmas, I noticed 300 new twitter followers. Most accounts had no photos, had never tweeted and had roughly the same number of people they followed and followers. My ego told me to ignore them, the more followers the better. My soul argued otherwise. Even cockroaches in our kitchens are a sick form of flattery. Keeping them would turn out bad, my sixth sense argued. They were all deleted.

I had discovered web based robots or bots as they are called. Oddly enough, these software applications resemble the botfly. The larva of a botfly is a parasite that lives in animal stomachs. These algorithm created bot accounts on the other hand, are artificially created to parasitically flood your timeline and falsely boost your followers. There are companies that specialize in this. Politricians globally have also discovered that lying on a mass scale is not that expensive. Last year, over 60% of North Americans believed made up news about their elections. It’s got so bad, that two months ago, the inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee warned the world about its dangers.

Neither autocratic state control or citizens tuning out and leaving groups will be effective in this context. We can all do better by looking more closely at the authors, sources and dates of stories, reading beyond the headlines, reviewing our own biases and verifying the stories with authoritative individuals or agencies.

Stopping a human or technological bot in your community is easy. Reflect on all the people in your life that are regularly posting inflammatory, divisive and misleading comments. We all have one or two in our lives now. Take a pen now and write down their names. Challenge them by simply saying, “Lies or half-truths are no longer acceptable my presence.”

The wise ones will tell us, real blindness is in the mind, not in the absence or presence of our eyes. Protect your sight people.

End the cynicism surrounding party manifestos

First published Sunday Standard, July 2, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group

Declarations have no power in the presence of resignation and cynicism. If we are honest, most of us paid too little attention to the launch of three major party manifestos – Jubilee, NASA and Third Way. Marriage ceremonies bring out the same in us. When at weddings do you detail the bridal party outfits, distract yourself with social media and then wait for the kiss and a piece of cake? Or do you reflect on the meaning and commitment in the couple’s vows? I suspect you were probably the same around party manifesto launches last week.

I believe in declarations. The source of the word manifesto comes from “to manifest, to reveal or make known your intentions”. In this sense, this week’s manifesto launches have come late in the day. With the primaries already behind us and the voter more or less certain who they will vote for, it is unlikely the vision, values and programmes contained in the manifestos released this week will drive our electoral choices. This would be a mistake.

The party manifestos released this week represent real choices for the Kenyan citizen. Most observers and analysts have attempted to argue that they are too similar, photocopies of previous manifestos and merely rituals without commitment. I disagree. Whether it be Jubilee’s emphasis on prosperity and jobs or NASA’s focus on social and economic rights, the manifestos represent options for the nation and each of us individually.

There are real issues facing the country. Spiraling debt and living costs, unemployment, expanding inequalities and violence, social and economic rights denial, corruption and a growing disillusionment with public institutions. The parties manifested themselves on these and more issues this week. I have my own views but I leave it to you to read the manifestos. After this, you can make an informed choice to support the party that speaks best to your own values and the vision of the Kenya you want.

My focus is on what could happen next. The parties could simplify the pillars and communicate them in ways more interesting for the average citizen than the PDF downloads. Party leaders could organize events for their local leaders and supporters to internalize the party vision. Civic organisations could convene academics, professional associations, unions, religious communities and other key constituencies to discuss. Voters could ask their candidates how they will scale their party vision down and deliver in the ward, village and neighborhood. Parents could have discussions with their children and especially the first time voters.

The lack of a powerful call to action to citizens and communities is still missing for me in the manifestos. None of the parties have really called us into action or given us license to act within their vision. Without this, how will any of the visions be understood, deepened and protected?

The tenderpreneurs and cartels that stalk our public finances don’t have public manifestos but they do have carefully designed plans. Like our parties, they too, are awake in this season. If there is one lesson we can learn from the last five years, active vigilance and agency by citizens is a precondition for advancing any future vision. Our parties and 47+1 Governments alone cannot survive the onslaught of the cartels that walk the corridors of our Ministries and Courts.

We must drop the resignation and cynicism surrounding manifestos. A friend teased me this week saying the inclusion of a manifesto pledge to create more unemployment among the political class would probably be a more effective appeal for votes. Elsewhere in world, the launch of party manifestos are decisive moments not just to harvest votes but also to establish the Government’s post-election agenda.

Evolving our democracy requires all – not just the party leaders – to create and debate policy choices. What’s clear, regardless of who wins the presidential elections, the country will be governed based on two or more manifestos. We must scale down and hold the visions in our neighborhoods and workplaces with the tenacity of the cartels. To do less, is to lose the moment of the ceremonies that happened last week.

Meet Reverend Frank Chikane, Kagiso Trust

Got to meet a leader I have always admired this week at the #KCDFat20 #DurableDevelopment conference. His personal and professional life has always demonstrated activist love and commitment for people. Reverend Frank Chikane was expelled from theological school and later defrocked for his commitment to bring apartheid. He was one of the founders of the Black Consciousness Movement, helped build the United Democratic Front and then joined Government as Chi. He is now the Kagiso Trust Chairperson.

Here are some of his thoughts paraphrased this week when he was in Nairobi.

“Apartheid was very destructive. We needed to build new values that could oppose racism, injustice and inequality. We did this knowing that saints would emerge. The United Democratic Front only had one indisputable leader but it didn’t need Mandela to tell it what to do next. Leadership must always ask itself. Are our people enlivened and confident or polarized and fearful? This is a question for leaders.

South Africa’s past was about human dignity and respect; it is now about economic empowerment. Today, South Africa has leaders who loot and then seek to retire. (Can’t resist interrupting this, but Kenya has a few leaders who loot and then seek to occupy the state).

Kagiso Trust approached the South African Government and agreed on the quality of education as a national problem. We offered to match Government finances to resolve them.

By creating a self-supporting organisation, we could build a replicable model for others. We have learnt that creating value-based spaces challenges corruption and inefficiencies. Challenging those that benefit from corruption and inefficiencies also produces new tensions.”

To read more on, see
Frank Chikane http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/frank-chikane
Kagiso Trust twitter @Kagiso_Trust
The KCDF @ 20 conference twitter #DurableDevelopment #ShiftThePower

Financially independent civic and community NGOs are vital

First published Sunday Standard, June 25, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with edits and permission from Standard Group

The Kenya Community Development Foundation turned 20 this week. 300 community and civic leaders from Kenya and as far away as South Africa and Nepal joined them to reflect on community philanthropy, civic responsibility and financially sustainable organisations. The #DurableDevelopment conference conversations seem so different from other developments in the last fortnight they could be in another country.

This week, Journalist Walter Menya tragically spent two nights in detention for reporting on the Jubilee Foundation. He was allegedly framed by an employee of the NGO Coordination Bureau. The same Bureau recently declared Jubilee aspirant Mike Sonko’s Rescue Team, Kenya’s best humanitarian NGO, after registering it barely one month before. NASA leader’s Kalonzo Musyoka Foundation was less lucky. He had to go to court to stop the Bureau from arbitrarily closing their bank accounts. If this is not enough confusion. For the last seven days, Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery has technically been a fugitive (see postscript). He failed to gazette the commencement date of the Public Benefit Organisation Act (2013) within the 30-day notice given by Justice Mativo.

Community development and governance has always been political. I remember a spirited debate as a member of the NGO Coordination Board member in 1994. Should FORD leader Martin Shikuku’s Foundation be registered alongside KANU leader Joseph Kamotho’s Foundation? We eventually determined that if their programmes were in the public interest they should both be registered and then regulated. Today, without a NGO policy compass, administrative integrity or political neutrality, our National Government is drifting in waters it seems not to understand how to navigate.

Cynics tell us Kenyans are self-disinterested and dispassionate about others. The facts speak differently. Yetu Organisation’s findings last year suggest that 93% of Kenyans regularly give to others less fortunate than them. A growing number now look beyond their families and village-mates to organisations that can invest their contributions and run sustainable programmes.

After a decade of corporate social responsibility initiatives, companies like Kenya Electricity Generating (KenGen) company have begun to establish a financially endowed and independent Foundation. They walk in the shoes of the Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations.

Both rural and urban communities are not being left behind. Globally, there has been a 75% increase in community based foundations over the last decade. South Africa’s Kagiso Trust and our own KCDF among them. What characterizes these foundations is new models of building endowments and matching funds, owning properties and share-capital.

Respected anti-apartheid leader Reverend Frank Chikane led the Kagiso Trust to the KCDF celebration (see next post also). With Kshs 8 billion of their own money invested in 200,000 students and other beneficiaries, several provincial governments have matched this investment. KCDF itself has worked with 2,000 partners to invest Kshs 1.9 billion and directly impact on 2.1 million Kenyans over the last two decades.

Thousands of these community foundations now exist globally. With the right policy environment, communities could soon be very significant donors in their own development. Within our lifetime, the next generation of community and civic organisations could be free of foreign assistance.

The Public Benefits Organisations Act foresaw all this four years ago. It contains a blueprint for how to increase domestic giving for development.  For those who care to see a bigger picture than state control, the paralysis on commencing the PBO Act has cost us much. Kenya is being left behind in a world that is dynamically re-engineering the relationship between citizens, communities and the state.

Vibrant, responsible citizens need more than an accountable, responsive state. Dynamic, issue-based and financially independent civic and community organisations are vital. To ignore this, is to risk the dangers of an under-organized, intolerant, rebellious citizenry and an isolated state. These dangers equally face all the political parties that seek to govern the 47+1 Governments.

In the same way that responsive public engagement strategies create effective political campaigns, they also anchor successful popular Governments. We must ask the aspirants in the upcoming gubernatorial, legislative and presidential debates how they will create this enabling environment. Alternatively, the Interior Ministry could pre-empt this discussion and commence the Act. It would create new and bigger possibilities for the country.


On June 30, the Interior Cabinet Secretary proceeded to gazette a new NGO Coordination Board.

On July 7, Interior Cabinet Secretary Nkaissery died suddenly before commencing the PBO Act and regularising the relationship between the sector of 8,000 organisations and the Government. The author takes this moment to salute his leadership in managing our safety against terrorists over the years he was in charge of internal security.

Effective fatherhood can can heal homes, transform the country

First published Sunday Standard, June 18, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group

Of all the changes happening to Kenya, the most important is taking place within our families and personal relationships. A crisis is unfolding in our homes and we may not even know it. The sharpest edge of the crisis lies in the intense difficulties facing fatherhood.

Absentee fathers and female headed households are on the rise. One in three women who give birth today are single. Three in five women will remain single until the age of 45. One in five men on the other hand, will have had children with more than one mother. Nearly half of all Kenyan children have direct experience of violence or intimidation. Teenage alcoholism and suicide is spiking, yet fathers seem helpless.

Those that care have long turned inwards, closed the door to keep out the crisis. Others will justify their ineffectiveness with stories of childhood abuse, loss and pain. Their stories are often not spoken aloud. They are not dealt with and in burying them so deep, they have grown roots that strangle now their potential as fathers.

Acute gender inequality is both the cause and consequence of this modern crisis. As men, we have lost our ability to care for our families and this is beginning to haunt us. So, if we are not yet the best dads in the world, who are? Think past the Swedes and meet the 20,000 strong Aka people of the Central African Republic. Fathers and mothers have virtually no gender based restrictions on their behavior. Both look after cattle, hunt or prepare food for their children. Fathers have even been known to offer their breast to their babies to suckle. Okay, I struggled with this one but then also consider they tend to spend 47% of their time with their infant children.

The Aka make our attempts at fatherhood appear accidental and subject to chance not choice. Most of us struggled what to do with paternity leave. We held our infants only when they were clean and fed. We avoided our moody teens and only discovered they had their own thoughts when they dared to argue back.

A story is told of a couple who on retiring liquidated their pensions, bought and settled on a farm. Within a week their adult children arrived to berate them for making decisions with their inheritance without them. The elderly couple’s response was sharp and swift. The children were firmly advised that they had already received their inheritance. Had they not gone to the finest schools? Now the rest was up to them. The story reveals much of what we may be up against.

Sometime, somewhere, they missed that teachable moment in the supermarket. The one when your child discovers a thousand types of sweets and reaches to grab them all. Pulling the child away doesn’t help. They just wait until you are not looking. Showing children they are not entitled to grab everything and teaching  the value of honest work and money would have saved this elderly couple. It would also save us all from the current frenzy of “grabbiosis”.

Whether social or biological fathers, fatherhood fundamentally matters to us. The only thing that matters more are fatherly conversations. Powerful conversations about self and identity, the power of giving our word and the humility to know we are kind of making it up as we go along.

Kids, don’t judge your dads too harshly, most of the fathers out there are just stuck on repeat play. Whether authoritarian, authoritative, overly permissive or completely uninvolved, most fathers replay what they saw their fathers do or not. The sooner we recognize our parenting styles and intentionally create the fathers our children need, the faster our homes and country will heal and grow. Fatherhood, as Oyunga Pala says, is too important to allow women to see men as only sperm donors, ATMs and recurring headaches.

It is too important to be limited to our own biological children either. Clifford Oluoch and Shamit Patel of Homeless Nairobi are two of my favorite Kenyans. They spend most of their evenings after work feeding and coaching homeless young men in Nairobi’s streets. In so doing, without needing to quote it, they breathe life into our Constitution’s bill of rights and our very nation.

It is these efforts and others that will give our children, the homes, communities and a nation they can be safe in, proud of and responsible for. Happy Father’s Day to all the men out there who rise above self to serve their families, neighbors and the country’s children.


Doubt it no more, triggers of political violence are known

First published Sunday Standard, June 11, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group

If we are not careful, the past creeps up and creates our future. Last week we tragically buried 17 GSU officers and 3 young boys from the Ratemo family. Violent extremism claimed the lives of the 20. It also has robbed the families and constituents of Churo Amaiya MCA Thomas Minito, Loyamorok MCA Kibet Cheretei, Tiaty parliamentary aspirant Pepee Kitambaa and several citizens.

Intense competition and preoccupation with the capacity of the IEBC to manage our August elections almost hid their tragic deaths from the public view. Yet, their passing offers us a wake up call that the 2008 electoral narrative of justice or peace offers us little clarity for a new way of handling the upcoming elections.

The two opposing narratives “No, justice no peace” and “Peace at all costs” were born in the aftermath of the controversial 2007 elections and the trauma of the Post-Election-Violence. This all-or-none thinking has pervaded the thinking of those vested in the 2017 elections up until now.

Ahead of the IEBC national conference on elections this week, a mental truce has been called. Thankfully, credible and peaceful elections is the new and important narrative. Free and fair elections will create the conditions for peace. In turn, peace will create an enabling environment for us all to go out and elect our leaders.

The joint call for credible and peaceful elections is an important shift in our national consciousness. It is consistent with the constitutional promise contained in Article 81 of elections that are free from violence, intimidation, undue influence and corruption. To achieve it we must expose the nature of violence and the role it plays in undermining our constitutional ambition.

Powerful politicians both in control of the state and the opposition have been guilty of creating pre-electoral uncertainty, fear and violence in the past. Preventing communities from coming out to register and vote has been their simple goal. It is the less violent equivalent of bribing voters to transfer their votes. Both undermine our democracy.

Worrying signs of extremism attacks on our uniformed officers and citizens in Garissa, Mandera and Wajir must be condemned. We must watch carefully the populous counties of Mombasa and the coast also, lest we see the resurgence of separatist and violent groups.

The triggers of violence are known and they have been used by those who control or don’t control state power. A falsified electoral register, campaigns based on public resources, biased or compromised electoral and security officers and results manipulation are also forms of violence. Using excessive state force to crush legitimate public protest is another. They are in turn, triggers for more violence. If this is not complicated enough, our devolved 47+1 states now make this a more complex and dangerous tool for any of us to exercise.

Delivering non-violent, objective and fair elections in August is not beyond our grasp. It will take removing one million of our ancestors off the elections register, contingency planning training for all party and electoral body staff, strengthening our complaints processes and establishing stronger inter-party liaison committees. It is not too late for civic educators to explain burning down your neighbor’s house or the nearest kiosk are not effective ways of responding to elections offences and rigging.

Weak politicians without leadership vision or skills need to divide and militarize us. How else would the voters not see they have no new ideas for our safety, employment or to live free of corruption and impunity?

All-or-none thinking is present across all the political class and us, the voters. As the National IEBC Conference on Elections opens tomorrow, party leaders will be asked to sign credibility and peace pledges. The fog of a violent and controversial past may still be lurking in the back of their minds. I call on them to sign with the clarity that violence and rigging ride together to stalk our upcoming elections.

The only way we can keep Kenyans safe and enfranchised is to leave our elections management and security forces independent and free of undue influence before, during and after the elections. To do otherwise is to risk all.

Three days later after this article, NASA and Jubilee Party Presidential aspirants Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to run peaceful campaigns