CONVENIENCE TO THE “RICH”, INCONVENIENCE TO THE “POOR”: SOLVING NAIROBI’S TRAFFIC JAM.

CONVENIENCE TO THE “RICH”, INCONVENIENCE TO THE “POOR”: SOLVING NAIROBI’S TRAFFIC JAM.

(For the purpose of this story, “rich” refers to having a lot of material resources. I am well aware that there are tonnes of very poor people with lots of money and very many rich people with little material wealth)

The story is told of a royal elephant that visited a village. The villagers sent out five blind but lazy men to bring back an accurate description of their guest to allow for an apt shed to be built. The first touched its ears and came back to describe an elephant as broad, flat and all, the next touched it’s tail and came back to describe it as long, thin, and all. Another touched it’s foot…you get the drift. The reality is that no one part described the elephant accurately. This wonder had to be perceived in its entirety: a casual view of a small part of it would not do. Besides, this magnificent creature of God is greater than the sum of its parts. Therefore, in building a home for it, none of the pedestrian assessments would be of any value.

The matter of traffic jams in any city is a big complex one. Many factors contribute to it, much like the elephant. Crafting a solution to it requires a comprehensive view of the factors that contribute to it, how they contribute to it, and how any measures directed at these would impact the overall plan. Also, the matter of traffic goes beyond the congestion: it goes into how it affects humans in wasted hours as well as the service to humans that is inherent in the transport. Unfortunately, complex as it is, there seem to be two opinions that have dominated this debate:
1. Matatus cause traffic (largely true)
2. more vehicles on the road cause more traffic.
This over-simplification and relatively casual approach to this elephant has resulted in several, destined to fail interventions that have caused more traffic in addition to great suffering for those who cannot afford to own private cars.

PUTTING THE “RICH” FIRST, PAYING NO ATTENTION TO THE “POOR”

The new proposal to be implemented soon proposes to have public service vehicles from all corners of the city terminate just outside the city. No doubt this will greatly relieve congestion within the CBD. Owners of private cars will be in paradise and zipping around the city in air-conditioned cars, listening to their favourite songs will be great. Unfortunately, for those who use “public transport” (strictly speaking, we don’t have this), the reverse will be true. Traveling to and from work will become a nightmare. It’s not hard to see this. First, having to catch one more connection during rush hour will cost a lot more time: yet another queue at a congested station. Then there is the matter of cost: it is foolhardy to expect that matatus will reduce fares because their turning points are not exactly in CBD. Then there are those rainy days and way more hustle. Clearly, the envisaged solution is not for them. This one will work well for the “rich”, not so for the “poor.”

MATATUS CAUSE TRAFFIC, BUT HOW?

It seems obvious but casually answering this question is in part what resulted in the banning of 14 seater matatus in favour of the more traffic-causing bigger matatus. One does not cure a problem by adopting a bigger version of it. At first, it may seem that, “bigger matatus will carry more passengers and therefore a smaller number of these will be required resulting in a reduction in the number of matatus and therefore a reduction in traffic”, right? Wrong. This thinking would be correct if matatus caused traffic mainly through their numbers. In fact, matatus cause way more traffic by their habits than by their numbers. Two overlapping matatus can cause way more traffic than 30 matatus on the correct lane. One Matatu stopping to fill up at a narrow estate junction will cause pains to hundreds of road users. Understanding these habits, one immediately sees why it may be desirable to have a smaller version of these problems. In addition, a little observation will show that there is more traffic at Matatu stages and termini than on moving sections. You will also note that as a general rule, traffic eases slower if the vehicle after a bottle-neck accelerates slowly as opposed to if they are nimble and fast. You will note that a vehicle that needs one and a half lanes to make a simple ninety-degree-turn causes more traffic than one that does not require to leave its lane.

TRAFFIC AT STAGES AND TERMINI

The most traffic occurs in these areas where:


1. There are many matatus parked, some on the road.
2. Matatus try to get into and out of the stages
3. Some Matatus pick and drop passengers on the road.

4. (you add to this list)

Most stages were built to accommodate one bus at a time. It means that whenever there are more than a few matatus, these spill onto the road and cause narrowing of the main road resulting in traffic. The big Matatus have a habit of turning into and out of the fast lane, then accelerating slowly. They are also so big that just one parked at the side of the road kills the second lane on a dual carriageway.

Between termini and stages, termini are much worse. Look at Latema road or bus station for instance. Knowing this, one can predict the impact of creating a terminus at the end of a major road (eg. Waiyaki way, Lang’ata road, Jogoo road, Mombasa Road, Thika road etc. )without creating space for the vehicles. One can expect horrendous traffic on Jogoo road for example if one was to attempt to create a terminus at City stadium. CBD will be clear, yes, but the major roads in will be terrible. Luckily, this is not just theoretical, it’s precisely what happened when this was last tried and it’s not too difficult to predict.

TOUTING

Ever wondered what is wrong with touting? It seems to many that the problem is just the noise made by the matatu touts. It derives that if a tout sat in a matatu, waving a sign it would solve the problem, right? Wrong. The real issue is to prevent a hundred matatus from occupying the same stage all seeking the same commuters to the same destination. In established public transport systems, one bus to a particular destination arrives at the stage, drops the passengers it has, picks those who are already there waiting to board, and then promptly leaves. The stage is therefore rarely congested with multiple buses that then spill onto the road causing ridiculous traffic. There is no “touting” thereby allowing matatus to build up at the stage. This is the true intention of outlawing touting.

THE SECOND DOOR
On the subject of decreased waiting time at stages, the bigger buses and Matatus in more established systems have a second door so that dropping and picking commuters is a quick affair. The doors themselves are fairly large. It takes half the time to fill and empty causing less congestion at the stage. This also unfortunately means that the buses sacrifice at least two seats, something owners have not been willing to do. COVID-19 has shown that it is possible.

OVERLAPPING
This is senseless. It is enabled impunity that causes pain to numerous Kenyans. Small traffic following a minor accident can transform into a gridlock lasting hours just because of a few drivers overlapping. On a two-way road no less. Then after creating the fifth lane on either side, they come out of their vehicles and wonder why traffic is not moving. This is not to be cured with jail or fines, only one thing may work: “folly is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it out.” Routine Kiboko for this ukorofi will save time and end the stupidity once and for all.

THE BIGGER MATATUS NEED WIDER ROADS, BIGGER STAGES, LONGER PARKING

This is clear. If one day we opted to remove the small lorries in favour of the big trucks “ because one truck can replace carry the same goods as two small lorries and hence reduce the number of lorries and hence reduce traffic,” we will find that one truck is slower, needs more space and will cause more traffic. This thinking will not work, but if we are to force it to work, we better create wider roads so that as they navigate the junctions, go in and out of stages, they don’t block the road for other road users. There is nothing as frustrating as seeing a trailer, or a big bus for that matter trying to negotiate a tight turn in traffic.

ANY SOLUTIONS?

Of course, besides the obvious long-term solutions such as light commuter rail, and well organized public transport buses, a lot can be done.

1. PUT AN END TO CBD TERMINI AND ADOPT TRANS-CBD ROUTES

Knowing that bus termini are a major point of traffic, stop any bus routes from terminating in the CBD. How does this differ from the current plan? I am proposing that routes cross the CBD, running from one state to another on the other side of the CBD. This is what Kenya Bus Service used to apply. In this way, no matatus will be allowed to park in the CBD, and commuters will still be able to board straight into CBD: A practical win-win. The only thing is to make sure that the terminating estate is not in the immediate environs of the CBD

2. ENFORCE A “NO TOUTING” RULE IN THE CBD
By this I mean a bus arrives at a stage with its doors closed, it opens it’s doors and drops the passengers it has, those at the stage board, and it closes its doors and movesn on promptly. No waiting for passengers in the CBD. Any passenger that comes after will be picked by the next bus. This would represent a big change in culture and a major move forward.

3. REMOVE THE BIGGER MATATUS AND REPLACE THEM WITH THE SMALLER MATATUS TO REDUCE TRAFFIC.
This is the exact opposite of what has been proposed. However, there is also clear evidence that the bigger matatus have caused more traffic, and removing the smaller ones hasn’t helped. Allow me to pull my “chess champion” card on this one. Think of it as a choice between Canter lorries and 16 wheel trucks. I highly recommend that you choose the Canters: they are smaller, faster, spend far less time to load and unload and therefore far less time on stages, are more maneuverable in our narrow roads, nimble and so much more. Faced with the choice between building wider roads and stages and using smaller vehicles, it’s easier and more cost-effective to use the smaller matatus. Finally, you see hundreds of big matatus waiting at stages…fill in the blanks.

An extra benefit of this move would be to reduce the dangers on our roads. Ask anyone on Jogoo road about the bullying and dangers posed by Forward Travellers matatus or by Kenya Mpya on Thika road and indeed the deaths reported and those alone should be enough to make the switch.

4. CLAMP DOWN ON OVERLAPPING
This is overdue and shouldn’t have to be said. It is the lack of punishment that has allowed this to continue. A sister to this is what happens on Outering road near fedha estate, where despite a service lane, the matatus prefer to pick passengers on the main road causing nightmarish traffic. Imagine that.

5. ELONGATE AND WIDEN THE BUS STAGES

This will reduce the number of Matatus spilling onto the road waiting for passengers. This spillage narrows the road and causes traffic. A wider stage allows for a bigger matatu to turn without blocking the inner lane as happens often with the small stages.

5. MAKE CYCLING SAFE
Cycling is a win-win for society and the individual. It can take a tonne of vehicles off the road, and is accessible to most income groups. Free gym anyone? Healthy lifestyle? Less pollution? Less reliance on oil imports? Unfortunately, it remains unsafe (no surprise that the big matatus are a big contributor to this lack of safety)

These are my suggestions. In this way, I see a win-win for the “rich” and the “poor”: traffic in the CBD will be much less for those who are driving. Those using “public transport” need not alight far from their destination or walk miles to catch a bus or necessarily spend more. Plus they’ll spend less on traffic too. In addition, we will not create bottlenecks at the end of major roads into CBD, meaning that the otherwise imminent pile-up on these roads can be avoided.

We have tried the other same solutions hoping for a different outcome with more pain and cost to the mwananchi with no benefit in terms of traffic. Perhaps it is time to try a different solution?

As usual, feel free to copy, publish, or share provided that you cite the source. Thank you.


Dr. Victor Ng’ani
2018 Kenya National Chess Champion. (Allow me to put on this hat just so that you don’t dismiss my thinking as idle, and poorly thought out 🙂 . I could have seen ahead and have actually thought about this for years. There is a similar article I wrote on the subject a few years back 🙂

29th September 2020

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COVID-19: Can recovered patients get re-infected?

“There is still so much that we do not know about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.”

Recently, COVID-19 threw a curve-ball. There were reports that patients who had previously tested negative were testing positive again. This would go against the expectation of the scientific community that once a person recovered from the disease, they would have some form of immunity from the disease. So why is this happening?

There are three possible explanations for this observation, and no, none of them considers a re-infection as the underlying reason:

  1. How PCR works and what it tests
  2. Sensitivity of the COVID-19 tests
  3. The type of test whether PCR or antibody

PCR works by amplifying and identifying the genetic make-up of an organism. In other words, it looks for genetic material in the sample and returns a positive result if found. This is by far the most reliable test across diseases as it looks for the actual presence of the causative agent. The problem is, it doesn’t distinguish between viable and non-viable (“dead”) genetic material. The leading theory around those who turn positive after turning negative is that what is being picked are non-viable genetic remnants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In this case, there is no relapse and the persons are not expected to be contagious. Attempts to grow the virus from such persons in the lab have been unsuccessful supporting the argument that the material is non-viable and non-infectious.

The second possible reason bears an inherent worry: the sensitivity of medical tests. Sensitivity, in simple terms, is the likelihood of a test returning a positive result in a situation in which what it is testing for is present in the sample being tested. Doctors know that tests are rarely absolutely sensitive. In-fact, separate from COVID-19, this one property of tests has been a common cause of friction between patients and doctors for decades: talk of “misdiagnosis” and wrong treatment come to mind. Anyway, several factors affect the sensitivity of tests: the test itself, the stage of the disease (are there many viruses or few viruses in the body), the sample used, the technique of collecting the sample, the handling of the sample and many other factors. In the context of COVID-19, samples may be obtained from the nose or from the lungs. The sensitivity of the COVID-19 RT-PCR testing is reported to range from 55% and 70% for nasal samples, while lung samples bear sensitivities of between 77% and 90%. What this means is that between 10% and 45% of those tested will return a negative result while in fact they are positive. This is what is called a false negative. WHO has issued a guideline requiring that to be declared negative, a person recovering from COVID-19 must undergo two PCR tests done at least 24 hours apart.

Unfortunately, a patient with a false-negative test can still spread the virus.

The third possibility is the least likely. This is a situation in which testing agencies mix PCR tests (usually from nasal swabs and lung secretions) and antibody tests (usually from blood). I say this is least likely because I trust that all testing agencies around the world know enough not to do this. Whereas PCR tests looks for material from the virus, the antibody tests looks for the body’s response to the virus. Antibodies are what the body produces to fight infection and these often persist for years after the infection has cleared. A positive antibody test shows that one has ever been exposed to the virus but does not confirm that one has an actual ongoing infection (there are complexities around IgG and IgM but that’s technical stuff for doctors). Therefore, performing an antibody test on a patient who has recovered from COVID-19 is most likely to return a positive result even when the patient doesn’t have the disease.

A key point to note is that most rapid tests and home-testing kits are antibody tests. It means that those who will have recovered from the disease should brace themselves for a positive test all the time every time. The good news is that such a positive test is actually a test of immunity. Bear in mind that the value and longevity of such immunity is still under study. A patient with a positive antibody test but two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart is unlikely to be infectious.

I hope this information helps. Do share and leave a comment. You have my permission to copy, paste, publish, any or all of this material provided you accurately cite the source.

Dr. Victor Ng’ani

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TO WAKE UP OR NOT TO WAKE UP, THAT IS THE QUESTION FOR AFRICA.

TO WAKE UP OR NOT TO WAKE UP, THAT IS THE QUESTION FOR AFRICA.

My two daughters are awesome. One of their latest joys is story-telling. It reminds me of our time growing up when stories were all the rave. One particular one comes to mind: this man, up a tree, on one branch is a leopard walking towards him. On the other branch a huge, poisonous snake, also hissing and making it’s way, not slowly but rapidly towards the man trapped in peril. When it would seem his best hope would be to jump down from the tree and try to flee, it somehow turns out that there is a lion at the foot of the tree, roaring at him, staring intently, waiting for him to get down. There were no hyenas when I was told this story, but I will throw them in for good measure. Yards off behind the lions, a pack of hyenas surrounded the tree, all round, hoping against hope that somehow beyond the leopard, snake and lion, something would be left of the man in existential peril for them to take a bite of. Indeed to us as children, it seemed as though there was no way out of this nightmare for this man. Except, being a nightmare, all the man had to do to get to safety was to wake up.

COVID-19 is ravaging countries across the globe and has possibly changed forever our way of life as we know it. Whereas countries such as Italy are presented learning points on lack of adequate preparation, Africa is in a particularly perilous position. Years of neglect have left most health systems in shambles. We barely manufacture anything: some of the most basic personal protective equipment we require is imported. We have an insane shortage of healthworkers, but that statistic is only believed by healthcare workers: the rest of us seem to view it as routine psychobabble and rants of elitist and entitled doctors. American and European car manufacturers are changing their production lines to produce critical medical equipment such as ventilators: Lamborghini, Ford and quite a few others. Within weeks of being reported, some Western and Eastern Countries developed testing kits for detecting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Studies are underway looking into potential vaccines and treatment options. The US of A is able to provide 2Trillion dollars US as a stimulus package to help mitigate the effects of COVID-19, while many African families are faced with no more than tough times, job losses and hunger. Should treatment be found, we have no reason to demand that Western countries ignore their populations and remember us. They won’t. In all this, we, as Africa, are largely waiting for our benefactors to spare some left-overs for us. There are videos alleging that Africans are being evicted from homes and hotels in China for whatever reason. One friend was considering importing N95 masks from China to help alleviate the shortage in Kenya and also help fight the profiteers who have priced these masks way out of reach of most healthcare institutions. Yet another friend in the clearing and forwarding business advises new importers of masks not to try doing so unless they are willing to part with “facilitation fees” for the customs officers at the inland container depot in Kenya. Even without COVID-19, try buying anything from Amazon: the American whose income and purchasing power is much higher than that of an African doing the same job will buy the same product for half the price, while the African pays 100% more in the name of shipping and taxes. That being in this surreal period of a most dangerous outbreak. It would seem like Africa is indeed in a nightmare , quite like that of the man in the story above and we probably are.

With a nightmare for our reality, what can we do? The answer to this is to wake up: wake up and build the same structures that we have seen in Western and Eastern countries, set our priorities right, and cease our utter dependence on the expensive goodwill of others. We should wake up and stop having such low bars and standards for our leaders. For once, we should see the value of electing someone for what s/he has done in the past, his/her record, the values their lives demonstrate, and the promise they hold. This instead of the emotions they whip, their parties, tribes, or bribes. We should take this pandemic as our wake-up call to prioritize, build and sustain effective, responsible and accessible healthcare systems, entrench good visionary leadership as our standard, and position ourselves to provide global solutions. Don’t we breathe same air? Don’t we argue that Africans are non-inferior and in some cases more blessed as compared to human beings from other areas? We should begin to manufacture most of what we need, strengthen research bodies in each country and be the centre for innovative concepts. We should take this season as constructive criticism in relation to what we have not done, and go ahead to do them.

Fellow Africans, we may demand respect from others on the basis of being as human as any other. However, the surest way is to earn it. Let’s rebuild our society, manufacture, produce and go back to a time when common good outdid selfishness all day everyday.

The one thing that would be a greater disaster than COVID-19 is to learn nothing from this crisis as continent and fail to wake up. It would be a tragedy if this pandemic doesn’t cause a shift in how we operate. If however we do wake up from our slumber, the even the sky will not limit Africa, my motherland, the cradle of mankind. By God’s grace!

As always, you have my permission to copy, print and publish, provided you clearly cite the source.

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A Theory On why Children May be safer #COVID-19

All along in medicine, we have described the extremes of ages: the very old and the very young as the most vulnerable especially in the case of infections. Indeed you may have noticed that school-going children have common colds almost every other week with adults catching the same sporadically. The argument has long been that the immunity in these two extremes is not as strong as for human body at its peak immunity.

Come COVID-19 and all of sudden studies are showing that the children are not only less susceptible to virus, but they also develop less severe disease (to be clear, children of all ages have been affected and at least one, a 14 year old boy has died from the virus)

We thank God that our children are relatively safe but what is the scientific reason? There are many theories but this is mine. Starting from the “fact” that children’s immunity is not stronger than that of healthy adults, I look to see what children may have that adults don’t that would confer an advantage. The answer I arrive at, and this is no more than a theory, is vaccines for other illnesses and the concept booster doses in vaccinations.

What vaccines aim to do is to 1. prevent illnesses and 2. result in milder symptoms should the patient catch the disease nonetheless. What this means is that vaccinated individuals are less likely to catch the infection against which they were vaccinated and if they do, it will be less severe. But then, most adults also got the same vaccines the children have right? Yes. But this is where the concept of booster doses comes in. You see, in many vaccines, for as long as one is not exposed to the disease, the immunity acquired from the vaccine tends to wear off with time and a booster dose is required at some point. This may be the case in adults.

Finally, there is the obvious issue that there is currently no vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 and therefore, there is no possibility that any child could ever have got it. This is true. However, the whole theory is that there is an existing vaccine now that is given in childhood that has some efficacy against SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. Childhood vaccines cover a number of organisms including viruses such as those that cause Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Polio and hepatitis viruses. In addition, there are non-core vaccines that are increasingly provided to children including seasonal flu vaccines, rotavirus and many other viruses. All these are viruses first before they branch out into their respective families. Some are closer than others, but there are some commonalities across board. It is therefore not inconceivable that a vaccine designed against one organism could be bear some efficacy against another.

Whereas this is just a theory, which in effect amounts to just a hunch not backed by any study, studies into the treatment of COVID-19 already present such possibilities. The drug chloroquine and its relative hyrdoxychloroquine were created for completely different diseases but are now being investigated for their efficacy against COVID-19. Early reports from China have shown promise.

Most theories are not correct but even when they are, they require studies to prove them. Still, I choose to document this view, today, 22nd March 2020, just in case there is merit to it. I am yet to come across an alternative argument that makes sense to me.

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WHY WE SHOULD STEP UP MEASURES AGAINST COVID-19

WHY WE SHOULD STEP UP MEASURES AGAINST COVID-19

With COVID-19, when you have seven confirmed cases, responding as if you have 7 cases is responding a few weeks too late. I would propose an approach that models a projected scenario three weeks later, asks what measures we would take then, then proceeds to have those measures implemented today. Here is the reason.

On 28th January, Italy had only two confirmed cases. For the next three weeks up t o 18th February, they had only one additional case bringing the total to three. Then suddenly, there was an explosion of cases and a wild-fire like escalation. It seems like out of the blue, COVID-19 went out of control. Why did this occur? The truth is that it was never out of the blue. Understanding how the Sars-Cov-2/COVID-19 spreads and presents suggests that this pattern was always possible. Data from countries that have witnessed exponential spread suggests that confirmed cases especially early on are a true tip of the iceberg. They represent a small view of a bigger problem festering underneath the surface: spread among yet unknown and unsuspecting individuals.

Confirmation of the first cases requires a series of things:

  1. A symptomatic patient meeting the case definition who either presents to a facility or is identified through a robust screening process
  2. The presence of mind by the healthcare workers to link this patient to COVID-19 and act as per protocol
  3. An accessible and reliable diagnostic laboratory

These seem reasonable until we realize that:

  1. COVID-19 can be symptom-free for up to fourteen days (one case is suspected to have been symptom free for much longer).
  2. There is an indication that the virus can be spread for up to two days before the onset of symptoms.
  3. 80% of patients will develop only mild symptoms that are indistinguishable from common ailments, and may never present to hospital, especially early on.

All these mean that the likelihood that all or even most of actual initial cases will present to a hospital let alone get tested for COVID-19 is very low. They continue to spread the virus nonetheless and it is this unknown population that bears the greatest risk to our health system with a large number of possible new infections among people who do not even know that they are sick. The magnitude of the problem would become evident only two to three weeks later when symptoms start to show and a big enough population has been infected. Countries like South Korea, Iran, Italy and many others have gone through this very cycle. If we are to learn any lessons from them, then we should take every measure to ensure that we limit this invisible spread, appreciating that it is likely there. If we wait for the numbers to hit a hundred, we might very well be too late.

For instance, having churches and schools closed and bars and clubs opened is not a situation we should be happy about.

It is understandable the concern of those who advocate for conservative, less drastic measures: the economic disruption should we take drastic steps. Perhaps we can learn from the same debate when we were considering limiting flights: concern about the impact on airlines and economic ties made us delay shutting down borders. Fast forward a few weeks later and the same drastic measures we were trying to avoid are now in place, only that they are no longer enough to contain the situation and more drastic, and economically costly measures will be required. The same is likely to happen with other drastic measures being considered today. If we delay them, it is likely that we will still be forced to implement them but in situations in which they will no longer be enough or as effective as if they were to be implemented today.

If we have reason to believe that COVID-19 will fade away, then the conservative measures will do. If however we see a scenario in which the infection will spread, and that is the lesson from other countries, we have to try get ahead of it. That means that we implement today the measures we are contemplating putting in place three weeks from now. That means reacting not to the numbers we have confirmed today, but to what we see those numbers look like three weeks from now. This way, we give ourselves a good chance to succeed.

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COVID-19: A LETTER TO ALL HEALTHCARE WORKERS IN KENYA

Dear Colleagues,

Today, our country is faced with a scary challenge: a new virus that infects easily, has the potential to cause severe illness, and for which there is no ready cure. We have always said in our quests for better health systems that healthcare workers too are consumers of the same healthcare delivery structure. There is never a more explicit demonstration of this fact than when epidemics and pandemics occur. We too being human means that we are as susceptible to the virus as any other person. Yet it is to us that the sick will turn, not because we are immune, but because we bear the best human hope for relief and survival. Indeed, if the pattern witnessed in other countries is anything to go by, it is guaranteed that a number of health workers will be infected. Therein, as is natural to humans, lies a real concern.

The natural instinct when faced with danger is to get away from it and to preserve self. In this context, the COVID-19 challenge, what would that mean? China today is closing the last of the temporary hospitals that were built to combat the virus in Wuhan. The success they have witnessed is credited in part to the efforts of healthcare workers in that country who demonstrated sheer heroism. They projected character in the face of adversity, courage when faced with fear, admirable resilience and another level of selflessness. Without them, thousands more would have died, and it is unlikely that the outbreak would have been brought under control. On the flipside, had they not done what they did, it would have made their community less safe: everyone including the healthcare workers, and their families would have been at greater risk, for longer, with nowhere to turn to.

Allow me to draw another parallel. During the Dusit terrorist attack, Kenyan soldiers put themselves on the line: they stood up as the force between bullets fired by a set of killers and their intended victims. Indeed, one of them, Japhet Nduguja, lost his life in the process. It is this commitment to duty and common good that kept us…keeps us, safe.

Now it is our turn. The frontline in facing the enemy we face now cannot consist of the armed forces. That frontline has to be you and I. The risk to us should we turn our backs to this challenge is that where we run to, our homes, will have the very virus severe, for longer and we will have nowhere to turn to. It is not lost on me that there are no guarantees should we stand and give it our best shot. It’s worse that Js and Is have been in charge of health policies for a long time and got us to a place in which our system is not as robust as it could have been. That notwithstanding, we remain our best hope and during this time, have to be at our very best as healthcare professionals and as part of humanity. I know that this is a tough ask, but I also know that Kenya does have some of the best healthcare workers in the world: underappreciated, but some of the best nonetheless. It is our time.

To the long-unemployed doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers, I apologize on behalf of my country for downplaying your importance, disregarding you and leaving you on your own despite our gaps. Should we just now remember you, and I pray that we do, you would be justified to refuse to listen. My prayer is that you would nonetheless, step up and answer the call for your value is inherent and not determined by the opinions of the Js and Is.

It is for instances such as these that the concept of calling becomes real, and the daily sacrifice becomes amplified. Our society needs us. Our families need us: paradoxically, this need is served best not by flight, but by fight: fighting as hard as we can to make this disease as short and as limited in spread and effect as possible. It is our turn. Let us pray, and give it our best. This way we will win.

May the almighty God grant you wisdom, protect you, bless you, bless your family and bless our country. Thank you.

Dr. Victor Ng’ani

PS: As with all posts on this site, you are free to copy, publish, share this post provided that you cite the source. Please leave a comment to let us know your sentiments. Thank you.

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Clobbering Teacher Ben:An Unfortunate True Story

CLOBBERING TEACHER BEN: AN UNFORTUNATE TRUE STORY

On the 26th of January 2020 at approximately 4.00am, an off-duty police officer and his three friends, descended upon Mr. Ben Keli with all manner of items intending to injure and to harm. “If I had my gun, I would have shot you!” The brief but vicious attack was only disrupted by the Maasai guard who had come to Ben’s rescue. How dare he? The gang of four turned on him to teach him a lesson he would be hard-pressed to forget. It is this distraction that allowed Ben room to escape back to the safety of his house, bleeding from a deep cut in his head for which he would require stitches. Mr. Ben Keli reported this matter to the police and initially, it looked like something was going to be done but lately, the officer has been speaking with the conviction of the impecunious: the conviction of one who knows there is nowhere you are going to take him.

I write this so that we can collectively tell him, and show him that there is no such thing in Kenya anymore. No more in Kenya will those in authority abuse the power given to them by the people, to turn back and oppress, harass and disadvantage the very people who’ gave them this authority in the first place. I write this because there are numerous voiceless, ordinary people, subjected to all manner of inhumane acts and violence, illegally and for no crime at all, by those entrusted with the role of offering protection. I write this because, I have no doubt in my mind that had the policeman been in a “leafy neighbourhood”, there is no chance he would have assaulted anyone or attempted what he was doing in Hamza that night. You see, we categorize our people as important or “not important” based on how rich they are. A lot of “unimportant” (read not rich) suffer at the hands of the kind of stupidity that cannot be cured by the highest levels of formal education. Most importantly, I write this because as a country, we have to take a stand and pass the message that Kenya is changing and the citizenry is taking it’s rightful place in LEADING this country to better place where we demand and see to it that accountability is achieved.

Before we get to the details of the incident, let me tell you about the victim of this attack. Ben Keli is a young man in his twenties. We think that it is only old people in this country who can bring progress: we’ve done that for decades and only ended up with limited progress, zero progress or retrogression. Failure upon failure. See what this young man has done.

A year ago, Ben Keli was featured on KTN’s Shujaa wa wiki for what he does. (Click HERE to watch the YOUTUBE VIDEO)

Ben lives in an underprivileged community in Nairobi’s Eastlands area. About two years ago, he was returning home at night at about 1 am. He passed by a late night shop and found a boy aged about 9 years old sitting outside the shop. Initially he passed him but then turned back about 10 metres on, coming back to the boy.

“Why are you out here at this time?”

“Nothing”

“You can tell me”

“Sina penseli”

“You are sure a pencil is what is keeping you here at night?” It sounded incredulous.

The young boy nodded.

“If I buy you a pencil, will you show me your house?”

The boy nodded again.

And so Ben bought him the pencil and the young man, true to his word showed him his home. This is when Ben discovered the reason behind the boy’s plight: a broken home ladden with poverty and alcohol. The mother was nowhere to be seen. The father drunk. In his drunkeness, he was eating: ugali and what looked like the water derived from boiling a pinch of sukuma wiki in a litre of water. That was all that could be counted as supper that night. It is not reported whether the boy had eaten or not.

“Thank you for buying my son a pencil.”

Rather than be satisfied with one random act of Kindness, this one incident caused Ben to go from house to house, door to door and ask people their stories and the stories of many other underprivileged children who would end up in the cold, and in the night for “lack of a pencil.” To truncate this story, the result of this was that Ben ended up starting an initiative called Jukumu, in which he regulary hosts 200+ children of all ages, gives them meals, shows them the latest movies, allows them to play games, teaches them the Word of God, and shows them that there is love in this world. In short, Ben Keli is the kind of citizen whose impact in society is greater than several politicians and old appointees combined: the kind of person this country needs, and it is this initiative that got him recognized in KTN’s Shujaa wa Wiki.

And so it turned out that this day in January 2020, he had come back from work at about 4.00am and was trying to get some sleep. Unfortunately, some neighbours seemed to be having a late (or early), loud party. At some point, it sounded like one of the neighbours who had a car had gone down to the car and turned on music at the highest volume. Song after song played. Sleep couldn’t come and so he opted to go down to ask the team to turn down the volume so that they could sleep. What he forgot was that, one, he was neither rich nor was he in a rich neighbourhood, and two, he was neither a politician nor famous yet. Without these two qualifications, who did he think he was, at least in the eyes of the four, to interrupt a mighty public “King” who was having his way, with the help of the amazing Mr. Alcohol?

The gang of four beat him up and let him know what would have happened to him had they had access to a gun. In Kenya, that threat is a real threat. The headlines of people shot in a bar by police officers keeps recurring as if being copy pasted yet they are all new stories.

Physically beaten but the spirit not broken!

A day later, his Afro was shaved and he had his stitches.

What the policeman didn’t know is that for powerful young men like Ben (you see, true power is in the spirit), you can’t intimidate them into silence. Their passion for social transformation burns stronger than anything you can conjure up in an alcoholic stupor. And so when most victims of such attacks would normally retreat in silence and in pain, Ben took the challenge head-on and reported the policeman to the police.

Initially, the perpetrator was actually concerned and shaken. He reached out to his victim hoping for resolution. But then as time went by, and certainly as he learnt of support from a few people in authority at his station, he became emboldened and convinced that the case is headed nowhere. And therefore, the latter responses have been arrogant and urging Ben to proceed with the case. His OCS in particular, by not acting promptly and decisively in this case, has not done service to the police or the public.

Here is the thing: the majority of professionals in public service, including the police, are actually good hearted and well intentioned. However, there is a minority that acts as the officer did in this case: the doctor who accepts kickbacks to do unecessary tests, the teacher who defiles his student, the civil engineer who approves the work of an incompetent friend leading to the collapse of a building. It is this minority that is the greatest enemy of the professions they belong to. Each member of those professions should therefore strive to rid themselves of these vices.

One month on, this case has not moved. It seems apparent that the OCS is not keen on allowing his charge to be held accountable. Yet accountability is what, as a leader, he should have been promoting.

Is there recourse? Is there hope? Will justice be served? What message can the new Kenya send to those “wenye tabia kama hiyo?”

In a way it’s a good thing (please forgive me for this Ben) that it happened to Ben, because few would have the courage he has, nor the story he does. Perhaps through this case, we can make strides as nation towards the respectability of our people.

The true test of a Nation is in how it treats the least in society, not the highest. Respect is valuing the innate dignity of a person regardless of social standing. In the trending spirit of ending Ujinga, can we also accept that greatness is not established by the amount of money one accumulates but by the impact they leave in society? In that regard, Ben Keli is a great Kenyan citizen.

Oh, and why is he Teacher Ben? Mr. Ben Keli is also a Sunday school teacher: to my daughters and many others. He sings, acts and teaches the children drama, up and above the other things. He is great with the children. They simply adore him and it is they who call him Teacher Ben!

You have my permission to share, copy paste, publish, this story, and any other on this site, provided you cite the source.

PS: Kindly consider leaving a comment to let us know your view on the content of this blog. Thank you in advance!

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The PIVA Criteria for Leadership

Instead of asking for twenty years of experience and a PhD in finger surgery, may I propose the PIVA criteria when choosing leaders.

When we founded the doctor’s union in 2010/2011, we had these grand visions of a transformed public sector. In our new found vehicle that gave us voice, we spoke of what could be done from human resource to infrastructure, to supplies to financing, to equipment. The disillusionment and disappointment that followed when we realized that very few were interested in any of the good ideas we had was massive. What we needed were people on the other side, the government side, with sufficient understanding, will and authority to make things better. Unfortunately, if such were there, we either didn’t recognize them or we didn’t find a way to speak their language. The impact of leadership on a sector, more specifically, the quality of the leaders became significant.

Many years later, I narrowed down four characteristics of a leader that I felt would have enabled us, and our country to make progress in the health sector. These four characteristics make up the PIVA criteria:

P: Passion

Look for a leader with passion for what they are being called to lead. Passion is that strong interest, and compelling feelings towards something. May I suggest that unless a leader has a powerful feeling and an extreme interest in something, they may not be the ideal candidate for it. Note that passion is different from simple interest. Many are interested but only those with a passion for it should lead it.

How would you know that one has passion? When you will find them working, living breathing it. You will find they talk often about it, at the very least. You will find their record: not what they tell you at the interview, but their clear record in the area. You will see the excitement in their eyes, and they could talk for hours about that topic.

I: Integrity

The bane of Africa has been corruption, and what belies that is a lack of integrity by those entrusted with various types of responsibilities. Contrary to a lie peddled: that all of us are corrupt, there are those who have integrity and will not sell-out or seek to profit irregularly. I recently walked away from a job I badly needed. The cost to me (what I would have got had I seen out the contract) was 4.4M ATT (after tithe and tax). All I had to do was to turn a blind eye to some fraudulent activity. I was never required to take part in it directly, but I had to allow people reporting to me to go that direction. No way I was going to compromise. The thing is, I know I am not alone in this stance. There are hundreds of thousands of Kenyans who would take a similar stand, possibly millions. Therefore, do not accept the view that everyone is corrupt. That is the excuse the corrupt use to allow us to keep choosing them.

Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking. In this context, I am referring to integrity with regards to resources and influence.

V: Vision

Without a vision, a people perish and so do dreams referred. So you get a great guy or lady to lead a department but after several years, nothing has changed. Often, what was lacking was a vision. That picture of a better tomorrow.

For example, can you imagine a situation in which there are forty eight public hospitals in Kenya that offer better services, have better outcomes, at lower cost, with greater customer care than the Nairobi Hospital? Can you imagine our Kenyatta National Hospital rivaling the best Hospitals in Europe? First, both of these are very much possible but secondly, without a compelling picture of a better tomorrow, ambition, aspiration is limited. Most importantly, there is no clarity on what people are working towards.

A clear compelling vision is critical when selecting leaders and no, vague statements such as “make services better” or “hospitals that work for the people” do not qualified as clear visions.

This is the easiest to determine as the potential leader principally has to paint the picture of the future he sees. The catch is in determining what is realistic and what is in the realm of fantasy. A KNH rivaling western hospitals is possible.

A: Ability

So you’ve found a person who has a passion, has integrity and has a tremendous vision that just may work. Then comes the critical question: can they lead?

In ability, three things come together. The ability to inspire and people to work together on a task. A true test of this is the ability to inspire a change in culture and to inspire loyalty. Leaders bring out the best in their workers, earn their respect and not necessarily feared.

Secondly, is the ability to lead the whole team to work towards achieving the vision previously stated. It is this work that brings about transformation, and makes the vision a reality.

Thirdly, technical ability required for the job. Beyond people management, there are technical tasks and there is technical know-how that is relevant to key components of the task. This revolves around the management of resources, controls, strategic processes, implementation, quality improvement, measurement, reporting, client satisfaction and overall performance management. This is where issues such as knowledge of IT and supply chain and human resource processes, and accreditation come into play.

If one is able to find such a person, the therein lies the leader that will bring true transformation in a sector.

The place of education

In the process of looking for the right person to lead, education is a good indicator of ability. However, it is not to be confused with ability itself. For instance, a person who has done accounting is better able to understand financial statements. An MBA may give a leader a set of technical tools that allows them to understand human resource discussions as well as other technical facets, up and above the primary degree. However, the interest is in this technical knowledge, not the qualification. It is very possible to have leader with PhD who cannot do half as much as a leader with basic certification. Therefore, greater education must not mistaken to mean a better leader.

Greater caution is required here. The true test of education is product. Your papers tell us what you are meant to have received. What is more important is your record. What have you done with all the education? An professor of engineering whose roads consistently develop potholes in under a month is of less value and qualification than an undergraduate student whose project has found a process through which roads can be pothole free for three years.

The Place of One’s record

In the search of a leader, a lot of the parameters are indicators. The greatest indicator however is their record. Good examples here are people looking to hire a person to lead a team of marketers to market cars. One person has a PhD in linguistics, another was a car sales person for years, having sold hundreds of cars with a hit rate of over 40%.

The year is 1910 and you are looking to hire people to lead your newly founded aircraft company. Among your applicants are PhDs in engineering and bicycle shop owner brothers whose only achievement was building the world’s first planes only seven years earlier.

Your education tells us how much knowledge you have been exposed to. Your record tells us what how capable you are of translating that knowledge into productivity, what you care about, and how likely you are to succeed at this job.

Conclusion

PIVA leaders are what we need in our society. Do not confuse formal education for competence, else we would deem all our forefathers incompetent. Our education tells us how much we have been exposed to but it is our record that tells us how productive we are and how productive we are able to be.

Pray for our country. Don’t forget to leave a comment. Cheers!

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Model for Improvement

One of the most common components of political or professional promises is improvement. This is either the process or the fact of getting things better. An equally common component of the subsequent period after election or appointment, is the lack of improvement. Why is this?

It is easy to blame lack of interest, defective structures, lack of support, or simply incompetence as the reason. However, the issue may well be not knowing how to bring about improvement in a sustainable way. The Associates in Process Improvement (API) developed a a model to address this very problem, and its quite simple. This model is named, “Model for Improvement.”

Underpinning any improvement plan are a couple of points. First and foremost is the saying that if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. This is not entirely true, but what is true is that if you can’t measure it, you cannot show or prove that you have improved, nor are you likely to know whether you have improved or not.

Questions underpinning improvement

Secondly, there are four questions that improvement processes require to answer:

  1. What is the problem that we are trying to solve?
  2. What are we trying to achieve?
  3. What steps or actions can we take to realize the achievement?
  4. How will we know when we get there?

You ought to answer these questions before you effect any changes otherwise, you run the risk of embarking on a wild goose chase and wasting the resources of you employer or country. Collectively, they constitute the first part of the model for improvement. The second part is what is called the Plan Do Study Act cycle (Also called Plan Do Check Cycles)

PDSA cycles

The PDSA cycles are a repetetive four stage model for implementing an improvement. Once you know what you want to achieve as required by the questions listed above, you make a plan.

Your plan should include SMART objectives in line with your overall goals, strategies, actions, a projection of ALL the resources that will be required to successfully implement the plan, the time required, the people responsible for individual tasks in the plan, the potential risks the plan may phase at implementation, and the actions you project to manage those risks. The plan also includes an endpoint, and measurement tools to objectively assess the impact of the various actions/activities set out in the plan.

Once the plan meets your satisfaction, you proceed to the “Do” phase. The do phase is where you implement the actions and activities set out in your plan. Make sure to have a baseline documented. This should be obtained at the planning phase, but if that is not done, it ought to be the first part of the do phase. The baseline tells you where you were before any of your interventions was implemented as is a necessary reference point.

Once the activities are implemented, you proceed to the “Study/Check” phase. Is the projected impact being witnessed? What was our baseline when we started? Where are we now? Is it an improvement? The result of the study phase will inform the next phase. During Study, you may find that the intervention results in a worse situation, no change, modest improvement, or a marked improvement. A key component of the study phase is the root cause analysis. When a result is not as expected or projected, a root cause analysis is carried out to understand what factors resulted in the deviation from the expected. The idea is to modify the root cause to have better outcomes. This ushers us to the Act phase. In the event of deficiencies being observed, remedies as can be made based on the findings of the RCA. Bear in mind that acceptable actions may include rolling-back the changes and perhaps doing away with the project altogether. This however requires courage and humility, neither of which is easy to find.

There is no limit to the number of times PDSA cycles that can be implement. Indeed this should be the routine baseline.

OPDSA

An improved version of PDSA is the OPDSA. “O” stands for observation: observe the prevailing situation before you make plan. That sounds good, right?

DMAIC

An separate improvement model is DMAIC from six sigma – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. There are important differences in the two processes but they are not mutually exclusive. Indeed all the steps in the two models are useful.

Model for improvement components

What are the critical components required to implement the model for improvement?

  1. The political will to improve and allocate resources towards improvement
  2. Problems that can be solved by improving processes in a measurable way.
  3. People to carry out the interventions designed in the PDSA cycles
  4. Pragmatic interventions that can be implemented within the resources allocated to the improvement process
  5. Measurement tools that can be used to determine the baseline as well as assess progress.
  6. Time. Remember to set timelines to all improvement processes at the time of planning.

Applicability

The model for improvement can be implement in a wide range of scenarios: from improving your own daily habits or routines, to improving productivity in a small scale business, to improving quality and outcomes in healthcare to achieving one of a country’s big four agenda. The process is simple but rarely applied, perhaps because the model is not well known across board.

Question

A few years ago, to address the matter of congestion in Nairobi, the ministry of Transport banned 14 seater matatus and replaced them with bigger capacity buses: 25 seater and above. Did this intervention follow the model for improvement? How would you apply the model for improvement to this issue if you were the one in charge of policy? Leave your response in the comments section and Look out for my blog post on this very matter for us to compare notes.

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Alcohol’s get out of jail free cards

I have written this article many times in … my head. The reason today it ‘s on “paper” is because I just read a post from a lady friend on Facebook. In her post, she describes a period when she was pregnant but didn’t know. She did a couple of things, including going on a “get drunk” mission with her friends. A few weeks later, she discovered that she had been pregnant but not any more. It is this incident that caused her to lose all taste for all things alcoholic thence.

Would you believe me if I told you that lions eat gazelles, hence it is not a wise idea for gazelles to hang around lions? Really? What if i told you that 99% of gazelles die of other factors not lions? What if I showed you thousands of gazelles that routinely hanged around lions and lived to ripe old ages? What if it is demonstrated to you the precautions gazelles have taken: lookout, warning and such that make it unlikely for lions to succeed in their quest to eat gazelles?

Make no mistake, alcohol is a criminal that was long sentenced to life in prison. However, it is seriously connected and therefore benefits from numerous get out of jail free cards. It’s also a political guru and hence has no limit to the number of defenders. It has a cult like following among the human population, people who believe that alcohol is their saviour: and it is, only that they don’t realize that the hole that alcohol is filling was created by alcohol itself.

It’s like digging a hole in the road leading up to your house. Since you need get home daily, you fill it with some fancy-looking material. It’s exotic nature introduces some feel good effect to it and hence you like it. Besides, every “successful” neighbour sings it’s praise. They define it as fun. You don’t want to miss out or stand out and be the odd one out. Hence you join the bandwagon.

The thing is that the material wears out and you have to keep filling that hole. When that hole is small, the effect of this repetetetive job may seem negligible. However, in some people, this hole is big and empties faster, requiring regular filling. The effort required increases, but since it has a feel good effect, the trade-off seems worth it. The hole has a mind of its own: the more you fill it, the bigger it becomes. That’s partly how it turns out that there are those for whom the hole becomes so big that no matter the effort, it never quite gets filled, and suddenly, the road home is bumpy, uncomfortable, worrisome and even stressful.

Approximately 6% of all deaths in the world are attributable to harmful use of alcohol. For instance, in 2012, alcohol caused 3.3 Million deaths! Make no mistake, the Wuhan Coronavirus is a big deal with more than 60,000 infections and a thousand deaths. We don’t know how much worse it will get and the world response needs to be stepped up. Ok, back to the 3.3 million… I told you, it is well connected and has numerous get out of jail free cards.

Exactly how bad is it? I may flesh this out in future but I am also sharing a link to a reputed study for you to read ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037055/ ) allow me to state in brief.

Physically: shrinking brain, decreased mental capacity, alzheimers disease damaged liver, heart failure, cancers, premature aging, loss of pregnancies, infertility, birth defects in babies, road traffic accidents, multiple types of assault and many more.

Psychosocially: decreased performance at work and many other areas, social conflicts, job losses, depression, suicidal ideation, and many more.

Remember the gazelle story somewhere at the beginning of this article, this is where I quote it and hope you get the point.

I used to be an ICU doctor and the number of times drunk drivers who had just killed someone on the road would try and tell you how the pedestrian “came out of nowhere”, or how they had learnt their lesson and will never do it again, and how it was only this time they found that they had drunk too much, would shock you. The drunk driver will be upset that you would include intoxication in the medical report as in this regard the insurance company won’t pay. Why would the doctor do that, right?

Many will tell me that traditionally, alcohol was meant to have been a social drink: an element to bring about community. It is not the origin or the intention that I am highlighting, but the effects. Pushing back against a mammoth establishment, hoping to save at least one, person: one family, maybe more.

Therefore, allow me to conclude that alcohol is harmful and best avoided. The drinker is in a constant fight with his body. The body is designed to protect itself from harmful items and it works overtime to this end in the case of alcohol. However, the more it does, the more the mind and heart drive one to drink.

How does alcohol get away with it?

Ignorance

Ignorance is not an insult, it is just not knowing. There are many people who get into or continue excessive alcohol consumption simply because they don’t know how bad it can get. There are also largely two reasons that people don’t know. The first is that they have never come across the information. The second is because they believe they already know and there is nothing new you can tell them. The Kenyan word for this is “ujuaji,” a form of ignorance that is hard to cure as it is highly resistant to knowledge.

Falling into this category are also the misconceptions about alcoholism and how controllable destructive habits are. At its greatest triumph over humanity, alcohol produces dependence. That person who seems unable to help himself and is drunk from morning to evening, and has lost job and family. This person is actually quite sick and needs your help. He is trapped in a state that requires more than sheer willpower to get out of. Talking to him or her to see the mess they are in and just stop is not useful, because it is a point of view unaware of the true issues around alcoholism. In a nutshell, that level of alcoholism needs persistent help that will include sustained rehabilitation for periods of 3-6 months, and social restructuring that makes relapse difficult. The only other method I have seen work is a miracle from God. Other methods different from these, to the best of my knowledge bear much less chances of success.

Often I hear the statement, “If you can’t afford or handle your drink, or your body can’t handle it, simply don’t drink!” It often comes from moderate drinkers in response to those who are experiencing social, economic, behavioural or health problems related to alcohol. In my view, this is largely a dumb statement made out of extreme ignorance, and I am not being arrogant here, I am just stating what I have come across. It assumes that the effect of alcohol on our bodies is a choice that each person can control at will. This is just not the case and the best help to this category of drinkers is to not get them into it in the first place. As it turns out, many of those who speak like this, up to 14%, are very much on their way to dependence, the very point they mistake to be a choice.

Believe it or not, most alcoholics want to stop drinking more than anything else. The very definition of alcohol dependence requires multiple attempts without success. Once you are addicted, “just stop” is advice that does not benefit from wisdom or knowledge as a foundation.

It’s big business

Globally, alcohol as an industry is worth 1.4 Trillion US dollars annually. That is 1,400, billion dollars US. For comparison, only twelve countries in the world have a GDP higher than $1.4T. The nominal GDP of Africa as a continent is 2.2Trillion dollars. Whenever the sums of money involved is this big, there will be big players and opinion drivers with huge stakes in the business. The narrative will therefore lean away from anything that could adversely affect business. Interest groups and lobbyists have for long periods determined regulation, and social influence by funding politicians, social influencers and controlling the narrative. The next time you hear that it is impossible to have fun without alcohol, ask yourself whether this is really the case or marketing dressed as a “fact” that will never pass the weakest of fact-checks.

When emotions suppress logic

Alcohol benefits immensely from opinions that hold it in high regard. Objectively, it’s quite dumb to consider it mandatory in any setting, but then as with most things in life, what moves the masses is not the logic of it but the emotions attached to it.

I started going out when I got to campus. On one of those nights, I remember running into a former classmate from high school. When he saw I was taking soft drinks, he remarked that he thought I would be taking something “stronger.” Through time, there has been some form of attempt to shame not drinking and label it weaker and not man or woman enough, or not brave or courageous enough, or simply not cool enough. Many people actually start drinking for nothing more than peer pressure, to present an image and to fit in. Alcohol has built itself a reputation as the thing to do to demonstrate maturity and strength, or to define fun.

When you actually think of it, in the face of such tremendous pressure, real strength is to say “no,” while the easy thing to do is to give in and fit in. True strength is standing against the current and setting a new direction. (Those are the kind of genes you should seek to pair with to when you are planning offspring by the way). My opinion. The influential alcohol industry calls that weakness. But then that is playing to our emotions to relegate logic to second rate, and make decisions that we never would when sane and clear minded.

The first club I went to when I joined campus was K1. It was walking distance from the University of Nairobi. We were a group of 8 or nine freshmen exploring freedoms for the first time. In the group, only two of us were not drinking. I bet many more had not been before that first outing but ordered beer anyway for the image of it and to fit in. Still, my friend S and I kept off alcohol for a whole two weeks. The third week, we felt odd and as if we stood out in a negative way. What was wrong with us? To fit in, we decided to just drink and so that Friday, we each had a bottle and a half of beer. Frankly it tasted horrible, but hey, we had joined the group of “men!” The following Thursday, despite the horrible taste, I felt a deep longing, from afar, for alcohol. For some reason, that very thirst set alarm bells off in my mind and I gave that whole trajectory a wide berth for the rest of my campus life. My friend S didn’t and went on to become the most notorious friend of the brown bottle of our school. It cost him socially, and in terms of his education.

Peer and societal pressure has a way of making us set aside logic and go with emotions, often to our detriment.

Acquired taste

If alcohol, especially beer kept tasting the same way it did when we all first tasted it, fewer people would keep at it. Fortunately for alcohol, there is something called acquisition of taste. A clever phrase for something less clever or stellar.

If you have ever passed by a neighbourhood near a slaughterhouse, the smell itself could send you reeling. You are mighty glad when you pass. But then again, when you see the people who live there and about, you notice that they are least bothered. Indeed, they genuinely don’t notice the smell. You see, your mind is brilliant and has a way to protect you from noxious stimuli, such as bad smells. It adjusts your perception so that you are better able to tolerate the difficult. This is the science behind acquisition.

In fact, beer tastes exactly as it did the first time you tasted it. You have only become poorer at telling the difference. This is also the ostrich approach to defence. You bury your head in the sand so that you can genuinely say you are not aware of any issues with the taste of beer.

Brown Courage and scapegoats

Alcohol is helped by the fact that it causes some degree of disinhibition. It lowers one’s physical and psychological defences. When fully aware, some folk are generally unable to get into deep issues. Give them a little alcohol and they open up and unwind thereby releasing some bottled up feelings.

There are also those who are just never able to muster the courage to take a step that seems daunting, or bears potential for, say, rejection. Give them a little alcohol, the fear goes and suddenly they are able to reveal that they admire this and that person. Not only that but should the story not have a happily ever after ending, they can blame the folly of the attempt on Mr. Brown Bottle. “I was just drunk!”

In a way, this is the one card given to alcohol that is highly logical. It’s taking a big risk that bears potential for reward. Life does require a little courage. It is of course immeasurably better to be courageous without the bottle. This is also achievable. But we are not made the same and the level of courage and confidence differs from person to person. May I say that the fake courage that comes with the bottle is actually always within you and you can as well achieve that degree of confidence if you believe in yourself. I put it you that the confidence you exude after the bottle is innate and not from the bottle itself.

Conclusion

I don’t doubt that I have stirred the hornet’s nest. Wisdom is not congruent with formal education neither is general knowledge. It is also true that opinions differ. Certainly, alcohol does have it’s fair share of ardent defenders. It may very well be true that it is a good idea for gazelles to hand around lions but the basis for such wisdom would lie way beyond my current knowledge and understanding. If your are reading this and feel offended, I apologize for the offence, but not for the content. At least help someone by not dragging them into your corner by feeling there is some grand thing they are missing by not drinking.

Don’t drink and drive. It kills. It may kill you, but often it kills others. You may have been drinking and driving for years without killing someone but guess what, most drunk drivers who kill people on the road are killing people for the first time.

Spare some kindness for the alcoholic. At this level, the aspect of choice is far gone. If you detest them, it cannot be more than they detest themselves. They have already hated themselves more than you could. What they need is help to overcome a true monster. What you can do is avoid ending up in the same place or leading others to the same. Our metabolism, genes and tolerance is different and it is not easy to predict who will end up an alcoholic and who will not.

A person close to me was a brilliant mind and the most kindest of hearts. A surgeon in the making, but then he came across the dragon that is alcoholism. Try as he might, including multiple sessions isn rehab, he couldn’t come out of it. He eventually lost his job, his family…and his life. It is now that I can see the pain and regret behind the laughter when he shared the innocuous and seemingly harmless way he was introduced to drinking. Turns out, the so called “friends” who would call him out to drink in between rehabs, were his worst enemies.

Do you know any enemies who think they are your friends but are putting you or your loved ones in harms way? They probably believe that they are your friends and will come to your funeral and solemnly euologize you and extoll the virtues of your spouse and children, whom they will leave to struggle on their own after you are gone.

PS: Of course I would also recommend that you don’t smoke. It’s harmful and while you may think it looks cool, to a majority of people in this country, it doesn’t. Out of politeness, most will say nothing.

Cheers, stay safe, leave a comment.

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GIERAFS Model



I have contributed to healthcare in Kenya in many areas. I was a co-founder and first chairman of the doctors’ union (KMPDU). I participated in the development of the patient charter and the Health act 2017 amongst many initiatives. I pushed for and was a key player in the “Musyimi” task-force report on strengthening healthcare delivery in the public sector. However, of these achievements, the one that I single out for mention is the GIERAFS model.

Patients seek two things from health workers: healing and a sense of being heard and cared for. Patients want to attain cure and recover from their illnesses. However, they also want to be treated with respect and feel that they have been listened to. In fact, a quack with tremendous patience, humility, attention and an overdose of “compassion” is likely to get better reviews than a haughty doctor.

Client experience is an area of focus in private institutions. However, even here it remains a struggle. In our public facilities, there are those health workers who try to extend a positive experience, but their efforts are often drowned by an unsupportive, broken system or a majority who, for one reason or the other, do not try anymore.

In 2016, an administrative colleague of mine (Sr. Felistas King’ori, of the Sisters of Mercy Kenyan Province) and I shared a concern on this very matter. Then one morning in 2016, in my office at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital,  in a discussion with Sr. Felistas,, it occurred to me that perhaps the missing link was a set structure that would provide proper guidance to well meaning health workers.  As a result of this discussion and by the end of this one meeting,  the GIERAFS model had been born as a simple, easy to remember, easy to apply, yet effective model to guide the interaction between all health care workers and their clients.

GIERAFS is a mnemonic detailing the basic components, in sequential order, of an interaction between a healthcare worker and his/her patient:

G – Greet the patient

I – Introduce Yourself

E – Explain what you would like to do

R – Request the patient’s permission to proceed

A – Ask whether they have questions and answer any questions they may have

F- Feedback to the client on your findings and plan

S- Smile. It helps. 🙂

Please try it out and let me know how it works. Good luck.

Dr. Victor Ng’ani



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Lessons from a lowly pawn

Just a pawn. I suspect that you have come across this phrase that has often been used to denote relative worthlessness, or diminished value. The thing is, it is borrowed from chess (no, this article is not about chess so read on): life’s alter ego. Standing next to the monarch, the mighty queen, rooks, knights or bishops, the pawn’s diminutive nature doesn’t help its cause. Matters are made worse when numeric values are attached to each of these pieces: 9 for the queen, 5 for the rook, 3 for the knights and Bishop, 1,000 for the King…and just 1 for the pawn. It is then easy to understand why many would consider the pawn worthless and hence the phrase.

But then an interesting thing happens when you talk to chess super grand masters. Only 101 people in the history of the world have ever attained a chess rating of 2700 and above: a level associated with supreme understanding of the game of chess. To them, pawns are extremely important. It is said that we should not judge books by their covers and the same applies to pawns. We begin to see some redemption when we look further into the properties of the chess pieces. It turns out that a pawn has two unique properties that no other piece on the board has: one, it cannot move backwards and two, in a maximum of six moves or five, a pawn can transform into any of the other pieces on the board, including the queen! In addition, standing next to each other, pawns have the potential to form a chain and fortress on the chess board. They build the infrastructure around which every other element of chess revolves. In this light, chess masters consider strategic pawn moves with weight far greater than the moves of other pieces.

To the weak chess player, it’s just a pawn to the master, pawns are the soul of chess. But this article is not about chess, it is about life. On the chess board, the queen didn’t choose to be a queen, it just found itself thus, so did the rook. Such is life. It is easy to look down on the least in society and imagine that we are better or that they are not honourable or worthy of respect. But as is true with the idiocy of the rook that disrespects the pawn only to see it turn to a queen to which he has to bow later, there is close to zero wisdom in disrespecting other human beings based on societal standing.

The thing with life is this: circumstances change. One season, one is at the top in another, they are not. One season, a person is struggling, another he is favoured. None of these change the innate value of a human being. It is great wisdom to extend great respect to each person alive as none of us knows the true worth of the least of men and women. The very gauge by which we determine worthiness is itself faulty. It is why we could hardly notice a humble, honest but poor and starving lady, maybe even look down upon her, while we sing and defend a rich thief, whose riches have come from stealing from an entire country: a country to which we belong.

Talking of relative worth, I once watched a president talk down to judges and members of the judiciary. It was clear that the president did not hold them in high regard, nor was he interested in any of the issues they had raised with regards to making the judicial system better. Here’s the problem: this president was on his second term. In a few years, he would be off the board and these “pawns” will be the judges with him on the dock on civil matters, and maybe more.

What we see today is not immortal. What promises a better outcome in any game of chess is to project today’s events into the future and act in accordance with what makes that future promising. Disregarding that future could be the biggest mistake one could make. That is why when a chess master looks at a pawn, he sees a potential queen, while a novice or a charlatan, sees…. JUST A PAWN!

What are some of the pawns around you?

Beyond that, there is a greater truth to life: a greater purpose. You may not agree, but the purpose of this is not to convince you but to state what I know. The choice of whether to accept what I have written in this paragraph as truth or not is entirely yours. The ever divisive 45th president of the United States said of the late John Dingell, deceased husband of Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell, “Maybe he’s looking up! Maybe, but let’s assume he’s looking down.” Euphemism. Looking down from heaven and looking up from hell. May the decisions you make today bear consideration for the ultimate future. I suspect that the true masters in life look beyond life itself, and make decisions today based on that view, knowledge and wisdom.

Many chess masters struggle with convincing novices of the value of pawns, not now but in the future. Many struggle with understanding the value of the small things in life today: humility, integrity, respect, love…time, and the least of us, by the narrow gauge we use that measure riches and influence.

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The Thief



After 9 years of service, my job at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital came to an end at the end of March 2018. I opted to liquidate part of my pension and use the funds to set up income streams to sustain me through the subsequent season. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the monthly payments had accrued quite an amount in interest. On this interest, I determined to pay my tithe to my local church back at home. I was quite excited to make this payment, imagining what it could be used for and how beneficial it would be to the church. I therefore set the money aside, in cash, before all else.

When I got home a few weeks later, one of the first things I purposed to do was submit the amount to the local pastor but alas, when I checked where I had put the money, 40% of it was missing! I searched everywhere but it was nowhere to be found. Where could it have gone?

The house I was staying in was largely locked. However, for a brief period earlier in the day, one of the two ladies hired to help my aging mum with house chores had been tasked to clean the house. She had been there by herself for quite sometime. This, to the best of our recollection was the only time the house had been unlocked and accessed by another adult. Turns out, this lady had acquired a dubious record with regards to accessing material things. There was a string of items that had disappeared over time that she had been suspected of taking and others reported to have been confirmed. After further inquiries, it became clear that she was the person most likely to have stolen the money from its hidden place. We went to find her at her house but only found her children despite it being night time. Where could she, or her husband have gone at such an hour leaving children alone? Somehow we managed to reach her on phone and demanded that she comes to our home, which she did, accompanied by her husband.

Of course, and as expected, whereas she acknowledged having cleaned the house by herself, she denied ever having taken or even seen the money. We confronted her with the past allegations against her and after quite sometime, she owned up to having taken some small kitchen items and some food occasionally but remained adamant that she had not taken the money. At some point the husband came in to defend the wife and stated that he was certain that his wife had not taken any such money. If she had, he would have known. He also owned up to the few items the wife had spoken of taking without permission earlier. Then my sister noticed it. In the dark. The t-shirt he was wearing had been hers. She inquired how he had come to be in possession of it. The couple was taken aback but then the lady regained her composure and explained that the clothing item had been rained on, and she had taken it home to dry (or some other unconvincing story like that about rain and drying). The husband on the other hand said it was the wife who had brought it, as Eve had brought the apple to Adam in the garden of Eden.

With this and the history, it was clear to everyone who the culprit was. People have been burnt for stealing items of much less value than the money lost that day. As you know, I am ardently opposed to murder in the name of “mob-justice.” (I consider it, and it is, evil several orders worse than theft). No one lay a hand on her, nor on her husband but we threatened to take them to the police, and had them enter a vehicle for this very purpose. All this while, despite the mountain of evidence, they pleaded their innocence and refused to confess. We probably would have forgiven them if they would just have owned up and returned whatever portion of the money they had not spent. Seeing that the police threat didn’t work either, we opted to let them go but that would be her last day as our employee. Meanwhile, I bemoaned the need to raise yet another amount to replace what had been stolen. In this instance, a cheerful giver I was not. I do pray for God’s forgiveness. I had no doubt in my mind that she was the one responsible for the loss. Nobody in the village doubted their guilt. I am however grateful that we did not harm her or escalate the matter to the police. I imagine that in some communities in Kenya today, despite the many relatives (or the very people) who engage in corruption and theft in their workplaces, these two could have been tortured, beaten till half dead, then set alight, all the while as the people, these self-righteous corrupt people who bribe or receive bribes so often, cheered.

My gladness that we did not do anything of the sort was multiplied a week later when I got back to Nairobi.

Going through my things, I found out that in my hurry to get home, I had purposed but failed to combine the two tithe monies into one as I had planned. Indeed, the 40% was right in the coat pocket where I had initially kept it and there it had remained, even as we dragged through the mud, the reputation of our “thief.” My heart sank from terrible guilt for what I had done. We had treated the couple horribly. All this while, despite what we all believed, the dishonest sounding pleas of innocence from the couple, despite the history, despite the t-shirt, despite the food items, were actually the truth and I…we… with our 200% certainty, were actually wrong. So with tremendous shame and guilt, I picked up the phone and started the difficult process of setting the record straight. I had to call her, then the husband, then all my family members whom I had involved in the incident, and in that low moment, I apologized and confessed what I had found. I must say, they were quite gracious in their response and were quite forgiving.

But why this story?

Have you heard of “thieves” burnt because “alionekana?” Have you heard of villagers gathering the day after incidences to flush out gangs and perpetrators, extracting confessions, and relying on “eye-witness” accounts? Have you heard of people lynched because the murderers in the lynch mobs took the words of people who were cork sure that the lynched were guilty? How about of witchcraft? Turns out, in criminology, the least reliable and most error-prone type of evidence is the eye-witness account. First, we shouldn’t be burning or lynching anyone. The murderous evil capable of this is not fit for societal integration, and forms the basis of an evil, brutal society that cannot prosper. Secondly, there is a reason why the legal process is in place. The Chicken thief too is entitled to his day in court. Let the case be proven beyond reasonable doubt. Let not circumstantial evidence, as compelling as it may be (and was in my case) be the reason to destroy somebody’s life. Let not our faith in our correctness and infallibility be the basis for the death of a father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, son, for one thing is for sure: we often make mistakes. Let us not be thieves, stealing the well-being, freedom, or lives of innocent people in our often vengeful quest to blame somebody.



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Thinking of signing up for an education plan etc? You may want to reconsider.

( The article, first posted on facebook January 13th 2020 starts on paragraph 3. Click HERE for the link to the Facebook Post. The first two paragraphs are important for context)

My country is yet to strengthen consumer protection. It is for this reason that there are products in the market that work within current and legally accepted regulations, yet their very foundation and practice amount to no more than tragedy for the working class. One such group of exploitative products are so called education plans and savings schemes presented by insurance companies. I first shared the post below on my Facebook page on the 13th Of January 2020. The number of people who shared their own experiences is nothing short of astounding. Whereas it is easy to imagine that all the victims didn’t read the fine print, the truth is that there was never disclosure of the risk of the kind of loss witnessed. Most of these Kenyans, as I understood that we were getting into a kind of forced savings in a scheme that is harder to access than banks, but sage nonetheless. It’s a no-brainer that none of us would have enlisted had we known that there was a risk of loss greater than 5%. In this case, the loss was 94% for nothing. Then there is the group that saw the plans to maturity and lost money. And the stories keep coming.

Insurance is good. I recommend that you take a personal accident cover as a pure insurance product and save your money in stable saccos or banks until we have regulations that protect consumers and the working class.

I lost 140,000 out of 154,000 to Liberty Life

So I lost 140,000 to Liberty Life, out of 154,000 I had contributed.

For a long time, I had been wary of these so called plans where you put in some money for a decade or so and you get “bonuses” and and interest and a guaranteed amount at maturity. They never made economic sense to me. However, as a means of forced saving at returns better than banks I was finally convinced to try it out. I contributed a nominal amount for just under three years. Then it occurred to me that the money could be put to more profitable use in other ventures and so I opted out. By taking that option, liberty life which at my time of joining was called CFC declared that 13,000 and some hundreds was the entirety of my entitlement out of the 154000 I had contributed. Of course none of these risks were disclosed at the sales point otherwise you know it would not have had chance of getting through. That was a few years ago. I visited liberty life as recently as this year to get clarification on the same: how this could possibly be right, legal, or fair. From their point of view, it is.

I have just seen another post by a friend on Facebook about the incessant phone calls by insurance agents selling, I assume these plans, as I still get the same phone calls to date. The most popular name they have is education plans with life insurance as a rider. My advice to anybody who’s not interested in learning from their own painful experience is to avoid these schemes like the plague. There are safer, and more rewarding ways to save for your future. Stable SACCOS for one. Layoffs have become increasingly common in out country today. I opted out of the scheme. However, there are many others who are forced to do so by tough economic circumstances. I cannot imagine how devastating it would be for these families to be told the companies would keep the bulk of their money.

Regulators on the other hand have to take their work seriously and protect consumers. I imagine I’m not the only one who’s lost money in this way. This kind of loss could break working class families and their dreams of a future with some degree of financial freedom.

There are way too many instances where consumers in Kenya are disadvantaged by inadequately regulated models.

Bottom line, now you know: this kind of “product” is one of those things you want to stay as far away from.

EDIT: The comments on this post reveal just how extensive this problem is. The number of people who have lost money in this way is just too high. Clearly, this has been a silent epidemic.

It is not uncommon in society today for victims to think that it was their fault or be blamed for missing something. Let me say that this is not normal nor the fault of the victims. Apart from the fact that the risk of loss is often not explicitly disclosed to the clients at the point of sign-up, provisions that see people lose as much as 80% or 90% of their contributions cannot be defended. They are simply immoral. I bet you that you cannot find such a provision in western countries. Proprietors of such businesses would probably have been summoned to congress or jailed.

For those of you who might not know, the insurance component of it is often presented as a rider. In any case, the same product (personal accident cover only) is often available from the same companies at less than 10% of the annual contributions.

It’s easy to say OK, fine we’ve lost money and we’ve learnt our lesson. We will not do it again. And certainly we will not. But what about our fellow Kenyans who are just starting out, who may not have access to the information we have? At this rate, if you include the teachers, the disciplined forces and business people, the cumulative amount lost by Kenyan workers to these schemes over the last 10 years runs into billions. Whatever clauses make this level of loss possible remain in existence today. How do we stop it once and for all? At the very minimum, the requirement for complete disclosure on the risks has to be documented and made mandatory.

However, things don’t just change, someone/some people have to do something practical to bring about the change. That’s us. For the sake of future generations and for the sake of our country. What is happening here is neither OK, nor normal, nor acceptable. It’s unconscionable. That cannot be an acceptable fate for any Kenyan worker in this country.

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Corruption in the Health Sector

This is a message to health workers in Kenya, first posted on the main Doctor’s Facebook group on 25th October 2019.

CORRUPTION IN THE HEALTH SECTOR

Chances are that if one of us posted a reveal on “big” corruption on this page, there would be an uproar of sorts. Afya house this scam, County B that scam, and so on and so forth. However, I want us to know that there is nothing like big corruption or small corruption. Corruption is corruption. What differs is the level of access. Therefore, the person corrupt in handling one thousand shillings will be corrupt in handling two billion shillings, if they had access to it. Still, allow me to make a distinction of corruption in healthcare as this kills faster. And no, I will not be talking of the abhorrent “big” corruption, I’ll be talking of a cancer among us: health workers.

People, a distasteful corruption culture is quickly taking root and if we don’t stop it, it threatens to be a norm. This is the culture of kickbacks for referrals, or for utilization of infrastructure and equipment and so on. As a result, thousands of Kenyan patients who trust us to help them get better are being taken through unnecessary investigations, procedures and admissions, not because their conditions require it but because there is corruption money exchanging hands, christened incentives. And this practice is present across cadres: doctors, nurses, clinical officers, ambulance drivers…you name it. We are not incompetent nor dumb as a lot. We know that exposing patients to any form of treatment or procedure is a risk in itself. We know that doing so when it is unnecessary is an unnecessary risk. We know that these risks sometimes become material adverse events, including death. Therefore, doing it nonetheless in exchange for money is an unmitigated tragedy.

No single Kenyan healthcare worker should do or be allowed to do this. This matter is grave enough for us to call upon help from outside the sector to assist in firmly entrenching deterrent measures. Therefore, we should all purpose to welcome investigative authorities: DCI and EACC for example to project actions that result in judicial processes, as well as the regulatory bodies to prune our professions of those who allow themselves to betray our duty as health workers and as citizens.

And no, the fact that our leaders are corrupt to the bone does not excuse us or give us the moral right to do this. It is also not a gray area: it is an unethical, corrupt and criminal practice that should result in the loss of license and time to reflect in an appropriate, custodial setting.

Kenya is a beneficiary of skills transfer, entrepreneurial lessons and advancements in technology from foreign partners who help us move forward and are integral to our continued development. We are a welcoming country and should continue to extend this warmth that benefits us in many ways. I am very much aware, that unfortunately, mixed in this group of blessings are a few enemies of this country , who despite Kenya being good to them, cannot tell the difference between trade in cabbages and trade in health and therefore lead the corrupt kick-back culture. This is their primary modus operandi, which substantially derails the national health agenda and should also be dealt with.

Finally, we should partner with our respective regulatory bodies to ensure that there are stringent measures in place to confirm the veracity of presented qualifications and also the competence of those applying to handle Kenyan patients.

I dare say that at least in Kenya, Kenyans are as important as any other citizen of any other country. Regardless of their social status, race, or country of origin, the treatment we offer any sick patient who purchases care from us, should be the very same care we would want for our own families.

Please colleagues, let us not allow ourselves to be agents of our own destruction as a country. I urge us to go a step further and actively fight this emerging scourge. It is a stench that has no place among professionals in this sector.

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The Bees of Kababu

First published on 15th February 2019 on jedaktari.wordpress.com

Boys will be boys. Quite an apt phrase! When I was about 11 years old, whereas my school was only thirty kilometres from my shaggz, I always looked forward to spending school holidays in the actual shaggz. My Uncle Anding’o was one of my best playmates at the time (we are the same age. He is the first son of my Grandfather’s last wife :)).

So once again the joys of school holidays had arrived and we had been up to the usual stuff: roasting maize, fishing, bathing in the river, grazing cattle and so on. All this was fun for a “town” kid like me. One of the most rewarding accomplishments was to get aluang’ni: the little flies that reside in old termite homes and produce some form of rare honey. We had locked down the science of getting to the honey pot. We would string a long stem of grass through the tiny entrance and keep pushing it in until we got to the pot. A great reward.

It must have been during one of these aluang’ni hunts that we, boys, got caught up in the fantasy of a bigger prize: real honey. One beehive would have more than 10 times the sweet nector in the tiny aluang’ni pots. The stars aligned favourably for us as two things gave us hope of translating this fantasy into reality. The first was that anding’o knew the location of an actual hive. Whats more, it was in a partially buried drum with the entrance being easily accessible at ground level. The second was that, I being the good student that I was, had just learnt quite a bit about bees from our science and agriculture lessons. We couldn’t let this opportunity pass us by.

You see, I had learnt that in order to harvest honey, farmers would pass a lot of smoke into the hives. Our teachers with their perfect knowledge had taught us that the smoke makes the bees “drunk” and hence they couldn’t sting. I suspect you can tell where I am headed with this. I got thinking and came up with a brilliant plan. We would create a situation in which all the bees would be exposed to smoke, get drunk, and hence not be able to sting. This situation was to light a fire at the mouth of the hive so that all the bees coming in and out would have to go through the smoke. With expectant hearts, we did it. It was about noon by the way. I can tell you bee stings are painful. We were stung everywhere and we were swollen on the face head, lips. Those bee sting photos are real. You can imagine how livid both my mother and grandmother were at the danger we had put ourselves.

So, as you would expect, after being on the receiving end of such an epic stingfest, we had learnt our lessons and would stay as far as possible from the most innocent of bees….not. After a few days, we assessed what could have gone wrong with our mission, why it had not worked. We devised a new plan. We considered the possibility that noon had been a bad time, and that there may have been already out of the hive. So we came up with a new plan. We would improve on time an technique. We went back at 4 or 5 pm noting that the light was less than the noon sun. Further, we figured out a way to make very thick smoke. We tried to be as flat on the ground as possible, and wore thick dark garmets. We executed our plan…bees 2 – boys 0. My mother couldn’t believe it. The stings weren’t any less painful. Bees are talented stingers.

This time we definitely learnt our lesson. We finally understood that there may have been a flaw in the smoke teaching or our implementation of it. We therefore changed our approach radically, looking for a new flaw among the bees, and guess what we found it! You see, our good teachers had taught us that bees only sting once and lose their sting. Thence, they are as impotent as a housefly in the stinging department. They had further taught us that bees easily notice white clothes. So I came up with a new and brilliant idea! Step 1. We would hang out white clothes everywhere near the hive Step 2. We would throw a stone at the hive from a safe distance then immediately dive and hide in the bushes. Step 3. The bees will see the white clothes, attack and sting them, thereby losing their stings. Step 4. Victorious boys retrieve honey. Step 5. Victorious boys eat honey. To ensure that all the bees had great vision of the “people in white,” we chose the ideal time, around midday. We forgot one thing that is not taught in schools though. Bees are not dumb! Stingfest 3.0 it was and with it, our last attempt. I cannot remember whether the school holidays were coming to an end, or we couldn’t find another weakness, or that my mother issued a maternal threat of physical adjustment. What I know is that we did not try again.

Just this month (Feb 2019) I looked back at that episode and the many lessons to learn from it. Yet what I felt most was admiration at the sheer determination and approach to problems of those boys. Make no mistake, it was extremely dangerous and it was only by a miracle of God that none of the boys, (or any of the innocent passersby who got caught up in the stingfests 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0, and there were always quite a few by the way), required hospitalization. This could very easily have been the case. I have however also reformed from the time I decided to write this post and today that I have actually gotten round to doing it. Now, I am glad that the bees of Kababu won. They were just going through their normal peaceful activities when destructive little manlets, who would later plan to attend a fake men’s conference one Februrary a few decades later, came along with a plan to disrupt nature. Man has a way doing this to nature, doesn’t he?

(The bees were on my grandfathers (Babu’s) land. Kababu means Babu’s place)

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ACK BISHOPS GARDEN DEPARTMENT OF REGISTRATION: THERE IS HOPE

First published on 24th December 2019 on Jedaktari.wordress.com



This is a positive story, and regardless of how it looks at the outset, please bear with me and keep reading. I have opted to make it as detailed as possible, else the experience is lost. This is from the perspective of a first-time, middle class visitor to this place: “middle-class” herein being a place-holder for the non-chalant, oblivious, self-absorbed Kenyan.

Last week I went to Bishop’s Garden to collect my daughter’s birth certificate. I required it to process medical insurance. My wife had applied for this document in March of 2019

A few months ago, the minister for interior, Dr. Fred Matiang’i was shown on TV fuming at workers at registration of births at Bishop’s Garden. The clip projected reprieve for people looking for this crucial document. Unbeknownst to most of us who had never had to visit the centre, corruption, inefficiencies, and a reverse public service attitude (where it’s the public that serve you when you are in office) had kitad mizizi in the place. As a result, the centre had been a source of pain, misery and financial compromise to fellow citizens whose only fault was to require birth certificates.

Arriving at the centre, I hadn’t put 2 and 2 together. I had Imagined something of a pleasant actual church thing (ACK Bishops gardens sounds as church as it comes). My first disappointment was the government sign-board- “Office of the president, Ministry of interior”. My expectation dropped a couple of notches. You would imagine anything having “Office of the President” in it’s name would be excellent. Then there was the queue: forty or so people on the outside. I imagined that there was limited space inside and so we had to wait. Still, the queue appeared too long. I was pleased to note that the queue was moving and thought I would get to be served in a few minutes. As I inched forward, an NYS cadet scanned queue documents to confirm that those queuing had everything that was needed. He got to me. I only had the soft copy of the invoice from ecitizen.

“You have to print it. You require a hard copy,” he advised politely.

“Where can I do that?”

“The last door to the left. It’s a cyber”

I quickly spoke to my neighbours on the queue to reserve my spot and headed out to print. The last door to the left was a room with about sixty or so people seated in what was like a waiting bay. To the far end on the left was a desk with two people on it and a computer.

“I am looking for the cyber,” I inquired.

“This is it.”

I was in shock.

“These people…are they all waiting to be served?”

The crowd burst out laughing. Not a laughter of scorn but that of letting you know you’ve been had. It was the knowing laughter of “join us brother. We were as shocked as you are. Njoo tupambane na hali yetu.”

Clearly, it was one at a time and the sixty people were actually in a queue waiting to have their documents printed. It was not free, but luckily, printing in that particular “cyber” was also optional. No chance I was doing that. I asked around for an alternative cyber and was directed to the nearby NSSF building.

Has the phrase “cyber cafe” lost meaning near government offices? The cyber at NSSF too was just one computer in a small shop (literally) with an attendant to whom you had to email your documents to be printed (I know this is good business for someone but surely, government offices need to start thinking about convenience for the public). Still, the queue here was only three people and moved quite fast.

Back to the Bishop’s Garden I got to the door and tried to negotiate my way back into the queue. A brief back and forth with a guy who wanted me to go back to the end of the queue and start again ensued.

“Anyway, you’ll still be sent to customer care.”

As I took my place in the queue, I wondered why that was threat. Customer care is a good thing right? The cadet came back, looked at my documents and said, “Come in. Go to customer care.” Then I understood. The queue outside was not a queue. That was a baby queue. A queuelette or a pre-queue of sorts. It couldn’t hold a candle to the inside lines. And the customer care? The queue there was quite something. You looked at it and images of climbing mount Kenya come to mind. I’m exaggerating a little here.

At that moment, the Matiang’i news story struck me. What was that? Was it all public relations and a camera moment? Clearly to me, this place was a disaster with no concern whatsoever with public service. At that moment, I knew I would share this experience in writing and call out the in-efficient folk, and most importantly, call out the cabinet secretary.

As usual, people caught in such a pickle, are often busy PNHYing (Pambana Na Hali Yaoing) in silence. As God had planned, I sat next to a Mr. Alfred Michuki Macharia, from Thika and a Lady whose name I didn’t get to know. Mr. Alfred was in high spirits and quite chatty. I overhead his comment about the months it had taken him to get the documents for his daughters. We spoke. This is when I got to know.

“Oh, I tell you, Matiang’i held my documents in his hands like this and spoke directly to me I tell you. I had been looking for the documents I had submitted and had been turned away. He handed my documents to the desk and in five minutes they had miraculously found my documents!”

“So where is the difference if it is still this bad?” I asked.

“Bad? My brother, you don’t know what you are talking about! This place was baaaddd!! I have been coming here since August and the transformation is like night and day!”

And at that moment, as I sat there listening to Alfred, I began to see things for what they really were. What had looked like a tale of great disservice to the public started shaping out to be real transformation that touched lives. This is what he told me:

“Let’s start with these seats you are sitting on. They were not there three months ago. You would come here and stand for hours. These NYS cadets, wamesaidia sana! At least now there is some form of order. There used to be no order. Just chaos. Unless you paid five thousand in which case your document would be out but even that queue of people who had paid was very long and you had to wait. My brother, there was no toilet. That toilet you see on the outside is new. Matiang’i had asked where people waiting for hours would go to answer a call of nature. You can see the queues are moving.”

“Look at those people. They are leaving with their birth certificates. Do you know how good that is?”

“The best part is that all the previous people have been removed. Most of these guys are new. The old ones were bad I tell you. Kwanza there used to be a young beautiful lady sitting in number eight!”

“Eeeeeh!” exclaimed the lady sitting next to us. She had been nodding at what Alfred was reporting. She too had spent quite some time pursing these documents. “Huyo mama alikuwa mbaya!”

Apparently, there were times staff would decide that they were tired and let the tens or hundreds of folks waiting at their windows to just wait. And I will not go into the corruption, inefficiencies disrespect and reverse public service attitude.

“People are many here now because they have heard things are working, and they are indeed working. This stage I have reached, it is recent. It wasn’t like this. Now I have made progress and I may get my daughter’s birth certificate today,” continued Alfred.

And true, just as he said, my eyes began to open to what was happening before me. The lines were long but they were all moving. People were collecting their certificates. There was no idle window: I began to empathize and sympathize with the staff who seemed to be working at full speed yet the queues grew. More than fifty people were leaving the premise every hour with their certificates, but every hour another fifty would join the queue.

“Imagine how many people they have served since morning,” Alfred said smiling. He was happy and hopeful and had witnessed a real transformation.

Then I saw a young man I recognized as a public servant with whom we had interacted in the past. He went straight into the back offices and I could see him greeting the guards as he got in meaning that he was known here. I didn’t get to say hi to him. Shortly thereafter he came out to the lobby. I caught up with him to to greet him and got to exchange pleasantries.

“Where are you now?” I asked.

“Well, this opportunity opened up two months ago and now I am here.”

Having gone through a change of heart, and impressed by the sentiments on the queue, I was quite happy to share with him all the positive sentiments from the floor.

“We are trying. We found a backlog of thousands of birth certificates that we are trying to clear. We have made some progress but still have about 15,000 pending. We haven’t stabilized the staff yet but as that improves, this was also improve. Daktari, you are telling me that we are doing well but I get so concerned when I see so many people waiting in the lobby. It is so crowded, meaning that we have to do better. We’ll move some straightforward certificates online by the way. In the next few months, I hope this place will be a good example to other centres.”

And there it was. The attitude that we look for and hope will get to every public space. 🙂

“What do you do here?”

“I… sort of manage this place. I’m in charge,” he answered, a bit hesitatingly, not with the usual grandiose you would expect of bosses, but with the humility of a servant. And without knowing it, there I was, talking with the public servant who was implementing Matiangi’s transformative agenda and making people like Alfred smile and hope. Later, I could see him helping the cadets and officers at the retrieval and dispatch. Hands-on. I was impressed. I hope that he too was at least in a small way happy that I didn’t ask for any favours and opted to follow due process.

My whole time there, I saw work. First come first served. I saw product. I saw progress. I’m not saying the place is perfect, no. But if all the changes had taken place in the preceding two to three months, I am hopeful that in the next six months, we could see even better.

All in all, I took four hours witnessing this: that if you put the right leaders, public service can serve the public. I pray that this result presents a new template for leadership, that will be replicated across all centres: CSs the caliber of the current interior CS, and managers the caliber of the current manager at ACK Bishops Garden Department of Registration.

Alfred did get the birth certificate for one of his daughters that day and is quite hopeful to get the other one soon. I did too.



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Hoops to Harvest 2019

Hoops to Harvest

Jumping hoops. Sounds like a childhood game and it is. However, as we grow older, we realize how difficult some of these items we considered fun are. We grow progressively unwilling to take them on. Take for example the fun of walking in the rain, wading in puddles of water knee high, sliding down a hill on a sled whose entirety is a piece of an old plastic bucket. Or just running. Indeed, jumping hoops is not fun. Even less so when when stated metaphorically. However, this was my story in attending the Harvest 2019 event in Kampala Uganda.

The plan for the September event was communicated to us in January 2019 at the start of the inaugural fearless bootcamp, of the itself recently founded Fearless Institute. The idea was that we would all fly return to Uganda for the event and we were all to take leave on time. However, I was jobless at the time and therefore it didn’t matter so much.

God’s favour, as always, was upon me and so it came to pass that I got a replacement job for the one I had lost in March of 2019. However, it meant that I moved to Bungoma. Bungoma is 42km from the border to Uganda. I immediately sought an exemption from the flights plan. I asked to go by bus as it made no sense that I had to travel 420 km East to Nairobi while Kampala was just over 200km West. At the back of my mind I was also celebrating a saving on the cost of travel that had been made mandatory for all the class participants. My ever so reasonable and understanding facilitators were happy to grant me the exemption. So when my colleagues were making early return flight bookings for $240, I was nonchalantly planning my $25 return trip by bus.

The plans of man are many but the almighty God orders our steps. He spots our devious schemes before they come to our sometimes mischievous hearts. So it came to pass that one week to the planned date, I got informed of the requirement to travel to Nairobi for a work-meeting on the day preceding the event. Great! The whole event was in jeopardy. I could easily miss the fearless event itself. The only way I could make the trip was by flight out of Nairobi. There was good and bad news. The good news was that there was still space available on the flight. The bad news was that booking last minute painful financially. I was paying for a one way ticket almost the entire amount it cost my colleagues for a return flight. So much for my cost saving! Still, I was glad that things worked out in way that I would meet the class requirements.

A reasonable schedule for traveling to Nairobi by bus for official meetings would require that I travel the preceding day, attend the all day meeting on the material day then travel back to Bungoma the following day. However, I had set myself an unhealthy precedent of working the preceding day in Bungoma, traveling at night, doing the full day meetings in Nairobi, then traveling back to Bungoma at night by bus, in time for work the following morning. Unfortunately after doing this a few times, it became an expectation. Those who know me also know where I place integrity. Regardless of the expectation, if I were to travel judiciously and safely, I could choose to travel back to Bungoma on Friday or travel Thursday night and still be off the entire morning after travelling eight hours. Whereas it was true that going to work in the morning after traveling overnight was always a personal choice and my extra mile. I wasn’t travelling by bus to Bungoma in this instance. I was flying to Kampala. I therefore felt compelled to request leave for the day. Never mind that it was at the last minute. I trusted that it would be accepted. It’s a one day leave request for a day that I wouldn’t necessarily be at work except for my diligence. That notwithstanding, my new boss said no. The reasons are complicated. There was nothing I could do to get him to accept my leave request.  

On one weekend prior to this trip, I had crossed over into Uganda at the Malaba border crossing. It was the easiest thing in the world (I later realized, putting two and two together as you will see from my third crossing that it was because I had accepted the services of a “guide” at the crossing). I got an interstate pass stamped and there was no talk of any form of vaccines. I was advised that I would require my original logbook and a COMESA vehicle insurance, if ever I wanted to go for longer than a day. That was it!

Thus you can guess my shock when I arrived only to discover that I was required to have my yellow fever card. Well, I prayed and pleaded, pulling my “I’m one of you (read doctor)” card and they allowed me through.

And so I arrived at Entebbe, hiked a lift to Kampala, and found a bus to Bungoma leaving at 11pm. The following morning I was at work. Worked as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately, the only bust Kampala was not until the following day at 3.00am. At about 4.00am, we were at the Malaba border crossing. I went to the immigration desk.

“The interstate passes are over. You have to go print a temporary passport,” said the immigration officer.

“Where can I do this,” I asked.

“You take a boda boda back to the Kenyan side and you’ll get a cyber. They are open.”

“Ok thank you.”

As I walked out, I run into a few of the “guides.”

“Give us two hundred we get you the pass.”

“But he has just said they are finished?”

“We know. That’s what they say, but if you give us two hundred, we’ll get it for you.”

And true to his words, other passengers were there receiving the interstate passes from them for two hundred. And you could see the young men go into the immigration officer’s booth, hand him something, and receive something in return, and they continued to serve the people.

I went back to the officer.

“Kindly give me an interstate pass.”

“I have told you I don’t have any! Don’t you understand?”

“Then where are all these boys getting theirs from? They’ve asked me to pay two hundred to get one.”

“I don’t know where they are getting them from. If they have told you to pay them any money, they are trying to con you. You are not required to pay anything.”

And even as we had this conversation, the boys kept coming but this time, he told them that he didn’t have anything for them. They looked at me puzzled at the officer’s answer then walked away. This kept happening with different boys. And they came to me urging me to go and get a temporary passport to “not waste my time and money” by missing the bus. To cut the long story short, the officer remained adamant that he didn’t have any. I refused to go pay for a temporary passport and I refused to pay the boys for the interstate pass. Consequently, my bus left. I gave them my blessing as I couldn’t keep all the passengers there. I tweeted and tagged the immigration department. I don’t know whether such tweets do anything but at 8.00am as the shifts changed, a new officer came with a new set of interstate passes from the Kenyan office and gave me one. It’s a free document to which all Kenyan citizens are entitled. This time there was no yellow fever card requirement. Perhaps that is for flying passengers who are more likely to afford paying about 4,000 Kes should they not have their cards.

I eventually got to Kampala at 2.00pm and of the two day event, I got the last session and the awards. I made it, but had to jump through quite the hoops. Should I have paid the two hundred? It certainly cost my much more than that to take another bus to Kampala, it cost me several hours, and I missed the meat of the event. For me that answer is a clear no. In any case, I am grateful for the experience. It is easy for us in Nairobi or in privileged positions to be blind and oblivious to the suffering of our fellow citizens in other areas. I did call a friend at EACC to find a way to report formally but never quite did. However, as I write this, I realize that it is time to revisit this and so I will share this experience formally with the Ministry of interior, department of immigration and see what the response will be.

All in all, it was quite the experience.

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My Mavuno Story

MY MAVUNO STORY

Every Mavunite has their Mavuno story. This is mine.

The first time I was at Mavuno Church was back in 2005, the day before the first service. I was part of the setup crew, the team that had volunteered to help arrange the seats and put up the decor at the south C sports club in readiness for the first ever service.

From my other blogs, you may have heard that I was first born again in class one at full-gospel church in Buru-buru. At that age, it was clear to me that I really didn’t want to go to hell. Heaven was and still remains my destination after this life. My older brothers and sisters were also happy to graphically describe the pain of encountering Obel: the devil present in hell and in charge of burning those who found themselves in this terrible place. It was clear he would start with the small finger tip and burn it for centuries before moving to the next part of the body. Not only would he do this, he would use sulphur! Do you know how hot sulphur is when described by older children to younger children? And in those stories, he did have a pitch fork. You could also never have water to drink. Your throat would be parched but not a drop of water would you get for the period of time it took Obel to deal with you. I cannot remember clearly whether in those stories he had a brother called Magwar, or whether Magwar was his fork. Nonetheless, these were the stories of horrors, enough to keep one away from the slightest of sins. Indeed, growing up, the greatest fear I had in telling a lie, was the fear of the greatest consequence: meeting any of the two, Obel or Magwar.

With time, I grew older and invariable backslid a number of times. Fortunately, by the time I got to high school, there were regular challenge weekends during which I would be convicted by the holy spirit to get born again, again. Still, youth does have its folly and challenges and by the time I left high school, I wasn’t as close to God as I should have been. I had my own sins and guilt those kept me from approaching God for forgiveness. This situation persisted through the next couple of years until 2002, some time in campus. That year, I broke up with my first ever girlfriend, or rather, she had broken up with me and I had only finally mustered the courage to move on that year. Somewhere along the way, I opted to stay away from relationships, not for religious reasons but as a form of self-restructuring. Around the same year, I moved to stay with my brother who was doctor in Kenyatta. This is where I my school was.  

My sister in-law, would play this novel type of gospel songs that I’d never heard before but found very interesting: not because they were gospel songs, but because they were wonderful songs (turned out to be Don Moen and Michael W. Smith and such).

One day, as I was passing along Mamlaka road, near main campus, I heard the same songs coming from a nearby building. It sounded like a public function, hence out of curiosity, I peeped in to find out what was going on. That is how, after three years in University, principally the same neighbourhood with the church, I discovered Nairobi Chapel. The same way John Speke discovered the Source of River Nile. For some reason, I found these songs so appealing that I would stay and listen to all of them, the worship in its entirety. Now here is the things, the cost of listening to the music was that I had to listen to the sermons. The truth be told, I found these sermons too long. They lasted, and still do last about an hour. However, I credit my parents with the way they had raised me. I found it impolite, unacceptably rude to step out of church before the sermon ended. It is this way then that I eventually found myself being reconnected to the word of God and sure enough, I gave my life to Christ once again. And this time, I somehow got to know that I do not require to be born again over and over. Just once is enough, but repentance and a constant relationship is necessary.

As it turned out, a few years later, the Nairobi Chapel determined to plant a number churches across the city. The church in its own wisdom determined the geographical regions that would be covered by each of the four churches that were to be planted. Kenyatta landed on the Mombasa road segment, that was to be led by pastors muriithi and Carol Wanjau. At that time, they had no clue what the church would be called. After a couple of months, the leadership team announced the name: Mavuno church. Put an emoji that represents my reaction (yes I am talking to you the reader).

As the churches were to be new, Nairobi chapel required volunteers to help with tasks as the new churches found their footing. No chance I was joining the worship team but there was a task that required power and energy: the set-up crew. And that is how I, guided by pastor Tony and his wife, and Pastor Rangie Gatama (the typo is not accidental), found myself at Mavuno church, the day before the first service, with a few other energetic folk arranging green seats in rows and putting up decoration. By the way, the venue at South C sports club was a club. It is only a church on Sunday and hence, we would set up for the service and set-down after.

The life of a broke student can be interesting. The road to the club…what road, it was a murram, rocky potholed path that in some areas was also a black cotton fieldish path, flooding during rains. This road was the last part of my journey to church. Because of this section, it was said that those going to Mavuno must have really needed God as the hoops one had to jump over, the torture that even those who had cars had to go through, meant that there was something higher than common sense that got people to Mavuno. However, my own trips were often trickier. At the time, I was residing within KNH grounds and would have to make the trip to church. On very few of the church days did I have the full KES 30 fare to get me to church. Taking a bus the whole way: which meant a bus to town, then a south C bus to container, then a vehicle from container to the sports club was out of question. That cost would have been closer to KES 50 or 60. No chance. On the good day when I had fare, I would therefore walk from KNH through a shortcut to Nairobi West. On an average day, I would take one matatu from West to Container, and on many days, I would have to walk all the way. Oh, and get back home after church.

In this era of nani atniscratchia, it may seem like a lot but for me it was perfectly fine and in line with my ability at the time. Besides that, every day I came to church, I encountered God and was never the same again. I looked forward to church in this way: set-up and church and thus it was for about a year or so, can’t quite remember. I cannot remember being more excited.

The concept of lifegroup, or eklesia or Bible study (only we never really studied the Bible) never crossed my mind. It was spoken off over and over in every service. I once signed up out of courtesy and obedience but never really had any intention of actually attending one. I cannot remember at what stage I got a mobile phone, maybe it was earlier. I do remember however, this caucasian lady calling me often and inviting me to uppper hill eklesia. She was quite persistent, and I quite polite, and so we spoke with no intention of ever getting to the group. Until one day, I was in church, greeted the lady who had sat behind me and it turned out to be Jill Brace. That week I attended Eklesia. At first I felt odd, out of place, among all these old people who didn’t seem to talk of much that was interesting, but this group, upper-hill eklesia ended up playing one of the most pivotal roles in my life for the next decade plus years. Indeed, when it ended in 2017, it left a hole that is yet to be filled to this day. I met wonderful people: Jill Brace, Beth and Lauren Koehler, Susan and Kuria Waithaka, Angie Murenga and the Cowmans and lots of other great folk. The Igobwas and others came by later and the impact was great.

In 2005, I joined foundations class, modern day mizizi. I was broke and had no idea how I would fund myself through the class. The cost was about, five thousand shillings. A complete stranger, a single mother, not very rich, out of the blue paid for me the full cost of the class. Christine. She too was a member of that class. I do not know whether subsequent Mizizis were that powerful, but that class transformed my life and connected me with God. Really. Perhaps it was there that I found purpose in leadership and service. I do not know and cannot remember. However, I do remember clearly that during the half-day prayer and fasting I experienced things I never had before. It was at the arboretum. Please note that whereas I was born again, my prayers were rarely ever longer than a minute or a few minutes at them most. I silently dreaded the possibility of being required to pray continuously for ten minutes let alone four hours! And like the parable of the five loaves of bread and two fishes, when the four hours ended, I wasn’t done praying and there was a lot more I had to pray about. I had two of the clearest and earliest visions I had up to that point: in one I was praying and at the same time trying to crash a giant snake, bigger than I that would disappear into the ground every time I tried to crush it’s head. Don’t worry, it was a dream-like vision. Eventually, I did crush it, but with the help of Christ Jesus and I literally felt the victory. The second was a sense that a colleague in the class was going through some trouble and I was to approach her about it and reassure her that everything would be alright. I did and she asked me how I knew. At the final retreat, we had some other unique adventure: a prayer walk. We would walk around a certain circular path, silent, in prayer. Suffice to say that in that short walk, I experienced God in a way that I had not experienced before. It is not something I can describe, it is something I experienced and in it, you know God is real and God is true, and Jesus is his son.

As I digress a little bit, whereas one may get into religion or Christianity for many reasons including the fear of hell, there are personal experiences in life that are different and defy logic to one who may not know what underlies it. It is these personal experiences that one should pray for so that one may know what I, and many others do, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Pray for it, and it will happen, for Christ says: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with me.” My prayer for you is that you may experience God in a way that convicts you of the truth of life.

Have you seen this image on the net of a cat looking at itself in the mirror and seeing a lion? This was me. It never hit me how thin, out of fashion and uninspiring I looked while in campus. My Afro hairstyle was modeled along a fashion I had rated highly in my early childhood. The 80s. The baggy trousers too. I didn’t know better for what I learnt in childhood as fashionable is what stuck with me all the way to university. Still, in my own eyes, I saw reliability and style. At the same time, I had identified leadership as my calling. It is with this vision of self that I was so touched by pastor Simon’s sermon on leaderhip. He asked all those who felt called to the space of leadership to meet him after the sermon. Only two of us turned up. And what I remember is that I did not inspire much confidence a display any features of a leader.

A few years later, in 2010, I had finished medical school, and had been invited to join a few doctors in petitioning the ministry of health against a decision to stop sponsoring students for specialists training. I was not one of those students neither was I working in government. However, I believed that there was need to stand with my colleagues and about 25 of us went to the ministry headquarters to deliver a letter and seek audience. We were huddled in a room for about an hour after which a ministry official delivered to us the official position. There would be no change to the position. Little known to us, this one event would be the straw that breaks the camels back, and would lead to the process that birthed the Doctor’s union. I was one of a handful of doctors who carried on the hope that we could form a union and successfully rally doctors around it. We thus formed a steering committee. All this is probably known to most doctors. What is not known is that throughout, it was at Mavuno Church that many prayers by a prayer counsellor called Kevin Okwako, himself a university student were held. A remember a time when we were rattled by internal politics: within the steering committee (looking back very minor stuff that is actual part of growth, and that was handled democratically with respect. This was a great team) and I felt strongly that I had to take leadership of the group to ensure that we stayed true to our mission and delivered a union for doctors. The steering committee had decided to democratically select its leaders. We prayed that I be elected chairman. I was elected secretary general. I was disappointed with this turn as my key interest was internal leadership not external still we prayed and thanked God for his will. However, the following week, a contention arose “members” were wondering how a doctor in the private sector could be the secretary general. In reality, there was no such question. Our God works as he does. In the second election that resulted, I was elected chairman, and by August of that year, we had delivered a doctors’s union that proceeded to be one of the most consequential trade unions of the last decade in Kenya.

The count me in Campaign. Help build God’s church. We’ve always heard stories of how people got favoured by God. I was too. I gave an initial lumpsum as well as 10% of all my earning beyond my principal salary. My personal target was quite high and I probably got to slightly more than 50%. Well guess what, subsequent to that, I got promoted three times in two years from medical officer in ICU, to deputy head of ICU, to head of ICU, to acting Medical Director and finally to the Medical Director. I don’t have the exact figure but my eventual gross salary was definitely in the ballpark of what I had contributed to count me in. Knowing how amazing my God is, I have long suspected that is is the exact amount.

I have since joined the Ndoa ministry, the prayer counselling team, and moved to Mavuno Mashariki. I feel that I may not have been as engaged as I could have been but my God remains alive. My Mavuno story is not done. There is much yet to come. And I will sure be updating this with God’s grace.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not even close to perfect. I am a sinner like almost every other person out there. What I do have is an abundance of God’s grace and favour in my life, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him, shall not perish but have eternal life.

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Miracle in Prague

First published on 15th February 2019 on jedaktari.wordpress.com



This is the story of how I got the best seat in the house, for a reservation only concert, in a foreign country, from an endless series of “errors and mistakes.”

Back in 2013, I was young doctor working at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital ICU. Part of what we were proudest of was our cardiac programme: a charitable programme that allowed children from poor backgrounds with heart disease to access very costly life-saving heart surgery. Whereas the programme had grown to a point where about 70% of the surgeries were done by local doctors, we had partnerships with key foreign specialists (philanthropists really, who took their time to come to a country they didn’t know and save children they never heard of, without pay). Of these partners, the team that helped us with complex congenital (born with) heart disease was a joint Czech/Slovak team led by Dr. Roman Gebauer, of Motol Teaching Hospital (FN Motol).

In 2013, they took their charity a notch higher. You see it’s not only the technical ability that matters, but also the the equipment, devices and medical support structure. There were cases that were deemed too complex to be carried out within the local setting, and so that particular year, they offered to airlift 3 children, and their parents to Prague, operate on them at their cost, and send them back home. For me to become the accompanying doctor required that my boss at the time who was the first choice for the mission would be unavailble, and so it was. This is how I ended up in the Czech Republic in December 2013.

FN Motol is a highly structured hospital. I had my meals at the staff mess and I must say that the food was great. The timings were very strict though and I was careful to be at the mess at least half an hour before it closed. Information about changes was also shared with staff well in advance. This was where I made my first mistake (of a number key to this story). A message had been sent to staff that on a particular day, the mess would close earlier than usual. I hadn’t read this message and arrived at my usual time. Unsurprisingly, and to my dismay (as I was quite hungry), I found it closed. If I remember well, someone sympathetically pointed to the notification on change of time, clearly pinned to the door. Faced with a closed door, I had no choice but to notice some of the adverts posted on it. One of the notices on the door was advertising a Christmas Concert, in Prague, by Maranatha Gospel Choir! Who’d have known! A silver lining to missing lunch. Had the mess been open, I would have walked right in, had my meal and never heard of the concert. I purposed to attend it.

One of the great attractions of Prague is the old town with the Astronomical clock and tonnes of tourists in the night. I noted that the concert was near “narodni” and in a previous visit to the city, I had taken a mental note of “narodni.” Noting that it wasn’t far from the old town, I saw the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. I would visit the old town and then proceed to the concert venue, on foot. Here was my third mistake(the second mistake will be mentioned later). You see, “Narodni” in the Czech language means “National”… Yes, National Centre for, National Museum, National you name it are all called “Narodni…”

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Me at the old square, having figured out how to kill two birds with one stone

So what was meant to be a fifteen minute walk ended up taking nearly an hour with a lot of help from a few English speaking but friendly locals. But this “lost” time was very critical to this story.

Now you would imagine that when numbering buildings on a street, number 9 would follow number 8, which would follow number 7 and so on, right? well it turns out that the concert venue was on a street that didn’t follow this logic. Worse, the locals didn’t know which building was numbered what and the folks at the restaurant I sought assistance from didn’t recognize the name of the building either. I couldn’t believe all the things that were going wrong!

I knew I was on the right street. The building had to be close but I just couldn’t figure it out and no one seemed to know the place I was looking for. As I tried to figure out how to proceed, I had a rare moment: I saw another black person in Prague! You see, in the week I had been there, I had only seen one, and I mean one, other black person in the Czech republic. That struck me, then I saw her walk into a building accompanied by a small group of people, black people being religious folk, I figured I should check out the building and indeed that was the correct venue! A sigh of relief.

I walked up to the front desk and stated my business, “Good evening, I would like to attend the Maranatha Concert, please.” “Good evening. Do you have a reservation?” “No, do I require one?” “Yes, you do. I’m sorry you may not attend the concert without a prior reservation” “Sorry, I didn’t know this. Can I buy a ticket?” “Unfortunately, you cannot. The event is also sold out, sorry.”

I was bewildered. You see, in 2013 Kenya, you walk to the concert venue, pay your entry fee, find yourself a place to sit, and enjoy the show. Hey, but this wasn’t Kenya. So this was my second mistake. Not making a reservation for an event in the Czech republic thinking it is just like Kenya. I was crestfallen. I would miss listening to Maranatha Gospel Choir after all. So close yet so far!

At that moment, the lady I had seen walking in, who must have overhead our conversation walked up to the lady at the front desk, smiled at me and said, ” I will give him one of my tickets.” She quickly reached into her bag and produced a ticket (or was the ticket produced by the person who was with her? I cannot remember). She held it out with both hands and said to me, “this is for you.” I was overwhelmed. This wonderful stranger didn’t know difference her gesture had made to me on this day that it seemed everything was going wrong. I requested that we would take a photo, and she graciously agreed.

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The wonderful, God sent stranger who enabled me watch the performance

Elated, and with a ticket in hand, the next task was to find a seat. The place was indeed packed all the way to the balconies. It didn’t help that I had arrived very late. “Do you not know the lady you were talking to?” “No, I don’t. Who is she?” That iss Juwana Jenkins. She is one of the most gifted singers of this generation and she will be one of the leading performers tonight! “What?!” “Just walk in and ask for the seats reserved for Juwana. Sit on any one of the seats” And that is where I sat. The venue was great, but it was packed (understandably given the global profile of Maranatha Gospel Choir), people squeezing a little bit against each other. There was one exception to this, the spacious, comfortable, first class section of this airplane of a concert hall, and that was the section reserved for Juwana Jenkins. And there, seated the spacious comfort with the a wonderful view of the stage, next to Juwana Jenkings (no less) and her assistant, was I. 🙂

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Turns out she was the one and Only Juwana Jenkins, one of the stars of the show. I took this photo, so you can guess where I was sitting. The best seat in the house! Reserved for Juwana Jenkins’s Entourage!
Juwana Jenkins performing on the night

I look back at the mistakes I made: missing a notice and turning up late for lunch, that enabled me notice the advert, thinking “narodni” was one place and thus losing 45 minutes in time, losing a few more minutes trying to figure out the order of buildings, until I notice Juwana going in and thereby going in at the same time, failing to make a reservation, making room for Juwana’s act of kindness to cap one great miracle in Prague! All these things worked together and allowed me to have the best, most privileged concert experience of all the guests at the concert.

Now one may read this and say its coincidence and etc etc. Take it from me, it is 100% God’s doing and God’s miracle. Our God is gracious and he is good! His favour, it don’t stop, even when it seems we are making mistakes and things don’t work out.

As for Juwana, may the almighty God bless and favour you in greater ways. I know I should have written this story a few years back, but I pray that in it’s lateness, the timing is perfect for you. I am grateful for your kindness, and I am glad that God chose to use you as he did. May his spirit be upon you, and the reassurance that he is undoubtedly with you, bring you peace and help you chose wisely.

Our Medical Mission to the Czech Republic was a great success, and we all returned to our Country Kenya a few months later. God’s amazing favour has continued in my life since.



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Want a good financial foundation? Avoid debt

First published on 13th March 2019 on jedaktari.wordpress.com

As a you young person starting out in life, you are probably thinking of taking a loan for personal development, perhaps a car or for that business you have researched and whose details you have worked out, or better still a mortgage. Now, this post is for you. I would strongly recommend that you don’t do it. I would advise that you give those debts a wide berth and save instead.

I could write 5000 words on this topic but that won’t be now. You may think you can afford it or your story would be different. It very well may be though the chances of it are minute at best. However, this is not primarily about that. Its about the financial culture you set for yourself. You could divide senior colleagues in your field into two categories: those with a borrowing culture and those with a saving culture. I would further ask you to apply to measures : level of peace and level of independence, to each of the groups. I don’t have to tell you what these measures look like after 10 years for the two categories.

Much later in life once you have notched a few years of financial experience under your belt, once you have experienced debt free living and the power of compound interest, you may review this position and make a personal decision.

Perhaps, if you are lucky, you may also learn that real financial freedom is not primarily the result of how much you earn but the result or your financial attitude, principles and culture.

You are thinking of taking that loan? Don’t do it. Instead save. I would be remiss not to tell you this. Now I have. The choice is yours whether to listen or not. I certainly wish I had listened to someone who told me this earlier in life. Consider this a gift from me and thank me later if you opt to heed the advice.

Good luck!

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CODE PPH: MOTHER DYING

First published 19th June 2019 on jedaktari.wordpress.com

CODE PPH: MOTHER DYING

Few things are as distressing to both families and healthcare workers as a mother dying during childbirth. Of the causes of these deaths, Post Partum Haemorrhage, (PPH), holds a special place. Yet this is not as uncommon as we would love it to be.

Recently, I received a 10 second call from a healthcare worker in Western Kenya. “Daktari, we have a mother with PPH….!” That is a dreaded call and I will tell you how the story went.

In Kenya today, more than 5,000 mothers lose their lives every year while giving birth or due to pregnancy related complications. That is about fourteen mothers daily. The leading contributor to this grim state is post-partum haemorrage (PPH): a mother bleeding after birth. It is one of the most difficult complications to predict, to treat, and it claims more maternal lives than any other pregnancy related complication.

Why is it so dire and why is it so difficult to treat? The answer lies in two things: the importance of blood, and how the baby is attached to the mother while in the womb. An average human being has about five litres of blood in their system, and well, these five litres are your life. Lose three of them rapidly without replacement and you will probably die. During pregnancy, the baby is attached to the mother through the placenta (not just the umbilical cord). The placenta attaches to the mother’s womb in an area of approxiamtely 100cm square centimetres. Thats about 10cm by 10cm. The whole of this area is a complex network of tiny, highly effective blood vessels, that together ensure a consistent flow of blood to and from the baby. Immediately after birth, our Creator’s infinite wisdom takes over: After delivery, the womb contracts, and this contraction tightly squeezes the vessels closed and in this way, bleeding stops. However, sometimes, this contraction fails to happen and the bleeding continues.

In normal medicine, when a blood vessel causes bleeding, it is possible to tie it off or cauterize it (apply heat to the bleeding vessel forming a clot). However, how does one tie of off a 100cm squared area? How do you cauterize it without burning a hole straight through the patient? These options are not available. So, what happens when the womb fails to contract? Well, welcome to the scary world of PPH due to uterine atony! This is PPH because the womb has failed to contract as it should and now, all these effective blood vessels, are pouring out the mothers blood, not to a baby, but to the floor. The mother is therefore bleeding out and will surely die within minutes or hours, unless an intervention is put in place.

Now, the uterus can fail to contract following both a normal delivery and a caesarean section. (The only problem is that with the latter, there is no way the doctor is ever going to convince the family, or the public that the bleeding is from the Uterus and not from a cut or improperly sutured wound or a “botched procedure.”  This is the danger of having the newspaper reporter determine what amounts to good quality care and what amounts to negligence). So what happens in this case?

There are number of manouvers that can be attempted. However, different patients will respond differently. In fact, the same patient may respond differently to the same procedure in different pregnancies. If conservative measure work, fantastic! Everyone celebrates. However, if all the manouvres fail, the only option left is a choice between losing the mother and removing the uterus. Now you know why and under what circumstances doctors are forced to remove uteruses after birth. This is often a life-saving measure that is undertaken as an emergency. Rarely would there be time to obtain consent for it. (The irony of it is that there are mothers who survived these life-threatening procedures but are now suing the doctors for removing their uteruses without consent. Once again, the reporter would have you believe that the doctors have conspired to sterilize Kenyan women. No offence intended but if you don’t know, you don’t know. Having the ability to write about it on a National paper doesn’t change that. It only endangers the lives of your readers who then lose trust in their providers. This is why many serious media houses, concerned about truth and accuracy and not just profit by cutting corners, hire healthcare professionals to guide and validate their health reports).

Even if one is successful in stopping the bleeding, whether operatively or conservatively, there is the question of replacing blood. And so the one case sadder than losing a mother is losing a mother whose PPH has been controlled, miraculously, but then dies because there is no blood to replace what has been lost. Before you tell me that doctors should make sure that there is blood before delivering the mother (believe me, there are those who will still think like this), babies will come when they come doctors can’t really stop them. Then its people who donate blood….When was the last time you donated blood? I have heard of doctors and other health workers giving their own blood in theatre to a patient bleeding out.

There are other causes of PPH: a patient may have a clotting/bleeding disorder meaning that their blood does not clot. The way the body stops bleeding, is by forming a clot. This clot acts as a plug. The clot in itself requires clotting factors precise systems within the body. In the event that there is a defect in the clotting factors or systems, the body’s ability to form clots is impaired and bleeding will continue for longer. The liver is particulary important in this process and liver disease or liver failure will present a similar picture. Bleeding after birth from these defects can lead to death and no even if doctors could diagnose the disorder before hand, the babies will not wait. They will still come out at 9 months.

Then there are tears to the birth canal that may occur if the baby is too big, the birth process is too rapid, or following instrumentation. And yes, there are cases of bleeding that may occur as a result of negligence from clinical staff: leaving a bleeder unstitched, inappropriate/erroneous cuts etc. Retained products of conception also causes bleeding that can be torrential and catastrophic.

Back to our story, I rushed to the private hospital (in Bungoma!) and a heavily bleeding mother, semi-conscious, with blood everywhere on the floor and one could see death beckoning. I also found a team of two consultant doctors, three medical officers, several nurses, pharmacy and laboratory staff living through a real-life episode of Grey’s anatomy. There were frantic efforts to stop the bleeding through all known emergency measures. There were frantic phone calls to the local National Blood Transfusion Service Satellite to avail blood. There were frantic efforts to get theatre ready within minutes: ready to stop the bleeding in the least desirable way. There were calls to update the partner and family members on what was going on, what options we were faced with, the real risk of death within minutes, and the dire nature of the emergency. The available blood was running, the fluids were in, the emergency medication had been given, the maneuvers performed, yet the blood continued to pour out in torrents. In the midst of all this, Dr. Amol Gadgil, 20 years plus of experience as a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist conducted his orchestra of healthcare workers. He adjusted increased the pain associated with the aortic compression. “Make sure you reach the spine! Like this! I know its very painful but there is no other way….” A few more things for the team, a few more instructions and frantic efforts, a few more units of blood. but then we noticed that the flow had reduced. Was the patient running out of blood? Were we losing her?

“You know, we may just about make it. Let’s see, how she does in the next few minutes.” We all dared to breathe. Theatre was ready. We were now clear that we would likely save the mother, albeit at the cost of the uterus. A few more minutes. It was down to a trickle. Dr. Amol allowed a small smile as he turned to me. “We may even save the uterus. If it continues like this, we may save both mother and uterus.” And thus it was. Anxious clinical staff were all smiles and full of celebration! Thank God! This time we succeeded. Oh, and the baby boy? Warm and adorable throughout. I don’t know whether the baby knew the fight her mother was in.

Here’s the bottom line: if our health system were working as it should, most of these mothers could be saved. Unfortunately, our ever divided country has “first class citizens” who can afford care in big private hospitals or even go abroad on taxpayers money, and the rest of the citizens for whom policy makers propose corner-cutting, cheap and risky, ineffective, interests-heavy, short-sighted healthcare measures. As a result, PPH continues to kill thousands of mothers in Kenya every year.

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Repealing the Interest Rate Caps

I wrote the following article on the 3rd of December 2019. I have long felt, and I believe it to be true, that the interest rates cap was one of the things that truly worked out in the favour of the working class in Kenya. It’s repeal was a sad day for this nation. Following electoral processes in other countries shows that the problem of lobbyists and interest groups for the big companies is not just a problem here but elsewhere. What is also true is that every country ought to fight this to give itself a good chance at allowing its citizenry to progress. Kenya and Kenyans lost in this fight, the banks won. Perhaps that will prove to be just one battle, with the war very far from over.

See below and share your comments.

“I support my president. He is our president after all and that requires not only support but also respect and so I do. When the president announced the new and revamped fight on corruption, my ever-optimistic heart bubbled and to this day I still look forward to the convictions and heavy penalties that will accrue of the miracle triad of presidential will, the DCI Kinoti, and DPP Haji’s efforts. Some reasonable fellow citizens tell me that I am hallucinating. When I see an ordinary mwananchi incensed by corruption to the extent that he, a tout, would muster the courage to stand up to the face of that corruption and call out a public officer he believes is up to customary corruption: but it is the tout who ends up arrested and charged at the end, I begin to wonder whether the nay-sayers may be right. But still, I support and believe that my president will do us well.

However, respect and support must not mean blindness. So today, my president rejected the finance bill and sent it back to parliament to have the interest rates cap removed. I read the memorandum to parliament: that wasn’t the president who wrote that. What I read was the regurgitant rhetoric of the bankers’ lobby. It is exactly the same thing the banks have been saying, word for word. They’ve been saying from before the time the president approved the interest rates cap. This is why I know that memo did not originate from the president, despite his signing it.

Noting then that it is a banker that wrote the memo on behalf of the banks and against the Kenyan people, the title may well have been, “betrayal of a people.”

The banks collectively are an oligopoly of sorts. Hypothetically, an oligopoly conspires to withhold a service, as form of protest against regulation that they deem to be unfavourable. Their intention is to force a favourable outcome against a policy they consider adverse to their interests, what should be our response as a country? The oligopoly then turns and says, “look your policy has resulted in a shortage of service. Reverse the policy.” What should be our response as a country? Can we reasonably close our eyes and pretend that we cannot see what the oligopoly is doing? Can we pretend that an appeasement policy towards a predatory group would benefit a country? I invite us to think not.

It doesn’t help that the ownership of banks in Kenya portends firm grounds for conflict of interest on this matter. The banking sector has continued to do well despite the tough economic times. Removing the rate caps serves one thing only: it allows banks to charge interest rates higher than the current 13%. 13% is already quite high but banks have in the past charged as high as 25% pa. This is what has really throttled the economy: these high interest rates. Many working class members of this society have felt the pain and the relief that came rate caps has been great. f

There is no national-interest reason to remove the rate caps. There is no patriotic reason to do so. Such a decision does not support the Kenyan mwananchi. It does not support the small businesses. It does however support the banks and the investors therein. At what cost? In tough economic times, let us not add salt to the raw wound.

Moreover, it does appear that the banker who drafted the memo sought to insult the intelligence of the Kenyan mwananchi by the disrespectful pyschobbabble crafted on the premise that Kenyans are daft: we are not. We are often betrayed by our leaders but we are not daft. Sometimes we tire of calling for better but we are not daft. Often times we choose the wrong people to lead, and base those decisions on really dumb reasons such as tribe and bribe, but still, we are not daft.

I would pray that parliament would reject the amendment, but if they don’t the very least they can do is return it to the drafters to remove the insult: that theoretical gibberish crafted to justify a different agenda by the banks. They should remove the point form reasons that assume we Kenyans cannot see beyond the charade. The very least is that they can have the memo be truthfully written: stating that it is requesting repeal of the caps to allow for free reign for the banks to boost their profits further or because of international pressure to that looks after the interests of the foreign investors in the mother banks, against the interest of the nation. At least, in so doing, in writing an honest memo, some respect would have been communicated to we, the Kenyan citizens.”

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My Fearless Institue Story

MY FEARLESS INSTITUE STORY: A SYNOPSIS

It is said that the graveyard has within it numerous good ideas that never moved beyond ideas. I imagine there would be dreams like brilliant businesses waiting for the right time and inspiration, spectacular acts of charity waiting for great wealth, an exercise regime and so.

The Fearless Institute created the Leadership bootcamp, a programme that at first looked difficult but has been a blessing to many. It’s ambitious requirements were for the class members to read one to two books a month, write two blog posts a month, raise money (regardless of financial ability) for and actually fly to an international event, publish a book by the end of the year, attend a day long class once a month and so much more. The sheer audacity of it: who dreamt of such things? And it sounded unrealistic. Undoable. To some extent. There were some stringent rules too that shouldn’t have been made for adults. Come to class by 8.00am or come waving a one thousand shilling note. There were assignments to be submitted, following a particular format, and by a specific day. The difficulty of it.

But then despite this, we began to see people,getting these things done. Some groups would be done with their assignments within a week: well done and following the scripts. The blogs were created and the content uploaded, some outright amazing. At 8.00am on class day, most of the adults were already in school, fully compliant with the requirements. And nearly all sat through the entire class. The books were read. The international event came and passed. And the books starting getting completed: not the ones we were to read but the ones to be written. Some people spoke of their second books!.

As you may already tell, from my reference to “some people” in the preceding paragraph, I was not the most diligent of students. In fact, I hadn’t been for a long time in my life. For twenty three years to be precise. From the third form of high school, I had stopped fully participating in class activities: I had realised I could get away with not doing my assignments, and reading and so on. This indiscipline extended to medical school, the entirety of which I attended less than one quarter of medical school classes , (don’t worry, when God intervened, I found the passion for medicine and subsequently became a very good doctor. Hopefully far above average).

In over ten years, I hadn’t read more than a few pages of anything that wasn’t medical, chess or the Bible. In this class I got to do that. I had written tens of articles: in my head, and dreamt that one day, I could actually put them down, perhaps in a blog, and so it happened. I wanted to write several books: put down my thoughts on a topic such as thought argument and prejudice. I wanted to write a book on developing Kenya. I wanted to write about my childhood stories and interesting experiences in my life. I actually thought through several paragraphs in my head, but these stayed in my head for years. Until now. And suddenly in one year, I have put out a lot of writing that captures the essence of a number of the items I always wanted to write about. I have sat through more than 6 hours of lectures in a single day without distracting myself. In my life, this is a small miracle. For the first time in years, I have read and completed several books.

When I got my new job earlier in the year, I fell far back in my class activities. At some point, I contemplated dropping out. As I write this, I am far behind on my assignments, reading, and blogs. I started my book last week. However, I have determined to finish. I am required to finish all these within three weeks. It will take no less than a miracle. This is where I smile: that smile of knowing a miracle is coming. (Please look for my other post on finishing the square to understand why this is such a big deal) My hoops to harvest blog post is part of this miracle. Fearless institute is my miracle. It is also long needed-therapy for me: therapy that gets me disciplined, to put down what I should, to act, and most importantly to finish.

Because of the fearless institute’s leadership bootcamp, some of my brilliant ideas that were headed for the grave yard, have taken a detour and are now realities in life.

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Finishing the Square

FINISHING THE SQUARE

In 2005, as I attended the two day retreat after the foundations class (foundations was the name of the class before it was renamed Mizizi), we had an interesting group exercise that remains ingrained in my mind. One of the group tasks was for us to hold hands and form a square. Sounds simple enough, except that we were to be blindfolded and couldn’t speak to each other. I suspect that as you read this, if you think about it, you would, as I did conclude that if indeed the square was the objective, then it was impossible.  

Well, we often hear people talking of “self-made.” To mean that they worked hard, often smart, and the benefits they enjoy now is as a result of their great choices, wisdom and effort. My view is that the concept of “self-made” is utter nonsense. Don’t get me wrong. I am consider myself fairly successful and blessed. However, I know that my situation has been possible largely because of factors that were not mine to determine, and the same can be said of most others who share this view. And so, with this task, an opportunity that I hadn’t planned for came my way. As we randomly took positions in the line of blindfolded folk, I found myself at the very end of the line. That meant that despite being blindfolded, I had greater freedom than most of my colleagues. It struck me that I could move down the line and arrange my colleagues into a squarish arrangement. Talk of the blind leading the blind. All I had to do was to convince them to move to a point I figured was good enough and somehow get them to stand there and wait. And so I did. I moved along the line holding each by the shoulders moving them a few yards and motioning them to stop. We did this for a few minutes. At some point, I felt we had made some progress. I paused momentarily and imagined that we couldn’t do better and so I shouted “done.” As I did that, at least as I remember it now, I knew that the facilitators would have wanted us to keep trying.

At the end of the task, the retreat facilitator, who is now the lead pastor of the Mavuno movement, shared that what he had seen was the best effort he had witnessed on the task up to that point. We had been making good progress, and then, out of the blue, we stopped. It looked as though we we could have done better had we kept trying. Why had we stopped? This is the question he asked. While the task was itself quite difficult, it became clear to me that maybe we could have done better. It occurred to me that maybe I could have divided our number by four then have the required number of people on each side. In a tight fit. This way, the square could have been very close to good. However, I was thinking of this after the task. After bringing it to an end, when it was too late to do it again (Writing this article, first I wrote that I was thinking this after it was too late to correct but now it occurs to me that it was also still not too late! We could have done it again! Even now, it is still not too late! I know. You are wondering why this is such a big deal. Its often said but maybe it really never is too late to start or to correct something you think you should have corrected!).

Sure, no-one had asked that I take lead and responsibility over the team, but only one person could be at the end of the line and it just happened to be me! I didn’t ask for it, but I found myself there. If I did nothing, I we would all fail. However, with leadership, the burden of success falls largely on the leader. If a leader gives his best but still comes short, he’s done his best. However, when a leader is casual, isn’t patient, sees impossibility instead of opportunity, he runs the risk of misleading his team and causing them to form below capacity. So in this case, as a result of whatever was going on in my mind, I let my team down, and a terrific opportunity did not result in the best it could have. Then came Gladys’s answer, “I opened my eyes because Victor siad it was done and I believed him…”

Believe it or not, these events held a powerful position in my life for more than a decade. I considered the task unfinished and the opportunity wasted. In my subconscious it was almost as a prophecy of blessed positioning, fantastic opportunities in life, groundbreaking initiatives, but also not finishing due to indiscipline. The reality of life is interesting as it came to pass that I have found myself in great positions in life: chairman of doctors union, medical director, National champion etc. In all these, I took up leadership and implemented good strategies that were progressive, however, I always felt that I may not have accomplished everything that I could have and strangely, I may not have forgiven myself for that failure. I started a Masters programme and and APGD, both of which are great ideas in good positions but I haven’t finished. I started fearless institute’s leadership bootcamp…

I have recently noticed something about my handwriting: how I write sentences and words to be precise. The first words or letters are relatively clear but the last words or letters are often illegible or simply written down only in my head. I have known for a while now that I have a problem finishing but I hadn’t realized that it was this bad.

Looking back to that event today, I realize the lesson of the experience was the lesson itself: to know that we don’t choose where we are, we are placed in those positions. It is rarely ever, likely never solely our own efforts that get us there. However, these opportunities are also responsibilities and we are required to act with diligence and discipline as our efforts do contribute to success or failure. With this article, I have extended that learning further. It really never is too late. Did you make a mistake in the past? Is there a right relationship that you need to restore but so much time has passed that you think it is too late? Is there an initiative that you started many years ago but you didn’t finish, and now you count it passed because so much time has passed? Is there a talent you have for which you had big dreams but those never materialized? I dare you to recognize that it is you at the end of the line and while it seems impossible, you can and very well should go out and achieve it.

And there is one more lesson. Many times, it is we who look at things as failures. Often, it is us who refuse to forgive ourselves. This is certainly true in the case of the Christian caught in sin our God fully forgives us but we take years to forgive ourselves and drift from his presence (please see my blog post on Chrisitians are sinners).

In whatever area we find ourselves in, we ought to give it our best shot, our very best shot but most importantly, only shout done when it is actually done. For this I apologize to my team and my facilitators in 2005.

A few years ago, I looked for pastor Muriithi and apologized for interrupting the exercise. I believe he said he couldn’t remember but we prayed nonetheless over it, and my finishing.

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What’s the answer, Yes or No? – KCP Levels

The Chess Move (Knight Capture Pawn Levels)

There is a chess question: can the Knight take the pawn? It is not a trick question, it is a logic question whose answer is yes or no based on the perception of the person answering it. Indeed only one answer is right, not both and the reasons for it are present on the board within a finite set of guidelines in the game of chess as is defined today. It would seem that an answer to a question whose answer is either a yes or a no answer has fifty percent chance of being right or wrong. However, I posit that this question will have so many wrong answers and only one correct answer. Through this illustration, I want to present the concept of qualitative value of an answer, or simply put, a qualified answer. This matter presents a common challenge in modern day thinking and argument.

You see, our current default is to look at the final answer, if there is such an answer, and claim to be right if it matches our answer. The current argument on correctness is not based on understanding and knowing why the answer is right, but on the answer at the back of the book.

To understand what I am talking about, allow me to break down in levels the response to the Knight Capture Pawn Question Lets break it down by levels.

The first level of respondents will answer yes or no as a random guess. The answer is one of these two. There is a 50% chance that one is right. What is there to lose. They may not even know what chess is. Another group may know what chess is but not bother to check the position and give one of the two answers based on the same logic. Some want to move on and answer to see what is next.

Another group knows some chess. However, one person doesn’t realize their Knight movement is wrong and so from their perspective, the Knight cannot capture the pawn, so they answer no. Another sees that the Knight can move to the square of the pawn and actually answers yes. This is the second level. Clearly, there is greater understanding of the subject matter among this group. Not only that, but there is a greater application of mental effort. This group is checking the geometric ability of the Knight to land on the square. For the purpose of this illustration, the Knight can land on the square and capture the pawn. In this regard, is the answer Yes?

Another set of players sees that the once the Knight captures the pawn, the Knight itself can be captured and so they answer no. Not because they cannot see that the Knight can physically capture the pawn, but because they see the consequence of that capture. They know that the pawn is worth one point while the Knight is worth three. They assess that the exchange of a Knight for a pawn is bad business for the side with the Knight simply from the absolute value of the pieces. They go a step further and demonstrate their understanding of chess speak. This choice of words in this very statement will itself be a subject of debate: the use of the word “can” vs the word “should.” A non-chesser will say can means physical ability, a chesser will tell you it means tactical correctness. You can already see an argument between the yesers in level one and the Noers in level two. Is the answer no?

The next level sees that the Knight can physically capture the pawn, sees the piece being captured back, knows the relative value of the pieces but also sees that capturing the Knight opens a line for attack against the opposing King. This level of thinkers understands that beyond the absolute value of the pieces, there is the relative value and it is not uncommon for a knight to give itself up for a pawn that is about to become a queen or to deliver checkmate (checkmate is the end of the game). They see a bigger interplay among the pieces. With this promising attack, they answer yes: the knight can capture the pawn.

The next level sees that the reason why checkmate is possible from the capture of the Knight is because there are pieces belonging to the King’s army that are blocking the King’s escape. They see an in-between move: Knight captures pawn, but before the Knight is captured, black can give a check with his queen. This check clears an escape square for the King. This means that the sequence considered by the previous level will not result in checkmate as the King will now move to the square the queen vacated in the intermediate move. This is a much higher understanding of the position and a higher level of thought. For this reason, this level answers no.

Still, another person comes along and sees everything that the preceding groups had seen. However, he also sees the alternatives to the Knight capturing the pawn and finds many lines that sees the uncaptured pawn becoming a queen (this is possible in chess and only pawns can make this transformation). He sees variations in which this new found queen captures not only the Knight and its Bishop but ends up delivering checkmate. He calculates a variation that seems to result in draw that first starts with Knight capturing pawn. Not to win material, but to survive. And so he answers Yes. In this same group, another sees the full variations. He assessesses his opponent and from his knowledge, determines that those variations are too complex and too deep for him to understand. He estimates that even if the opponent stumbles across a few accurate moves, he will still outplay him in the endgame and so he doesn’t capture the pawn.

Obviously, there can be, and often are infinitely more levels to a given chess question, especially early on (chess is a good example, as believe it or not, from the starting position, there are more possible moves in one chess game than all the atoms in the known universe. Google it.) As you can see, there are multiple levels of yes, and multiple levels of no. The level one no, is morphologically similar to level 6 no. The question is this, all those who said that the Knight could capture the pawn, are they right? All those who said No are they wrong? Can the person who said yes based on the simple geographical move (level 1) gloat over the person who said no at level 4?

Let me make this simpler: Arsene Wenger or Jose Mourihno make a decision to leave out a player and instead play another player whom the fans consider to be much better. Their teams lose the respective games. Should they have played the omitted player? What will be the sentiments of the fans? What is the possibility that the fans knew better than Jose or Arsene?

In this regard allow me to introduce two concepts in argument:

  1. Seeing further – It is not that I have not understood what you are saying, I have. It is only that I have seen further. What I am asking you to do is to see what I have seen and then together, we can look even further and perhaps do better. To explain this better, I am alleging that your argument is KCP 3, mine is KCP 4. Lets put our heads together and see if we could now make a KCP 6 argument.
  2. If the point you are raising is so simple that a small child would arrive at the same answer, yet your colleague is arguing, either you are wrong and the matter is not as simple as you think it is, or your colleague is too daft to understand basic things.

I want to introduce a new concept in argument and thought: it is not that I have not heard nor understood what you are saying. I have. It is only that I have seen further and I am inviting you to see even further with me. Maybe more lies ahead. Hence, in that line, the direction seems complex, despite the few choices. Indeed this illustrates a truth about dichotomous opinions and realities. Who is right? Who is wrong? Why.

Let’s get back to the KCP position. Turns out that capturing the Knight does not result in a draw and infact results in no more than a loss. If statements do not improve this outcome. An if statement is something like, it is a good move move if there is no check. Making assumptions to account for the check will not make it right. Assumptions like: assume there is no check. Assume the check doesn’t count. In fact, in this case, black has hundreds of other choices to make. All of those choices result in losses but this one simple move, negates everything. In chess, despite the multiple other options, the fact that there is one fatal flaw, makes the whole variation wrong.

The correct course of action after such thorough analysis is to abandon the move and look for a different that hopefully doesn’t lose. This same approach may be applied to theories. Many theories sound brilliant at the outset. However, as time goes by, discoveries are made that poke holes in the theories. Some of these holes are sealed, but some of these give birth to new theories, arguing from the premise that the original theory is right. Theoretical science says that if it fits 99%, it must be right with a little adjustment. Accuracy says if the 1% is fatal, the whole thing may be wrong. Abandon it and try something else.

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The Pursuit of Useless Money

Important as it is, can money ever be useless?

A while back, I got caught up in a time consuming phone game: subway surfer. Initially, I got into it out of boredom and curiosity but when I found it quite difficult to play, it became a challenge I felt I had to overcome. I researched a little bit online and discovered that there were fellow human beings who had achieved tremendous high scores. Never the one to give up easily, I set out to prove that I could do better.

The game concept is simple: you are the protagonist, running away from railway security, while dodging trains. In the process, you collect coins. The more coins you collect the better off you are as with the coins, you could buy several things: additional powers, better shoes, better skates with greater ability and lots of other pleasant stuff. In the process of playing the game, I realised that instead of buying the good stuff, I could save the coins and wait to for Tuesday to buy mystery boxes. On this day, there would be a double jackpot and if one were persistent enough over a period of about 2 hours, one would likely score big in the way of a mega jackpot. I further realized that instead of putting in 2 hours, I could put in upto eight hours and win three to four double jackpots. Every Tuesday, I worked smart, put in the hours and grew very rich in Subway surfer terms. I could then buy everything the coins could buy and still have millions of coins in reserve, if ever I were to need them. It felt very good. However, there was also a limit to what you could buy, as once you had the best of everything, you just couldn’t buy more. Additionally, there were things that no matter how many coins you collected, you just couldn’t buy . You required different resources to get them. In subway surfer terms, I accumulated more coins than I ever had use for, but many Tuesdays, I still spent hours of real time to accumulate yet more coins. It made me happy having those coins. When my phone crashed and I had to reinstall the game, all those coins would be lost and I would start from scratch and build up again. Every week I emerged tops in the ranked competition in Kenya, I felt content and a sense of accomplishment.

Looking back, save for this article, I consider this game utterly useless and the time spent on it amounting to several 24 hour days, completely wasted. This article allows me redeem to some extent that time by drawing parallels to life.

Here’s the thing. In some ways, life is like this. We are happy to amass all the wealth we can and derive a lot of joy from doing so. We spend years of life pursuing money and set aside all else. We consider ourselves smart when we device new ways of making more money and justify putting in long hours provided it resulted in more money.

There are two fundamental truths that are hardly ever understood:
1. Money is a means to an end, not an end to itself, or is it? 2. Money itself has no intrinsic value other than that of the paper on which it is printed. It derives its value from what it is used for. Let me illustrate the last point with the following examples:

There once was a billionaire businessman and a pre-school teacher. One day, both of them felt like eating Chiken. Now Wanjala supplied chicken to the local five star hotel. Whatever was left over was sold at the local market. The billionaire bought Wanjala’s chicken at KES 7,000 at the hotel while the teacher bought another one of Wanjala’s chicken for KES 600. Despite the apparent difference in monetary value, the actual value of both monies spent is the same: 1 Wanjala Chicken. The billionaire’s son came home and found the chicken on the table. To show off to his friends, he opened a bottle of alcohol worth KES 6,000,000 and used all the contents to wash his hands. The teacher’s son used soap and water worth KES. 27 to wash his hands. Still, the soap remained and would be used for several other washes. The difference in amounts seems huge, but the clean hands for eating food was all the expenditure amounted to. One day, an unfortunate incident happened. A landcruiser was overtaking on a blind corner and came across a speeding bus. There was no time to adjust and a horrible head-on collision ensued. The billionaire lost his life in the cruiser, the teacher, his in the bus. The billionaire’s net balance in his account was KES 4B na upuzi, the teacher 84,000. Regardless of the immense difference in amount, the net value of the savings to each of them at the point of death was exactly the same: zero. Or was it the comfort of knowing they’d left something for the children? I suspect that in death, comfort and peace are derived from other factors quite far from the pursuit of money.

The teacher’s son was a doctor, he inherited the 84,000 but didn’t require it to make a living. The billionaire’s son didn’t have job but didn’t need one. The billions of shillings in inheritance was enough. He was however a drunk and struggled to find meaning in life. Still, he could afford the finest things in life…of the things money could buy. Still, the doctor envied the billionaire’s son and wished to trade places, not knowing the much he didn’t know.

Contentment is a choice, wisdom a rare gift that even the best formal education may not confer.

Ever wonder how the person earning a tenth of your salary seems to make it and seems happy and cheerful while you can’t imagine a different way forward even with a pay hike? The reality is that most of us are attracted to the prospect of being rich without knowing what exactly we want. Often we think we know what we want. Yet we fail to learn from those who’ve gone before and warned us that we should re-evaluate what our priorities are. Many keep working to the mouth of their graves to amass fortunes they will never touch. Many of us find contentment in our fat bank accounts and accumulated wealth. Many of us set aside everything to pursue money above all else. The result can be disastrous.

Yet contentment is a choice.

Is it wrong to be rich? Not at all! However, know what you want to be rich for. If you do not define this, on your death bed, you will look back at your life pursuits and realize that the money you accumulated, and are about to leave behind, is of no greater value than the coins I collected on subway surfer. By the way subway surfer is an endless game. You run until it finally hits you how futile your pursuit is. Such is the pursuit of money above all else in life. Define your purpose early.

There once lived a brilliant man. He worked very smart and very hard and earned a lot of money. His father had taught him well and he never wasted a dime. He was not at all charitable and never gave to a needy cause, but he also did not reap where he had not sown. He never stole from anyone, nor engaged in corruption. He never indulged in excesses, nor drugs. He was averse to luxuries. The small house he stayed in as a young man starting out is the same house he retained in his successful years. The same applied to his car and many other things. The one thing that changed about him was his bank account: it grew exponentially and was a good friend to compound interest. Despite his modest ways, he was one of the richest men in the region. Then one day, he died.

The END

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A BRUTAL SOCIETY: THE LOVE OF THEFT AND MURDER



Nancy and her husband did what they knew would protect them. They cooperated fully. The three man gang had entered their home shortly after 9 PM, guns in hand and had been there for nearly two hours. They had welcomed themselves to dinner. Watched the remainder of the 9pm news bulleting, and casually commented on the social stories that Nancy could not remember. They took their phones, and all the money they had in the house: all of thirteen thousand. All the while, they spoke jovially. For the two hours, one could almost image a humane face to the thugs. None of their neighbours knew what was going on.

Then it got worse. A lot worse. Shortly past 11pm, all of a sudden, the gangsters casually mentioned that it was now time to assault Nancy. It was part of their ritual, they said. With pain and tears in their eyes, their desperate pleas falling on deaf ears, the couple endured this horror: eternal scarring starting thus. “How do I live with this?” Mwangi lamented in Anguish, feeling that he had betrayed and failed to protect his wife. At the gate as they were on the way out, “Ah, you needn’t worry about that. You don’t have to live with that guilt. I am going to help you.” The young man said. Barely past his teenage years, he pointed his gun at Mwangi’s head and pulled the trigger twice. They hopped onto two motorcycles and sped off, their countenance not changing one bit, leaving the widow in disbelief, horror and shock.

“Huyo achomwe!” Mwangi had screamt two weeks earlier. Finally, one of the notorious phone snatchers had been caught. They had been running a smooth operation: one person knocks on the opposite car window two divert attention, and in that instance, his colleague reaches in and snatches the phone right from the seat. Gone in five seconds. This one had been the “knocker.” Quite unfortunate for him a group of football fans were trooping back in the vicinity and saw him. He never stood a chance.

He had endured half an hour of torturous beatings with everything heavy and hard thing that could be found on the road. His ribs were broken and so were several other bones on his body. He could barely see anything through the blood that had run over his face but he saw a blurry motion towards his face before another bout of searing pain engulfed the place where his mouth used to be. Someone had swung a heavy metal bar straight into his mouth with his head on the tarmac, breaking every single tooth that was left at the front. He would have loved to block the blow with his hands but they were mangled, broken, bloody and he couldn’t move them. All he felt was pain. The blow shattered his teeth. The pain was searing. He didn’t have enough time to cry as he felt a horrifying scream come out of his mouth amid gurgles of blood. Someone had lifted a huge construction boulder and let it on his mid shin, breaking the big bone in two… He had feared being burnt. Now it couldn’t come too soon. The torture was too much to bear. He imagined being burnt would be painful but it would end soon.

The thought of his death brought a deep sadness, greater than that of the pain he felt. Not for him. No. For his younger siblings who depended on him for what to eat. Both their parents had died years ago leaving them with nothing. He had forfeited the chance of going to college as he couldn’t afford it. His siblings, 11, 8 and 6 didn’t have anyone else to take care of them. Work had been hard to come by. He would go to industrial Area every morning at 5am and wait outside the factory hoping to be one of the people who would be allowed to work that day. There were hundreds with him and he didn’t have money to bribe the supervisor. He had tried running a water mkokoteni but the water cartels had given him a serious beating. At least his 16 year old sister had gotten married. He doubted that her elderly alcoholic husband treated her well but at least she had something to eat. He felt saddened, worried and pained by the future his siblings faced without him. They still slept hungry a few times, but not as frequently as before.

His thought was interrupted by another bolt of pain in his already cracked ribs. He felt someone force him to sit up and place a band around him. It felt like a tyre. “Please! Nisamehe.” He mustered enough strength to whisper. No one seemed to hear it. He summoned all the effort left in his weakened, battered body. “Tafadhali! Nisameheni!” He screamed. A massive kick to the head. “Sisi ndio tulikwambia uibe?” Laughter. Then he felt the cool liquid on his skin all over him. It stung a little as it run over the many wounds. Suddenly he noticed that the one who was lighting the match was was the devil himself. He could see it clearly, but nobody else in the group seemed to notice. But the devil passed the match to another man to finish the act. The pain was excruciating…

And Mwangi went home a satisfied man. A good thing had been done. One less criminal in the city. He had narrated the story to his brother who had come to visit him to show him his newest vehicle.

His younger brother had a rough start life to adult life. He had gotten mixed up with the wrong group in high school and ended up performing far worse than had been expected. He missed out on University and dropped out of two middle colleges before finally finishing a diploma course. Fortunately, his aunt knew someone who new someone. The job interviews at the ministry of transport and infrastructure had been completed and the appointment letters were about to be issued. His parents had agreed to sell a piece of land and pay for a job for his son. It crossed their mind that they may get conned. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. The public officer that had been approached by the person who was known by the person who known by Patrick’s aunt, was a man of his word. Once he received the agreed amount, he randomly removed Monica Tanui’s letter from the pile that was to be sent to the successful applicants and made out a new appointment letter to Patrick. Neither Mwangi nor his brother Patrick, nor any other member of his family ever heard the name Monica, or what had happened in the background. None of them knew that even though she applied to hundreds of other jobs thereafter, she didn’t get another opportunity. She gave up trying after four years and ended up working as a house-help despite her college education.

But Patrick had done very well in his new job. It was a fairly low-level job but in three years, he had built a house for his parents and this was his second car. They both knew that his salary couldn’t pay for any of these things, but public service jobs had their ways.

“How does this politician manage to give so much money?” Patrick asked as they had watched news. “This is public money they must be stealing.” Mwangi’s neighbour George had joined them for the evening. “Why do you say that? Can’t the son of a sugarcane farmer work hard and earn money?” “But what is this work he has done to earn this much in 15 years?” Don’t you know he runs matatus, and owns a lot of real estate? He owns three beach resorts.” Mwangi interjected here, “Friends, to get to the matatus and real estate required lots of money in the first place. Besides, Safaricom is the best performing business in Kenya today. The returns from his matatus and real estate have to be better than Safaricom for this level of spending to make sense. No matatu business is that profitable.” They laughed. “Still, we admire his charisma and how he helps the poor. This EACC story is a witchhunt that is headed nowhere. I don’t see anyone unseating him from office any time soon. I think I’ll still vote for him.”

“Mum, please don’t kill the mouse. It’s only looking for food that’s why it came to the house. Even the flies” the young girl smiled. Little children have a way about them that is simply charming. The mother put away the insect spray and hid the mouse trap away from view. Such an innocent, caring spirit these children have. “Where are you brothers?”

The young children had gone out playing. Topang’ ran to them breathless. “Quickly, come see what’s happening!” “What is it? ” “You come see.” They got there and stared in absolute horror at what they were seeing. They were all heartbroken and felt so much pity. They couldn’t imagine that human beings could be that cruel. “Who is it?” “It’s a thief!” They paused for a moment. “Shouldn’t he be taken to jail?” “My uncle told me that if you steal, you will get killed. Like this.” “Oh, this is so sad and painful.” “I feel sorry for him. Does he have children?” It is said that children can see clearly spiritual things that adults can’t. And there, clearly in the crowd, they could see two devilish creatures. The creatures noted that they were being watched and turned to the children. The children fled.

The children ended up moving to different areas thereafter. By the time they witnessed their third mob-justice over the years, the got accustomed to it and to expect it. They no longer saw the devil in it. Taking life no longer horrified them. It was no longer anything big. If anything, there were problems that could be solved thus.

What Nancy didn’t know is that that group of children defined her very night. One had grown to be a thug and taking life hadn’t meant much to him. As it turned out, he had been the mentor of the young man who shot Mwangi that night. One was Mwangi her husband, one was Patrick, her brother in law, one had grown to be a public servant, one had grown to be policeman, hunting and killing criminals. What she didn’t know is that over four decades, an evil culture had grown in her society and four generations had come to embrace a culture of theft and murder: a double standard as they would not touch the thieves in their own families, nor the thieves that are the leaders they voted for, but would light up with glee as they tied up, tortured and burnt the chicken thief. And no, the killers didn’t think of it as murder. They didn’t see the killing as worse than the chicken-theft. They justified it as a good thing. They didn’t see their people stealing from the public as a bad thing. They justified it.

A brutal and barbaric society breeds brutal and barbaric people. The children watch and learn from the actions of the adults. They learn life has no value and take it easily when they see adults take life, with glee, for stolen phones and stolen chicken. They learn stealing from the public is fine when they see their parents do it or glorify it. A brutal society breeds brutal adults: a brutal thug who kills the cooperating victim without provocation, the brutal member of public who can set alight another human being, the brutal citizen who can hack to death another because of difference in tribe and political opinion, the brutal policeman who can shoot and kill the surrendered suspect, the brutal public officer who can steal relief food from those dying in hunger, the brutal health worker who can steal medicine from people dying in hospital, brutal leaders who can steal wealth from a rich country and allow tens of thousands to die for various systeminc gaps that result from their theft, brutal husbands and wifes who can kill each other and set their children on fire, brutal politicians who will kill their opponents or arrange for supporters of their opponents to be hacked.

Wisdom spoke: “Look at this lost and perverse generation. while it is written “thou shall not kill,” “thou shall not steal” they spill blood every day and rejoice in it. They steal the very essence of what I have given them. Look at these sinners casting the first stones: crying for the police to shoot the arrested thief. Won’t they have stoned the woman caught in adultery? Won’t they have been in the crucifixion band? Yet their sins are dark and black. Who is without sin? Who can say they are better than the thief? They and their people have stolen more from their workplaces than the thieves they burn. They have bribed and stolen opportunities from deserving folk more than the thieves they want shot. They have stolen fathers from children, husbands from wives in the evil they call “mob justice.” They have stolen innocence from children, hardening their hearts against compassion and respect. They have stolen life that they don’t own. Their anthem speaks of a blessing yet they ask whether they are cursed, remaining backward despite the numerous resources. Will they be blessed? Only if they change their ways from the evil ways of theft and murder that they have allowed. Yet how many peoples were asked to change their ways in the good book?” Wisdom spoke. Evil didn’t like what wisdom said.

What will it take to change this vicious cycle that is killing our society?



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The Good Samaritan

The story is told in the Bible of a Jewish man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way, he came upon robbers who stripped him of his property, beat him up and left him for dead. A priest came by, saw the poor man dying, but passed on the other side. A levite came by shortly thereafter. The levites were the tribe of priests, descendants of Levi, son of Jacob. He too passed on the other side. A Samaritan, a gentile from Samaria, not a Jew, came by. He saw the injured man and had compassion on him. He took him to an inn and paid a lot of money (two dinari) to have the man looked after. He further promised to pass by later to check on him. In the Bible, this story is said not for the sake of it but to illustrate a point. Jesus asks a crafty lawyer (lawyers have been crafty for long, haven’t they?) who had been intent to justify himself having been outwitted on the first response, “who among these was a neighbour to the injured man?” The lawyer gave his answer. What is yours?

When we read this story, it seems so obvious and clear that the Samaritan was the decent human being. Many of us would even curse the priest and the levite. Were it in the modern day era, the video would have gone viral and the priest and the levite would have… well we know the story.

So you know what, let us move this story to our modern times. Were it election time in Kenya, this story would have a most interesting twist. You see, it is assumed that the injured man was Jewish. Samaritans were gentiles and loathed by the Jews. In fact, any close association with Samaritans was frowned upon.

Let’s make this a story in Kenya in the 21st century. Let’s make the three passersby potential leaders running for elective posts. Who would we have voted for? It is easy to say that we would have chosen the Samaritan while in fact evidence shows that we would almost certainly have voted for one of our “people”: either the levite or the priest. You see, at election time, we discard the principal qualities of humanity and focus on nonsensical things such as tribe and party affiliation. We are therefore happy to vote for a thief from our tribe, and insult the Good Samaritan as he is not “ours.” The thief later steals from us and from our children and we lament and suffer the pain and come the next election, we vote again for our thief not realizing that tribe, party and colour do not make us neighbours nor closer.

Therefore, let us look at the story of the Good Samaritan again and ask ourselves, who is our neighbour? Who would we choose as our leader? A true neighbour or our tribesmen and partymen? Is a neighbour the one with whom we share a common ancenstry or the one who stands for us and for the right thing?

It gets worse. You see, when we vote for “our people,” are we really voting for our people? I put it to you that your people are your spouses, children, parents and siblings. I put it to you that voting for your people is voting for their future: economic, social services, security, justice. When you vote then for a thief from your tribe instead of a progressive from another tribe, you are actually betraying your own people and voting against them and their future! It doesn’t help that party nominations in Kenya cannot pass the most basic of integrity tests and are often an insult to electoral processes and the electorate. In voting for your tribe and/or party instead of a real leader, you are voting against yourself and your own future!

Tafakari hayo.

Please see my blog post on failed leaders to have a complete view of elections. Perhaps we will learn something and start making decisions that benefit our country come election time.

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We should thank our elected failures

It would seem that in nearly twenty years of multiparty democracy, this electoral season bears the highest number of elected leaders who have demonstrated record setting failure. From wanton theft of public property, to shooting of unarmed civilians, to inactivity, to zero impact in society, to a failure to understand basic issues… you name it. The electorate has every reason to lament and feel aggrieved. Moreso, when a good number of these ineffectual or corrupt, or criminal leaders were promising activists, or young, or bore some form of outsider tag prior to being elected. It would be tempting to consider this a wasted season. However, I want to point out a silver lining in this: invaluable lessons.

What Kenya has paid for at such a high price, in electing these people, are lessons on what not do. We have very clear and practical examples of what could go wrong when we waste our votes for the wrong motives, and based on incorrect inspirations. We bear the pain today of not having paid attention to the power of our votes, as well as our collective voice in accountability. And these lessons are very well necessary as without them, we may take for granted good leaders: and there are many in society today, as well as in the elected space. That said, as with all lessons, the students may choose to learn or not. The real tragedy will therefore be us not learning anything from the theatrics we witness daily, and our collective pains, and repeat the same mistakes in future.

Allow me to highlight a few signs of failed leaders:

The despot in the making

This variant is best demonstrated in a number of governors. The idea behind county governments is that it is a structure that brings services to the people. There are numerous roles, some electoral, to be played by persons on whom authority, duties and responsibilities, are conferred through offices and structures established in our constitution and laws. The overaching principle however, despite the diversity, is service to. Unfortunately, in many counties, instead of service, we see Kings: monarchs to be served. Totalitarians, focused on the power they hold, and who are not shy to wield that power, or exceed it, to exert their authority. People who, holding certain positions, make all the decisions, and everybody has to bend over backwards to please them. If you do not align yourself adequately with them, or you offer an opinion that goes against theirs, you will be dismissed. They surround themselves with yes men and goons. Their motorcade exceeds that of the president in length, and they harass motorists as they pass. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s do ourselves a favour and avoid such people in future. Make no mistake: such leaders have the full capacity to be the next Idi Amin Dada. Governerships are like presidencies. What we need are people’s presidents and people’s governors, not despots and tyrants.

The thief

Unfortunately, this is all too common. It seems that when we say corruption, we don’t see it as theft. It is. This is the category that colludes with suppliers to inflate bills, pay for non existent services and so on. This is the group that forges documents to make payments for fictitious payments. This is the lot that has close friends and families set-up fake companies that get huge contracts to get public money for either poor quality or no services rendered. This is the lot that accepts kickbacks and bribes to give a service, or advocate for a position. This is Kenya’s bane. This lot should be promised jail terms: even if it takes 20 years. Future leaders should take note and promise to hold these leaders to account as the main point of it would be deterrence.

The vile agent of evil

Unfortunately, every so often, in a country that is more than 80% religious, we elect leaders who allow themselves to be agents of evil. Their greatest weapon is a vile tongue that lashes out at other tribes, and opponents on the other side of the divide. They thrive on spreading division, and fear. They get us to vote for them, not by the merits of what they promise to do, but out of fear of the monster they have portrayed the other party to be. It is this kind of rhetoric that fueled the 2007/2008 post election violence that saw Kenyans butcher each other on the basis of tribe. Listen carefully to what comes out of the mouth of your leader. If it is vitriolic, avoid that person like the plague and save Kenya from the hatred they peddle.

The self-seeker

Why do you want to be a leader? Unfortunately, for most leaders, the answer to this is a sense of self-accomplishment. It is never really to do anything meaningful. It is pursuit of significance, but then they mis-define significance to mean being famous or holding a big office. What they don’t know is that true immortality is achieved by public service and leaving a lasting legacy that sells itself. This lot is engrossed in their own election. Any “act of goodness” is either a campaign tool, or a tool of control. They are always in scheme mode for the next big thing. To tick the bucket list. What they don’t have however, is an agenda for Kenya. Indeed, once they get to the elected office they sought, their goal is met and they begin planning how to retain that position or move to the next big thing. What will stop them? Often, not even moral or ethical boundaries. It is not uncommon for opponents of self-seekers to disappear in which case they become self-seeking agents of evil. As far as leadership goes, they are failures through and through.

The Yes Men, standless, spineless, and blind followers

This is the category of leaders that do not realize that they have been elected to contribute and give direction. They don’t have their own stand nor are they courageous enough to go against the grain. If this day their “leader” or party says China is good, they will sing the goodness of China all day long. If the following minute they hear the leader saying China is bad, they will immediately sing of how bad China is. This type of leaders are blind followers of their leaders. They may speak eloquently to defend a position that has been taken but that position has not benefited in any way from a decent quality of the mind: thought. This is a dangerous person who is well suited to be a heckler, not a leader. However, they can be loud, persistent, know how to position themselves next to leaders, and are therefore often elected by association to the detriment of the electorate. They are a waste of electoral space/office/power/authority and can be counted upon to vote along party lines regardless of the issue. Despots like such people, but such people hold back countries and are really an enemy of their countries.

The incompetent but proud

This is not as bad as the others. This is person who finds himself in the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim. Only that what stands to sink is the aspiration of the people. With focus, such leaders can actually learn to be effective. However, accepting that one doesn’t know is one tough thing that only the strongest of leaders can achieve. This requires humility. Humility is rare and pride common. Pride is what stands in the way of the incompetent leader as Kenyans are generally bright people. They only have to accept that they don’t know, purpose to learn, and work at it.

Mixed content

Unfortunately, these vices are not mutually exclusive and can be found in varying combinations in some people. There may even be leaders who hold all the above traits: self-seeking thieves who are incompetent and proud, with a vitriolic tongue and has no stand on issues. I bet you may know one such person.

Who voted for them?

We did. Let us learn our lessons and realize that if we fail to learn these lessons, the tough economic times, the pilferage of public property, unyanyasaji of the common man, lack of basic services, injustice, inequity and hatred will continue. If however we learn our lessons and avoid such people regardless of how good sounding their fake promises are at election time, or how much they try to whip up our emotions to blind us, we will prosper.

All in all, we should thank these failures for the painful lessons they have taught us. We should thank them in advance for the lessons they will teach potential future leaders: the pain of vices in leadership. This latter lesson will only be possible once the current crop is adequately punished for their vices.

Please also look for my post titled, “the good samaritan” to make the electoral question complete. Hopefully, we will make correct decisions gong forward for our own sakes.

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