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Friday, January 12, 2018

SportPesa: Kenya Should Stop Betting On Devils

In his piece in the Daily Nation, Roy Gachuhi speaks of how the failure to build strong institutions in Kenyan sport has left even the most successful teams vulnerable to the financial shocks caused by the withdrawal of a major sponsor. He is referencing the troubles caused by sports betting firm SportPesa’s pulling all its sponsorship of local and national teams following the failure of its legal challenge against the government’s move to raise taxes on betting profits.  It is a move that may ground a large number of the country’s favorite sports brands.

“Fifty years down the line, AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia should be evaluating the suitability of the many organizations lining up to associate their brand with them,” Gachuhi says. He also reminds us that “Kenya’s sports politics closely mirror our national politics”. One obvious similarity is the dependence on the dirty money that is generated by selling false dreams to poor people.

According to Moses Kemibaro, a digital marketing professional based in Nairobi, SportPesa, the largest of them all, rakes in over Sh300 million a month. A GeoPoll survey of youth between the ages of 17-35 in sub-Saharan Africa found Kenya had the highest number of youth who were frequently gambling and that they spent Sh5000 a month on the habit, the highest on the continent. This in a country where, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, three-quarters of those in formal employment earn under Sh50,000 a month.

So the sponsorships whose loss many are bemoaning are a small fraction of the billions being taken from millions of poor people who are fed the illusion that sports betting is, as SportPesa’s slogan goes, “Made of Winners”. Only the betting companies make money when bets are lost, not when they are won.

But what they make is a pittance, and the suffering they cause is negligible, when compared to the outrageous fortunes and misery generated by the, to borrow Hilary Clinton’s phrase, “basket of deplorables” to whom we’ve mortgaged our national political life.  They have taken to a whole new level the art of throwing around a relatively tiny bit of cash in exchange for the chance to make gazillions. Presidential election campaigns spend an estimated Sh5 billion which, including all the other races down the order, could add up to Sh36 billion. This is undoubtedly a lot of money. But considering that the country is estimated to lose Sh600 billion from corruption each year and that a large chunk of that is pocketed by the politicians in power, you can see how it works out to be a good deal.

Why must we feed the baser natures within society in order to be allowed a few crumbs for its better sides? Why is it necessary to procure resources for our sport from industries that sacrifice millions of youthful futures? Or to offer up our sovereignty, wealth and even lives to scoundrels in return for patronage posing as “development”?

I think it is actually a good thing that SportPesa has pulled the sponsorship. A deal with the Devil is not how we should seek to support our sportspeople. And maybe once the band aid is removed, we can we will be able to see and deal with the real, festering source of our public woes. The money that companies like SportPesa pump into sport tends to paper over the state’s under-investment in sport as well as its preying on athletes as was graphically illustrated during the 2016 Olympics.

But there again, our deals with devils, this time within government, stand in the way. Sadly, we won’t be exorcising the demons in Parliament or in State House anytime soon. And even if we did, there are others pretending to be angels of light waiting to take their place. Like with SportPesa, we need to change the terms of the deal and radically raise the bar for what is acceptable in terms of governance. 

No more false promises. We must demand tangible action, whether it is to improve the lot of the sports fraternity of to reform the electoral system or to implement the report of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Report. To do this, we must be willing to risk the political class withdrawing the few parochial benefits it offers just as SportPesa has done. But if we are firm and refuse to succumb to the blackmail, the rewards would be much greater than what we have become accustomed to settling for.

Now that’s a gamble worth taking.


Friday, January 05, 2018

Kenya's Road Deaths: It's The System, Stupid.

Kenyans can be amazing in their self-contradictions. Take matters death, for example. When our politicians pass on, they are immediately raptured, in the popular imagination, into a heavenly pantheon and cleansed of all earthly sin. Not so regular folk.

Following the spike in road crashes in December which have claimed over 200 lives, many have not been shy about placing the blame on those who have perished, either labeling drivers drunk, undisciplined or careless, or branding passengers as silent lambs willingly going to the slaughter.

I have often wondered about this seeming compulsion to blame ourselves for the misfortunes we endure, even when it is manifest that their fundamental causes lie elsewhere. When the politicians in government steal from us, we blame ourselves for electing them in the first place, as if the act of voting then justifies stealing. When the same politicians use the police or militia for violence to secure their positions on the bargaining table, we blame ourselves for our tribalism and bloodthirst.

Similarly, when the state designs and maintains a murderous road transport system, we blame ourselves for its very predictable consequences. It is our failure to obey its dictates that is to blame, we are told, even though we know that following the rules still gets you killed.

TV presenter and columnist, Larry Madowo, ably demonstrates this confusion in his latest offering on the dangers of using public transport for long-distance travel at night. After acknowledging that he is one of a privileged minority that does not need to do this he adds that “for millions of Kenyans for whom that is not an option, they are unknowingly putting themselves in danger every time they board a bus or a matatu and hope they get to their destination in one piece.”

Sounds reasonable, no? Then a few lines later, he hits us with this: “Taking any public transport in Kenya is to knowingly put yourself in danger.” Huh?

He proceeds to reel off a list the usual suspects, from tired, drunk and unqualified drivers trying to meet impossible targets to matatu crews colluding with gangsters to rob passengers, to mechanically defective vehicles and their owners - the very cops turning a blind eye. He notes that there are no regularly enforced “minimum standards for crew discipline, vehicle maintenance and roadworthiness” and few consequences for anyone failing to play their part. It is as close a description of a shattered system as you are likely to get.

Yet despite this, Larry still seems to believe that the system is fundamentally sound. “All this carnage can be eliminated without introducing a single new law but simply enforcing the existing ones and shutting down all the avenues for bribery.” Once again, the problem, as he sees it, is the failure to beat the native out of the Kenyan, to force him to comply with a broken system.

This kind of thinking has very colonial roots. The British proclaimed that they came on a civilizing mission and used extreme brutality to try to beat the natives into shape. For example, in his book Kenya: A History Since Independence, Charles Hornsby describes the European settler view of roots of the Mau Mau war as “unrelated to economic or political oppression … they lay in the Kikuyu’s inability to adapt to the demands of modernization”.

Lawyer Pheroze Norwojee says "tyranny is very unoriginal". Those who inherited the colonial state after them, retained the same view of the sanctity of even oppressive rules and of Africans as the problem. As Jomo Kenyatta asked Kenyans in the lead up to independence, “if you cannot obey the present [colonial] laws, how will you be able to obey our own laws when we have them?” Thus, instead of reforming the oppressive regime, they tried to force the people to comply with it. As quoted by Hornsby, the late Masinde Muliro described it thus in 1967: "Today we have a black man's Government, and the black man's Government administers exactly the same regulations, rigorously, as the colonial administration used to do." 

It is this approach that has created the predictable consequences and contradictions evident in our political system today, for our humanity will not simply fade away quietly. Similarly, the attempt to force road users to comply with a horrendous road system will continue to generate seemingly chaotic and suicidal, but always very rational, behavior. In the end blaming Kenyans, rather than the system, will always lead to oppressive responses that try to fix Kenyans rather than policy fixes to the system.

Yet the fact is we need comprehensive change, both in the institutional design of how we manage road transport as well as in the rules those institutions are tasked with implementing and enforcing. That will require new thinking, new systems, and yes, Larry, new laws.

New laws on who can own matatus, for example. New laws on how we respond to road crashes, perhaps a requirement that they all be investigated and lessons learnt. New laws to prevent the National Transport and Safety Authority understating the extent of the carnage on our roads, which they do by nearly 80 percent. Most importantly, new laws on whom we hold accountable for the failures on our roads. Simply blaming the dead and dying victims on our roads will not do.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Mugabe Is Gone; Mugabeism Remains

Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe
I'n'I a-liberate Zimbabwe.

So sang the late, great, Jamaican reggae star, Bob Marley in 1979, just a year before the country was finally won its independence from white rule. Today, with Robert Mugabe forced to resign as President after being fired by his party and with Zimbabwe inaugurating a new leader, the questions many will ask is whether this is another moment of liberation – only this time liberation from the erstwhile liberator of 1980- and what a post-Mugabe future might look like.

Soon we’ll find out who is
The real revolutionary

For the last 37 years, under Mugabe’s Presidency - who at 93 was the world’s oldest head of state and second only to Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea as its longest serving non-royal ruler- Zimbabwe has gone from being southern Africa’s bread basket to the region’s basket case. Mugabe himself, once an icon of anticolonialism and, with his seven degrees, great hope of African renaissance, has become the butt of continental jokes.

The path the country and its former ruler have trod is depressingly familiar. An independence hero who proceeds to govern his country as a personal fiefdom, enriching himself and his family, destroying all internal opposition, impoverishing the population and committing many of the same abuses the anti-colonial struggle was meant to put an end to.

In his early years in power, initially as Prime Minister, Mugabe was widely praised for expanding social services, including building schools and hospitals. However, like others across the continent, his government failed early on to deal with the legacy of the country’s colonial past and the issue of whether to reform the state they inherited or whether, as Panashe Chigumadzi put it in her article for the New York Times, “conform to the historic compromises that brought them into power”.

Again, like his counterparts, Mugabe opted to shelve the issue and concentrate on consolidating his own grip on power. Facing internal dissent, he launched a brutal crackdown in the predominantly Ndebele speaking region of Matabeleland, most of whom were supporters of his rival Joshua Nkomo, in which according to some estimates more than 20,000 people were killed.

The unresolved colonial legacy - especially over the starkly unequal distribution of land - would prove a useful tool in later years. In the 1990s, he would successfully divide the opposition by offering veteran of the independence war tracts of land and demonizing civil society and labor unions, as tools of the West.

It was a strategy he employed again in the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s to buff up his revolutionary credentials by launching a disastrous land redistribution programme which targeted the country’s tiny land-owning white minority. Officially sanctioned land invasions, violence and continued government threats forced most large scale white farmers off the land and agricultural production plummeted. The country went from being a net food exporter to requiring food aid.

As the average Zimbabwean has continued to suffer the effects of economic decline, there has been continued splurging on a small coterie of officials and ruling party loyalists. Last year, the government reportedly spent $800,000 on festivities to mark Mugabe’s 92 birthday and his family has done very well for itself over the years. His wife, 40 years his junior and who has earned the nickname “Gucci Grace” for her lavish shopping sprees, made no secret of her desire to keep the presidency within the family when he eventually passed on.

And I don't want my people to be tricked
By mercenaries.

Will the intervention by the Zimbabwean military -the coup that was no coup- change this? Not likely, despite the military’s declaring its intention is to “pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation”. It claimed to target, and has been rounding up “criminals around [Mugabe] who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice”. Yet the same army was solidly behind Mugabe throughout his years of abuse - it was the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade that was responsible for the massacres in Matabeleland locally referred to as “Gukurahundi” (a Shona term that loosely translates to "the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains").

In fact, this was largely an internal struggle within the ruling party, ZANU-PF, over who is to succeed the aging dictator. the immediate spark for the current crisis was Mugabe’s decision to fire his long-time ally and now replacement as President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, from the vice presidency, to pave the way for his wife to succeed him. The military seemed reluctant to openly intervene, its head, Gen Constantino Chiwenga, and 90 senior officers initially only demanding a halt to the purge of Mnagangwa’s allies within the party. Mnangagwa himself is no angelic figure, attracting the moniker "The Crocodile" for his actions during the independence struggle and as a reminder of his alleged role -which he denies- in the Gukurahundi massacres, as Minister for State Security and Chairman of the Joint High Command, and in masterminding attacks on opposition supporters after 2008 election.

This then is a dispute, not over how Zimbabwe is run, but over who runs it. In June, University of Zimbabwe Political Science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, when asked about the possibility of military coup if Mnangagwa did not succeed Mugabe. He responded thus: “It will be restricted to the elite level. This level does not involve you or me or the 13 million Zimbabweans. It is an elite struggle.”

The people now jostling to replace Mugabe have been more than content to benefit from the policies he has pursued, even when those came at the expense of long-suffering Zimbabweans.

It is instructive too that the record of military takeovers in Africa and across the world gives little cause for hope that this particular one will quickly lead to a restoration of genuine democracy in Zimbabwe. From Nigeria to Egypt to Burma, the record shows that once military generals get a taste of power, they are loathe to give it up. Further, they tend to govern as badly, or even worse, than the civilian despots they overthrow.

Amid talk of the military setting up a transitional government to return the country to civilian rule and prepare fresh elections, one senior opposition politician told CNN that “this takeover was planned a long time ago by Emmerson Mnangagwa and secret discussions did take place with opposition about a succession plan including forcing out Mugabe… What you saw yesterday at State House [published images of Mugabe speaking with military chiefs] was acting."

This ties in with a Reuters investigation in September that found that Mnangagwa and other political players, including former prime minister Morgan Tzivangirai, with had already been positioning themselves for this possibility.

The report, which cites “politicians, diplomats and a trove of hundreds of documents from inside Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization (CIO)” says that in the event of Mugabe’s leaving office, “Mnangagwa… envisages cooperating with Tsvangirai to lead a transitional government for five years with the tacit backing of some of Zimbabwe’s military and Britain. These sources leave open the possibility that the government could be unelected.”

“This unity government would pursue a new relationship with thousands of white farmers who were chased off in violent seizures of land approved by Mugabe in the early 2000s. The farmers would be compensated and reintegrated, according to senior politicians, farmers and diplomats. The aim would be to revive the agricultural sector, a linchpin of the nation’s economy that collapsed catastrophically after the land seizures,” it continues.

Once again, the focus would appear to be on appeasing the country’s former colonial rulers at the expense of its citizenry. Rather than seek to comprehensively restructure the state so it works for all its people, Zimbabwe’s would-be rulers seem bent on resuscitating the same “historic compromises” that have been at the root of the country’s malaise.

We'll 'ave to fight (we gon' fight), we gonna fight (we gon' fight),
We'll 'ave to fight (we gon' fight), fighting for our rights!

Rather than an agreement to restore the power of elites, any transitional government should pursue a genuine broad-based national reflection on the nature of the Zimbabwean state and force the country to face up to the demons of its past, rather than hide from them. For all his many faults, it must be acknowledged that Mugabe’s attempts at redressing historical injustice, though pursued for less than noble reasons, struck a chord with many ordinary Zimbabweans (and many ordinary Africans beyond).

Apart from restructuring the state, Zimbabwe will also need to build the necessary infrastructure to keep it accountable to the people. This includes a free and independent media -it has been great to see international networks allowed to report openly once again- and a vibrant civil society.

The current situation, while not ideal, thus still offers a valuable opportunity for Zimbabwean leaders to do right by their people. Whether they will take it remains to be seen.