The police service is the enforcement unit of government. It is tasked with the noble duty of maintaining law and order - protecting lives and property, among other roles.

Policing is generally considered a respectable profession; and officers regarded as important members of society. They have the privilege of carrying arms around, to protect people.

However, long standing concerns exist over the prudence of policing world over. Cases of extra-judicial killings and police brutality have been on the rise globally. Day in day out,  media reports news breaks of police officers abusing their positions to take away the very lives they swore to protect.

This has neither been adequately acknowledged by our governments, nor addressed. The police remain, ironically, a stumbling block to maintenance of law and order. Apart from physical fitness, no attention is paid to their mental and emotional suitability during police recruitment.

The recent killing of a black man in the United States of America, sparked protests globally, raising questions as to whether it was another case of racism or police brutality. George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American, died at the hands of white police officers who left him unable to breathe as one of them knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. His death has not gone unnoticed as violent Black Lives Matter protests have rippled across the United States and throughout the world, with demonstrators calling for an end to police brutality.

Black Lives Matter Protest in Memphis, USA | Source: USA Today

In Africa, police brutality is rampant with many incidents reported by the media and civil society organizations. Many African countries typically suffer police brutality during charged political seasons, when power is exercised in excess. Journalists have been arrested for reporting on police brutality in Tanzania, and the United Nations has accused security forces and the government in Burundi for perpetrating vices such as gang rapes, torture and killings of innocent citizens that went unpunished.

In Uganda, critics say that President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, has largely relied on brute force to suppress growing opposition to his rule. In August 2013, the Ugandan government passed the Public Order Management Act that granted police wide discretionary powers to permit gatherings. This Act was used during the 2016 presidential campaign as a basis to arrest opposition politicians, with opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye suffering police brutality. The police severally arrested Dr Besigye and used pepper spray on him, injuring him to the point of being flown to Kenya for hospitalization.

In Kenya, the two sides charged with ensuring police accountability, the Internal Affairs Unit that receives and investigates complaints and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority appear overwhelmed and dysfunctional. Even with enactment of the Constitution in 2010, the narrative has remained unchanged. On many occasions, police officers, armed with guns, teargas canisters and batons  have viciously descended on protestors during electioneering season, beating some to a pulp and leaving others maimed or dead. The media has repeatedly beamed footage of police brutalizing citizens. However, it is absurd that up until now, some of these perpetrators still walk scott-free, even with such overwhelming evidence against them.

Politicians have not been spared from the police’s excessive force. During election campaigns, opposition politicians have had a fair share of run-ins with the police using teargas and excessive force to disperse their crowds. Former Bomet County Governor Isaac Ruto had to be rushed to South Africa for urgent medical attention after a teargas canister exploded in his face. This points to the citizens’ disadvantages, as not everyone can afford advanced medical care after such encounters with police.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck East Africa like an armed robber, no country was prepared to deal with the pandemic. Kenya declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew, while Rwanda and Uganda totally locked down their countries to contain the spread of the virus. This left the police in these countries with the task of ensuring that citizens adhered to the restrictions. While ensuring that the lockdown instilled during the COVID-19 pandemic was observed, police in Uganda acted irresponsibly and allegedly maimed many.

In Kenya, police have been blamed for causing more deaths than the pandemic itself. Kenyans try to avoid catching coronavirus during the day and avoid beatings at night from the police during the curfew.

Mathare Residents Peacefully Protesting Against Police Brutality in Nairobi | Source: VOA

Police brutality is not only unlawful but also counterproductive in fighting the spread of COVID-19. The officers have acted ruthlessly and helped little in instilling measures such as social distancing among citizens.

Since the curfew in Kenya was instituted, the police have reportedly killed at least 15 people, the latest victim being an elderly homeless man, shot dead in Mathare after being found out during curfew hours. The Independent Policing Oversight Body (IPOA) has reported 87 complaints against police since the curfew and heightened security measures were rolled out on March 27.

The police have a lot to do to clear their name and regain long-lost respect due to them. This begs the question; who will tame the police as they execute their duties to the public? More has to be done to ensure that the officers undertake their duties according to the law, while upholding human rights.

I would suggest a change in the policing culture - during hiring and training of police recruits and in the long term. The requirements for joining the police force should attract more academically astute candidates too; and should not be left for those regarded as rejects.

It is agreed that many cases of police brutality can be linked to anger from poor pay and working conditions for officers. Governments should increase funding to the police service to improve their working conditions and remuneration. Vigilant oversight of police activities needs to be emphasized, to pile pressure on perpetrators of police brutality and increase accountability of the police to their actions while on duty.

Lastly, when citizens have better livelihoods, healthcare and efficient systems, government can invest more in public goods in their neighbourhoods, which makes them feel safe and reduces crime rates. This eventually makes the work of the police a lot easier.

Whilst citizens are encouraged to lodge a report whenever they experience police brutality, the police themselves should be accountable for their actions, even as they maintain law and order.

There exist numerous advocacy campaigns promoting gender equality and fairness to allow women to have equal opportunities in getting wage and salaried jobs. Following the recently celebrated International Women’s Day, we reflect on where the East African region stands with regard to the proportion of women in wage and salaried work, and the opportunities to explore in order to bridge the gap.

Also Read: In East Africa, Women Still Lag Behind in Labor Force Participation

Wage and salaried jobs provide a stable and reliable source of income hence, in most instances, they are dependable for the economic development of individuals and households. In this section, we compare the proportion of women in wage and salaried jobs, compared to women. Similar to the Labor Force Participation Rate, women make up the minority of wage and salaried workers in the region. It is notable that almost across all the countries in East Africa, the % of males in paid employment jobs almost doubles that of females. This is illustrated in the chart below.

Data Source: World Bank/World Development Indicators

Data released by LinkedIn reveals the fact that, globally, while women stand a higher chance of being employed by up to 16% compared to men, they are 16% less likely to apply for a job they are qualified for, despite them viewing the same number of jobs as men.[1] They are also less likely to ask for a referral for a job compared to men. This one of the factors that help explain the low percentage of women in salaried work. Instability in some countries, weak economies, retrogressive cultures that are pro-patriarchy and general lack of effective and progressive policies that ensure equal representation of women in the workplace are other underlying factors that discourage or hinder women from joining the wage and salaried workforce.

Also Read: More needs to be done to empower women!

To address these disparities, there is a need for further empowerment of females to ensure that they gain access to quality education, which puts them at a better place to compete for opportunities of employment. Additionally, there is a need for corporations and the government to establish policies that ensure women receive equal working opportunities, fair pay and opportunity for career growth, as men.

[1] https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/recruiting-tips/gender-balance-report#

12.01.2020: A 24-year old walks out of one of the departmental offices at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture Technology.

A smile is on her face and a brown envelope in her hand - her life’s work. She has toiled for about 20 years for this. Education is the key to success, her teachers said, and her parents echoed. Finally, she is holding the key - a Bachelor’s degree in Biostatistics. The only thing left now is to open the door to success; get a good job with good pay. Well, she has got the key, how hard can it be?

Unfortunately, she is not the only one. About 800,000 young people enter the Kenyan labor market each year. Therefore, the answer to her question is: “It is hard.”

It is not hard because job hunting is a daunting task – though it actually is, in real life. It is hard because of rampant unemployment in Kenya, which means many people in need of jobs cannot find them.

PHOTO | NMG

According to the United Nation’s Common Country Assessment Report, the rate of unemployment in Kenya stood at around 40% in 2018.  More startling, however, is the proportion of unemployed youths: about 80% of the unemployed population are youths. For every 10 jobless Kenyans, 8 of them are youths, aged between 15-34 years of age. They are not unemployed because they are lazy, an argument put forth so many times, but due to the scarcity of jobs.

The World Bank estimates that the Kenyan economy registered substantive growth between 2003 and 2014 with average GDP growth rates of 2.5 percent every year. Besides, employment rates also increased by 4.5 percent each year between the years 2006 and 2013. However, a report by SAMUEL HALL and the British Council on Youth Unemployment in Kenya, 2017, shows that the rate of youth unemployment has been increasing at a rate of 42 percent since the year 2000. This is a clear indication that the economy has not been creating enough jobs to absorb young people joining the labor market every year. Despite increased rates of unemployment, over 7,000 workers had been sacked in a wave of massive layoffs by the end of 2019.

PHOTO | BD GRAPHIC

More petrifying being the misery that comes with unemployment. Do you remember the story of Rebecca - the 20-year-old woman who had lost her job, got kicked out of her home, had no money and ended up giving birth unassisted in Uhuru Park?

What about Alfred Kibet Kirui? The university graduate who posted on Facebook, threatening to commit suicide owing to his job-hunting efforts not bearing any fruits. There is also the story of the young man, tired of unsuccessful job hunting, decided to hold a placard near State House, begging the President to help him join the Kenya Defense Forces. These anecdotes of agony caused by unemployment are unending, to say the least. We have had numerous cases of suicide attempts, increased criminal activity, and prostitution - all because of unemployment.

Youth unemployment in Kenya is, to put it simply, a disaster. It has been for years now. It is so bad, Antony Aluoch, a Kenyan legislator, wanted it declared a national disaster! Well, isn’t it about time?

Even some of those with jobs find themselves in professions they have not been trained in. A nation's economy flourishes when individuals work in a market that matches their skills. This phenomenon of job mismatch results in massive underemployment, hence wastage of abilities considering the investment towards education.

Also read: Is Africa Really Ready for Women Leadership?

In the wake of this massive job crisis, the Kenyan government set out to address the issue through a number of initiatives. One of them was the Ajira Digital Programme that sought to equip youth, especially university students, with online work skills from which they can earn a living. There is also the National Youth Service that recruits and trains youth in various fields, including paramilitary, engineering, fashion, and design, to name but a few. The government has also launched a myriad of programs to curb unemployment by encouraging youth to embrace online self-employment.

However, the effectiveness of these initiatives is a point of concern to many people seeing that unemployment remains an issue. The other unanswered question is: whether the government is doing enough to create jobs for youth. Training the youth in various fields, equipping them with the necessary skills and encouraging them to embrace self-employment is important and necessary, but what happens after that?

Finland took over global news towards the end of 2019 with the election of its youngest-ever prime minister. Not only is Sanna Marin, the PM-elect, a young woman, she is also backed by a cabinet that majorly comprises young women – most under 40 years of age! A breath of fresh air, don’t you agree?

This is just one of the many examples of women globally, who have risen to highest echelons of leadership in both political and corporate spaces. The Finnish cabinet is a perfect depiction of the power and leadership capabilities that women have. A lot has been done over the past decade towards women empowerment – from equity in distribution of resources to equality in access to opportunities. This has greatly contributed to the rising number of women in leadership. A lot more remains to be done, with gender equality designated as one of the Sustainable Development Goals that the world is gunning for by the year 2030.

Left to right: Finland's Minister of Education Li Andersson, 32; Minister of Finance Katri Kulmuni, 32; Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 34; and Interior Minister Maria Ohisal, 34 Source: VESA MOILANEN/LEHTIKUVA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Left to right: Finland's Minister of Education Li Andersson, 32; Minister of Finance Katri Kulmuni, 32; Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 34; and Interior Minister Maria Ohisal, 34
Source: VESA MOILANEN/LEHTIKUVA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

In Africa, women have risen through ladders of political leadership to become heads of states. These women have defied cultural biases in Africa’s majorly patriarchal culture to lead their countries. Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female head of state in Africa and who received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her efforts in furthering women’s rights is yet another great example of a female African leader. She served for two consecutive terms, battling crises of youth unemployment, ballooning national debt, Ebola scourge, security threats and promoting rights of women. Other great examples include Joyce Banda of Malawi, Ameenah Gurib of Mauritius and Sahle-Work Zewde - who was unanimously appointed President by Ethiopia’s parliament just recently. Saara Amadhila, the current Prime Minister of Namibia served as the minister of finance and is best remembered for minimizing government spending and leading the country in first budget surplus case.

Women’s participation in political leadership is not just at the helm, though. At the moment, half of Ethiopia’s cabinet is comprised of women. In Rwanda’s parliament, women take up 61.1% of the seats.

These are just but a few examples of phenomenal women that have led Africa in different capacities. However, will it be fair to talk about current women in leadership without mentioning those who went before them? There is the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Prof. Wangari Mathai who stood up for peace and sustainable development, even when it meant risking her life. The late Winnie Mandela who stood in place for her incarcerated husband and led the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Graca Machel Mandela, who was among freedom fighters in Mozambique and a benevolent humanitarian, has continued to gracefully serve Mozambique, South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world especially in advocating for rights of women and children. It is clear that whether in power or in supporting roles, women have contributed immensely towards the leadership of Africa.

But does Africa trust women to lead?

In Kenya, for example, affirmative action to promote women representation in public offices is yet to be fully operationalized, with institutions such as the National Assembly failing to implement the two-thirds gender rule in the Constitution. There have been cases of public institutions appointing an all-men board, which begs the question of whether there is a shortage of qualified women to take up some of these positions. Currently, Kenya has six female cabinet secretaries (who, by the way, are excelling at their roles) out of the 21 slots. This goes a long way to show just how deep patriarchy is entrenched in Kenya. Whilst there are programs aimed at empowering women to take on leadership and become financially and socially independent, women are still marginalized. Of what benefit are these programs if the empowered women do not get equal opportunities to exercise their leadership skills?

Perhaps it is worth also reviewing the performance of some of the Africa women that have assumed significant leadership positions and how this has impacted attitudes of Africans towards women leadership.

Left to right: Joyce Banda and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Left to right: Joyce Banda and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Source: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras and DON EMMERT/AFP

It is interesting to note that just like their male counterparts, some of the African women who have risen to leadership positions have been subject to a fair share of criticism. For example, while her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, did a tremendous job in peacefully leading Liberia after years of horrific civil war, many women have expressed their disappointment in her lack of effort to actively promote women's participation in politics. Consequently, many bills touching on the welfare of women in her country did not receive the much attention and seriousness they ought to have. Mrs. Sirleaf also continues to face allegations of nepotism which include the appointment of her three sons to top government posts as well as corruption scandals that tainted her legacy. On the other hand, Joyce Banda who served both as the first female vice-president and later president of Malawi faced serious corruption allegations including the infamous ‘Cashgate Scandal’ as well as misuse of money she acquired from selling the presidential jet during her tenure.

Nonetheless, the verdict of UN Women is that no single country can claim to have attained gender equality. This calls for a paradigm shift. There is a need to embrace women as equal leaders. As we start a new decade, we need to change tact. Just as we have focused on empowering women, let us learn from Finland and Rwanda and Ethiopia, and other countries that are making progress on this front. Let us ensure that women have equal space on the decision-making table!

‘As Africa’s first woman president, I believe our future leaders must be female’ – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (First female president of Liberia 2006-2018)

Student loans have helped many disadvantaged individuals to finance their tertiary education across the world. The loans reduce the financial burden on students, their parents, and guardians; and offer an alternative to those without one.

So great is the demand for student loans that financers can barely satisfy it. The rapid growth in student enrolment remains a challenge to sustainable financing of higher education in many parts of Africa. However, the administration of these loans has often meant that prospective applicants are not guaranteed financing, their neediness notwithstanding.

In many cases, it is a game of chance on the disbursement side, that later turns into a sure bet on the repayment side. Take Kenya’s Higher Education Loans Board (HELB), the government agency responsible for the administration of student loans, for instance. Over the last 24 years, it has disbursed over Ksh92 billion and empowered dreams of more than 837,965 Kenyan students, official statistics indicate.

Student loans, according to research by Forbes in 2018, have the highest repayment delinquency rates in America. They are the largest source of household debt after mortgages. Americans owe more than $1.53 trillion in student loan debt, with one in four American adults having student loan debt. Defaulting on student loans comes with consequences. It negatively affects credit scores, complicating future access to credit. Statistics indicate that about 85,000 Kenyans cannot repay Ksh. 50 billion due to HELB, mainly because most are jobless. Thus, the board has recently resorted to a 30-day ultimatum to defaulters to commit to repayment or risk punishment.

It is unimaginable how an unemployed graduate could put their house in order and commit to loan repayment in just 30 days when they clearly, have no income. Of course, some deliberately refuse to pay and still go scot-free. This begs the question: why should unemployed graduates be pressured to pay back student loans yet well connected senior government officials steal public funds and are not held accountable?

Many graduates cannot service student loans, ever since getting jobs became a struggle. The government has failed in its role of creating an enabling environment for the generation of employment opportunities, as so many university graduates are still unemployed, years after graduation. Let the government provide jobs to all graduates then we can discuss loan defaulting. Otherwise, let it forever hold its peace.

The struggling economy and doubling interest rates on student loans do not make the situation any better. How would an unemployed graduate fully settle a loan if it continues to accrue interest and penalties by the month? Eventually, many graduates who do not service their loans struggle accessing loans from other financial institutions, having been listed on credit reference bureaus, making it difficult to start and run businesses.

The desperate moves to torment jobless graduates with threats to name and shame defaulters’ in dailies are shameful. This is a case of washing dirty linen in public and hanging it out for all to see. It is also an expensive undertaking, considering the advertising space needed to accommodate 85000 names of defaulters. Besides, it is expensively embarrassing for one’s name to appear in such lists of shame. Naming and shaming loan defaulters is not within the law, but if at all it has to be done, then could the government start by giving decent jobs and salaries to loan defaulters?

In South Africa, many students rarely seek student loans because of the fear that it saddles them with debt. Even the government seems to have lost confidence in its loan scheme.

The Obamas are known to have settled their student debt in 2005 when the former president was running for office. Similarly, presidential aspirant Ted Cruz paid up his student loan sometime before the 2016 election. Kerry Washington, a renowned actor, paid back her student debt only after she was financially stable. It is thus wise to let everyone pay back their student loans whenever they can, not necessarily when they are supposed to.

Education is an investment whose benefits are enjoyed by society at large. It should not just be up to only the student to pay fees but rather a joint effort from the government and other stakeholders in ensuring access to university education for the country’s future development.

Perhaps it’s time to consider a review of laws on student loans, so that graduates, who are still jobless after a year of completing campus, get amnesty. There should also be a reduction in interest rates, more flexible payment plans and increased regulation of the cost of university education. Pending loans that are not paid back should also be written off in the same fashion loans for coffee farmers and other firms in distress have been written off by the government in the past. This is to allow young people to start life without “baggage”.

The unveiling of the Building Bridges Initiative report, Kenya’s latest attempt at fostering national unity, was punctuated with an almost frenzy-like reception, especially by the political class.

It came as the political and legal fraternity roamed the country, generously dispending opinions on this much-anticipated document. Some strongly defended and vowed to endorse it even before reading it. Others vehemently opposed it and swore to shoot it down at sight. Interestingly, both sects had no idea of the contents of the report since, until its release, it had been under a tight lid.

In a rather unprecedented turn of events, the political battle lines that had earlier been drawn seemed to suddenly blur when the report became public. The exchanges that now seemed ignorant and myopic, were sheathed and everyone seemed to endorse the report, including the vehement opposers.

The BBI initiative was meant to identify the challenges Kenyans face, and to offer recommendations to help address them. Among its most-talked about recommendation is the proposed expansion of the Executive by reintroducing the Prime Minister position (that was created for convenience of the Government of National Unity, following the 2007/ 2008 post-election violence). This, together with the Leader of Opposition post, an all-inclusive cabinet, and the reconstitution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission are meant to address electoral in injustices that Kenya has experienced every election cycle by solving the “winner takes it all” issue. Its other key recommendation is the increasing of allocations to counties to between 35 and 50% of the last audited accounts. Together with other recommendations in the 156-page document, the overarching message is the need for inclusivity and accountability in government.

The report highlights important issues that the country has been sidelining. Major issues like lack of a national ethos, ethnic antagonism, divisive politics, corruption and devolution were highlighted complete with recommendations. If leaders and stakeholders devoted their time, energy, and focus towards implementing these recommendations, Kenya would get back on track towards prosperity.

While the report sells the promise of hope, it is not quite clear whether Kenyans should be optimistic about it since there are various reports like the Ndung’u Land Report and the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report from many years back have still not been implemented.

Most importantly, the Constitution of Kenya clearly outlines principles by which the country should live by. If Kenyans took dictates of the constitution to heart, there would be no need for a BBI report and its rather unsurprising recommendations.

Other than the structural recommendations on how the government should look like, most of the other recommendations are things any Kenyan is familiar with but chooses to overlook or sweep under the carpet in pursuit of selfish interests. One need not go any further than the nearest shopping center to see this. There will be a boda boda (bicycle taxi) guy riding on the wrong side of the road; a pedestrian littering recklessly; and someone being pickpocketed. There will also be a car over-speeding right after bribing a traffic officer.

In the next day’s newspaper headline - it is likely a scandal or a government official hurling insults at another political leader. Counties, while fighting for a bigger share of the national revenue, struggle to justify this request, given that the little they receive is barely utilized responsibly. Tales of funds misappropriation, unexplained expenditure and questionable receipt records have become a norm.

It is unsurprising that new battle lines are already forming after politicians differed on how the report should be implemented, just days after its launch. That speaks a lot on Kenyans’ character as a nation. There could be many reports like the BBI, but until there is a radical mind-shift among Kenyans, the challenges being addressed won’t be going away anytime soon.

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