Connect with us


BUKENYA: Designer babies are here with us, where are the humanities?




More by this Author

It is W.B. Yeats, the Irish poet and revolutionary, who had that epic vision of everything being “changed, changed utterly” and a “terrible beauty” being born. He recorded his reflections in his poem, “Easter 1916,” referring to a bloody but defining moment in Ireland’s long struggle against British colonialism.

A contemporary “terrible beauty” has, literally, been born. Indeed, I should say two terrible beauties, for they are twin baby girls born in China. I call the girls beauties because I believe babies are mostly lovely, both in concept and in reality. But there appears to be something terrifying about these babies. Indeed, the man responsible for their birth is currently in court on criminal charges.

Dr He Jiankui, the Chinese researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, is the man in the eye of the storm raging around the birth of the twin girls. Since his case is before the courts, we should not let ourselves wax over-talkative about it.

But apparently Dr He Jiankui is charged with serious violations of medical ethics in the process of his “editing” of the genes of the embryos out of which the twins were born. Dr Jiankui claims that he did the editing to ensure that the babies would be born immune to HIV infection. Now, that sounds like a worthy and desirable intention, wouldn’t you say?

But not everyone thinks so, as evidenced by the fact that Dr He is now facing the scrutiny of the law, and he has, in any case, been under heavy censure from his fellow scientists since he announced his “success” in November last year. Where exactly is the discrepancy, and what implications does it have for all of us?

My first word is that we simply must strive to shake ourselves out of our blissful ignorance. Every educated person should have at least a basic understanding of all the major disciplines, ranging from theology to genetics, to mention but two of the huge number of items in the basket. It sounds like a gigantic assignment, but there are two main justifications for it.

The first is that, colossal and fast growing as the body of knowledge is, the means of accessing it and organising it are also impressively efficient. This is what the digital revolution is all about. With all this knowledge and information at the tips of our fingers, there is no excuse for those single-tracked “experts” who know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing. Equally importantly, meaningful survival today is not for lazylings, whose knowledge is limited to what they see on the (TV) “box”.

The second and more important imperative for our being well-informed is that we have to be constantly making crucial decisions in the face of the rapidly changing realities around us.

Game-changing developments are happening and will continue happening in our societies and our lives and we will have to decide how to cope with them. This is nowhere more obvious than in the biological and medical sciences. We have, for example, been living with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), of which the Chinese twins are a part, for decades now, despite all the noises about and against them.


I personally am fascinated by the scientific and biomedical feats with which our researchers and practitioners keep coming up. I was, for example, both amused and startled by a report about South African surgeons who advised their patient to keep strumming on his guitar while they performed a brain operation on him! This, the medics said, would reduce the risk of his memory being affected by the procedure. Then I heard of hens being genetically modified to lay eggs that could help boost our immune systems somewhere down the line.

As for “genetic editing”, you may remember that the human genome was described by its mappers as a kind of text arranged in certain patterns. You can, thus, put it in a computer, select, cut and paste on it as you want. That is what scientists like Dr He Jiankui might be doing to effect the development of babies like the twins mentioned earlier. This process of earth-shaking “engineering” is unstoppable, law courts and all that notwithstanding.

Yet, obviously, there is a “terror”, a threat to human life and society as we know them. That is where the aspect of ethics comes in. Is it morally acceptable to alter the genetic inheritance of a human being? On what grounds would it be acceptable and permitted? Who, ultimately, should make the decision? How can we be sure that changing one pattern of an organ’s genes will not drastically and unpredictably alter other aspects, possibly creating monsters like the proverbial Frankenstein terror?

Even more challenging is the prospect of the relationship of so-called “laboratory” produced human beings to society. We have, for example, heard for many years about the possibility of cloned human beings: produced directly through manipulated cell-divisions rather than any kind of sexual fertilisation.

Forget about the impact this would have on our soft-hearted, soft-headed notions of romantic and filial love. More seriously, contemplate the possibility and consequences of an amoral, greedy, dictatorial or simply demented scientist, or group of scientists, deciding to “manufacture” such creatures, maybe with the added intention of eliminating or “genetically editing out” all the other humans with undesirable genes. The Nazis tried that out, crudely, calling it “eugenics”, in favour of the so-called Aryan race.

Could that be the road down which those who yell about the promotion of sciences at the expense of the humanities want to lead us? For it is only the humanities, like theology, language, history, philosophy, social sciences and the law, that can help us formulate and define appropriate guidelines for the scientist and all of us on how to handle these developments.

Meanwhile, let us be grateful that we have not yet been genetically modified or “edited” somewhere down the line.

Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]



Sordid tale of the bank ‘that would bribe God’




Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
Criminal culture
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
[email protected]    


Monitor water pumps remotely via your phone

Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

Continue Reading


Agricultural Development Corporation Chief Accountant Gerald Karuga on the Spot Over Fraud –




Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.

ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.

Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.

Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.

A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.

Read: Ministry of Agriculture Apologizes After Sending Out Tweets Portraying the President in bad light

Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.

The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.

“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.

In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.

Read Also: Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme To Undergo Viability Test Before Being Privatised


“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.

“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”

The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.

Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.

The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.

They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.

The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.

Read Also: DP Ruto Wants NCPB And Other Agricultural Bodies Merged For Efficiency

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua later issued a statement warning the squatters against encroaching on Kipkuleir’s land.

“They are illegally invading private land. We shall not allow the rule of the jungle to take root,” warned Mutua.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee recently demanded to know identities of 10 faceless people who grabbed 30,350 acres of land belonging to the parastatal, exposing the rot at the corporation.

ADC Chairman Nick Salat, who doubles up as the KANU party Secretary-General, denied knowledge of the individuals and has asked DCI to probe the matter.

Email your news TIPS to [email protected] or WhatsApp +254708677607. You can also find us on Telegram through

Continue Reading


William Ruto eyes Raila Odinga Nyanza backyard




Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.

Acrimonious fall-out

Development agenda

Won’t bear fruit

Continue Reading


Kenyan Tribune