Last Monday, the Nation carried one of those touching stories that tug at your heart and make you wonder why the world is such an unfair place. It was a story about those wretched, neglected, poorly paid workers known as private security guards – or watchmen as we call them. Amid all the hue and cry over BBI, that is what caught my attention in the newspaper.
Security guards are a familiar and dejected sight who watch over downtown commercial buildings and gated residential properties, day and night. We barely give them a second thought as we go about our business. They observe us as we park our cars and enter glitzy restaurants and offices and perhaps question why life was unkind to some human beings yet shone brightly for others. It is a thankless job, often even a dangerous one, as these guards are at the frontline when armed gangsters strike. Life must be horrible for them with the ongoing torrential rains.
Yet they must work, huddling in the cold outside the premises they protect, enduring the harsh bites of mosquitoes, just so they can scrape a living for their families where there is no other alternative. The pay is pitiable, sometimes as low as Sh6,000 a month, which is less than half the official minimum wage of Sh13,572 per month.
Poverty makes people especially vulnerable to injustice. It is the primary role of government to act as the safeguard against this. Above all, Parliament, which poses as the voice and conscience of the people, should be at the forefront in standing up for the exploited and underprivileged. I was dismayed to learn that, culminating last month, the parliamentary Committee on Delegated Legislation chaired by Uasin Gishu Woman Rep Gladys Shollei, had trashed proposed legislation that would have improved the lot of private security guards and made their lives palatable. (The regulations were meant to operationalise the Private Security Regulation Act passed in 2016). The regulations would have established standards in employment and training of guards and the scope of cooperation between them and the police in the maintenance of law and order. Much better still, the minimum wage for a night guard was to be hiked to Sh27,993 and Sh25,641 for a day guard.
There exist proper security companies that we see transporting cash for banks or which install alarms and surveillance systems in various installations. Some of these also supply guards. A labour union representing the guards had informed the parliamentary committee that the foreign-owned companies – G4S, Wells Fargo, KK and Ultimate Security – had complied with the wage guidelines whereas local firms had not. I would hesitate to describe the latter as security firms. They are merely conveyor belts for the procurement of cheap labour which they ruthlessly exploit while charging clients handsomely for the service, the government oddly being among the biggest clients. There’s no job security. These are simply take-it-or-leave-it jobs. A guard will just as casually be told to take a walk if he as much as flinches at the lousy terms and work conditions.
I have heard some of these fly-by-the-wire security firms are owned or connected to politicians, and others to similarly unscrupulous types. Heavy lobbying against the proposed regulations was done by these fellows until Parliament succumbed. The reasons the particular parliamentary committee gave for scuttling the regulations were spurious. Aside from the contentious issue of power of arrest (and the likely abuse of it) by private guards, there was the excuse that the regulations breached the Constitution owing to that amorphous thing called ‘public participation’. It was deemed to have been insufficient. More tellingly, the committee insinuated that the suggested minimum wage targets could not be “practically” implemented within the envisaged period. All in all, the reforms were deemed defective. Blah, blah, blah.
Think of your exalted self being a security guard: You never get a day off – or annual leave. You buy your own uniform and boots. Your salary frequently is paid weeks late. You walk to and from your slum abode because you can’t afford daily matatu fares. You have a family which needs school fees and upkeep. Gosh, why do we scream when the rogue elements among the guards become accomplices to robberies? Oh, and Treasury mandarins had better take a closer look. Of the estimated 500,000 personnel in the private security services countrywide, only about 40,000 guards are subjected to statutory tax remittances. That adds to something like Sh60 million monthly. If every guard was roped in and paid the correct salary, the tax revenues would shoot up to Sh690 million monthly, thereabouts.
Next time you are in town for a night out, spare a thought for that guard who approaches your car and offers to keep an eye on it as you enjoy yourself elsewhere. Gift him a little more than just the meagre loose coin.
Our wizards saw the Brave New World, but none saw coronavirus
Last year in December, Nation Media Group held its first Kusi Ideas Festival in Kigali. The festival tried to peer ahead the next 60 years in Africa.
There were many Brave New World ideas about how that future might look like, and also the perils that progress almost always brings. Needless to say, no one saw Covid-19 coming.
A futurist curtain-raiser in The EastAfrican, titled Africa in 2079, came close to outlining a mirror universe to the one Covid-19 is bequeathing us.
Between London, Zimbabwe, and the corners of Africa where Econet’s fibre optic network reaches, Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless and former chair of the board of AGRA wrote:
“I recently invested in a tech start-up that has created an Uber-like platform for tractors, enabling farmers to link up with a central database and order a tractor via SMS…freeing the farmer from the drudgery of the hoe. This service is particularly valued by women farmers, enabling them to circumvent social norms that might otherwise hamper their ability to hire a tractor.” From wherever we are hiding from the virus, unable to roam the farm, Uber farming could be the new way a lot of our food is produced.
From Tanzania, Aidan Eyakuze, who is executive director of Twaweza East Africa and has been confined in-country as an elegant prisoner for nearly two years because of his love of inconvenient data, painted an intoxicating but strange utopian-dystopian picture of Africa at the end the century.
By 2079, he foresaw the “vast majority of Africans earn their living through multiple micro-tasking (MMTs) ever since every ”job” was unbundled into its component tasks…leaving only those unbundled micro-tasks needing social intelligence, creativity or dexterity to be done by people. All ”taskers” are always-on private contractors who bid relentlessly for the privilege of tasking.
Incomes are kept low by the relative scarcity of tasks requiring the human touch.
“The unrelenting competition for tasks is both stressful and socially divisive — you are competing against everyone all the time…even marriages have renewable term limits, ‘in case someone better comes along.’” With work-from-home regimes, the former has come 78 years earlier.
Indeed, even for the latter, more people now probably think being cooped up with the same man or woman in the house “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,” is a very archaic model.
Between Italy and Kenya, the Society for International Development’s Arthur Muliro, peered into a what a truly borderless Africa might look. Among others, his gaze settled on, of all places, Libya.
“Libya…was now welcoming other Africans and allowing them to settle. The peace deal that had come after a decade of civil war was holding and there was new optimism, in part boosted by the arrival and expansion of new migrant groups who had settled there and were helping rebuild their adopted country.”
On a close re-reading, turns out Aidan hinted that Turkey, which jumped in the Libyan fray as the coronavirus made its way out of Wuhan, might have something to do with it.
Stadiums progress welcome – Daily Nation
Last week, the Sports ministry’s top officials, led by Chief Administrative Secretary Hassan Noor Hassan and Principal Secretary Joe Okudo traversed the country to access the ongoing construction of stadiums.
President Uhuru Kenyatta also made an impromptu tour of the Nyayo National Stadium to ensure that all is well besides giving Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed full support. That has made sure that renovation works resume at all the stadiums — including Kasarani, Nyayo, Kipchoge Keino, Kamariny and Wote — and that everything is running on schedule.
Upon completion of some of these arenas, the country will have positioned itself to host major world events, especially in football, athletics and basketball. The ministry must, therefore, ensure that, while it has given contractors an ultimatum to finish their work, it also insists on quality delivery.
But there are concerns about work at county stadiums, especially in Mombasa, where those who redesigned the arena have done away with the internationally approved running track.
The new stadium has been designed for football only hence won’t host any track and field events. The four lane track will only be for warm up and this has raised eyebrows.
Mombasa County Chief Sports Officer Innocent Mugabe said Bububu grounds in Likoni and Kenya Ports Authority’s Mbaraki Sports Club will be upgraded for sports use. Mombasa being at low altitude, it is suitable for staging major World Athletics events, having staged the 2007 World Cross Country Championships.
Kenya is bidding to host the 2025 World Championships in Athletics and Mombasa can easily be the venue with a good stadium in place. There is still time to build a county stadium.
Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
When Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced a fortnight ago the postponement of school reopening to January next year, he gave an exception. Universities, teacher training colleges and technical training institutions were directed to be ready to reopen in September.
Consequently, they were asked to put in place safety measures prescribed by the Health ministry, including reorganising classrooms and hostels to ensure social distancing. Just a month to the planned reopening, are those institutions really prepared?
In the past few days, Prof Magoha has convened meetings with the heads of the institutions to plan for the reopening and visiting the colleges to assess their preparedness. Preliminary reports from these engagements indicate that just a few institutions are ready.
At the university level, so far, only Strathmore has been declared ready for reopening. Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
For teachers’ colleges, three — Murang’a, Kibabii and Kericho — have met the threshold. Assessment is ongoing for the technical training institutions.
But the broad observation is that most of the institutions are not ready. Though not surprising, most of them are ordinarily in poor state and Covid-19 has just exposed them. Beyond the situation, long-term actions are required to revamp and revitalise them.
Reopening the colleges in September will be the starting point for relaxing restrictions in the education sector. The reason for beginning with colleges is that they have mature students who understand the health protocols and can, therefore, take care of themselves and minimise infections. Their experience would then inform plans for reopening primary and secondary schools.
Closure of schools and colleges has dealt a huge blow to education. Learners in schools have lost a whole year and have to repeat classes next year. This comes with high social, economic and psychological. Indeed, this is the first time in history that schools are being closed for a year.
The last time the education sector suffered most was in 1982, when, following an abortive coup, the University of Nairobi and then-Kenyatta University College were closed for nine months. That created a major backlog and that took five years to clear. This is the reason steps should be taken at the earliest opportunity to mitigate the damage.
The challenge, therefore, is for the colleges to work on those health protocols to prepare for reopening. All other sectors, such as transport and tourism, are reopening and, therefore, colleges have no reason to lag behind. We ask the management of the institutions to expedite the required processes and get ready for reopening in September as directed.