Kenya’s poor show at Olympic games

Kenyans are awakening to the painful reality that our country’s performance at the Beijing Olympics is far below previous trends.

By today, Kenya only had a few medals, all from the longer races. Instead of scoring victories, Kenya’s delegation is plagued by infighting because of bad decisions. The professional conduct of Kenyan Olympic officials is so blatantly incompetent that it borders on sabotage of our sporting aspirations.

The irony is that Zimbabwe, with all its problems, is fairing much better than Kenya.

In a typical example of the woes afflicting the Kenyan team, last minute changes to the women’s 10,000 metres race resulted in a fiasco. Grace Momanyi was replaced by Peninah Arusei, who went on to grab 18th position in the race. Linet Masai, who was defeated by Momanyi during national trials, was allowed into the race and came out 4th place.

Masai claims that she didn’t know that white people could run so fast. She could have won a bronze medal but was overtaken at the last minute by Shalane Flanagan, an American. Arusei attributed her failure to, “a stitch which caused a sharp pain in my stomach.” With excuses like these, Kenyan sports has a very bleak future indeed.

The decision to replace Momanyi caused an uproar within the Kenyan contingent as officials engaged in damage control. Momanyi was so heartbroken that she cried in public and demanded the next flight back to Kenya. Momanyi could not understand how people she had defeated at the trials could be allowed to represent the country at her expense.

Problems for Kenya’s contingent were evident long before this. Infact, as the Olympic flame was lit at Beijing, dozens of Kenyan athletes were stranded in Nairobi for lack of tickets. Meanwhile, officials of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) were in Beijing a full week before the games. Even the team’s physiotherapist almost missed a ticket!

Still on last weekend’s drama, the Standard newspaper reports that not all of Kenya’s athletes are staying at the Olympic village. They had to get lodgings in other parts of Beijing with little access to training facilities. The affected athletes have complained of being sidelined.

By now, you must be thinking that our people couldn’t possibly do any worse. Brace yourself.

The International Olympic Committee reprimanded NOCK officials for mistreating the media.  According to the Daily Nation, the granting of day passes to Kenyan journalists was, “as hard to come by as Olympic medals for the Maldives.” Following criticism by the world body, Kenya’s chief of mission, Mr David Okeyo, apologized to the press and promised to facilitate access to the Kenyan team by the media.

In the months leading to the Olympics, there were disagreements over training venues and the use of substitutes. Kenyan athletes based overseas were reluctant to train at home. Maybe it is the conduct of NOCK and Athletics Kenya that discouraged them.

Kenya’s Olympic aspirations join the long list of sporting activities that have been ruined by maladministration, greed and political interference. Kenyan soccer is a basket case. Cricket is mired in controversies driven by racial differences. Volleyball suffered the same fate afflicting athletics, as replacements were made abruptly and with no recourse by aggrieved players. Hockey, handball and rallying are in a shambles. However, rugby seems to be doing quite well with impressive scores in recent months.

Kenya still has some hopes in Jason Dunford, who set a new world record in swimming, albeit for seven minutes. The fact that he is a white Kenyan attracted lots of attention from the international press.

Police station burnt in Dagoretti riots

A police station was burnt in Dagoretti yesterday after a government decision to close Nairobi’s biggest abattoir because of environmental pollution. Rioting workers also attempted to uproot the railway line to Western Kenya before they were dispersed by police.

The workers appealed to the government to reverse the closure, saying that the abattoir is their only source of livelihood. Meanwhile, meat prices began rising in Nairobi, with butchery operators fearing a drop in demand from consumers hard-hit by rising fuel and electricity costs.

This week, the National Environment Management Agency (NEMA) ordered the closure of the Dagoretti slaughterhouse, which is the main source of meat to Nairobi. NEMA says that waste disposal at the slaughter house is chaotic and pollutes nearby rivers. According to NEMA, the slaughter house operators were given months to comply with orders to clean up their business, but failed to act.

On their part, workers, business people and other operators at the Dagoretti abattoir say they have no capacity to clean up the environment by themselves, and that the government should ensure proper disposal of waste. For majority of workers, incomes from the slaughter house are barely enough to feed their families and additional requirements by NEMA will put further strains on their finances.

The Dagoretti slaughter house is meant to supply meat, but a secondary industry has developed where every animal part is turned into a tradable commodity. There are people waiting to collect bones, intestines, hooves, heads and skins.

Hooves, heads and intestines are used to make cheap stews for the residents of Nairobi’s slums. Even the tiny shreds of meat to be found on animal skins are scrapped out by the poorest of the poor and used to supplement their very basic meals. For these people, environmental concerns are not a priority compared to the need to survive.

Unfortunately, these people on the edges of starvation, are the biggest losers in NEMA’s battle with meat industry big shots.

NSSF staff angry over wasteful computerization

As Kenya finally starts to embrace e-government, officials at the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) seem to have discovered a new loophole for siphoning pension funds by over-doing computer projects.

Social Security House, completed in 1994.

Social Security House, completed in 1994.

The NSSF has spent hundreds of millions on computer servers, hardware and software upgrades with little to show for it. In many cases, information technology (IT) projects are scrapped soon after they are implemented and quickly replaced with other projects without any consideration for costs.

A couple of weeks ago, the NSSF launched its service charter which was, among other things, to commemorate the re-birth of the organization in terms of accountability and customer-friendliness. Concerned employees of the NSSF say the uncovering of a fresh scandal could frustrate their efforts at reforms.

“In 2005 NSSF bought 28 HP servers that were delivered directly to selected branches, bypassing the procurement office,” an NSSF staffer told the Nairobi Chronicle, “one year later the servers were recalled to Nairobi to have software installed. It was then realized that a hardware upgrade was necessary and this was done at a cost of about Kshs. 1,000,000 (US$15,000). This took about six months. After one and a half years, the servers had not been used.”

According to the employee, whose identity we cannot disclose for obvious reasons, NSSF bought over 30 SUN servers in 2007. “SUN servers are so expensive, they are only manufactured on order; and only very rich companies can afford them,” narrates the whistle-blower.

Soon after delivery it became apparent that the SUN servers could not be used. There was nowhere to install them. They had to be put in racks to wade off suspicion. Some were stacked at the NSSF building in Bruce House, away from preying eyes. They were carried there by NSSF staff in a NSSF lorry and locked in a room on the 13th floor. To this day, it has not been possible to use them. To be able to utilize these equipment; NSSF requires an additional Kshs.50,000,000 to Kshs.100,000,000 ($746,000 – $1.4 million).

Still within the past one year, the NSSF bought and installed internet phones in order to cut down on telephone bills across its national branches. Nothing wrong there, if it wasn’t for the fact that the Fund had already bought 40 PABXs for almost all its branch offices at an average cost of about Kshs350,000 ($5224). Telecommunication experts say the new internet phone system installed by NSSF requires greater manpower, in addition to congesting the computer network. In order to free up network bandwidth, the NSSF has been forced to shift some of its operations away from the network, a decision that defeats the purpose of e-government.

In spite of these irregularities, the purchase of more computer equipment continues at the Fund. Concerned employees are considering blowing the whistle to the media and to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority before the scandal brings down the giant organization.

NSSF made news throughout the 1990s for buying land at exorbitant rates from  people close to the government of former president Daniel arap Moi. The NSSF also lost millions of shillings in legal fees to well known lawyers some of whom are serving in the cabinet of President Mwai Kibaki. Being the biggest pension and provident scheme in Kenya, and controlled by the State, NSSF funds are a big temptation to Kenya’s cruel, corrupt ruling elite.

Since the late 1990s, increased competition from private pension schemes has resulted in reforms being undertaken by NSSF management. It became necessary for the fund to sell its holdings in land and buildings in order to conform to regulations of the Retirement Benefits Authority. NSSF has also intensified its efforts at recruiting new contributors and today encourages the self-employed to join through a flexible payments program.

Unlike in the past, NSSF invests in government bonds, treasury bills and shares at the Nairobi Stock Exchange. NSSF is a significant shareholder in such companies as National Bank, Kenya Power & Lighting, East African Portland Cement, among other big corporations of Kenya.

Through its reform programme, the NSSF has gained financial stability, enabling it to pay retirees on time. However, fresh revelations of improprieties concerning the purchase of computer equipment are bound to frustrate the reform efforts of the new millennium. Just goes to prove the famous saying that old habits die hard.

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