Comparing books by Obama and Trump

Now that we all locked down at home, with much less to watch on television, many of us have been reading books that have for long been lying unopened on our shelves. I am certainly among them, and the first one that winked at me was The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump.

I expected it would provide me with much needed insights into the man we have come to know as POTUS. Did it? Yes and no. “Yes” because any issue that comes across his desk in the Oval Office he sees through that same transactional lens, always trying to outdo the “opponent”, always needing him to be the winner and them the loser; grabbing more than his fair share, indifferent to the “losers” not wanting to do business with him again.

“No” in the sense that the Trump who hustled in the rough and tumble of the New York and other real estate markets seemed to be a rather more civilised and decent human being than the abusive egomaniac we see in the White House.

Worse yet, Tony Schwartz, identified on the cover as the man who wrote the book “with” Trump later revealed that writing it was his “greatest regret in life, without question,” and both he and the book’s publisher said that Trump had played no role in the actual writing of the book, with Schwartz later tweeting that the work be “recategorized as fiction”.

A year after Trump became president, Schwartz reflected in an interview with the Guardian that there are “two Trumps”. The one he presents to the world is “all bluster, bullying and certainty”, observed Schwartz. The other, which he has long felt haunts his inner world, is “the frightened child of a relentlessly critical and bullying father and a distant and disengaged mother who couldn’t or wouldn’t protect him”.

Schwartz concludes that “Trump’s temperament and his habits have hardened with age. He was always cartoonish, but compared with the man for whom I wrote The Art of the Deal 30 years ago, he is significantly angrier today: more reactive, deceitful, distracted, vindictive, impulsive and, above all, self-absorbed – assuming the last is possible. We fear Trump because he is impulsive, irrational and self-serving, but above all because he seems unconstrained by even the faintest hint of conscience.”

Pretty much my view having read the book and seeing Trump now.

Quite by chance the next book I picked off the shelf was Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father. What a dramatic contrast. Originally published in 1995, when he had just become a Senator, it is obviously honest and authentic, a joy to read for not only the richness of the story he tells but for his philosophical analyses and the lyrical prose in which it is written. Obama comes across as dramatically different from the ghost-written Trump, an incomparably more evolved and empathetic person.

How perplexing therefore that having voted for the decent, learned Obama, the US voters so regressed in electing as his successor this self-serving and uncouth deal-maker. It will be interesting to see how these two presidents write about their time in office in memoirs they will no doubt be publishing sooner or later.

The third book to catch my eye, another whose author subsequently rose to the political summit, was Seventy Two Virgins, a political thriller written by Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London. Johnson, like Obama, is an accomplished writer (he was a long-serving and highly paid columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph), and in this book a George W Bush type US president is captured by Islamist terrorists while addressing a distinguished gathering in the British parliament’s Westminster Hall.

The book too offers insights into the author, showing Johnson as the humorous and flamboyant wordsmith we know, showing off his excessively erudite vocabulary while entertaining his readers.

Among our presidents it was only Jomo Kenyatta who published books prior to ascending to the highest office. Best known is his Facing Mount Kenya, but we also have The Challenge of Uhuru, and his 1968 Suffering without Bitterness, which documents his life until then.
President Moi did not write his memoirs, and it seems unlikely that President Kibaki will. Over to you, Uhuru, post 2022.

The heritage we have built

(this was a presentation I gave on May 21, 2020 at the joint meeting of the Rotary Club of Nairobi with the Rotary Club of Kampala):

It was 1978, and I had been living in Kenya for a year when an IT customer of mine, Bob Chase, invited me to join his Rotary Club of Nairobi. That joining thoroughly integrated me into Kenya; it introduced me to volunteering; it changed my life.

Phil Grammenopoulos, who brought Datsun – now Nissan – to Kenya, was our President (at that time called Chairman, as by then Jomo Kenyatta was the only one allowed to be called President), and my first assignment was to develop careers guidance programmes, which one way or another I have been running ever since.

Also in my earliest years I led a National Business Management Game through our Rotary club. The funds raised by participating teams were offered to the winner of a post-graduate scholarship to the Mediterranean Institute of Management in Cyprus, and the panel of Phil and myself selected Kalonzo Musyoka, then a Rotaracter, as the beneficiary. He later joined our club, before becoming an MP and rising to be the Vice-President of Kenya.

At that time we were THE Rotary Club of Nairobi: a home for the elite of the city, and we were led to believe that Rotarians from other clubs felt quite intimidated by some of us. We were the first club in Sub-Sahara Africa, having been formed in March 1930. It was John Innes, a member of the Rotary Club of Leeds, who was encouraged by Paul Harris to take Rotary to East Africa, and so on Innes’s next visit to Kenya he met with then then Mayor of Nairobi, Charles Udall.

Udall gathered together a dozen prominent citizens at the New Stanley Hotel (where we were still meeting when I joined) and he emerged as the founding President of the soon to be formed Rotary Club of Nairobi. Every club in the region traces its roots to ours, including your Kampala one.

When I joined our club I was by far the youngest member, at 33. If you go to our website, you’ll see a 1974 picture of fourteen Past Presidents of our Club, eight of whom I knew well (and all of whom have now passed away). In the picture, as generally in the club when I joined, are only older white men, almost exclusively white-haired. But by 1978, there were already a few non-whites, and let me tell you a bit about them:

First Manu Chandaria, who had joined Rotary in 1963 in Mombasa, where his elder brother was already a member since the mid-1950s. Manu later moved to Nairobi and joined our club in 1969 – the only Asian alongside the late John Karmali (a pioneer of racial integration in Kenya), Yusuf Kodwavwala (about whom more later) and Omi Nagpal, who in 1965, like Manu, had joined the Rotary Club of Mombasa. Omi was then transferred to Nairobi as the Acting Director of Public Prosecution, and became a member of the Rotary Club of Nairobi in around 1968. It wasn’t till 1990 though that he took on the presidency.

Manu became our Chairman in 1982/3, and it was about then that he headhunted Kalonzo Musyoka to become the legal manager of his company, Comcraft. Meanwhile Manu had already invited Sir Ernest Vasey to become Comcraft’s chairman. Sir Ernest had been Nairobi Mayor in the 1940s, and was President of our Rotary club in 1949/50.

 Another member when I joined was Joe Wanjui, who had been in the club since 1967, the first African, and one of those who paved the way for Joe’s admittance was Sir Derek Erskine (our club’s President in 1939/40). Sir Derek served as a Member of the Kenyan Legislative Council from the 40s, on and off into the 60s. He was a staunch advocate of racial harmony in Kenya, at one time having been removed from a session of the Legislative Council due to his outspoken views demanding racial equality.

So how come Joe became our first African member? Well, at the time he was the Technical Director of East Africa Industries, part of Unilever, one of the rare Africans prominent in the private sector. Joe became our club’s first African President in 1974, at a time when it needed to be seen to be promoting racial inclusiveness.

Other than being the earliest non-whites to join our club, what do Manu, Omi and Joe have in common? They are all still regular active members of our club! Yusuf Kodwavwala, who also joined us in 1967, became our Chairman in 1981 and District Governor in l989/90. He and his wife Marie recently emigrated to the UK to be with their family, and they have wished us well for this meeting… with Yusuf adding that the Kampala Club – which he described as the “ARCH CLUB” – was where he was first introduced to ROTARY.

Let me mention a few others from the time I joined, all of whom became my friends:

  • Vic Browse, the first Jewish member, who opened the Jacaranda School for the Mentally Challenged in his year as President in 1948/9.
  • Mervyn Cowie, our President in 1950/1, who led the formation of the Nairobi Game Park.
  • Jack Block, 1961/2 President, was owner of Block Hotels, including the New Stanley.
  • Norman Jarman, President in 1968/9, was a policeman in Palestine when I was born there in 1945, and founded African Tours & Hotels, a pioneer in Kenya’s tourism industry.
  • Jerry Owuor, our 1984/5 President, I will always remember for officiating at the annual Salvation Army Children’s Home Christmas Party, dressed as Father Christmas.
  • John Savage, who led us in 1985/6 and presided over the club’s first cataract operations, performed – as they are now, 35 years later – by Dr Mukesh Joshi.

I succeeded John as Chairman in 1986, and what I am proudest of is relaunching our Rotaract Club of Nairobi Central, which until today is perhaps the liveliest in the District. I was Chairman in those the good old days, when we weren’t besieged by e-mails or texts, only having to deal with faxes. By the way, a few years later at an RI President’s Conference hosted in Nairobi, I tickled our then Vice President Michael Wamalwa into allowing us to call ourselves “President” again.

  • Hannington Awori followed me. He was introduced by Joe Wanjui, whom he succeeded as Technical Director of EAI. And Hannington’s from the prominent Awori family, a member of which is his Ugandan brother Aggrey.
  • Jonathan Campaigne, our 1995/6 President, led our Young Entrepreneurs Awards. I introduced Jonathan to our club and he was also my Best Man just before taking office.
  • Dudley Stannah’s 1991/2 year was dominated by the war over whether to allow women as members. Rotarians’ wives, known as “Rotary Annes”, many of whom were members of the spouses’ Inner Wheel Club, were as unenthusiastic as many of the male members, but eventually resistance faded and we inducted our first lady member, Evelyn Mungai soon after. (By the way her parents enjoyed strong links to Uganda, with her mother having attended Gayaza High School and her father King’s College Budo – from where Aggrey Awori also graduated.) Evelyn, whom I married in 1995, became our first lady chair in 2001, with her Rotary pin fixed by our 1993/4 President, Arun Devani, and during her year she launched the Rotary Cura Home for AIDS Orphans.
  • In all we have enjoyed leadership from six lady presidents, including our current one, Jessica Kazina. For many years now we have been known as the “Rainbow Club”, given our wonderful racial mix, and there was a time when we deliberately rotated our presidency between African, Asian and White members. Always, we have enjoyed great fellowship and high member participation in service.

Let me now mention some of our flagship projects:

  • In the late 1940s, the Jacaranda School for the Mentally Challenged, which later, with Japanese funding for which Manu was very instrumental, was complemented by the Sheltered Workshop for the Mentally Challenged.
  • This was what greatly influenced the launch of what became the annual Sunshine Rally, where several thousand mentally and physically challenged boys and girls first came together in 1980 for extraordinary enjoyable gatherings (with me in charge of organising the entertainment at that initial one). Due to the Coronavirus crisis, this was the first year since 1980 that it did not take place, although food and other essential items were distributed to the institutions that host the children.
  • As I mentioned, in 1985 Dr Mukesh Joshi worked with our club to conduct the first cataract eye operations, and I remember being at the 1986 event held in Kabarak High School, where I took photographs for the media of him at work with his scalpel. Amazingly, Mukesh, who became an Honorary member of our club, has now restored the sight of 17,000 Kenyans, supported by a team of devoted members of our club – donors including Manu Chandaria, Suli Shah and Arun Devani, and on the ground volunteers.
  • Thanks to great leadership from Darsi Lotai and the late Eric Krystall, our club has been at the centre of Rotary’s struggle to eliminate polio in this part of the world. When overseas support was waning, our Rotarians led the initiative for us to become self-reliant, including through the establishment of a Surveillance Lab that has provided testing for the entire Horn of Africa.
  • These and other Rotarians have also been central to combatting AIDS, with the late Eric Krystall’s “Puppets against AIDS” and our partnership with Rotaract for testing youth.
  • Speaking of Rotaract, and Interact, not to mention the Rotary Community Corps, our club has always been deeply committed to nurturing the next generations, very much including past Rotaractor Gideon Akwaba – who in just over a year will become our club’s president.

There have been so many other projects I could mention, thanks to so many other devoted members: distributing wheelchairs, bed sets, jikos and other basic items; accessing water; hosting health camps; mobilising literacy campaigns… – you can just imagine, in nearly a century of service, how much has been accomplished. As we speak with pride about our heritage I am pleased that enhanced attention is turning to the need to build more sustainability into our initiatives, developing community leaders to take ownership for the ongoingness of our projects.

Our club has benefitted greatly from partnerships with clubs from all over the world, and of course from the Rotary Foundation. But many too would not have seen the light of day had it not been for our Trust Fund, currently chaired by Dinesh Kapila, that was established in 1974 and whose funds have grown to Shs 60million, despite disbursing Shs2-3m each year.

When I joined Rotary there were 18 countries in D9200 – including Zambia and the Indian Ocean Islands. I remember attending District Conferences in Lusaka (where the District Governor was their Zambia’s Chief Justice, granted a sabbatical  by President Kaunda – who, handkerchief in hand, graced the event); and others in Mauritius, Madagascar and Reunion. Wherever our conference were held, the Rotarians from Reunion would always bring a big supply of cheese and wine for their Reunion evening. (Including for the one in Nairobi during Yusuf Kodwavala’s year in 1990, by the poolside at the new Stanley. I was the chairman of Yusuf’s Conference Committee, and had to deal with the hotel having forgotten to set the place up for our Indian Ocean island friends.)

Prominent at all our District Conferences was Sam Owori, who so brilliantly led the resuscitation of Rotary in Uganda following the difficult days of Idi Amin. Under his leadership Rotary Clubs sprouted far beyond Kampala, and unlike in Kenya attracted many form the public sector. We in Kenya mourned when Rotary in Uganda expanded to such an extent that you formed your own District, taking Tanzania with you.

My small contribution to the development of Rotary in Uganda was that when I was the District Rotaract Officer in the late eighties I introduced the concept of community-based Rotaract Clubs, as hitherto they had only been institutionally based.

At that time I also brought together Rotaracters from around our then vast District to hold their own conference alongside our Rotary one, and I am pleased to say that this became the new normal – until just now, when Rotaracters have integrated completely into our Rotary Conference – or were due to, till the Coronavirus hit.

It’s good to, so to speak, “be” with you at the Grand Imperial Hotel today, which I remember staying at in the immediate post-Amin days, with bullet holes in my bedroom window and only orange squash or Johnny Walker Red Label to drink.

In so many ways, we’ve come a long way since then. I am immensely impressed that building on our long heritage so many younger Rotarians have joined our club, full of energy and enthusiasm – as has been evidenced by their extraordinary efforts in the last few weeks in distributing food and other essential items to the most vulnerable in Nairobi.

In conclusion, while the Rotary Club of Nairobi is still THE oldest club around, we are no longer THE Rotary Club of Nairobi. But we’re a great multi-generational, multi-ethnic, mixed-gender bunch of characters, enjoying each other’s fellowship and engaged in all kinds of great work for our community.

Basic income for Kenya slums – government rises to the challenge

After months of trying, our group of four is delighted that the government has taken its first steps toward guaranteeing a basic income for the poor and vulnerable population. The government has announced to the Senate Ad-hoc committee on Covid-19 that it has identified 250,000 households which will be put on a weekly stipend in a bid to support the vulnerable families in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

We are pleased Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said each family will be receiving Sh1,000 weekly, Sh4,000 a month, to enable them to meet their basic needs during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is not quite clear how the 250,000 households were identified as he said that the government had obtained mobile numbers of the targeted households and will have their stipends sent via mobile money service platforms. Happily, he targeted households spread across all low-income informal settlement areas in Kenya’s urban centres.

We had suggested the use of mobile phone masts located in the slums, through a process known as Geofenced Mobile Payments Option (GMP) to target the poorest through an area-based approach. A targeted approach to existing lists, as suggested by the government, may risk giving a sum of money to one household while the poorer household next door receives nothing.

Our approach took note of the 5,000 Safaricom and 2,000 Airtel mobile phone masts throughout Kenya and that mast capacity is based on calls per hour so more are in high-density areas (eg slums, CBD).

Indeed GMP may be needed weekly for a crisis and recovery period of at least 2-3 months and to the adult population of 4.9 million mobile phones in slums.  Then GMP at Sh1,000 weekly will total Sh4.9 billion per week while the government proposes a total of Sh1 billion per week.

The overhead costs of our GMP area approach would be minor but still allow local politicians to use their names so as to verify the sanctity of the cash received. The targeted approach of the government to an existing list of individuals or households could be more expensive than what we propose and not reach the population groups most in need.

We note too that basic needs, as defined by one of the authors for the World Employment Conference by the ILO as far back as the mid-1970s, included food, housing, health and education services.

A cash transfer allows households to decide where to allocate their money but also, compared with more expensively delivered food and other essentials, is cheaper to allocate. Cash also has a multiplier effect that goods don’t have, as cash is used by families to buy goods in the local area and thereby stimulate what economists call effective demand.

A multiplier effect can lead to up to two or three times the initial value thereby raising the wealth of small business and employed persons in families in close proximity to the original receiver. Yes, some people may abuse the cash transfer but studies in several countries have shown the multiplier effect enormously outweighs a small proportion of abusers.

We urge the government to widen and improve its highly welcome and praiseworthy first step to go the extra mile and use GMP to reach out to all 4.9 million slum dwellers. The result would not only alleviate hunger and health as the poor decide on how to spend their newfound income, but also improve security that the recent dreadful Kariobangi incident and others have mistakenly harmed.

Social cohesion critical in these perilous times

I’m glad I’m not President Uhuru Kenyatta, nor CSs Mutahi Kagwe and Fred Matiang’i, nor Governor Hassan Joho and others who have the awesome responsibility of communicating with the rest of us in ways that get us to behave responsibly during the Covid-19 crisis. Like leaders everywhere in the world they must act neither too quickly nor too slowly, not too harshly and not too weakly. But what is the right speed? What is the right style?

It would be much easier if our people were as disciplined and well off as those of Singapore or South Korea, Germany or New Zealand. But we are who we are, with over ten million of us packed together in urban slums and living hand to mouth; and with so many others in remote rural and arid areas where there is limited access to the media, never mind the Internet.

The leaders I have mentioned would be doing well in the countries I have listed. But how much harder it is to be effective here, where even the middle class have been finding it hard to do and not do what is being called for.

We must sympathise with the frustrations of our rationally-driven leaders, who see that all they get is pushback and resentment when they tell us to wear masks and stay home and suchlike.

Whether due to intolerably cramped living conditions and poverty, or as a result of cultural norms of community togetherness, much of what we are seeing is a struggle between the stern admonitions of our leaders and the disconnected behaviour of our citizens.

Understandably, the government’s focus has been on organising our under-prepared healthcare system to cater for the sudden onset of the pandemic, while simultaneously worrying about the shattering effects on our economy. The added dilemma is that the greater concern there is for protecting lives, the greater the negative impact on livelihoods.

What we are beginning to see though is that alongside managing these “hard” issues, increased attention must be paid to the complementary “soft” emotional and behavioural ones. So should some leaders be playing “bad cop” while others play “good cop”? Should each leader be skilled enough to combine the two roles into one, knowing when and how to switch?

It is clear that the big stick of assertively managed lockdowns must be wielded, for merely enticing us with the reward of longer term health benefits if we do what we are being told is way beyond the time horizon of most. But if that’s not working, then what?

Surely we need not rely only on top-down tough messages from smart podiums. It is up to many more of us to communicate within our communities, from the family level upwards, each of us finding our own way to make a difference.

Leaders and people of influence from all sectors – religious, private sector, NGOs, academia, trade unions, musicians and other artists, sportspeople and of course the media – must contribute to passing both the tough and the empathetic messages, complementing and reinforcing what we are hearing from the top.

There is as great a need for this kind of “soft” engagement as there is for the distribution of food, Personal Protective Equipment and other essentials to the most vulnerable. Many are already acting with great generosity, in both the hard and the soft areas, and the more the merrier.

Let me briefly draw attention to the Social Cohesion Committee that has recently been formed by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), within whose mandate such an initiative falls naturally.

The NCIC Social Cohesion Committee (of which I am part) is developing new ways, with musicians and others, to pass messages that more people can respond to positively. It is also organising for psychosocial support to be made available to both the most vulnerable – children and others in emotional distress – and to doctors and nurses.

By listening as much as by telling we can begin bringing Kenyans together, so that the poor do not feel this Covid-19 threat merely threatens the urban rich. And it is by complementing the angry headteacher with the empathetic counsellor that we can avoid future social strife.
So please join this movement for social cohesion. Whoever you are, at whatever level.